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Welcome to the AQ Connect Community Library -- reference articles about the publishing industry for and by its AQ Connect members.
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A.C. Crispin's "Common Mistakes in Query Letters"


Sci Fi author A.C. Crispin lists the following common mistakes that aspiring writers make in their query letters:

1. Writers make it too long. A good query letter is brief, no more than one page long. When I say “one page” I mean a few hundred words long. Not one page crammed from top to bottom with narrow margins.

2. The writer tries to include a synopsis of the book instead of a “sound bite” (I’ll cover writing this below). You can’t write an effective synopsis of a novel-length work in fifty words or less, honest. What you can do is write a “verbal snapshot” of the book in dynamic, fascinating language. That’s the “sound bite.”

3. Writers tell too much about themselves and their lives. Agents and editors don’t care if you are mentally or physically handicapped, or your mother is sick, or your kid is sick, or you just escaped an abusive marriage, etc. Everything in the query letter, including in the credentials section, must relate to your book, and your ability to write it. Telling the agent about yourself in an attempt to gain the agent’s sympathy so they’ll read the book is kiss of death.

4. Writers make a point of telling the agent or editor about all their friends and family members who loved their book. Or about the published authors who read and loved the book. I made this mistake myself when I started out — it’s a natural one to make. But resist! Agents don’t want to be told what your friend and family thought. They also don’t want to be told what to think. “This book will be a surefire bestseller!” is not a line to include in your query.

5. Writers who try to make their writing experiences look like credentials when they aren’t. Writing a few articles for local newspapers for no pay doesn’t count as a writing credential. The same goes for recipes in your parish cookbook. Or having a letter printed in the Washington Post. What counts is writing you were PAID to do.

6. Writers who inform the agent that the book they’re submitting is the first book in a 12 book series they’ve spent the last ten years writing. This reeks of obsession, and agents will make the sign of the cross and back away. Concentrate on the book you’re trying to sell.


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