Literary agent query letters


Writers' and Artists' Yearbook graphicYou've got to have one of these, so you might as well get it right.

A query letter is a "sell". It's your foot in the door of the agent's office. He or she is busy and doesn't need another manuscript. There are 500 sitting in the "slush pile" waiting to be read and rejected, so you'd better make an impact - and you'd got about 15 seconds.

You'd better start with the right name of the right agent. Get the title right. Mr. Ms. Mrs. Whatever. Tell them what you're selling and why you're approaching them. If you don't know why, go back to the internet or your copy of Writers' & Artists' Yearbook and do your homework.

The more pertinent your reason for targeting a given agent, the better. It's not enough to say that "you have a good reputation" - although I've said this once or twice in my time (a little flattery doesn't hurt). You need to show that agent you've been paying attention. You need to tell them that you know that they're specially interested in alien abduction, or medieval whodunnits or political satires. You can tell them that you're familiar with their authors and feel that your novel might be suitable for their lists.

Don't insist that you're the right client for them. Just suggest it. Agents, remember, know what they want (sometimes, anyway) and don't appreciate being second-guessed. If they want what you've got, they'll tell you quickly enough.

Next, describe your project succinctly and tell the agent who the target reader is. The more you know about that readership, within reason, the better.



Want to read more?

There are over 25,000 words of writing tips and advice on my website. I've spent months writing these pages, and years refining them. I'm happy to share my professional knowledge with you. But like everyone else, I need to capitalise on my skills and efforts.


For just 1.99 I'll send you my entire MR EDIT'S WRITING ADVICE FOR AUTHORS as a .pdf file. Just follow the link below, or above, and you'll be taken to PayPal. You don't need an account; just a credit card or a debit card.


You'll generally receive my writing guide within an hour. But occasionally technical glitches from PayPal delay this for up to 24 hours.


Either way, you'll receive 25,000 very helpful words that will make you a better writer, will give you fresh insight into your work, and will improve the chances of a literary agent or publisher accepting your manuscript.




Mr Edit YouTube videos


Meanwhile, here are some of my You Tube videos that might be of interest to you. Hope you enjoy them.

You Tube video for writers and authors


Mr Edit. Let's talk about dialogue




You Tube literary agent video help


Mr Edit. Pitching fiction to a literary agent.




You Tube video - how to write fiction


Mr Edit. 5 Minute Fiction Fix.




You Tube video for authors and novelists


Mr Edit. Let's talk about tautology.





Links for writers


Preditors & Editors. Here's where you can check out the credentials of literary agents and publishers. A must for any writer.


Creative Helps. Helpful resource for the creative community. Articles, links and tips.


Nick Daws' Writing Blog. Lots of useful posts on all aspects of writing, both for print and online, plus a guest post for anyone who wants to make a contribution. Check it out.






Creative writing





Special features


Darley Anderson, literary agent

Darley Anderson, top UK literary agent, on books,
publishing and success

Zo Sharp, thriller writer

Zo Sharp, creator of the

action-packed Charlie Fox series of books

Jeff Kleinman, literary agent

Jeff Kleinman, New York literary agent, talks shop

Creme de la Crime logo

Crme de la Crime:

An interview with

Lynne Patrick,

publisher and managing editor of a smallerbut


publishing house.

Agent query tips


Send an SAE
Always send a stamped, self-addressed envelope with your query letter. Or send a stamped, self-addressed postcard if you prefer. A postcard saves time for the agent (and resources, for everyone).

Be professional
Have your manuscript ready to go the moment you hook an agent. If interest has been shown, keep that interest on the boil. At the very least, respond by mail and give a rough delivery date for the full document - and keep to that date. Professional writers are reliable writers. Be both.


Edit, edit, edit
Polish your letter until it squeaks. This can't be said enough. Cut every wasted word. Question every sentence. Make it flow. make it easy to read (try it aloud). Make it count. Never do what I have done many times and simply scrawl a few words inviting an agent to make his or her own mind up. They'll only do exactly that, and probably not to your advantage. Query letters are as important as the manuscript. Without a good example of the former, agents may never want to read the latter.


Be flexible with queries
Change your approach if your query letters aren't getting you any feedback at all. I've got a number of replies in which an agent has commented on "a good query". You should be able to collect some too. If not, ask some searching questions.


Bad language, etc
You're sending out queries like machine gun fire and no one is sending you anything other than standardised rejection letters. What do you do? You get expert advice. Try a writer friend. Check your query for bad language or anything that isn't politically correct. People are very sensitive these days (and perhaps unnaturally so). So check for anything that might offend. And keep your language as clean as possible.

Back to the top