KEEP IN MIND: This is a general list based on our requirements. MAKE SURE you check the requirements of the agency you are submitting to before including or not including the items listed below.
Good things to have in a query:
- Project vital statistics—title, word count per MS Word (not page count unless specified in submissions guidelines), genre (fiction: suspense, mystery, romance, etc.), type (fiction/nonfiction), category (YA, middle-grade, etc.). If it’s mainstream, say it’s mainstream and not that it’s a mix of romance, mystery, and science fiction, because mixed genre equals mainstream.
- Project descriptions—one-line synopsis of entire work for the opening paragraph (some call this a hook); one-paragraph synopsis of entire work for second paragraph or so
- Publishing credits/related publishing credits, if you have them
- Credentials (for nonfiction), if you have them
- Brief description of what you’ve done to prepare yourself for writing for publication, if you have done anything (degrees, workshops, etc.)—We also like to know if you are active in a nationally recognized writer’s organization. Do you go to their conferences or attend their regional meetings? Also, if you hold office in one of these organizations let us know. Some agents like to see contest placements, but typically this doesn’t help us much unless it’s a major award like a Pulitzer or an Oscar (Edgars, Ritas, etc.).
- YOUR CONTACT INFORMATION--This should go without saying, but some writers leave it out or give an e-mail address that doesn't work. Also, remember to put agency e-mail addresses on your "not spam" list so you'll get responses that don't bounce.
Bad things to have in a query (or conversely, good things often left out):
- Anything that distracts from your project, such as personal information--Please don’t be offended by this, but we don’t want to know who you are unless it has to do with publishing. Let us explain: If you’re published, we want and need that information, or if you have an MFA or have taught literature in the college level, then we want to know that. However, we don’t want to know that you are married and have three kids or are divorced or live on the streets or have an interesting day job unless it relates directly to what you’ve written. At the query stage, we’re only interested in what you’ve written. If we go beyond the query stage, then we’ll be interested in who you are.
- E-mail attachments--Don’t send us an empty message and attach your query to it because it will be delete it unread. Why? Click here to read a post we did on this in 2006. REMINDER: We know this can be an easy way to blanket send queries; however, shot-gunning agents is not the best way to approach seeking representation. The proper way is to research each agent before sending him or her anything. Shot-gunning is another quick way to get an instant rejection from most agents.
- Testimonials—Please don’t tell us your book has been read by ten, twenty, thirty or even a hundred people and they all loved it. This is useless information and therefore not something that should be in a query letter.
- Publishing credit details--Don’t tell us you’ve been published and leave it at that. If you’re published, then we need to know what you’ve written, who published it, and when. Give all the facts or leave that part out, because if we receive a query and the writer says he or she has been published and says nothing else about it, we’re going to assume that the writer isn’t proud of the fact. If you’ve been previously published, we need the title, publisher, date published and sales information, if you have it.
- New Author Status--If you’re a new author and you don’t have any publishing credits, you don’t have to tell me you’re a new author. Just say nothing about your publishing history and I’ll figure that out on my own. Authors published by HarperCollins tend to note this in their queries; if we don’t see publishing credits, we’ll get the picture.
- The Wrong Name of the Recipient—Please make sure you address your letter to the agent you are trying to query. Yes, copy and paste can get you into trouble if you aren’t observant. Also, spell the person’s name correctly, especially if misspelling it turns it into something embarrassing. “Dear Agent” is also a no-no, as is “To Whom It May Concern.”
- Extra Redundant/Worthless Information--Don’t tell us you’ve just finished your fiction novel and are looking for an agent. We actually have people put this in the Subject line. This is wasted information. We already know that you’ve finished a novel and that you are seeking an agent; otherwise, why would you be querying us? The mental picture we get when someone puts this info in their query is them typing the last word of their MS, ripping it out of the printer and dashing it off to agents everywhere—no editing, no revision, just a raw manuscript that they want to get rid of as quickly as possible so they can start enjoying the fruits of their labor.