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11 Things Writers Say In Query Letters—But Really Shouldn’t | Writer’s Relief

The query letter experts at Writer’s Relief work with novel and memoir writers to craft effective letters that stand out in literary agents’ slush piles. And we often see writers including things in a query to a literary agent that shouldn’t be there. Here are our tips!

Writers: Don’t Include These 11 Things In Your Query Letter

The book’s ending. A good query letter book blurb reads less like a synopsis and more like the book’s back cover teaser copy. Leave your reader hanging—and wanting to read more!

The age at which you started writing. Most writers get to the same place the same way—by falling in love with words/stories at some point. Unless your story of becoming a writer has a particularly surprising genesis, it’s probably not worth mentioning.

How many years you’ve been writing. How long you’ve been interested in writing is generally not relevant in a query—even if you’re unpublished. Better to focus on the specifics of how you’ve studied your craft. Example: “I’ve attended eight writing workshops and fifteen conferences in five years.”

The fact that you worked with a freelance editor. If you paid someone to edit your book, literary agents may be left wondering how much of the book is yours and how much is your editor’s.

Online review quotes from casual readers. Rather than share quotes from reviewers who aren’t pros, focus on numbers instead: “My self-published book has 500 ratings of four stars or above on Goodreads.”

Submit to Review Board

Prior disappointments. Had a bad experience with a literary agent you worked with? Did self-publishing not fulfill your dreams? Things happen—but your query should focus on the positive aspects of your learning experiences. Save the nitty-gritty details for follow-up conversations.

TMI in a personal bio. Don’t overshare in your author bio.

Themes and concerns. Some writers will “interpret” their book for literary agents—as if agents need a book’s themes pointed out. Piling on statements about themes and concerns (“my book is about the different ways people deal with tragedy depending on their family relationships”) wastes precious space in your query letter. Instead of stating the obvious, trust that your themes and concerns will shine through via your characters and plot.

Apologies and excuses. When a writer says, “Even though this is my first book and I have never been published, I am very dedicated to my craft,” it reads like an apology. Skip it. Literary agents know that every writer has to start somewhere. And they love finding exciting new voices!

Horn-tooting. Steer clear of writing anything about your own book that sounds like a reviewer would have written it: “It’s a page-turner that will keep you guessing and make you fall in love.” Here’s how to know if your query letter is overly emotional.

Poorly made comparisons to other books. Sometimes, comparing your book to another title can help clarify your niche. But we find that many writers use book comparisons that don’t quite work.

When In Doubt, Seek Professional Query Writing Assistance

While it’s okay to ask your friends to critique your story or poems, you might want to seek more qualified, professional assistance for writing a query. There are so many nuances of etiquette and subtle strategies employed in an effective query letter that well-meaning critiques of “I liked it!” from your friends might not get you the results you want. Learn more about our query writing and literary agent targeting service for book authors.


Question: Do you agree with our list? Disagree? Add your voice!


7 Responses to 11 Things Writers Say In Query Letters—But Really Shouldn’t | Writer’s Relief

  1. Agents and houses want to receive a polished manuscript and would expect it has been edited. Editors don’t re-write or write; that is what a ghostwriter does. Proofing, copyediting, content editing, fact checking (even for fiction), and preparation for submission are not there author’s task. So your advice not to broadcast, while holding some truth, can also serve to scare those away those whose work would most benefit from professional editing.

  2. Hi Jake,

    Thank you for your comment. We advise not sending agents any sample pages from your work unless they ask for it.

  3. Very helpful information for a beginner such as I. Thanks. Since finding this site I have learned tons of good advice.

  4. About a copyright from a book out of print over 120 years old. In a foreign language but subject matter is about Texas history. Stories

  5. I did 4 of these no-no’s! I’ll find out in a few more weeks if it’s time to rewrite the format for my query.

  6. Have not written a query before. This looks like very good information to me. Thanks for the assistance.

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