5 Things NOT To Do In Your Query Letter

Querying an agent is hard, especially when you are just starting out. I know, I’ve been there. But being on the receiving end of the query letter, it’s a lot easier to pinpoint some of the common errors authors make. So here is a short list of what not to do, in hopes of helping even a few first timers.


  1. Do Not Self-Depreciate. I am surprised by how many new authors do this. “I know it’s only my first novel, and probably won’t sell…”Β  “I don’t have any education, or any real platform…” “You probably don’t have the time to waste on this…” The list goes on. Be confident. Confidence is sexy. Confidence sells.
  2. Do Not Use Bold Type, All Caps, Purple Lettering, or Italics. This does make your query stand out, but not in the way you are hoping. Agents look through many queries and manuscripts every day. Their eyes are beyond tired. Opening one of these emails is like being kicked in the head. You really don’t want that to be your first impression.
  3. Do Not Use a Form Query Letter. You want your writing to sell your work for you. Form letters tell us that you are either too lazy to write your own or incapable. Plus, inevitably you will forget to fill out something so what we will see is this: Dear (Agent’s Name), My book (Your Book Title)…
  4. Do Not Address Your Query To 50 Different Agents. We know you’ve sent out multiple submissions. But we like to think you are looking for an agent that fits you and your book and that you’ve done some research. Besides, I can guarantee you that the submission guidelines are different with each company. Which brings me to the final one…
  5. Do Not Ignore the Submission Guidelines. We don’t instantly reject or delete those that don’t follow our simple guidelines, but most others do. Do yourself a favor, go to the websites and make sure you follow the guidelines.

This is obviously not the full list of everything you shouldn’t do, but it’s a start. If you think it will help someone else, please share it around!


24 comments on “5 Things NOT To Do In Your Query Letter

  1. alysbcohen says:

    When I was still querying (you wre my #1 hope), I only got out one or two aday due to being do slow about writing the letters and quadruple- checking guidelines. How frustrating that so many don’t bother!

    • Why are you not still querying? I went to your blog to try to find out and quickly realized that I could blow a whole week reading your posts, so I had to pull myself away.

      • Aw, thanks! I get asked that a lot. The short of it is I’m concerned about taking two years to get this book out, which I know is typical in the publishing world. Since the message of Sacred Blood is the polar opposite of other books out there that promote abuse, I want to get something out there that can inspire women to get away from it and realize they don’t need a man to make them whole.

        I’ll write a post on this since I have had inquiries about why I’m not going the traditional route. The full reason is a bit more complex. I’ll link here when I’m finished.

      • Oh, that makes perfect sense! Please do link – I’ll be interested to hear about the process which led you where you are.

      • alysbcohen says:

        I feel like I’m laying my head on the block, but oh well. I don’t think I really have much at stake in the long, or even short, run. So here you go!


      • Thanks so much for putting it all out there. The more knowledge there is out there, the more people like you who share their experiences, then the more people can make their own informed decisions. I hope that when your book comes out you sign up for conferences to sit on panels and tell others about it – the pros, the cons. The truth.

        Many kudos to you.

      • alysbcohen says:

        Michelle, you are just so sweet and encouraging! How does one sign up for these panels? I can definitely gives the pros and cons to each side. Which is the right path for each person really depends on what the author wants out of their writing and how much work they’re willing to put in. What’s right for one might not be right for another, and what’s right for one book might not be right for another book by the same author. So I’d love to speak on panels if I know how to sign up for them.

      • JM Bray says:

        Plus One on what Alys asked about panels. I know, for instance, the RWA convention is seeking those wishing to lead a seminar, but i don’t feel I’m ready for that yet, a panel though…you bet. When you mentioned it to her I wondered the same.



  2. Such good reminders — sharing this on my FB author page!

  3. Excellent post, Michelle! When I’m ready to start querying you will still be my # 1 hope, and I’ll be sure not to do any of these things in my letter! Also, I wanted to let you know that I was reading and loving CHARMING… until my son picked it up yesterday. He is loving it so much that he can’t stop reading. He read for two hours in the car yesterday on the way home from the beach, then sat in the car in the driveway for another 45 minutes because he couldn’t stop long enough to get out! He took it to school today to read during homeroom, so maybe I’ll get it back tonight. Congratulations to you and Elliot James on a fantastic novel!

    • I have no doubt that you wouldn’t do any of these things, Paula!
      And I’m thrilled to hear that you’re enjoying CHARMING! I just read the manuscript for the sequel and it doesn’t disappoint! It is going to be an epic series πŸ™‚
      Wonderful that your son loves it, too!!

      • I’ll tell Will there’s going to be a sequel! He’ll be excited! Thanks again for the most helpful blog post. It’s great to talk with you again!

        ~ Paula

      • You too! Let him know that there are 4 short stories available from Orbit, too, all about Charming (more or less short prequels to the first book). One of them is free right now on Amazon. Just look up the author’s name πŸ™‚

  4. I’ve helped with query letters here and there and the self-deprecating is really obnoxious and common. I also find that people who are young like to tell you how young they are, and that people who are in college like to tell you what degree they’re trying to get (especially if it’s writing-related). At least the self-deprecating ones aren’t QUITE as annoying as the self-aggrandizing ones, but yes, writers should really learn to leave this stuff out!

    • Yes, the self-aggrandizing ones can be over the top. The happy medium is to stick with the facts. List writing credentials, and anything on your resume or in your history that is relevant to the book, or to the marketing of the book. But leave off all the “This is the next Harry Potter! Sign this or you’ll regret it!”

      (You would be surprised at how many authors respond to a rejection by writing to say that their book is the next Harry Potter, and that I will regret not signing them just as much as all those people that rejected JK Rowling the first time around – but that’s another blog post).

      • I actually think I wouldn’t be surprised by how many “rejection rage” responses contain “you’ll be sorry!” sentiments. Of course you know writers are a particularly sensitive breed, so I find they often can’t handle being told they’re not ready to tackle this step (nor do they handle “I just don’t like it” very well). I guess they’re trying to protect themselves and their writing by shouting you down and screaming your wrongness to the world, but if you actually are the next JK Rowling, you shouldn’t have to say so, any more than the sun has to scream at you in the night to convince you dawn is coming.

        I’d love to see more agent perspective blog posts from you. πŸ™‚

      • More coming!

        And I LOVE that metaphor!

  5. JM Bray says:

    Great advice as always Michelle. I’m not querying currently but when I was I thankfully followed similar advice. We only have a few moments with the agent as they read an email and every small advantage helps! It’s nice to see you posting again and hope all is well.


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