Sunday, February 2, 2014

What Not to Do When Contacting an Agent

Chuck Sambuchino is one of the editors of Writer's Digest, an incredibly useful resource book for writers. (If you don't have the cash to buy one, most libraries have a well-thumbed copy.)

Chuck also writes a blog, the Guide to Literary Agents, in which he spells out exactly what agents are looking for.

This is one of those posts that every aspiring writer should read before contacting an agent.

Some of these "pet peeves" will make you laugh, others will make you cringe. (Hopefully, none will have appeared in your queries.)

Before querying an agent, I recommend you look at successful queries. Even if your query is well written, it always helps to see what agents have said about queries they liked. You can find a list of successful queries, along with agents' analyses, on Writer's Digest. Another excellent resource is Query Shark, a site run by agent Janet Reid. Janet does a great job of critiquing queries. I guarantee you will be enlightened.


Query Letter Pet Peeves – Agents Speak

By Chuck Sambuchino

Ready to send your book out and contact agents? The last thing you want to do is to rush that submission out the door and hurt your book’s chances.

When submitting your all-important query to agents or editors, it’s not just a question of what to write in the letter—it’s also a question of what not to write.

I asked 11 literary agents about their personal query letter pet peeves and compiled them below. Check out the list to learn all about what details to avoid in a query that could sink your submission—such as vague wording, too much personal information, grammatical mistakes, and much more.


“I think the biggest querying no-no I’ve ever seen was when an author tracked down some sensitive personal information and included it in their cover letter. Eeep! As agents we absolutely love when authors do their research and get to know our interests, but you want to always make sure what you include in your query letter is professional and that you don’t slip too far into the realm of the personal.

The biggest no-no I’ve seen recently probably would be authors whose query letters focus too much on their author bios and don’t tell me what their book is about! Make sure you put those essential story details up front.”

~ Shira Hoffman of McIntosh & Otis, Inc.
For more advice from Shira, click the link above.


“I’ve received queries for ‘Dear Editor,’ ‘Dear Agent,’ ‘Dear Publisher,’ as well as e-mail queries that are addressed to 10 different agents together.”

~ Jacquie Flynn of Joelle Delbourgo Associates
For more advice from Jacquie, click the link above.


“Spelling errors or grammatical mistakes. They just make me want to stop reading.”

~ Lisa Leshne of LJK Literary Management
For more advice from Lisa, click the link above.


“Unfocused queries and the term ‘fiction novel.’ ”

~ Melissa Flashman of Trident Media Group, LLC
For more advice from Melissa, click the link above.


“I’m sick of vagueness. I get so many queries every day that don’t tell me enough about the novel. If there’s no reason for me to say yes, then it’s going to be no.”

~ Bridget Smith of Dunham Literary, Inc.
For more advice from Bridget, click the link above.


“[Just recently], somebody queried me with a YA fantasy—and in the place where they should have put their professional bio or a few sentences about themselves, they had taken on the persona of their main character and said something about the character instead … Queries are business letters. Agenting is a business. Publishing is a business. I try to be nice and friendly and funny and all, but the bottom line is that I expect those with whom I work to be professional and take what they’re doing seriously.”

~ Linda Epstein of Jennifer De Chiara Literary
For more advice from Linda, click the link above.

Click HERE to read the rest of this article.


  1. This is a really interesting post - especially since it surprises me to hear that professionalism is an issue in people querying for agents. Shouldn't that be the #1 rule? Wow.

  2. Perhaps unknown writers are loathe to include personal information if their background hasn't involved publishing in any capacity. Querying is so subjective. It's difficult to know what will perk an agent's interest, if not the work itself.

  3. Thank you Erica... this is an excellent professional website for neophytes, such as myself.
    Taking into account the outstanding authors who received numerous rejections before being taken up, I agree with Christine - assuming plot, characters, pace, et cetera are up to par, querying is a subjective exercise.
    Appreciate your guidance.
    Kind regards
    Petricha Peters

  4. Thank you for this article. I will certainly bear these things in mind when the time comes to look for an agent (although I would like to think that most of them ought to be intuitive for a long-time writer).

    A couple of queries:

    * What exactly is "lacking a clear question"? Would not the associated question of most submissions / queries be, "Will you consider my work?" (Of course, would never write that directly in so many words.)

    * Regarding emails outside of business hours, why is it so important that an email of all things should be within business hours? It's not something that must be attended to in real time, like a telephone call. Also, in an increasingly global market, if I wanted to send something to an agent in Britain (from New Zealand), would I have to email them at midnight?

    1. Agents are not always clear about what they want and, as you have pointed out, some of these peeves may be a little odd. In an age of emails, there are no "outside of business hours." (There weren't when we mailed queries either.) I send queries whenever I have the time. Where do you see "Lacking a clear question"? Lacking focus is the one of the things agents don't like, but that refers to the brief description of your book in your query.

  5. Agents are not always smart-Do they really "read"---The many rejections (past and present)of today's famous writer's books would answer NO- Errors should never be a cause of rejection- A grammar teacher can fix them-E mailing beyond business hours....Read it when you come back to the office-- A show of "the Power of saying I don't like this is a big mistake if lacking real knowledge of the "many" readers- out there- Of course the problem is "publishing is a Business--Not the writer's interest-The writer should investigate the publisher first---


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