Here are my 15 tips for agent-friendly query letters:
1) Research the agent first. You don’t want to query a questionable agent who requires a “reading fee” (biggest scam ever.) Preditors and Editors is a good resource (http://www.anotherealm.com/prededitors/pubagent.htm).
2) Use quality paper. I love bright white, 20-lb paper. No notebook, color, flimsy or paper with zig-zag, cutesy, third-grader designs. No hand-written letters, either.
3) Use one sheet for your query. Agents get dozens of queries a week. No agent wants to read three pages. Agents want “to-the-pointness.”
4) Know the standard query letter format: 1-inch all around, Times Roman or Courier new, 10-12in font. Double space paragraphs only.
5) Know the submission guidelines. Not all agents accept email queries. Some agents have a word-count requirement. And you’ll feel like a fool if you submit an erotic thriller to an agent who only accepts religious fiction.
6) No “Dear Agent” or “To whom it may concern.” Address the agent by name. If you don’t know it, research it. And definitely spell the name right!
Note: Be careful with gender. A name like Jerry Michaels sounds male, but “Jerry” could be female, too. “Dear Jerry Michaels” would suffice.
7) Cover the main points of a query: opening, description, qualifications (i.e. doctor writing a medical thriller), publication credits (including awards) and closing. Have a good hook!
8) From the gate, get to the point. An opening shouldn’t say, “be prepared to experience the greatest adventure of your life when you partake on a fantastic voyage courtesy of my sure-to-be New York Times bestselling novel entitled…” Say the genre (fantasy, thriller), word-count, title and what the story is about.
9) In the main body, describe your story in two to three paragraphs. Nothing cute, no gimmicks, no fancy words such as “filled with belly-bustin’ humor…” or “it will make you laugh, cry, pissed-off…” The description should be similar to the back of a book.
10) If no qualifications or credits, don’t sweat it. Write about your writer groups or conferences you’ve attended. Or if writing a book about a detective who’s also a mother of three boys, definitely include you’re a Mom of three boys!
And if a well-known writer referred you to the agent with permission, mention that!
11) Research similar books. Describe a book or two like yours, but definitely write what makes your masterpiece stand out.
12) No outlandish reviews from family/friends! Agents don’t want to know how much Mom, Dad and your brothers Moe, Larry and Curly loves your story!
13) Pitch one story at a time in your query. Of course, you can mention a sequel is
in the works.
14) State why you solicited that particular agent. Maybe they represent an author you admire? Or their twenty years at Random House convinced you? Think about it: Doesn’t a prospective employer ask, “so, why do you want to work for us?”
15) Know the difference between fiction and non-fiction queries. For non-fiction, the project can be incomplete. For fiction, the novel must be complete and preferably, professionally edited. Never query with an incomplete novel.