Four Mistakes Writers Make When Querying Literary Agents

As the submissions coordinator for a literary agency, I’ve noticed the majority of authors make at least one mistake in their query letter, most trying to find a clever way to capture the agents’ attention. However, standing out from the crowd is not always a good thing, especially when we provide clear guidelines. A clear query letter gives the impression that you can follow directions and will be easier to work with. Although an author may think their query might get lost in a sea of emails with the same format, the truth is proper submissions are the ones that truly stand out.

Here are a few of most common mistakes I see when sorting through query letters.   

1. Using non-traditional fonts, colors & sizes

Non-traditional fonts may seem like an obvious way to pique an agent’s attention, but in reality, it can cause a negative opinion to be formed by the reader. A proper query letter should be in a traditional print-friendly fonts like Courier or Times New Roman, 12-point and double-spaced. Brightly colored queries, randomly bolded text and fonts that are too large or small to be read are unprofessionalism. Your query is your first impression. Your goal should be to attract the agent with your professionalism and attention to detail. You do not want to repel the agent because you can’t follow directions and your query is messy. 

2. Providing too much information

For an initial query, Holloway Literary requests the following: a query letter including the manuscript title, genre, word count, brief author biography with social media links, and a summary of the manuscript along with the first 15 pages of the manuscript. Anything extra, including a market overview, table of contents, blurbs from other readers, Amazon reviews or a summary of each chapter are not required or needed. In fact, including these types of extras are a sign that the author has not done their homework on how to query any agent, are not able to follow directions and are probably not serious about a career in writing. 

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3. Sending attachments

As stated on our website, Holloway Literary does not open attachments unless they have been requested. However, I still get a few emails each day with no context or query letter, just attachments. I’ve also seen PDF’s of handwritten submissions. If you’re not sure how to copy and paste, an Internet search can help. Otherwise, following the directions will save time in the review process.

4. Screwing up the author’s bio

Some authors seem intimidated by the author biography, especially if they do not have any writing credentials. Your bio is your chance to shine, your opportunity to let us know who has written the story. Tell us who you are, not who you are not!  If you don’t know what to include, write about your current occupation, where you’re from, where you currently live, anything interesting about your life you want to share, social media links and any publishing credits. If you don’t have any publishing credits, it’s entirely fine! Say something like, “this is my first novel.” and leave it at that. Do not make the mistake of simply not including a bio.

There are many resources online that guide the reader through the process of writing a query letter, including a few previous blog posts on our website. When in doubt, do not be afraid to email the submissions coordinator with questions through the submissions inbox. I’m here to help!