12/23/2013 10:35 am ET

Is Your Query Letter On Target? Use These 7 Can't-Miss Tips And Check!

Andrea Chu via Getty Images

By Writer's Relief staff:

You’ve written, rewritten, and agonized over every word in your manuscript. Now that you’re ready to submit your book, make sure your query letter is equally well thought-out. Follow these seven time-honored tips to create a precise, focused query letter certain to get the attention of even the most elusive agent.

1. Look sharp. Appearances count! A query letter should never be printed on low-quality paper or photocopied. If you’re sending an e-query, avoid typing in all caps, using colored or fanciful fonts, or including silly pictures. And do a test run to ensure your e-query keeps its formatting by emailing it first to family and friends and checking the results. Then you can make any necessary corrections before sending it to agents.

2. Lead with the facts. Don’t start your letter with a rhetorical question or teaser. Stick to the facts; you don’t want the reader to feel manipulated by an attempt to create more excitement than the story warrants.

3. Always be genuine. Agents will immediately recognize an insincere, cookie-cutter compliment in a form letter. If you’re going to mention how much you admire an agency, refer to exactly which details you find worthy of kudos.

4. Keep book blurbs to the point. Use strong, specific words and focus on your main character. Keep any descriptions plot-driven, rather than thematic. Your blurb should spark interest in your book, not tell the whole story from beginning to end.

5. Leave out everything else. This is not the time to mention your other unpublished or self-published book manuscripts. Make sure you don’t include publishing credits that aren’t really publishing credits (poetry contest scams or anthology scams). Listing bad credits shows that you don’t know the market. The copyright symbol? It shouldn’t be included. And definitely leave out cover art—most likely, you won’t have any say over what the cover will look like anyway.

6. Aim for a strong bio. As fascinating as the details of your life may be, don’t disclose too much personal information. If your story is about government intrigue, then go ahead and mention you once worked for a senator. Of course, your bio should be well written; watch that you don’t jump from first- to third-person, or from present to past tense. Also, resist the urge to point out your lack of writing experience. Your bio should be personable, interesting, and confident.

7. Don’t include query letter phrases that…

Mark you as a newbie:

“This is the first book I’ve ever written!”

“I’ve been writing since I was five years old.”

“My greatest wish is to get published.”

“My friends and family really like my writing.”

Ask the agent to do more than one thing:

“This would also make a great screenplay.”

“My book will result in a line of action figures.”

“Here is the first book in my twenty-part series.”

Make promises you can’t keep:

“This book appeals to all genres.”

“I’ve written the next Harry Potter!”

By following these seven tips, you’ll give agents an intriguing introduction to you and your story and motivation to keep reading more.

For more from Writer's Relief, click here!