There are few things I've learned from helping so many authors
get agents and I have developed what I like to call the 10 Deadly Sins. Commit
any of these sins in your query letter and you can kiss your shot at getting an
1) Write a letter that's too long. Agents don't have time to read
four-page query letters. You should be able to make your point in half a page.
If you can't grab them in half a page then some agents may think you won't be
able to grab them in your manuscript either.
2) Come across cocky. There's a big difference between being comfortable
in your own skin and masking your insecurities by dropping names or bragging
about your accomplishments. There is nothing wrong with listing your
relationships or your credentials if presented in a humble way. You want to
always come across as easy to work with and cocky people are not attractive to a
3) Bad grammar and spell check. Grammar and spelling ain't my forte, as
they say, but I do know this: although agents will forgive a few misspellings in
a query letter, you should make it a point to double-check your letter and have
an anal friend read through it as well. A trick is to read the letter from the
last sentence of your query letter to your first sentence in the letter aloud.
It's amazing what you'll find.
4) Unprofessional format. You might be blown away with the amount of
talented writers who do not know the basics of writing a professional letter.
Starting out by saying “Hey, How are ya'?” isn't going to cut it.
5) Don't get to the point. You need to immediately answer the following
questions: 1)Who are you? 2) What do you want? 3) And what does this have to do
with me (the agent)? Put yourself in the agent's shoes and show them
realistically that you and your book are salable.
6) Write a long-winded synopsis. You really need to be able to pique your
agent's attention immediately. They run across thousands of query letters a
month so grabbing their attention from the very beginning is pertinent. You
should be able to boil your story down to 2-3 sentences that sell the sizzle not
7) Don't outline who your target audience is. You should know exactly who
your consumer is. What age group are they? Are they male or female?
Professionals or working class? What language do you speak? Because if your
answer is “everyone is my target audience” then that's just not going to cut it
with a top agent.
8) Have no clue what your genre is. As a professional, you should know
the up-to-date terminology for your genre. Do you write techno-thrillers or do
you write mysteries? Do you write women's contemporary fiction or do you write
chick lit? Are the terms you're using out of date? Find out by reading trade
9) Have no decision on what direction you want to go with your career.
You should have a clear idea where you want to go with your writing. Do you want
to write romance? Do you want to write non-fiction then move into young adult?
What do you want to do with your career because if you don't know your agent is
not going to figure it out for you. Be open to change, and you may very well
change your mind as you progress with your career but have a clear idea what
direction you want to go from the beginning.
10) Have no personality in your writing that reflects the style of your
writing. If your book is humorous your query letter should be a little fun
and witty too. Agents get a real reflection on who you are through your writing
and first-impressions are important, sometimes that is all you have. If your
story is a thriller and gripping, your query letter should be too. If your book
is touching then get to the real heart of the matter by making the agent feel
even with the query letter,
— Jeff Rivera is the award-winning author of
Forever My Lady (Warner Books). For more information on writing query
letters that will get agents begging you for your manuscript, contact Jeff
at Jeff@JeffRivera.com. The first 50
authors to respond and mention BookMarket.com will receive a free critique of
their query letters.
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"The old traditional way of getting an agent is the best way to get
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publisher, Gallery and Pocket Books
For a list of book editors at publishers who bought and published
first novels or debut novels, click here.
How to Get a Top Literary Agent and Sign That Coveted 6-Figure Deal
How a Self-Published Author Can Get a Legitimate Agent