Before there is an Agent and a Publishing Deal, there is every writer’s dreaded obstacle and Final Wall: the Query Letter. Here is a list of the top five reasons a query letter is rejected by an agent.
1. Perilous Protocol
Manners and professionalism count. Your query letter will be met with an instant “No” if it doesn’t meet the minimum requirements of query letter protocol.
What is “protocol”?
It almost goes without saying, protocol requires you to pay close attention to an agent’s posted Submission Guidelines. Here are some links to excellent discussions about some other how-to basics of crafting a query letter.
The Complete Guide to Query Letters That Get Manuscript Requests, by agent Jane Friedman.
How to Write a Query Letter by agent Rachelle Gardner.
Query Shark (a site where where you can post your query letter for review, discussion, and critique)
2. Misses and Misdirection
This point sounds obvious, but you must send your query letter to an agent who represents your manuscript’s genre. Do your homework. Research which agents are actively seeking new manuscripts in your chosen genre. (Genre-blending works are frequently problematic here–if you can’t pinpoint which genre your story belongs in, it makes it that much harder to attract an agent).
3. “Good”, But Not Good Enough
The Truth: Agents aren’t looking for good writing. They’re looking for great writing. They’re looking for compelling, fresh writing that sizzles. “Good” (AKA amateur) writing simply won’t cut it in the current marketplace. So before you submit your query letter, make sure your writing meets that mark. You have to be brutally honest when judging the merits of your own writing. Compare your first chapter to some best sellers in your genre, and then ask yourself: am I there yet?
4 First Line Fails
No matter how well crafted your query letter is, you can lose an agent’s interest with a clunker first line in your story sample. For great discussions about crafting an effective first line, see the following links:
Finding The Right Door To Enter Your Story by PJ (Kris) Parrish
But First…. By Joe Moore
5 Spelling, Grammar, and Punctuation, Oh My!
It hurts me to say this, but many query letters fail due to the sender’s lack of paying attention to the basics of spelling, grammar, punctuation, and paragraph formatting.
How about you? Can you share your do’s and dont’s about writing an effective query letter?