When Sending a Query: What to Include and What Not to Include

I’ve received a ridiculous number of queries since November, when I first started taking them. It’s only been two and a half months and, put it this way, I’m almost up to 4 digits. Some more seasoned agents may not think that is such a big deal, but for me it’s like going from 0 to 100mph in about 30 seconds. Coupled with the fact that I’ve been reading queries and submissions for other agents for the past 3 years, I think I’ve learned a thing or two about what works and what doesn’t in a query letter. So here are two lists for you, to help you know what to do and what not to do when querying me (or anyone else):

Five things you should always include in your query letter…

  1. Your name and the name of your manuscript
  2. The word count of your manuscript and that it’s complete
  3. A very short description of the story, including its genre
  4. Your previous writing credits and/or if you have a relevant platform
  5. An appropriate salutation and sign-off, including a way you can be reached

Five things you should never include in your query letter:

  1. That you have an idea for a novel but you just wanted to run it by me to see what I think, before you spend all that time writing the whole damn thing
  2. That you’ve written a fictional novel
  3. That your fiction manuscript is almost complete and you’ll send it to me when you’re done
  4.  To whom it may concern
  5. Whether you are currently on or off your psychotropic medication

Happy writing! Can’t wait to receive your query at:

linda (dot) p (dot) epstein (at) gmail (dot) com


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15 responses to “When Sending a Query: What to Include and What Not to Include

  1. Ohhh, the fictional novel. It amazes me that it still needs to be said that the words “fictional novel” should never ever appear in a query (or even next to each other, for that matter). Thanks for the list, Linda. 🙂

  2. If I call it a fictional novel, does that save me the “any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental” disclaimer? Or perhaps it’s to differentiate it from the fictional memoir.

  3. ‘Fictional novel’ — I just love that. It always cheers me up to know that there are other clueless people who write.

  4. At least I didn’t put I had a fictional novel 🙂 Barry Goldblatt is always tweeting he gets those too!

  5. Sarah

    Sorry about that first post, you cracked me up with “psychotropic” and my brain said “psychic…” before I knew it I was typing. : )

    Real question here: If a writer has been working with a professional editor, should that be mentioned in the query? Does it indicate that the ms is likely to be tight and polished — or the writer is “weak” and “needs” an editor?

    • Again, this is only my opinion, but it kind of doesn’t mean anything to me. Some people work in critique groups, some people hire professional editors, some people know readers who are particularly astute, some people are in creative writing classes. I’ve read manuscripts that sucked that supposedly had been “professionally” edited and others that were fabulous, where I was pretty much the first person to lay eyes on it, besides a spouse. Get it professionally edited if that helps you and go ahead and tell me about it if that’s particularly significant for you.

  6. If an author has been previously agented and is seeking new representation, should they put that in the query? On that same vein, if the author is aware that the agent they are querying has previously worked for/with said previous agent, should that be noted as well?

    • Of course you should say you’ve been previously agented. I mean, is that a secret? Why would it be? If I offered you representation wouldn’t you tell me after the fact? This is a business letter for a business arrangement. You need to act like a professional. If it’s pertinent that the agent worked with your previous agent, mention it. If it’s not, don’t.

      • Thanks Linda! I’ve read conflicting answers about this. Some agents say mention it, some say don’t mention it until you’ve received an offer. Seems a little shady, imo, to wait until they offer.

      • You know, of course, this is just my opinion, but I don’t have the time or inclination to play games, even in a query letter. If I was the queryer I figure people will take me or leave me, whoever I used to be connected with. It should be based on my work. If an agent wouldn’t want to work with me because of some connection I used to have, they wouldn’t be the right agent for me. So that’s what I tell you all…

  7. I’ve read some agents want this while others don’t care: how we heard about you. Also, would you prefer this at the beginning of the query or end or it doesn’t matter? Thanks.

    • It’s nice to know where you heard about me, but really it kind of doesn’t matter to me. This list is just the things you definitely should be including and definitely should not.

  8. Sarah

    Is it too personal to share that I’m kind of psychic and just KNOW it’s going to be a bestseller? My vision showed me 6 figures…no 7! And 5 stars too.