And so begins The Beatles' writer's anthem, "Paperback Writer," whose lyrics are quite possibly the best example of what not to do in a query letter. (You may also remember my former colleague's brilliant dramatic interpretation of these lyrics, here.) Generally, if you begin your query with the above-mentioned salutation, the agent you are querying will either a) groan, b) make fun of you via Twitter, or c) delete your query unread (this is a worst-case-scenario).
There was a really great blog post today on Write It Sideways called Will Literary Agents Really Read Your Query Letter? that I think basically every writer who's querying needs to read. Among their reasons why YOUR query might be getting deleted without even being read are:
- The manuscript is incomplete (if fiction)
- The agent doesn’t represent the author’s genre
- The letter isn’t personalized, but is part of a mass query (Dear agent…)
- The author hasn’t taken the time to research how to write a proper query letter
- The author hasn’t followed that agent’s submission guidelines
- The query or sample pages (if requested in the guidelines) are sent as an attachment
As a newer agent, and a writer myself, the term "instantly deleted" is terrifying, even if I'm the one doing the deleting. I try to be fair and give writers the benefit of the doubt. I'm aware that querying is hard. That said, agents, myself included, get easily frustrated when people don't query "correctly" because there are a bazillion resources online on how to write a proper query, not to mention the agent-specific guidelines. (I've also heard writers complain that "it's confusing because every agent has different guidelines." This is true, but the differences aren't usually that vast. If a writer can't take the time to make minor adjustments, it's not that unfair of a stretch to think, "Geesh, what'll it be like if I ask for a revision?")
Of the above examples of "potential instant deletion," I'm guilty of #3 and #6. I delete mass queries and queries sent as attachments for what I hope are obvious reasons. (This includes "click this link for my query" emails.) I assume it is spam, and therefore it is dead to me.
I also instantly delete "pre-queries" because they are so incredibly stupid. In case you don't know (which I hope you, dear blog readers, don't), pre-queries are emails that basically just ask if the writer can send a query. The answer is always, "YES! JUST SEND IT! WHY ARE YOU WASTING MY TIME WITH SUCH A DUMB QUESTION!?" So, instead of getting an all-caps rant, they just get deleted.
There are agents out there, usually the more seasoned ones, who will delete your query for lesser reasons than the ones I mentioned above. You don't want to fall victim to an instant deletion, so while it is a lot to remember and can be frustrating to accommodate to, pay attention to agent-specific guidelines and pet peeves; read articles and blog posts like the one on Write It Sideways; and stop sending things as attachments. Almost NO agent ever accepts attachments unless he or she asks for it. It might be the one guideline every agent agrees on.
One last note: there is no such person as Curtis Brown. I am not Mr. or Ms. Brown. Thanks :)