June 26, 2022

Query letters from first-time writers to literary agents usually contain numerous mistakes, mistakes that are easy to avoid. This tip sheet can save you the embarrassment of making these blunders, especially in a query letter, which is the most important letter you’ll ever write.

In case you’re not sure why it’s the most important letter you’ll ever write, just stop and think about it. If you don’t send a query letter, how will you ever get a literary agent? And without an agent you’ll almost never get a book into print with a good publisher.

Before we get to the blunders, you have to understand that we’re talking about query letters to literary agents about book proposals. We’re not talking about query letters to editors or publishers. And we’re not talking about query letters to literary agents about completed manuscripts. Although in fiction you’ll need a completed manuscript, the fiction query letter is so different we’ll talk about that another day. Right now we’re only addressing query letters to literary agents about book proposals for nonfiction. This is the number one type of query letter agents receive, it is the most important query letter in a writer’s career, and it is the query letter that you will probably want to send first in your publishing career.

It’s also the query letter that contains the most mistakes.


The number one error is failing to include all four required parts of the query letter. These are standard, and leaving one out will end the story right there — the agent will not read further. The four parts of the query letter are the opening paragraph in which you state why you are writing to that particular literary agent, the second paragraph in which you describe your book, the third paragraph in which you describe your credentials, and the closing paragraph in which you ask the agent to request your book proposal.

The first mistake you’ll probably allt om böcker make is failing to tell the agent why you are addressing him or her. It is a mistake because it puts you in the amateur category right away. The agent is thinking, “This writer just picked my name out of a book. Maybe this writer has struck out with fifteen other agents and I’m on the tail end of the list.”

Avoid this blunder. The first sentence of your query letter should be a very simple statement indicating why you are writing to that agent. For example: “I’m writing to you because you represented The Da Vinci Code.” End of paragraph. Enough said.

With this opening paragraph you’ve established that you know who this agent is, you know this agent’s work, you respect this agent’s work, and you are not just picking this agent out of a hat. Hopefully, your book will also be somewhat like The Da Vinci Code. But you get the point, right? You’re sending queries only to literary agents who represent books similar to yours. That makes sense, doesn’t it? An agent who only handles mystery fiction isn’t going to care about your cookbook.

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