8 Query Letter Don’ts

Perhaps the most feared thing after a synopsis for writers is the query letter.

Mostly because it has so much riding on it. It’s your chance to make a good impression on an agent or publisher, and you only have a few paragraphs to do it.

You want your query to lead to a request for your manuscript; it needs to be strong, interesting, and not feature any of these don’ts.

Query Letter Don’ts

1. Don’t talk about yourself more than the project you’re pitching. The agent/publisher needs to know about your book first. You, second.

2. Don’t skimp on story hooks. A hook is called such for a reason; it hooks the reader and makes them want to read more. If your query doesn’t mention at least one hook, rewrite it so it does.

3. Don’t give away too much. Yes, this contradicts the last point, but even though you need to give enough info/hooks to spike interest, you also need to balance that with not giving away too much. The reaction you want is for the agent/publisher to want to read more, not surmise your whole plot from your query and give it a pass for being predictable.

4. Don’t fall victim to unnecessary details. The query is not the place to explain how the world/magical/system/time travel rules that govern your novel work, or how every character looks. Hint at these things if it’s necessary and forms a great hook. If not, leave it for the synopsis/manuscript.

5. Don’t forget the stakes. Compelling reads are compelling because of the stakes. A query is not the place to talk about your MC ending his senior year with a huge exam, it’s the place to talk about what he will lose if he fails that final exam. What is at stake for your characters in your novel? Include it in the query.

6. Don’t neglect your main character. You don’t need to (and shouldn’t) mention every character in your query, but you need to give the agent/publisher someone to root for. Make them connect with your MC and make them care/become curious about what happens to them.

7. Don’t make your query a massive block of text. Break it up into paragraphs. Focus the first two or three on your story, one on genre and word count, and the final paragraph on your author bio (if you want to include one).

8. Don’t forget to give them a call to action. Sign off with an “I’d be thrilled to send you a full manuscript”. Put the idea in their head to request more. End with a polite “thank you for your time” and you have yourself a query letter.

The hardest query you’ll ever send is the first one. After that, it gets easier. As does regularly updating said query letter so the best version is landing in agent inboxes, just waiting for that elusive ‘yes’.

— K.M. Allan

You can find me on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.

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48 thoughts on “8 Query Letter Don’ts

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  1. I’ll add that while it’s a wonderful exercise to write your own query letter, it can be beneficial to have someone else work on it. I was getting no traction with mine–too close to the story to see where the big hooks were, for one–and had another writer craft my query. Much more success. Still no agent, but it’s all a learning process…

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi, and thank you for these tips. I’ve read elsewhere that one should also ask for feedback, as many agents are willing to offer feedback if requested. How do you feel about such requests, and do you think we ought to write our QL before or after finishing our final drafts? Many thanks, Shira

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Shira, thanks for reading 😊. It’d be easier to write the query after the final draft has been written because then you’ll know exactly what your story is about. I’ve never heard of requesting feedback in a query letter. If an agent has feedback for you then they should include it in their reply without you having to ask.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks! I think it was J.S. Bell’s The Art of War for Writers that suggested the feedback request, but my notes are a shambles right now. I’ll have to get them in order and typed in and then try to let you know if it was indeed that book that recommended it, but that ‘s the only time I’ve seen such a reco. Good to know that I can wait to write the QL (I’ve been seeing contradictory blog claims)! Thank you so much for all of your work to help us! Have a great weekend, Shira

        Liked by 2 people

  3. I finally had to have my editor write mine. I was to close to the story. No matter how hard I tried it wasn’t working for me.

    I admire anyone who can do this and do it well. Excellent list. For those who can do it on their own this is a great list to follow.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Bryan. How lucky you were able to find someone to help you write it 😊. I get what you’re saying about being too close to it. It’s hard to know what to cut when you know the story so well.

      Like

  4. #6 is what killed me when I was trying to query “In the Valley of Magic.” I agree, your query should focus on you MC, because readers today are focused on characters over plot or concept. But what do you do when your book doesn’t have one central character? What I thought was being innovative ended up being a hard sale for agents looking to fit an established market.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. My series has multiple points of view and side characters who readers have preferred over the MC, but I had to cut them from my query because otherwise my query would have been a mess. It’s a hard call to make, especially when you don’t have one clear cut MC. That must have been so frustrating, JM.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Many thanks for the advice. This is something that I’ll be needing to do in the next month or so as I’m halfway through the editing process! I think I’ll need to see a few examples before I even make an attempt at a query letter 😬😬

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I suppose it would not be a good idea to say that if they don’t avail of this opportunity there is the danger of them ending up feeling like those who rejected ‘Gone With The Wind’ or ‘Harry Potter’.

    Liked by 1 person

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