Attracting a First
Class Literary Agent

The 10 Deadly Sins of
Writing a Query Letter

by Jeff Rivera

There are few things I've learned from helping so many authors get agents and I have developed what I like to call the 10 Deadly Sins. Commit any of these sins in your query letter and you can kiss your shot at getting an agent goodbye.

1) Write a letter that's too long. Agents don't have time to read four-page query letters. You should be able to make your point in half a page. If you can't grab them in half a page then some agents may think you won't be able to grab them in your manuscript either.

2) Come across cocky. There's a big difference between being comfortable in your own skin and masking your insecurities by dropping names or bragging about your accomplishments. There is nothing wrong with listing your relationships or your credentials if presented in a humble way. You want to always come across as easy to work with and cocky people are not attractive to a top agent.

3) Bad grammar and spell check. Grammar and spelling ain't my forte, as they say, but I do know this: although agents will forgive a few misspellings in a query letter, you should make it a point to double-check your letter and have an anal friend read through it as well. A trick is to read the letter from the last sentence of your query letter to your first sentence in the letter aloud. It's amazing what you'll find.

4) Unprofessional format. You might be blown away with the amount of talented writers who do not know the basics of writing a professional letter. Starting out by saying “Hey, How are ya'?” isn't going to cut it.

5) Don't get to the point. You need to immediately answer the following questions: 1)Who are you? 2) What do you want? 3) And what does this have to do with me (the agent)? Put yourself in the agent's shoes and show them realistically that you and your book are salable.

6) Write a long-winded synopsis. You really need to be able to pique your agent's attention immediately. They run across thousands of query letters a month so grabbing their attention from the very beginning is pertinent. You should be able to boil your story down to 2-3 sentences that sell the sizzle not the steak.

7) Don't outline who your target audience is. You should know exactly who your consumer is. What age group are they? Are they male or female? Professionals or working class? What language do you speak? Because if your answer is “everyone is my target audience” then that's just not going to cut it with a top agent.

8) Have no clue what your genre is. As a professional, you should know the up-to-date terminology for your genre. Do you write techno-thrillers or do you write mysteries? Do you write women's contemporary fiction or do you write chick lit? Are the terms you're using out of date? Find out by reading trade publications.

9) Have no decision on what direction you want to go with your career. You should have a clear idea where you want to go with your writing. Do you want to write romance? Do you want to write non-fiction then move into young adult? What do you want to do with your career because if you don't know your agent is not going to figure it out for you. Be open to change, and you may very well change your mind as you progress with your career but have a clear idea what direction you want to go from the beginning.

10) Have no personality in your writing that reflects the style of your writing. If your book is humorous your query letter should be a little fun and witty too. Agents get a real reflection on who you are through your writing and first-impressions are important, sometimes that is all you have. If your story is a thriller and gripping, your query letter should be too. If your book is touching then get to the real heart of the matter by making the agent feel even with the query letter,

— Jeff Rivera is the award-winning author of Forever My Lady (Warner Books). For more information on writing query letters that will get agents begging you for your manuscript, contact Jeff at The first 50 authors to respond and mention will receive a free critique of their query letters.

Literary, Subsidiary, & Foreign Rights Agents — If you want to contact the best literary agents for your novel or nonfiction book, this listing of more than 1,375 literary agents will allow you to target just the right agent for your book. This report also includes 375 agents that sell foreign rights and another 50 or so that handle subsidiary rights sales. Also includes a sample foreign rights contract. $30.00.

"The old traditional way of getting an agent is the best way to get published. It really is the way we get most of our material." - Louise Burke, publisher, Gallery and Pocket Books

For a list of book editors at publishers who bought and published
first novels or debut novels, click here.

How to Get a Top Literary Agent and Sign That Coveted 6-Figure Deal

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