In case you're not familiar with the term, a query letter is simply a brief letter that tells the agent or publisher what your book or screenplay is about. It's the first step and you hope that they will be sufficiently intrigued to request your complete manuscript or some sample chapters.
Before you send a query letter, check out the recipient's web site. Look for pages labeled "submissions" or "submission guidelines" or the "contact" page. Most of the time the site will tell you what they are willing to look at in the first instance and whether they prefer it to come in an email or by mail.
The site will also tell you to whom to direct your query--be sure you send it to the right person and that you've spelled their name correctly.
The agent said all of the following are things she's actually seen in real query letters--and doesn't want to see again:
1. How much your family or friends liked your manuscript. They're not considered unbiased judges of material.
2. How much better it is than the current best-seller in your genre. Or, possibly even worse, how much better it is than a book this agent represents.
3. That you're unworthy. She said overconfidence tends to be a trait of U.S. writers, lack of confidence a trait of U.K. writers.
3. How rich the agent will get by selling your book or that they will regret it if they pass up the opportunity to sign you.
4. That this isn't the final draft but it's good enough for them to look at. They don't want it until you're sure it's as good as you can make it.
5. That you have another ten or twelve other projects ready to ship them. It's OK to mention one other project in passing when you write to an agent, but no more.
6. That you'd be happy to make your male protagonist a woman or vice-versa, or to change key aspects of the plot. It's a given that you're willing to make some changes if a publisher asks you to, but show confidence in your choices.
7. References to the agents' personal lives, how many kids they have, or that you know where they live.
That's the negatives out of the way. In the next post we'll look at what should be in a query letter.
(There's lots more guidance on how to market your book, in "Your Writing Coach," available from Amazon and other booksellers.)