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The goal of a query letter is to get a literary agent excited enough to request more information about your book manuscript. But (gasp!) some writers, in their perfectly understandable enthusiasm, can be a little too intense—and too much excitement in your query can actually have the opposite effect on a literary agent’s interest in your book. A query letter that reads too much like an overwrought used car sales pitch will have literary agents rolling their eyes instead of reading ahead. Here’s how to get attention without getting overly emotional in your query letter.
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Oh, My! Avoid These Overly Emotional Elements In Your Query Letter
The overly excited opening lines. Often, writers try to pepper their query letter opening lines with clever turns of phrase. But most literary agents simply want to start with the facts: genre, title, word count, and why this book is in my office. Literary agents have seen most of the typical “clever” opening lines a thousand times before, so if you want them to keep reading, ditch this unappreciated tactic.
The hyped-up description of unmatched greatness. In our Review Board submissions, we regularly read queries from authors who extol their manuscript as the best thing to happen to literature since The Bible (which is the #1 selling book of all time). But literary agents tend to be suspicious of writers who sing their own praises. Instead, they appreciate writers who offer the facts and let them make up their own minds. Of course, if you have managed to get a great book endorsement from a famous author or a gushing book review, you should absolutely use it!
The super-dramatic book blurb. The description of your book must be emotional and evocative to catch a reader’s attention. But because writers are tasked with creating a big emotional impact in just a few sentences in a query letter, there’s some danger that the text can become “overwritten” or even “purple.” Ask for a professional review of your query to be sure you’re not emotionally jumping the shark. Or, get a professional to help you write your query letter from scratch. (Hint: We may be able to help!)
The “something for everyone” gambit. Many writers claim, with wild exuberance, that their cross-genre book offers something for everyone. But literary agents are wary of that kind of phrasing: something for everyone means there’s no way to pitch the book to one market in particular. Your book might truly appeal to everyone, but let the agent make that decision.
The TMI author bio. We believe an author bio benefits from a little bit of personality—a glimpse into the author’s life beyond the written word. But some writers cross the line into Too Much Information territory. Learn more about how to keep TMI out of your author bio in your query letter.
The apologetic author bio. Some authors will fall back on mild groveling in their query letters: I’m just a nobody, thanks for considering me anyway, etc. But literary agents tend to prefer confident, enthusiastic writers who will champion their own work. It doesn’t matter if you lack publishing credits; you can still make your author bio shine without having published a single piece.
The pushy closing lines. Some writers come across as overly aggressive in their closing lines: If I don’t hear from you in three days, I’ll write to you again. Literary agents don’t want to be hounded or subtly threatened. Instead, simply offer genuine thanks for the agent’s time.
How Can You Strike The Right Tone In Your Query Letter?
When writing your query letter, present the facts in an interesting, intriguing manner. Let the literary agents form their own opinions—don’t try to force-feed them your opinion. You’ll appear respectful, professional, and confident that your writing can speak for itself.
QUESTION: What do you think is the most overused phrase in descriptions of books?