The Dos and Don’ts of Writing Query Letters for Literary Agents


Query letters are a critical component in the process of getting your manuscript published. A well-written query letter can be the key to catching the eye of a literary agent, while a poorly executed one can doom your chances before you even get started. This article aims to provide a comprehensive guide to help you craft a query letter that stands out from the crowd, increases your chances of getting noticed, and ultimately lands you representation. With a focus on the dos and don’ts, this article will ensure you avoid common pitfalls and present your work in the best possible light.

The Dos of Writing Query Letters

1. Do Your Research

Before you send out your query letter, research literary agents who represent your genre or work similar to yours. This will save you time and increase your chances of finding an agent who is genuinely interested in your writing. Make a list of potential agents, read their submission guidelines carefully, and personalize your query letter for each recipient.

2. Do Follow Industry Standards

A query letter should follow a specific format. Generally, it should be one page long, include the word count, genre, and target audience, as well as a brief summary of your story, your bio, and relevant writing experience. It should be written in a professional tone, but also showcase your unique voice.

3. Do Hook the Agent in the Opening

Your opening sentence should be attention-grabbing and entice the agent to read further. Use a compelling hook that highlights the most exciting or unique aspect of your story. This can be a brief summary, a question, or a statement that sparks curiosity.

4. Do Provide a Clear and Concise Summary

In the body of your query letter, provide a succinct summary of your story, focusing on the main characters, conflict, and stakes. Be sure to demonstrate what makes your manuscript unique and engaging, but avoid revealing spoilers or getting bogged down in excessive detail.

5. Do Showcase Your Writing Experience and Credentials

If you have a writing background or credentials relevant to your story, include them in your query letter. This can include past publications, writing awards, or industry experience. If you don’t have any writing credits, don’t worry. Focus on your passion for your story and the effort you’ve put into crafting it.

6. Do Edit and Proofread

A well-written query letter demonstrates professionalism and attention to detail. Edit and proofread your letter multiple times, and consider having a trusted friend or beta reader review it for clarity, grammar, and punctuation.

The Don’ts of Writing Query Letters

1. Don’t Mass Email Agents

Avoid sending your query letter to multiple agents in the same email. Agents want to feel like you’ve chosen them specifically because of their interests and expertise. Personalize each query letter and send them individually to show that you’ve done your homework.

2. Don’t Be Overly Familiar or Informal

While it’s important to show your unique voice, maintain a professional tone in your query letter. Avoid using slang, emoticons, or excessive humor. Address the agent by their full name (e.g., “Dear Ms. Smith”) and avoid overly familiar terms like “Hey” or “Hi.”

3. Don’t Be Overly Modest or Arrogant

Finding the right balance in your query letter is crucial. Don’t undersell yourself by being overly modest or self-deprecating, but also avoid coming across as arrogant or boastful. Present your work with confidence and let the story speak for itself.

4. Don’t Include Irrelevant Personal Information

While it’s important to provide a brief bio, stick to information that’s relevant to your writing or the story you’re pitching. Avoid sharing personal details unrelated to your writing career or manuscript, such as your hobbies, family life, or unrelated professional achievements. Keep your bio concise and focused on your writing experience or credentials that will be of interest to the agent.

5. Don’t Attach Your Manuscript or Include Sample Chapters

Unless specifically requested in the submission guidelines, do not attach your manuscript or include sample chapters in your query letter. If an agent is interested in your work, they will request more material. Unsolicited attachments can come across as unprofessional and may result in your email being deleted without being read.

6. Don’t Be Overly Persistent or Demanding

While it’s natural to be eager for a response, avoid sending multiple follow-up emails or making demands of the agent. Most agents receive a large volume of query letters and may take weeks or even months to respond. Give them ample time to review your submission and only follow up if the specified response time has passed.

7. Don’t Get Discouraged by Rejections

Rejections are a normal part of the submission process. Remember that even the most successful authors have faced rejection at some point in their careers. Instead of getting discouraged, use rejection as an opportunity to learn, grow, and refine your query letter and manuscript.


Writing a standout query letter can be a challenging but rewarding process. By following the dos and don’ts outlined in this article, you can increase your chances of capturing a literary agent’s attention and ultimately securing representation for your work. Remember to research agents, follow industry standards, and maintain a professional tone throughout your letter. Be patient, persistent, and open to learning from rejections. With the right approach, a well-crafted query letter can be the first step toward achieving your publishing dreams.

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