Your Query was Rejected Because It Didn’t Sell the Book

  • By: Jessica Faust | Date: Aug 11 2022

The number one job of your query is to sell your book. Just like cover copy sells a book to readers, queries sell books to agents, and pitches sell books to publishers. Learning query basics and how to write a great query blurb is an essential part of your professional writing skill set. When a tried and true author client asks me when we are going back to their publisher for a new contract the first thing I ask for is the blurb for their next books. Fifteen years later, these authors are still writing queries—or at least the blurbs.

Lately, I’ve rejected a lot of queries I didn’t even finish reading. They were far too long, loaded with information I didn’t need, and, more importantly, didn’t sell the author or the book. These queries had one job and they didn’t do it. They didn’t grab my attention and left me begging for more.

Query 101

There are three basic parts to the query. Your introduction, your blurb, and your closing or conclusion. These parts should take up no more than five paragraphs and four is ideal. To test whether your query is too long write it out, single-spaced, in Microsoft word. As if you’re writing an old-fashioned snail mail query or cover letter. If you run over one page it’s too long. And that includes your Dear Agent and signature lines.

Query Introductions

Each query, like every letter, should start out with a Dear Agent. I implore you all to stop using gender honorifics. No Ms, Mr, and absolutely never Mrs. Unless you know for sure the person’s gender identity I would suggest addressing the agent by their first name or first and last name. Dear Jessica or Dear Jessica Faust works beautifully. I say this because it matters. I care greatly about the use of Mrs and will go into your query letter from there with a bad taste in my mouth. Besides the fact that I’m not a Mrs, I have a lot of feminist issues with the word. I’d say it’s an auto-reject for me, but it really just means the query now needs to knock both my socks completely across the room, not just off.

The introduction just needs to introduce your book:

Dear Jessica Faust,

I’m excited to query you today with my 80,000 word upmarket suspense UNTIL WE PART that’s comparable to NEXT OF KIN by your client Kia Abdullah and HOSTAGE by Claire Mackintosh.

Key things every introduction must have: word count, title, genre. Most agents like or request comparable titles, but for some authors, this can be tricky. If you’re struggling to find comp titles skip them. They are helpful, but won’t make or break your query.

If you have a personal connection to the agent feel free to include that too. If you don’t, what I have above works. Here’s an example with a personal connection:

Dear Jessica Faust,

I’ve read your blog for years and laugh weekly at your YouTube videos with James. Might I say you’re brilliant? I’m excited to query you today with my 80,000 word upmarket fiction UNTIL WE PART that’s comparable to LESSONS IN CHEMISTRY by Bonnie Garmus and THE MARVELOUS MRS MAISEL.

The introduction is simple. Keep it that way and focus your energies on the blurb. It’s the hardest part and the most important part of your query.

Query Blurbs

The blurb is what sells your book and it’s likely the first thing I read, it’s definitely the most important thing I read. The blurb is what you should spend your most time on.

I often suggest writers work on the blurb before they start writing the book. It can be a useful piece of the writing process. Whether you’re a pantser or a plotter, the blurb is your point of reference to whether your story is holding up and remains marketable. Writing a blurb can point you in the right direction to creating that dynamic book idea. Most importantly, it can keep you on course as you’re writing.

The blurb is essentially the cover copy of your book. It is what your agent will use to base their pitch on and what the editor will likely use to pitch the book to their team and to write the cover copy. The blurb is important. It doesn’t need to be more than two paragraphs. If necessary, three. That’s it.

The trick to writing a good blurb is already on your bookshelves. What books did you comp? Read their cover copy and emulate what the professionals did to sell the book. That’s what I do when I write a pitch.

I’m not going to include sample blurbs here because they exist all over Goodreads. Some hints though,

  • you only need to name one or two characters
  • focus on the hook–what makes your book different from all the competition
  • the catalyst is the most important thing–not the backstory
  • know what will sell your book if readers are lining it up against all the competition
  • write in a style that reflects the genre–comedy should be humorous, suspense should be dark, etc.


The closing paragraph is your bio. Include any other writing credits you have. If you don’t, include a personal connection to the book. Is it set in your hometown, do you and your protagonist share a profession, or is it based on your personal experience? For nonfiction, definitely lean hard into your platform. Note how many workshops you do a month or a year and how many people (potential readers) you connect with. If you have a huge social media following include the numbers. Anything to show what you bring as the author not just in terms of knowledge and experience, but also the audience.

Again, just look at the books on your bookshelf. Most author bios (on the cover) are short and sweet. There’s nothing wrong with that. All we’re really looking for is a peek into who you are because so far all we’ve learned about is your book and it’s nice to know a little more about the person behind the work.

After you sign your name, like any email signature, is where you include your contact information–email, phone, social media links, etc. This allows us to stalk you once we’ve fallen in love with your book idea.

I’ve been giving this query advice for as long as I’ve been in publishing and it hasn’t changed much. The biggest difference is we’ve gone from snail mail letter style to email signatures. The most important parts remain the same–the blurb, the title, the word count. Book blurbs haven’t changed much easier. Readers still expect cover copy that gives them a peek into what they’re buying. Agents are just readers looking for their next book.





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One response to “Your Query was Rejected Because It Didn’t Sell the Book”

  1. Avatar Kaylee says:

    What do you do if you started a book but don’t know exactly what genre it is?