8 Query Tips No One Tells Writers

typing fadeoutThere is a bounty of query letter writing advice on the web. I’ve written about it before too: The Biggest Query Letter Mistake, and How To Format Your Query.

However, here are some tips you might not have heard yet that will set your querying strategy apart from the rest.

Querying in 2015? Read 8 Query Tips No One Tells Writers:

1. There are no second chances. Send a query letter with an agent’s name misspelled and resend 5 minutes later? You might already be written off. We get so many queries that we’re always looking for reasons to say no (even though we’re looking for gems!). Sometimes there are easy no’s.

2. If you say you’ve been published we assume that means traditional. And if you don’t share the publisher, year, and maybe some sales information we’ll assume you’re pulling our leg.

3. Telling agents you’ve self published before doesn’t actually say anything. Anyone and their mother can self publish a book. Telling us you’ve self published a previous book doesn’t rub us the wrong way, it just doesn’t impact our decision at all. With the hundreds of queries we receive a week it’s something we see a lot and tend to brush off. Of course, if you’ve self published to much acclaim, that’s a different story. But a thousand copies isn’t a bestseller and doesn’t move the needle for us.

4. It’s okay to break the rules. There are guidelines for a reason. However, I’ll give you an example of when it’s okay to step out. Our agency doesn’t ask for sample material when you query. Just a query letter. So sometimes I’ll see writers paste in a couple pages into the bottom of the query email–even though we don’t ask for it–and it gives me a chance to read a bit before I decide to request more. I’m okay with that! The rules not to break are whether you can pitch more than one agent at the agency, follow up guidelines etc.

5. If we’re not confident you can pitch us your book, we’re not confident you can write a novel. I know, I know, writing a novel and writing a query are very different things. However, it’s expected of today’s writer to pitch themselves (to us, to publicists, to readers, to sales staff etc). If your query is long-winded and doesn’t pitch the plot but themes instead, we’re not convinced. Agents always want plot and stakes over themes.

6. For fiction writers, social media is not a deciding factor. Writers tend to freak out about the word platform. For good reason, it’s terrifying. “What do you mean I need to have a newsletter with a million subscribers?!”–is often the response I get. Relax fiction writers, you don’t need thousands of social media followers just to query. (Non fiction authors, the same does not apply to you. Get back to that blog.) Fiction always stands on its own, but a good following is never a bad thing! However, platform for fiction writers comes with time.

7. Referrals are under used. If you have a friend represented by an agent you think you might connect with ask for them to refer you. This type of network is often under used. Don’t be afraid to network with writers represented by agents and build up some trust. Get critique partners who have representation and work your way to agents. Having someone vouch for you is powerful and helps you avoid the slush.

8. Author bios can bring us in or push us away. Author bios that are abnormally long and reference experiences that don’t relate to the book you’re pitching can be a turn off. Author bios should include any affiliations that are relevant like SCBWI if you write kids books, or WFWA if you write women’s fiction. Author bios that reference books written over 15 years ago are not of use to the book you’re querying. If you don’t have much to say in your author bio it’s okay to say where you live, share your author website, and tell us that this is your debut novel. Don’t forget it’s okay to be a debut. And don’t forget to include a little something for us to relate to.

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.

39 thoughts on “8 Query Tips No One Tells Writers

    1. This is great advice. I’m going to share the article with my authors. I spend a lot of time explaining pitching an agent and it is always good for them to hear it from someone else in the industry.


  1. I’m hoping to be in a place to start querying by the end of the year, so this kind of post is VERY helpful. Good information, and also helps to make the whole idea a (little) less intimidating. :)


  2. Hello, Carly,

    Great post, once again. Interestingly, you’ve caught my attention on the writer’s bio. What do I add? Do short stories and publications count? Does being an engineer working on the very same country I based my novel in matter? It’s always something that’s not clear to me.

    Thanks again!


    1. Don’t make your author bio longer than your pitch by including every short story etc. Select the few (or the one) that are the most well known and start with that. Include your publication history if you’ve written a traditionally published book or a wildly successful self published book. Include your work history only if it’s important to the story (wrote a book about depression and you are a doctor, for example) and always include the city where you live.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. It’s so refreshing with an agent talks smack instead of touchy-feely advice. As a writer I want to know the hard cold truth and this is like a breath of cool air. Tough love is actually the kindest in so many ways. Thanks so much. Sharing.


  4. Of course…the rules that are allowed to be broken change depending on which agent you are querying…:-)

    These are definitely some useful tips, thanks! But I fear that results may vary depending on the agent for a number of the items within.


  5. Thanks for the post. It’s good information, and some of it isn’t widely known. I do, however, have a quibble. The idea that I, or anyone else, would be rejected for a typo, is disconcerting to say the least. Everyone makes mistakes, and I would hope agents would understand that we’re human. For instance, I kept reading your post (and enjoyed it) long after I found the grammar error in #5.


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