Friday, November 18, 2011

3 Things You Can Leave Out of Your Query, and 3 Things You Should Include

The following tips pertain to novelists querying literary agents.

Things you can leave out of your query (because they are rightly assumed):

1. That your manuscript is complete. If you haven't finished the novel, then you shouldn't be querying. Period.

2. That you are seeking representation from the agent addressed in the letter. That's like walking up to the counter at McDonald's and prefacing your order with, "I'm here because I'm hungry and eating your food will make me not hungry anymore. Since I can't approach the cooks back there, could you act as a go-between for me?"

Counter girl: *blinks*

3. A one-sentence (or longer) description of your novel immediately following the 2-3 paragraph summary. Rather than emphasize your pitch, this usually detracts from the tension you've built up in the preceding paragraphs. And it tells the agent nothing new, so, in my opinion, it's a bit insulting. Like saying, "just in case you didn't grasp what I just told you, here's the gist of it in simpler terms."

For a perfect example of what I mean, click here and skim down to the title of the novel in all caps. Read that paragraph and the first two sentences of Janet's comments that follow (in blue).


Things you should include in your query (because they will make a good impression):

1. Comparative titles. This shows you know the current market and, more importantly, where your work fits in the market--you know your target audience. It also shows that you read the types of novels you write. You don't have to say your novel is exactly like these titles, just that they're similar in tone, content, style, etc.

2. A specific reason you're querying this agent for this novel. Even if it's a newer agent who doesn't have a sales record established yet, there has to be a reason you selected this person from the masses. What was it? Be honest.

3. Clean writing (no misspelled words, punctuation errors, grammar issues, etc). Yes, this can mean a pass instead of a request if you let it slip. Don't believe me? Click here.

Those of you who have been through the query process before (or are currently going through it), what would you add to either of these lists?

Happy querying,


  1. Great touch up to my query writing. Thanks for the quick tips.

  2. Definitely don't add that you're the next Jodi Picoult or Stephen King or that this novel is the next Gone With The Wind. :)

    Thanks for the reminders - #2 on the do not add list made me laugh.

  3. Lydia,

    I think you're onto something here. If only we could *blink* along with our queries, like watching your spouse read your MS for the first time. That's a deal closer right thar! *blinkblinkblink* --> direct quote from some book I read...

    Great check list. Seriously.

  4. Thanks for this! I just posted my first attempt at a query letter to my blog last night and did 1 thing from your No list and need to do another on your Yes. Thank you!

  5. Great post! Really helpful. I hadn't really thought of including comparative titles.

  6. "Hello, I'll like one order of redundancy and another order of the Captain Obvious. Can I have fries with that?"


  7. Thank you Lydia - great check list.

  8. Thanks for the tips :-) I am not at the querying stage yet but I will try to keep in mind when I am!

  9. Another thing I've heard to leave out (which seemed like a "duh" moment to me) is something like, "I'm sending queries to other agents." Well, of course you are! Great list, Lydia.

  10. Thanks for the tips! I think they will really help me.

  11. Great tips! I'll be querying for the first time the beginning of next year so I will keep all of these in mind. :)


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