3 Things You Need in Your Query Letter to a Literary Agent

If you’re in the process of getting your book published, odds are you’ve been looking for editors and agents to hire to get your manuscript up and running in the publishing world. And if you’ve done any research on the matter, you’ll know that a solid query letter is key to landing a good literary agent.

After reading several sample query letters in my online writing groups, I’ve noticed some pretty consistent errors—but all are super easy fixes that you can remedy in your query! Make sure that you include these 3 things, and you’ll be on the right track:

1. Your letter must have perfect grammar, spelling, punctuation, and mechanics.

While they may be minimal, any number of these errors will cause an agent to completely lose interest in your manuscript. If you can’t write a simple letter, how can they expect you to write a clean full-length novel?

You can’t always rely on squiggly red and green lines to find these issues for you, so you’ll have to do some editing yourself! Try reading your letter out loud to catch any syntax mistakes, or give it to a grammar-prone friend to look over before sending it in. The more eyes you have proofreading your letter, the better!

2. You must convey the utmost professionalism in your letter.

In my work as editor of a local newspaper, it really annoyed me when people sent emails asking for things without being courteous and professional. Example:

Hey Michelle!

I know I waited until the last minute, but can you do this for me right now?

Thanks!

You may as well sign this email with “-I don’t care about you or your time,” because that’s exactly the message that an email like this conveys. Even though asking for representation from an agent isn’t exactly the same as asking the editor of a newspaper for a favor, the same concept applies: you need to be respectful of the person you’re writing to and their time. And that means being professional.

The use of contractions, parentheses, and informal language will do one of two things: it will either make you look like you don’t know how to write, or it will make you appear disrespectful. A lot of times, the latter is true.

When you use informal language, especially in the first correspondence, it makes you seem like you’re talking down to the agent; it’s like calling your professor by their first name instead of by their title—it’s just disrespectful! Write formally so you don’t sound like you’re talking down to the agent or assuming that they have all the time in the world for you and your book. Above all, thank them for their time and be as courteous and respectful as possible!

3. You must have an agent-first attitude in your letter.

I always recommend to my writers that they start a query—whether it’s a cover letter for a job, or one to an agent or publisher—by talking about the person they’re writing to, not you.

If you notice a lot of personal pronouns throughout your letter, that could be a red flag. Instead of telling them what you think about your book, and what you were trying to do, you should tell your potential agent why they (and potentially millions of other people) will be interested in reading your book. Remember: it’s not about you, it’s about your book and what your book can do for them. That’s what is going to convince them to want to represent you and your work!

Not sure if your query letter fits all these requirements? Paste it in the comments below and we can work through it together!

Michelle sign off

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