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Don’t Start with the Have Nots, Start with the Haves

Sending a query letter is about putting your best foot forward and grabbing the attention of an agent. You need to be positive and confident, you need to go in with the knowledge that you have something this agent wants to see.

Which is why I’m always disappointed when I start reading a query that begins with all of the things an author doesn’t have.

Dear Agent: Thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to read my query. I’ve never been published before and no one referred me to you. I just happened to find your name in the agent listing directory.

Depressing isn’t it? What you’ve basically done is started out by telling me all of the things you aren’t. It’s like sitting down to a first date and telling the other person that you don’t really have a great job, you’re sure you don’t have any mutual friends and the other person is probably too busy to be on this date anyway.

Don’t do this. Come in strong. Let the agent know that you are amazing and wow them with your blurb, because that’s what really matters.

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6 comments

  1. The above snippet of a query is evidence of all the self-doubts that fester in your head as an unpublished writer. It’s very easy to get overwhelmed by those thoughts and have them trickle out onto the page as they’ve done above.

    The best way to think of a query letter is to think of it as your job interview. That’s really what it is. The only difference is rather than selling yourself (as you would in a job interview) you are selling your writing to the agent in question. All that matters is the story.

    So just like in a job interview you to be those things that Jessica mentioned in your query: positive and confident (even if you are shaking in your boots).

    The great thing about this ‘job interview’ is that you don’t have to do it face-to-face, and you get to perfect every word before you send. Much better than stumbling over words as your face turns beet red in the office of your prospective boss!

  2. Enjoyed this post. Thank God I have never opened my queries like that.

    Realizing marketing is not my forte, I recently started thelonelyauthorblog in hopes of sharpening my marketing skills (or should I say to acquire marketing skills). I believe I have written a great story, but my queries border on wimpy/weak. It has gotten to the point that every time I want to sit down to write a query, the hairs on my skull start falling out (It would be easier to shave my head).

    Jessica, there is a fine line between confidence and braggadocio, it is my fear of sounding too cocky that inhibits me from being too confident. Any suggestions on how far we can go to sound confident without crossing that dreaded line?

    1. Not sure there’s an easy answer. Test your query on others to see what they think. Or focus on the pitch. That’s what sells the book.

  3. I think the best solution is to stick with talking about the book, especially if it’s fiction (where you don’t need platform). Start with a nice greeting (Dear Agent’s Name) and dive right into your blurb.

    If you don’t have any relevant publishing credits to put in your bio, don’t fret about it. Your blurb is what really matters. If you’ve caught the agent’s attention with a great hook and made the book sound interesting, you’ve done your job.

    Query Shark is a great resource for seeing what works and what doesn’t in a query.

  4. There’s a life lesson here, not just a query lesson. People’s first impression of you will be informed largely by how you present yourself. If you’re trying to get a job, you don’t go to the interview in your PJs and slippers, and tell the interviewer how inexperienced you are, and how lucky you would be to get the job. Rather, you dress your best (even if you feel disheveled inside), put on a confident smile (even if you feel like cowering under the desk), and sell yourself as the right candidate for the job (even if you know you’ve got strong competition). The same applies to querying. Agents know how competitive this industry is, and most are aware of our insecurities and self-doubt. But they want to know we believe in our work, and have the confidence to say, “I’m looking for the best home for my novel, and I think you might be it.”

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