Query Writing Tips

Go online and you’ll find many sites offering tips for writing query letters. I have compressed some accepted “Dos and Don’ts” for you.


  1. Spell the agent’s name correctly and make sure he is interested in your genre. MSWL is a good site to check.
  2. State the title and word count.
  3. Mention why you are contacting the agent.
  4. Be professional and keep the query to one page only, double-spaced.
  5. Give your contact info: phone number, address, email.


  1. Don’t mention that you found the agent on a database or writing guide.
  2. Do not say your novel is fiction!
  3. Do not claim that your book is better than others.
  4. Do not apologize for being a novice writer or for being unpublished.
  5. In your closing thank the agent for her time.
  6. Don’t query until you have completed the fiction manuscript or if it’s a nonfiction piece, you have an outline, table of contents and sample chapters.
  7. Visit the agent’s website to see what they like included with a query. Sometimes they only want ten pages, sometimes three chapters. Abide by submission rules.

Your task is to write a query letter for a piece you are ready to submit.

Have fun with this one.

Crafting a Good Query Letter


You’ve finished your first novel. Like every author, you’d love to see it published. But how do you go about getting an agent?

I wish I had all the answers!  I’ve been writing query letters for almost two years now. I’ve sent out over one hundred. So far I’ve managed to attract the interest of three agents, all of whom asked to read my manuscript. All have turned me down.

I also worked with an Author Coach and a published author to refine my query.

I’m offering what advice I have garnered.

Go to an agency’s website and browse through the list of agents. Read the bios and see what types of books each agent represents. Choose only those that are in your genre. Write down the name, carefully checking spelling, and follow all submission guidelines.

Address your query to the agent that best fits what you write. Begin your letter with a connection to that agent. For example: I was happy to see that you represent sci-fi work.

If your work is similar to something that has been published, reference that work, but make sure to emphasize what makes your piece different. For example: The Lost Martian is similar to Weir’s The Martian, in terms of location, but my protagonist is the last of her people.

This is your hook. You only get about three sentences to entice the agent with your opening, so be sparse with your words.

Your second paragraph is your opportunity to introduce your book. Make it as interesting as possible, but stay away from openings like “What if…” “Imagine…” and “Waking from a dream…” Think about what makes your story interesting and unique. Tell us something about the main character that makes us care about that individual and that would inspire us to read on. Give the agent enough details about key events that the agent begins to see the story arc, but don’t give away the ending. Save that for the synopsis.

Once you’ve got a solid paragraph, read what it out loud. Make sure all verbs are active, past tense. Even if your book is written in present tense, pitch it in past. If you belong to a writing group, share it and ask for ideas to make it better.

Your last paragraph is a short opportunity to explain why you are the most qualified to write your book. If you’ve had pieces published in something other than a local newsletter in which all submissions are included, then mention that. If this is a fiction piece and the only things you’ve had published were nonfiction, mention that.

Don’t say that you have no publishing credits. Don’t mention that you’ve entered contests unless you’ve won and don’t say that you’ve sent in pieces but haven’t had a thing accepted.

If you have a MFA or are working on one, mention that. If you have a degree in English or Creative Writing or Journalism, well, some sources say to mention it while others say not to.

Throughout, keep the tone professional. No joking around or trying to be silly.

Don’t say how long it took you to write it or that it’s your first book. Don’t mention that it’s been edited by your writing group or even by a paid professional. Don’t bring up screen rights of that you’ve received rejections. Don’t mention how much your family and friends loved it.

Don’t follow up with a phone call, but if you do get a nice rejection letter, be sure to respond with a polite thank you.

I hope this is somewhat helpful! I’ve rewritten my query letter many times. Whenever a professional offers suggestions, I consider them, and then find a way to incorporate them while keeping my tone intact.

Your task is to take a piece you’ve written, even if it is unfinished or a short story. Write a query letter that could be sent to an agent.

Have fun with this one.


Why Hire an Author Coach

Have you spent hours editing your work just to find, during one more run-through, typos and grammatical errors? Incomplete sentences? Unfinished thoughts or scenes? Repetitive phrases? Missing info?

Has your reading group offered help, but not substantial critique? You ask yourself why, when you so badly want their help, do they leave things dangling?

Maybe it is time to look for an Author Coach.

What does an Author Coach do? Your coach can help with editing, but can do so much more for you than that. Your coach can encourage you to brainstorm additional ideas or motivations for your character, can mentor you when you are stalled, and assist you with tracking your goals.

Let’s say that your plot isn’t moving along as smoothly as you would like. This is something an Author Coach can help solve. Maybe one of your characters is flat and you can’t see a way to round her out. Your author coach can do that.

In my case, my manuscript was finished but I needed an objective opinion. I wanted someone who was not my friend to read without bias, who could see places where the story bogs down as well as spots where not enough descriptive detail was provided.

I met an Author Coach as the San Francisco Writer’s Conference in February. Yes, she charges a fee. Yes, I signed a contract. What was awesome was that within a month she had read my manuscript and provided me with 16 pages of ideas!

She found inconsistencies. For example, in one scene my character said that her mom did not own a cell phone, but in a later scene mom used it to take a call. Small potatoes, but something that missed my own review.

Another service that she provided was reading my rough draft of a query letter. She helped with wording, with my “credential” and with something as simple as the greeting. After spending an hour with her going over the query, I made the corrections and mailed it out. Two hours later an agent requested to read my manuscript!

One other problem area for me was the one-page synopsis that agents require. I had never shared mine with anyone before and so did not know if it was what agents look for. My Author Coach read it and offered suggestions that were logical.

Prior to going to the conference I had never known that coaches existed. Now I am a strong advocate of hiring one. She helped me see the things that most needed correction. She was respectful and kind, yet strong enough to make me believe that her ideas would polish my manuscript in ways that I could not do alone.

Your task is to consider going outside your comfort zone. Think about whether or not this is a step that you feel comfortable taking.

Good luck!