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Common Mistakes in Query Letters and How to Avoid Them

Query letters For many aspiring writers, the path to publishing is paved with query letters. A query letter is a crucial piece of correspondence sent to agents or publishers, aiming to entice them into requesting your manuscript.

However, despite its importance, many authors stumble when crafting their query letters, leading to missed opportunities and prolonged struggles in their publishing journeys.

Let us explore the common pitfalls in writing query letters and provides strategic advice on how to avoid them, ensuring your letter makes a compelling case for your work.
1. Lack of Personalization

One of the most frequent mistakes in query letters is the failure to personalize the letter for the recipient. Sending a generic query that feels like it’s been mass-produced for multiple agents or publishers can turn recipients off. It’s crucial to demonstrate that you have specifically chosen the agent or publisher for a reason.
How to Avoid:

Research each agent or publisher thoroughly before sending your query. Mention something specific about them in your letter, such as a similar book they have worked with or a quote from an interview that resonates with your manuscript’s theme. This personal touch not only shows that you are serious about your inquiry but also that you see them as a fitting partner in your publishing career.
Query letters 2. Overly Long or Complicated Letters

A query letter should be concise and to the point. Agents and publishers are often overwhelmed with submissions, and a letter that gets to the point quickly is greatly appreciated. A common misstep is including too much detail about the plot or using overly complex language to sound more sophisticated.
How to Avoid:

Keep your query letter to one page, approximately 250-300 words. Your introduction should be brief, followed by a succinct summary of your manuscript that captures the essence of your story without getting bogged down in detail. Conclude with a short bio that highlights your writing credentials or relevant personal details, and always thank the recipient for their consideration.
3. Failing to Mention the Manuscript’s Genre and Target Audience

Understanding where your book fits in the market is crucial, and failing to communicate this in your query can lead to rejection. Knowing your genre and target audience helps the agent or publisher immediately understand the potential market for your book.
How to Avoid:

Clearly state the genre of your manuscript at the beginning of your query letter. Include who you believe the target audience is and why. If possible, compare your book to one or two similar titles to help illustrate where it fits in the current market landscape.
4. Not Focusing on Your Hook

The hook—your manuscript’s unique selling point—is what captures the imagination and interest of agents and publishers. Many writers make the mistake of burying their hook under less important details or not clearly defining what makes their manuscript special.
How to Avoid:

Identify your hook before you start writing your query letter and make sure it is clearly presented at the beginning of your description. Whether it’s an intriguing character, an unusual setting, or a novel plot twist, ensure that your hook stands out.
5. Unprofessional Tone

A query letter is a professional document, and an unprofessional tone can be a significant deterrent. This includes being overly familiar, using humour inappropriately, or sounding desperate.

How to Avoid:

Maintain a formal yet approachable tone throughout your query letter. Be confident but not arrogant; be enthusiastic but not overly emotional. Proofread your letter multiple times to ensure there are no typos or grammatical errors, as these can undermine the professionalism of your submission.
Query letters 6. Neglecting to Mention Publishing Credentials or Relevant Experience

If you have any publishing history or relevant life experiences that enhance your manuscript’s appeal or your credibility as a writer, failing to include these in your query can be a missed opportunity.
How to Avoid:

Briefly mention any previous publications, awards, or experiences that might influence your writing. If you’re a debut author without a writing background, consider what other experiences might be relevant to your story or subject matter and include those instead.

Writing an effective query letter is an art form that requires attention to detail, understanding of the publishing industry, and a clear communication of your manuscript’s potential. By avoiding the common mistakes outlined above, you can craft a query that not only avoids the slush pile but positions your manuscript for success. Remember, every query letter is your first impression—make it count.

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Any facts, figures or references stated here are made by the author & don't reflect the endorsement of iU at all times unless otherwise drafted by official staff at iU. This article was first published here on 14th May 2024.

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