I know it’s difficult to stare at a blank screen trying to decide what to include and what not to include in a query. Is it necessary to convey a love of writing? What about positive feedback? There’s a limited number of words in an ideal query and a whole lot that needs to be conveyed.
Here is a list of things I don’t need to see in a query. There are exceptions to most of these rules, so, in the end, use your best judgment. But hopefully this list will help you wield the delete button wisely.
The “don’t need to know” list
Literary agents don’t need to know…
- How long it took you to write your manuscript
- How long you researched your manuscript (or how you researched your manuscript)
- How many manuscripts you’ve written besides the ones you’re querying about
- How much you love to write
- Your age (unless you’re under 18 or if your age is otherwise relevant to the manuscript)
- How much your friends, family, local schoolkids, a paid editor, strangers, and/or anyone else who is not a published author loved your manuscript
- Quotes from anyone who loved your novel, except perhaps for one or two brief quotes from a published author (agents will be taking these with a grain of salt)
- Any rejection letters or references to rejection letters or quotes from rejection letters no matter how positive the person was when they were rejecting you
- What you think the cover should look like
- Which publishing houses you think would be a good fit
- A promise that your book will make the bestseller list and/or sell a million copies
- That you’ve had health and/or mental health problems (unless it specifically relates to the manuscript)
- The moral of your novel
- The themes of your novel (this should be clear from the description of the plot)
- More than two paragraphs of plot description (keep it concise!)
- That you’re willing to send a synopsis or outline if I ask for one (the agent will assume that if they ask you’re gonna provide one).
- That your manuscript is completely different than anything that’s ever been published (that’s basically impossible)
- Apologies for wasting the agent’s time (you’re not… er, unless your query is too long)
When to tell an agent about X
If you’re still confused about what to include/what not to include, this post could also help:
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Art: In the Conservatory by Edouard Manet
Nathan Bransford says
There’s a post in “The Essentials” on how and whether to list your publishing credits, so please check that one out.
It has been a really long time since I was a teenage writer, but I conscientiously never mentioned my age in cover letters (I wasn’t writing novels, so I was submitting to magazines) because I figured that would just set up the editor to expect it to suck. In retrospect, I should have gone ahead and mentioned it: it wouldn’t have hurt (I got rejected everywhere anyway) and it might have helped (or at least gotten me more encouraging personal rejections).
I’ve been asked a few times by teenagers if I think they should mention their age (on cover letters, with short stories, and on queries, with novels). What do you think I should be telling them to do?
Love this post! I’ve really been enjoying reading through your archives, too. Thanks for all the informative posts.
D’OH. I checked the FAQs and somehow missed The Essentials. Apologies for the pointless question.
Dave Wood says
Interesting about the Amazon PW competition. One of my writing group compatriots competed and was in the top five or so. I critiqued the first half of the book and didn’t see much correlation between what he’d written and what the reviewer said. My friend did, however, start including his participation in his queries and his percentage of requests for the manuscript went way up. He credits it with getting him an agent at Trident — though there hasn’t been any progress in the months since.
Thank-you for the invitation, but I’m afraid they won’t let me across the border into the U.S.
I previously had no idea that restraining orders could be so geographically extensive.
Nancy D'Inzillo says
Nathan, on your list was “how much your friends, family, local schoolkids, a paid editor, strangers, and/or anyone else who is not a published author loved your manuscript,” does that mean if a published author loved your manuscript it might be worth mentioning? Or would that only be worth it if they were a really big name (if at all)?
Kate Lord Brown says
My ‘day job’ used to be as an art agent – the worst ever query started with ‘Dear … You’re the only agent I’d like to work with. I’d like to offer you an exclusive …’ Unfortunately the artist had forgotten to cut and paste the correct details and had sent us a letter addressed to a competitor. If he was going to submit to everyone in town, at least he could have made us think we were special … And guess what, the work wasn’t that great either!
Tina Gail says
That is funny. lesson we can all learn. Be careful where and to whom letters are sent.
Speaking of free stuff, I want to know when the internet and the publishing world are going to be free of Nathan Bransford is what I want to know.
I hear 7-11 is hiring night clerks. Check it out, Nathan.
Nathan Bransford says
Too late, I’ve already risen up to assistant manager at my local 7-11. Thanks for the tip, though.
At last, I see a reference to my situation in a blog post! I’m under 18. You said that it was okay for me to mention my age in a query, since it is relevant (the book is YA); but would you recommend it?
It must be presumed that you do not read 99% of queries past the first line or two unless for personal amusement. Please. Be a man of honor and tell the truth 🙂
-Most newbie writers do not get a second glance.
-A winning query of 300 words requires expertise. I.e, only published authors get a look-see.
-You’re not receiving as many queries lately because dozens of new writers are too terrified to bother starting a writing career.
-The ONLY way to get pubbed these days is to ‘score’ an agent –a durned great one– as major houses have closed their doors to unsolicited ms’s. Even with an agent, the chances are slim that even multi-pubbed writers will get their next one in print.
-Fewer books, (and with greater restrictions to length etc) are being published across genres.
It is fifty times more difficult for a new writer to publish than in the past, say, fifteen years.
Nathan Bransford says
oops, missed one:
You’re 0 for 7.
1. I read my queries. Unless someone sent me a 1,000+ word opus, I read the whole thing.
2. Most newbie writers get a better look than people who have been published but don’t have a strong track record. Them’s the facts in the business these days.
3. The vast majority of partials I request are not from published authors.
4. Just about every single month I receive more queries than I did the last month.
5. This one is closest to being true. Yes, you need an agent. However, I know authors who have been published by major houses without one. Are the odds good? Definitely not. But it happens. And if someone is multi-published there’s a good chance they’ll have their next work published. If their work doesn’t sell it’s tough though.
6. More books are being published in every genre than any time in history. Fiction is becoming harder to place at the major houses, but nonfiction and young adult are strong.
7. It’s always a good time in the business if you’ve written a great book.
Cool..I love it!
Okay, I know this post was months ago, but is it really important to tell the agent your age if you’re under 18? I would think it only matters later in the query process, when/if the agent and author begin to negotiate working together. Is that correct, or do you think it’s important for the agent to know they’re dealing with a minor from the get-go?
Aida Karanxha Bode says
So then, to find an agent one must work "full time"… it's so exhausting – you have pages of do's and don't's here. Just reading them is discouraging.