Writing a Query Letter: Tips from Our Agents

Have you ever wanted to get inside the agent’s head about what’s really important in the query letter? Nikki and Rachel are sharing the best and worst things to see in a query and tips on how to put your best foot forward with your query letter.

What makes you want to request more from a query?

Nikki: The first thing I look for is a well-written query.  I want to see that the writer has done their research and understand how to write a query. Then common sense elements: are there spelling or grammatical errors,  is this a genre I’m currently looking for, has the author researched the agency and my submissions interests, is the word count in an appropriate range. And then I read for content. Is the story interesting, marketable? Does the writing compel me to read more? Can the writer…write. I am looking for a lot in a query. That’s why it’s so important that an author get it right.

Rachel: If the manuscript is in my wheelhouse (so one of the genres I represent); if the plot seems strong and compelling, without having been overdone; if the story seems marketable and would fill a need in the marketplace; if the sample writing hooks me in right away and has a strong set-up; if the characters seem fun and memorable; and—most importantly—if it’s obvious the author can write.


What makes you want to reject a query?

Nikki: Grammatical errors, misspellings. Verbosity, i.e. I am the next Dan Brown! You will lose out if you don’t read this query! Too long bio. A summary lost in too much additional information I don’t need at the time. References to self-published materials that direct me to horrible reviews of your books. Multiple fonts and colors.  Queries for genres I’ve clearly stated I’m not interested in reading, or material that is too long for the genre. Writers that seem problematic.

Rachel: If I’m confused from the first sentence about the plot or genre; if the author seems like they’d be difficult to work with; if it’s not in my wheelhouse in terms of genre; if I’ve seen very similar queries and nothing about it feels unique or innovative; if the characters don’t seem likable; if I don’t connect with the voice from the sample pages.

What are your top best qualities in a query?

Nikki: A well-written query for the genre or themes in which I’m interested.

Rachel: All of the book’s relevant information is present and easily findable, preferably upfront: the title, genre, word count, etc. The story is actually in the genre the author says it is. The plot seems intriguing, unique and memorable. The characters feel lifelike and sympathetic from the get-go.


How about your top pet peeves in a query?

Nikki: Mentions of self-published material that have bad reviews or did not sell well.

Rachel: Top two are probably that it’s not a genre I expressly represent, and if clearly no market research has been done (i.e., this concept would never sell or it’s been done to death).


Any other advice you want to add?

Nikki: Research the agency, the agents and their interests. Make sure you find the best agent for your work. And then send him or her the best possible query.

Rachel: Do your homework. It’s overwhelming, diving into the online world of agents and how to get published, but compile a spreadsheet of agents you want to query based on their current client list and sales. Targeting your manuscript appropriately is the best thing you can do when first putting your toe into the water of getting published (aka, looking for an agent). Putting in the effort upfront will ultimately help you get to the best agent for your work, and will save you both time in the long run.

If you’re looking to learn more about sending queries to Nikki and Rachel check out our submission guidelines. Want to learn more about query writing, check out our post outlining the basics of a query.