Intern Tips: The Query Edition

13 Jan

One of my very first posts on LTWF was about how NOT to query. Today will be in a similar vein, but the theme is what not to put IN your query. As an intern, I mostly read submissions rather than queries. I see a lot of partials, very few fulls, and an endless supply of synopses (but we’ll save those for another day). I was in D.C. the last two weeks and spent a few days at my internship reading queries. I thought I’d spend today imparting on you some helpful tidbits I picked up!

Let’s get started, shall we?

1. Don’t start your query with a rhetorical question (ie: Have you ever felt the nagging urge to lop off your arm, tie it to a rock, and throw it in the ocean as a way to get over your ex?). It isn’t just a personal pet peeve – most agents will tell you they despise the rhetorical question as well.

2. Don’t use a quote before your query. Especially if it’s unrelated to your book. Even if it is related, it isn’t necessary.

3. Don’t send unsolicited attachments. Especially if your query is IN the attachment. It will never see the light of day.

4. I’d generally advise against using smiley faces.

5. Never, ever, ever address a query as follows: Dear Agent, To Whom It May Concern, Dear Sir/Ma’am, etc. Use their name. And be sure to spell it correctly.

6. If you send a hasty query and later realize there’s a typo, don’t send the query again, apologizing. (I’ll admit, I’m guilty of this one.)

7. This is just a suggestion, but you should probably take it to heart: don’t send queries using your email address from 1995 (you know the one – Go to and set up an account using your actual name. Much more professional.

8. Don’t you dare send out a mass query! [Waves finger] That is a major no-no.

9. A synopsis is not a query. Ex-agent superhero, Nathan Bransford, has a great article on how to write a good query.

10. Don’t send a letter that’s all about your qualifications (or lack thereof) for writing your book, but never actually saying what said book is about.

11. It’s fine if this is your first book. Everyone has to start somewhere! But don’t give the entire history of how long it took you to write it.

12. Inserting random sentences from your manuscript isn’t the best way to sell it.

13. Do NOT just send a list of characters and how they relate to each other.

14. Do not send a marketing proposal.

15. Please don’t compare your books to the Bible, Harry Potter, Twilight, or anything by Nicholas Sparks.

16. Make sure you send everything the submission guidelines ask for. If an agent asks to see the first five pages pasted beneath your query, do it. Similarly, don’t send pages if an agent doesn’t ask to see them.

17. If you’re rejected, don’t respond to ask for the names of other agents you could send your query to.

18. Don’t send queries for three different books within the span of five minutes. Query one at a time.

19. Always check for typos. Sometimes we make mistakes, but if your query is riddled with them, no one is going to request to see more because they’ll assume the same of the manuscript.

20. Always wait at least six weeks before checking in to see if an agent has read your query. (Unless their submission guidelines say they don’t respond to those they aren’t interested in. Then you shouldn’t bother.)

Here’s some other generalized information that might make you querying writers feel better: roughly 70-80% of the queries that come in are rejected based on things like: they were sent as an attachment, they were for things the agent didn’t represent, they were just horribly written. So if you follow the basic guidelines, you’re already ahead of a large amount of the population. So keep trucking, and don’t forget to send us your query letter for our upcoming query week(s)!


Sammy Bina is in her last year of college, majoring in Creative Writing. Currently an intern with the Elaine P. English Literary Agency, she is taking a break from querying to revise her latest project, a YA dystopian entitled SILENCE. You can find her on twitter, or check out her blog.


9 Responses to “Intern Tips: The Query Edition”

  1. Angela January 13, 2011 at 2:29 AM #

    “…roughly 70-80% of the queries that come in are rejected based on things like: they were sent as an attachment, they were for things the agent didn’t represent, they were just horribly written.”

    That makes me feel much more optimistic. Thanks for sharing =D

    • Sammy Bina January 13, 2011 at 5:08 PM #

      I felt significantly better once I realized how many queries actually get rejected. Just wanted to let everyone know there’s still hope!

  2. M. Howalt January 13, 2011 at 5:30 AM #

    Thank you for sharing this! It’s interesting and useful to read.

    • Sammy Bina January 13, 2011 at 5:09 PM #

      Glad I could be of some help!

  3. Julie Eshbaugh January 13, 2011 at 12:18 PM #

    Great post Sammy! My fave tip is probably the one about the email addresses. Such an important point and so easy to overlook! All of these tips are really valuable. You’re a sweetheart for sharing your insider’s perspective! 🙂

    • Sammy Bina January 13, 2011 at 5:33 PM #

      Thanks, Julie! The email thing is so easy to overlook sometimes, but it makes a world of difference. Not just at work, but at the Madison Review (the literary journal I help manage), we get tons of queries from crazy emails and I definitely have more respect for someone with a legit email, not meowkittymeow. It shows they take themselves seriously, and that’s the kind of client I’d want if I were an agent.

  4. Patricia Beaudin January 13, 2011 at 2:06 PM #

    Thanks for the tips, a lot of them make sense when I think about them. Although, I do wish agents would at least send a sorry not interested email. I know it’s probably impossible since every agent I’ve followed on twitter or blogs has said they have huge workloads, but it would be nice instead of chewing on our nails wondering.

    • Sammy Bina January 13, 2011 at 5:35 PM #

      I used to think so too, Patricia! Then I realized how much work that would actually be, and now I totally understand why many agents don’t respond unless they’re interested. It’s scary to see an inbox with 1000+ queries, knowing you’ll probably auto-reject 60-80% of them. It takes longer than you’d think. It still sucks, but they definitely have their reasons! I still have trouble telling myself that, but I’m getting better at it.

  5. Juliana Lee January 17, 2014 at 10:51 AM #

    Thanks for the great advice. This is going in my file!

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