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It’s a task that strikes fear in the hearts of even the bravest, most experienced writers: creating an effective query letter. The hair-raising stress of determining what to include and what to leave out can make you feel like a sleep-deprived zombie. Make the wrong choices and literary agents may cringe and toss your query letter aside. Thankfully, the letter experts here at Writer’s Relief can help you avoid the most frightening query letter mistakes.
5 Query Letter Mistakes That Could Scare Off Literary Agents
The Fear Of Never-Ending Text
Even though most submissions to literary agents are now sent via e-mail, that doesn’t mean you can wax verbose and send fifty paragraphs about your book in a query letter. A printout of your query letter shouldn’t be long enough to double as mummy wrappings! Instead, a query letter should be the equivalent of one standard printed page. Its purpose is to entice the agent to want to see more—the same way those mini candy bars in your trick or treat haul give you just a taste and leave you craving more chocolate.
The Terror Of Typos and Errors.
Typos and grammar mistakes scream unprofessional! and show you didn’t bother to proofread your letter and. Ask a grammar-savvy friend or another writer to review your query letter before you send it out. You may even consider hiring a professional proofreader to give your query letter a once-over.
The Horror Of A Deathly Boring Book Blurb (Or—Gasp!—No Blurb At All!)
The book blurb is the blood and guts of your letter. This is where you must capture the interest of literary agents so they will request more of your manuscript. Like a movie preview, your book blurb doesn’t go into every detail and subplot, but instead focuses on the overall story arc and ends with a hook. All in no more than 250 words. No, we’re not kidding.
The Danger Of Ignored Submission Guidelines
Ignoring an agent’s submission guidelines can get your query letter sent straight to the rejection slip graveyard. Be sure to submit exactly what is requested. Some literary agents only want a query letter, while others want a query letter and a synopsis, and still others want a complete query letter packet. If the agent asks for ten pages, give them ten—not fifteen because you think that’s a better selection. If he or she asks for a specific subject line, use that subject line!
Pay special attention to formatting. If you don’t double space, the agent may not even read your submission.
The Nightmare Of Overkill
Costumes are fun for Halloween. But in a query letter, you shouldn’t wear any masks or overdress your credentials. Agents appreciate confidence when it’s paired with humility rather than bravado. If you have accomplishments that highlight your strengths or success as a writer, you should certainly list them in your author bio. But there’s absolutely no need to say that your book will be “an instant bestseller” or that you are “the next Stephen King.” Let your writing speak for you!
To ensure that your query letter brings nothing but smiles to the faces of literary agents, make sure you also purge your letter of these common scary mistakes. Then you can rest assured your letter won’t frighten anyone—unless, of course, you write in the horror or thriller genre. Mwah-ha-ha!
Question: What part of a query letter do you think is the scariest to write, and why?