Where Literary Legends Are Born

From the Assistant Desk: Query Tips!

As the assistant to two wonderful M&O agents, part of my job is helping to manage the delightful chaos of their query inboxes. Truthfully, it’s one of my favorite parts of my job! As I suspect is the case at many agencies, often an assistant or intern is the first set of eyes on queries here at M&O. Now, this doesn’t mean that agents don’t read their own queries, but they definitely rely on help to keep everything organized. In the process, I’m reading queries as well, and I will definitely bump up anything I think is promising to the top of the pile. So for my first post, I thought I’d provide some query crafting tips from the perspective of someone who is often one of the first readers when that query email lands in our inboxes. Note: these are just my opinions, and are meant to be more general tips about putting your query together, rather than about specific M&O agent tastes. For that info check out our agent bio pages!

  • Follow the Submission Guidelines: This is really the most important piece of query advice I can give. It’s showing us that you did your research, that you’re serious about being considered by an agent, and are putting your best foot forward. This goes for any agency. M&O’s submission guidelines can be found here.
  • Use That Subject Line: I personally really look out for a solid subject line. It’s definitely one of the things most likely to get me to read your query and pass it on to an agent faster. Probably every third query or so we receive has the word “query” in the subject line. By including that, you are wasting valuable real estate! Use that line instead to describe your project with the genre, age group (if kids/YA), and title of your project. (Christa has written a very helpful post on her blog just about subject lines which you can check out here). In the case where you’re submitting requested material or are submitting from a conference, be sure to note that in the subject line as well.
  • Don’t Waste Space in Your Email: The same idea goes for the body of your query email: use all the real estate to your advantage. One of the most common mistakes I see is taking too long to get started with the actual query, and instead beginning with a paragraph or two about why the author decided to write this book or other things that don’t have to do with the story or idea of the project. In my opinion, it’s best to get started with your pitch right away and put the other stuff (why you think this agent is a good fit, your bio, etc) after. An exception is a quick reminder to the agent if you met them at a conference, were referred by someone, etc.
  • Let Your Work Speak for Itself: I often see authors use space in their email to talk about how much people they know loved the book or how they envision their book as a NY Times Bestseller or blockbuster movie/TV show. While confidence is great, you want to let your work speak for itself while querying.
  • The Details Matter: Looking up the name of the person who you are sending your query to (and spelling it right) is just a matter of respect, in my opinion. Reading “Dear Agent” or “Dear Sir/Madam” in a query letter is an indication to me that the author didn’t do their research. Similarly, if there are a lot of typos or weird formatting issues, I can’t help but wonder if the author looked this submission over before they pressed send. Of course, we understand that little mistakes do occur and we certainly don’t set out to nitpick every detail of your letter! But those sorts of details do often catch our eyes. Remember that your query is the equivalent of making a first impression, so you don’t want little mistakes to drag you down if they can be avoided. As YA author Maureen Johnson once advised, make your query letter the best thing you’ve ever written. I would advise having several people read your query over for mistakes. To make sure the formatting and everything looks good, send to yourself or a friend first!

After all these do’s and don’ts, I just want to end with the reminder that agents (and their assistants who help them read) aren’t looking for reasons to reject your submission, and we definitely don’t relish it. Querying can be intimidating, and the agents I work with and I definitely respect the guts it takes to put your work out there! When the whole process seems tough, just remember that the agent on the other end probably wants to love your project just as much as you want them to. :)

Hopefully you found these tips helpful! Check back next week for our next post…and happy querying!

– Shannon