I was asked recently, “What is the one thing that makes you request a project based on a query and what is the one thing in a query that makes you decide a book isn’t the right fit?”
I’m sure the answer to this question varies agent to agent, but I’d like to share my thoughts with you. I have reviewed thousands of query letters over my (almost) 16 years as an agent, so I’m pretty experienced now. 🙂
First off, there’s not a magical item to include in a query letter that will make an agent request the project. There are many things that will cause an agent to request a project. For example, platform size–if you are an author with a large following, an agent is very likely to request your project. Also, if your idea is something an agent knows a publisher is looking for, you are likely to get a request. For me, I think the topic or plot of a book is still most important. If your book is about something I’m interested in and the query grabs my attention, I am very likely to request more even if I don’t have a publisher in mind yet and even if your platform isn’t huge. I still allow the content to speak for itself and then determine after taking a look at the proposal or manuscript if I think I could have a good chance to sell the project. I’m not against taking a few risky projects on, but I mostly like to feel confident that there are publishing houses looking for the type of books I’m representing.
There are also many things that could make an agent say no to a query, but the one thing (two things?) that causes me not to request a project from a query letter is poor spelling and grammar. A query letter should be very clean. It’s only a page long and it represents you and your project. You want it to sparkle! If I can tell a person hasn’t spent any time on their query, I can be pretty sure that that project isn’t ready for representation yet. It’s easy to make silly mistakes when writing anything, so I encourage each of you to have a critique partner read your query letter for you. Query letters are often the gateway to publishing, so spend time putting yours together.
How has your query letter evolved as you’ve pitched your project?
What is the hardest part for you when you write a query? Bio? Summary? Hook? Something else?