Yikes!  It’s been too long between posts, I know.  Summer has a way of doing that to me. One minute I’m in the office, the next I’m in New York, then the next in Canada visiting my family.  Where does the time go?

It feels like October in Chicago today – it’s raining, it’s cold, it’s not biking weather.  I really do feel like I should be shopping for pencils and notebooks for school.  The advent of fall always brings with it a renewed sense of purpose.  You’re back from vacation, feeling rested and ready to take on the world.  For some of you that go-to-it vibe might mean finally sending out query letters for your manuscript.

A great query letter is priceless and deserves your undivided time and attention.  In short, it should contain an engaging, but concise, description of your project, information on the length and genre of your work and a little bit about you, the author.  There is no quick and easy formula for a great query and I know from experience that authors sometimes find it difficult to condense their manuscripts into a few paragraphs.  So if you’re not sure how to go about it, try writing flap copy for your future book.  If someone were to pick up your book in a bookstore, what would the back cover say? Which books did you buy after reading the flap copy? Why and how did they hook you? 

Once you have a great description it’s time to do your research. You want to make sure you’re approaching the right agents for your work. A great place to start is The Association of Author’s Representatives . You can search their agent database for the best matches for you. Make sure to visit agency websites in addition to your research on AAR to find the latest on the agency’s submissions guidelines. You can find Browne & Miller’s here.

 Finally, I’ve polled staffers at Browne & Miller about their query letter pet peeves. Some of them might seem like no-brainers, but if they’re being mentioned it’s because they happen more often than we’d like!   I hope this helps!

1. “Dear Sir/Madam” or Dear Terribly Misspelled Agent’s Name— this opens your letter with the implication that no research has been done with respect to the intended agency. In the wake of the internet, this is unacceptable!  Query letters are about making an impression and getting the agent’s name right is a great place to start.

 2. “I see this as an excellent film”— great, then write a screenplay. While crossover potential is nice and something all agents/editors keep in the back of their heads, the book must first work as a book.

 3. “My book is a mix of many genres” – it’s important for authors to know what they’ve written and though it may be true that you’ve incorporated a variety of elements into your novel, chances are it still falls comfortably into a category.  On the flip-side, please don’t say that your book will be the next Twilight!

 4. “No book like this has ever been published” – up to 200,000 books get published every year in the US, are you sure you’re ready to stand behind that claim?

5. Submissions for genres/areas we don’t represent – most agents are quite clear about what types of projects they do and do not handle. Sending them a query for a project that’s out of their interest zone is a waste of everyone’s time.

6. Submissions that do not meet our guidelines – make sure your approaching agents appropriately. Check to see if they accept emails, if they open attachments.

7. No contact info – don’t forget to include a self-addressed, stamped envelope (SASE) if you’re submitting snail mail queries or an email address or phone number with your submissions.  Wouldn’t it be horrible if an agent was really interested in your project, but had no way to get in touch with you?

If you think I missed something on this list, let me know! Good luck!