Write It Sideways

25 Reasons Your Query Letter Sucks

Heard of Query Shark?

No? You don’t know what you’re missing.

Query Shark is a website, run by literary agent Janet Reid, who critiques real-life query letters written by wannabe authors.

If you’re writing a book and hope to get an agent, you’ll need to write and perfect a query letter. Query Shark will be your best friend through the process.

On another of her websites, Reid offers a query checklist and 6 reasons for instant rejection.

In spite of her warnings, the vast majority of queries received are still unacceptable.

In addition to those reasons for instant rejection, I’ve compiled a list of 25 things Reid hates to see in queries.

If you want to be bitten by the Query Shark:

  1. Don’t follow explicitly stated submission guidelines
  2. Ignore previously rejected queries to avoid similar mistakes
  3. Leave your common sense at home
  4. Begin your query with a rhetorical question
  5. Invent an uninteresting, cliched, insubstantial or illogical plot
  6. Put your contact details at the top of an e-query
  7. Speak in generalizations instead of specifics
  8. Be wordy. Take twice the number of required words to make your point
  9. Write a query that lacks focus, and include completely irrelevant information
  10. Write a book with an unacceptably high or low word count
  11. Make your query too long or too short
  12. Don’t address the plot action early in the letter
  13. Use awkward or unskilled writing, possibly foreshadowing more of the same in your manuscript
  14. Incorrectly categorize the genre of your book
  15. Write your query in the voice of one of your characters
  16. Don’t break up the text of your query into manageable chunks for easy reading
  17. Use poor grammar
  18. Forget to proofread
  19. Try to put a full synopsis of the book in your query
  20. Forget to treat your query like a business letter
  21. Use passive voice
  22. Cite self-published books as one of your writing credits
  23. Begin your query with a quotation from your book
  24. Use redundant language
  25. Use language that tells instead of shows

Here are some examples of queries that worked (after considerable revision).

What do you think?

Thanks to Janet Reid of Query Shark for providing a valuable service to writers, and for her no-nonsense advice on how to craft the perfect query letter.

So, are you game enough to submit yours?