Ultimate Blog Series on Novel Queries (#8)

is my definitive No Rules series on novel queries. It’s meant
particularly for writers who are new to the query process. (A series on
nonfiction book queries will come later.) Go back to the beginning of the series.

Here is an overall list of red flags to look for in your query letter.

  1. If it runs longer than 1 page (single spaced), you’ve said far too much.
  2. If your manuscript’s word count is much higher than 100,000 words, you’re more likely to be rejected. See this post for a definitive list of appropriate word counts by genre.
  3. Ensure you’ve specified your genre, without being on the fence about it.
  4. There should be no need for headings/subheads in your letter.
  5. Avoid directly commenting on the quality of your work. Your query should show what a good writer you are, rather than you telling or emphasizing what a good writer you are.
  6. On the flip side: Don’t criticize yourself or the quality of the work in the letter.
  7. Don’t editorialize your story for the agent/editor, almost as if you were writing a review of the work. (“In this fast-paced thriller”, “in a final twist that will change your world”, “you’ll laugh, you’ll cry, …”
  8. Do not explain how or why you came to write the story, unless it is really interesting or integral to the hook.
  9. Do not talk about how you’ve wanted to write since you were a child.
  10. Do not talk about how much your family and friends love your work.
  11. Avoid heavy use of adjectives, adverbs, and modifiers. In fact, try creating a version of your query without ANY modifiers, and see what happens. (Slowly add back the essential ones.
  12. Do not attach any documentation. Do not attach a resume. Do not attach rejection letters. If you want to risk it, enclose the first 1-5 pages of your manuscript.

And don’t forget my earlier advice about query hooks: They only need to be about 100-150 words, and they shouldn’t comprise more than a few brief paragraphs (at most!).

Note: For my final installment in the series (#10), I’ll offer up final FAQs. Use the comments to ask a question.

Next up: full letter samples

Looking for more great query letter advice? Check out the Writer’s Digest official guide to queries, which includes examples and instruction by genre.

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Agents, Back to Basics, Getting Published

About Ben Sobieck

Benjamin Sobieck is a Wattpad Star and 2016 Watty Award winner. He’s best known on Wattpad for Glass Eye: Confessions of a Fake Psychic Detective, the Watty Award–winning sequel Black Eye, and When the Black-Eyed Children Knock & Other Stories. Four of his titles have appeared on Wattpad Top 100 Hot Lists, all at the same time.

2 thoughts on “Ultimate Blog Series on Novel Queries (#8)

  1. Najela

    If you posted your work serially online (before final revisions) and in it’s entirety,is that something you would want to mention in your query? Would it hurt your chances to get published if you did post your work for a limited run in its entirety online?

    Thanks for this great series of posts, I’m definitely going to keep it on my query crafting bookmarks.

  2. Cathy

    What if the agent reading your query can tell that you, the writer, have categorized your novel in the wrong genre? How important is it to get it absolutely right in the query letter?


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