Literary agents love reading queries—it’s a big part of the job description, after all! But they are also busy people who get at least a hundred queries a day. To save time, literary agents will quickly separate the best queries from those that don’t meet the basic requirements. If your query letter doesn’t follow publishing industry etiquette or tries too hard to be “clever,” literary agents won’t waste their time reading it. The query letter pros at Writer’s Relief have written thousands of query letters that check all the right boxes: meet industry formatting standards, intrigue agents, and boost the odds of getting a request for more pages. Here are some of the reasons why literary agents won’t read your query letter—and what you can do to get it right.
Reasons Literary Agents Won’t Read Your Query Letter
Font choice. You say to yourself: Be unique! Eye-catching! Stand out from the crowd! Here’s advice from our letter experts and from literary agents: Don’t. Agents don’t want to struggle to read between the lines of your 14-point comic sans font in neon lime green. If you want to express romance, horror, cleverness, or uniqueness, do it with words, not goofy font choices. Stick to the publishing industry standard of Times New Roman in 11- or 12-point. Anything else will result in your query letter going straight into the trash.
A cover image—or any images. A good rule of thumb is to exclude images from your query letter (and your query’s sample pages). Your book cover design and any interior images will all be decided by the publishing company. If you include images in your query letter or query packet, it may signal to the agent that you are not flexible about the final selection. And if it seems you’re not familiar with how the publishing industry works (as in: don’t send images) or feel your book is somehow “exempt” from having to follow the rules, you may come across as potentially difficult to work with—and agents will scrap your query letter before they read further.
Including images also sometimes creates problems with making your query submission. Today most query submissions are made via email or submission manager software that could have difficulties uploading images.
The copyright symbol. Do you want to scream, “I don’t know anything about the publishing industry”? Then put a copyright symbol on your book title in your query letter. First, copyright doesn’t apply to book titles, only the manuscript. Second, literary agents know that the book you’ve written is already protected by copyright—they don’t need the symbol to advertise it.
Longer than one page. Your query letter should consist of four things: an introduction, a brief summary (around 200 words), your bio, and your sign-off—and it should all fit on one page. No ifs, ands, or buts. Your book is not the exception. If a three-hour movie can be condensed into a two-minute preview, your book can be condensed into a 200-word paragraph. Your book blurb should be a teaser that ends on a cliffhanger: You want to entice the agent to read the accompanying pages or request to see more. And your bio should be a brief overview of your writing credits, not a memoir that goes all the way back to your second-grade penmanship award. This checklist will help you properly compose an effective query letter.
Poor formatting. Don’t think you can outsmart publishing industry guidelines by messing with standard formatting. Making smaller margins so you can jam more into your letter fools no one. And don’t even think about adding color or patterns to the background.
Since most agents only take online form or email queries these days, test your query letter by sending it to a few friends/family members to make sure it retains your intended formatting.
Typos and grammar mistakes. A query letter filled with mistakes reflects poorly on your writing in general—and on your manuscript in particular. Since typos and grammar errors make it obvious you didn’t proofread your query letter, why would an agent expect your book to be any better? Ask a grammar-savvy friend or another writer to review your query letter before you send it out.
If you want to give your book the best chance of getting published, you need to make a great first impression with your query letter. Avoid making any of these mistakes that would make agents hit “delete.” Follow our tips to ensure your query letter makes it to the top of the “must-read” pile!
And to really boost your odds of getting a request from a literary agent, turn to the submission strategy experts at Writer’s Relief! Our letter pros will create an effective query letter, and our researchers will pinpoint the agents most likely to be interested in your book. Submit to our Review Board today and learn more!
Question: Which of these mistakes have you made in your query letter?