The Biggest Query Letter Mistake

pencilsAre you making this critical query mistake? The biggest query mistake: writers submitting a synopsis instead of a pitch.

A synopsis is the play-by-play of your novel. A pitch is a to-the-point email or letter that focuses on the hook, the conflict, and why it matters for the protagonist–and why an agent should read your book!


Some of you reading might think, “So what? If an agent wants to represent me, won’t they want the synopsis?” The answer is no, not in the query letter.

A query letter is not a synopsis. A query letter’s job is to get an agent to want to read more. A synopsis is to share when the agent is already interested, perhaps already requested your chapters, and needs to know the plot outline.

If you pitch us a synopsis and not a query:

1. It ends up being too long. A query should only be three paragraphs long. A query with a synopsis pasted in goes on and on. Agents stop reading.

2. We are missing things like the stakes and the motivation. A synopsis is a play by play, when what we REALLY want is to know why this book is different than all the others out there. Sell us on it.

3. You’re not following the guidelines and it can be an instant rejection. There is a specific difference between a query and synopsis. Some agents will consider this not following the guidelines and it can be an auto rejection.


  • Does it read like back cover copy?
  • Does it refrain from giving away the ending unless it’s absolutely necessary?
  • Is it three paragraphs long? (Intro, Pitch, Author bio.)
  • Does it focus on why your book is different?
  • Does it directly or indirectly touch on all of these things: character, their growth, their stakes, and their motivation?

Published by Carly Watters

Carly Watters is a SVP, senior literary agent and director of literary branding with the P.S. Literary Agency. She is a hands-on agent that develops proposals and manuscripts with attention to detail and the relevant markets. PSLA’s mission is to manage authors’ literary brands for their entire career. Never without a book on hand she reads across categories which is reflected in the genres she represents and is actively seeking new authors in including women’s fiction, commercial and upmarket fiction, select literary fiction, platform-driven non fiction and select memoir. She occasionally represents children's book projects. Carly is drawn to emotional, well-paced narratives, with a great voice and characters that readers can get invested in.

14 thoughts on “The Biggest Query Letter Mistake

  1. Would you say this is for general query letters or to your agency specifically? Because I’ve been told that a pitch/back cover copy should be around 250 words. Which, broken down, is three paragraphs in and of itself. I think these are great posts you’re doing because there’s just too much contradictory information out there. I’m all for standards but it’s really tough navigating through it all and trying to give somebody interest in a project while unsure how to do that.


    1. I agree. There’s a lot of contradictory info.

      I said ‘reads like cover copy’ because it doesn’t have to be cover copy per se, but it has to sound like it. I was trying to suggest the tone and style to write it.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you. Just wanted to clarify. In no way did I think the above was wrong or anything like that. There’s just so much out there and much of it is unclear.


      2. I sent a really bad one over to you with a prompt rejection as it should have been. It was fine as something like back cover copy but definitely not as a query. So I’m rewriting, revising, and cutting profusely. Everything your posting is a very good learning tool.


  2. The best tutelage ever! You know what you’ve just done? You’ve cured an ailment. I can’t contain my excitement,Carly. What I have spent years searching for but not finding, you’ve given me here on a platter of gold. If I ever get the opportunity, I’ll buy you a drink.


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