Stuff in the ‘Query Letters’ Category

11 February, 2015

5 Easy Things You Can Do to Avoid Rejection

It’s widely known that agents (and editors) are inundated with queries and submissions.  I scroll through my query inbox at least once a week and probably reject 98% of what comes in.  Some of these rejections might have been avoided, at least leading me to consider the query seriously.  Here are some obvious common mistakes writers make and how they can be avoided:

*Never send a group email to agents.  We like to feel special.  It may feel like a lot of work but address each query you send out to an individual agent.

*Never use a generic salutation.  “Dear Madam” or “Dear Sir” or, simply, “Dear Agent” puts you in the rejection pile, without your letter even being read.

*Never catalog your rejection woes. Telling us how many others have rejected your work or how exhausted you are from sending out queries and being ignored or receiving form rejections does not do you any good.  You sound pitiful.  Is that how you really want to present yourself?

*Never tell us that your book will be the next mega-hit.  Let us be the judge of the potential of your book to succeed.  Gloating about how much money we are going to make together is not persuasive or attractive.

*Never tell us that you know nothing about publishing and are looking to us to educate you.  That is not our job!  Your job is to do some research about the process befoe you ever contact an agent.  In future posts, I’ll share some excellent resources you can use to do just that.

–Joelle Delbourgo

1 April, 2014

The Query Letter: Start with a Stop Sign, Guest Post from John Paine


John Paine photoYou need to arrest the agent’s attention with the first line. She does not want to read about the fact you actually completed a novel. Everyone who queries her has done that. She doesn’t want to know anything about you personally, at least not at first. She wants to know: why does this book stand out from the pack? There are several approaches you might want to take.

You answer that question by putting forth a fresh concept. If you throw up an outrageous idea at the start—stop and look at this—the agent is going to respond: okay, I’ll keep reading. The concept needs to be in capsule form—a single sentence if possible. If not, see if you can boil the story down to its essence, in 25 words or less. What is fresh and engaging about your book? Why is this a valuable addition to the world of books?

To fill out the rest of the first paragraph—and the letter as a whole—you might want to focus the content around a single character, the protagonist. Choose what drives the book overall and place the reader in the driving seat of that first paragraph. Pick out the most striking things that happen in the book and string them together in summary form. Many times you’ll find that outlining the opening sequence works well, since that is what you’re using to lure the reader into the actual book. You can, however, use any arresting sequence of events, wherever they appears in the manuscript. But just remember: if I knew nothing about the novel, what are the highlights that would make me want to read more?

Another opening approach is to provide marketing information. If you have had other novels published, that will catch an agent’s eye. In that first sentence you can tell the agent how many words the manuscript contains, along with its category (mystery, women’s fiction, etc.). That’s useful information. You can fill out the paragraph with the same 25 words or less, and at the paragraph’s end, you might provide a marketing comparison with a published author. If you can tell an agent, “My book is a cross between X novel and Y novel,” she may very well pitch the manuscript to a publishing house in just those terms. If you think your book is like Alice Hoffman’s, write that in the last line: “In the spirit of Alice Hoffman . . .”

Again, you’re speaking a book professional’s language. Even with a literary book, an editor is thinking: how can I persuade the editor-in-chief to buy this book? How will I pitch this book to the marketing department? If you show that your concept stands out from other books that have already been published, that means your novel will find a place of its own on the bookshelf.

One last bit of advice to consider is the use of specifics. A query letter is not a book report. You don’t have to outline every character or every plot line. Just choose a single thread, and make sure to use details from the actual manuscript. Yes, you are providing an overview, but it should constantly pick up specific pieces. That’s how you constructed your story. So use them to tell your mini-story.

For more posts from John Paine, go to


2 September, 2013

When to Send Out an Agent Query

The ease of email queries, which most agencies accept, has resulted in writers sending queries to agents at all times of year and hours o102-02444_IMGf the day.The assumption is (I think) that it’s OK to send out queries at odd times because we agents can read them whenever we like. The reality, for this agent anyway, is that with smart phones, I’m always aware of when a query comes in if it is addressed to me personally.  And I’ll admit, it makes me awfully cranky to receive a query on Christmas or New Year’s Eve or Labor Day or weekends. Perhaps because I began my career in the world of corporate publishing, I still maintain a pretty standard work week schedule.

I remember the early days of faxing, when authors suddenly started to contact agents and editors at any hour they pleased, just because they could. Until then, we had to go into the office to read your letters (yes, folks, hard copy letters).  The fax seemed to cry out:  Hey, this is urgent.  Yet most of the time, it really wasn’t urgent.  It was just…a fax.

It may not make sense to you writers out there, but trust me, you’ll be more likely to get my attention if you respect the work week.  When I sit down at my desk on Monday morning, I actually look forward to hearing from writers.  But email me at 11:00 p.m. on a Saturday night, and I very well may overlook it.

Of course, you can do as you please.  But hey, agents are people, too.  We work hard, but we also have families and friends, and yes, lives.  Taking time to disconnect from our work allows us to come back refreshed, with renewed energy.  And that’s good for you!

–Joelle Delbourgo