In their enthusiasm to see their work in print, many novice fiction writers destroy their chances of ever being published by marking themselves as amateurs with the query letter. Fiction query letters are meant to entice an agent into representing your work, and should not brand you as a novice. Even if you’ve never been published before, you can present yourself as a professional by avoiding these common fiction query letter mistakes.
Fiction Query Letter Mistake #1: “My manuscript was copyrighted…”
No professional writer copyrights his or her own work. Once your manuscript is accepted for publication, the publishing house will handle the copyright in your name. If you’ve already jumped the gun and claimed the copyright, don’t mention it in your query letter. Wait until after you’ve received a positive response, then mention you’ve already copyrighted the work..
Fiction Query Letter Mistake #2: “I know it will sell 15 million copies…”
Literary agents know exactly how well (or how poorly) your fiction book is likely to do in the marketplace. After all, it’s their job to pick out saleable manuscripts for representation. Telling the agent in your query letter that your book is bound to sell a trillion copies will mark you as an amateur – not to mention presumptuous.
Fiction Query Letter Mistake #3: “I’ve never been published before, but…”
If you’ve had your work published previously through other venues, by all means, mention it in your query letter. But if you’re a previously unpublished author, it is important to keep that information to yourself. No literary agent wants to work with an amateur, and calling attention to your lack of experience might prejudice the agent against you.
Fiction Query Letter Mistake #4: “If you don’t like it, I’ll revise…”
Telling the agent that you’ll be happy to revise your work might seem like a positive thing, but it’s not. Once the agent reads that, he or she will assume that your manuscript needs a lot of work, and won’t want to bother with it. While you shouldbe amenable to suggested revisions, don’t talk about the need for editing in your query letter.
Fiction Query Letter Mistake #5: “I’ve sent my manuscript to ten other agents…”
First of all, simultaneous submissions are not appreciated in the literary world. Secondly, this also implies that ten other agents have rejected your manuscript. You don’t need to advertise that you’ve got a shoebox-full of rejection letters at home, nor do you want to try and rush the agent to make the first “bid” on your book. Likely, your manuscript will be returned unread.
Fiction Query Letter Mistake #6: “I’ve read your biography, and I think you’re wonderful…”
In this case, flattery will get you absolutely nowhere. Literary agents don’t want to hear how much you admire them or how great you think they are. Remember, requesting representation isn’t about starting a fan club, but about being as professional as possible.
Fiction Query Letter Mistake #7: “Dear Sir…”
If you address the literary agent as “Sir” or “Ma’am”, your query letter is likely to wind up in the garbage. Do your research to find out the editor’s name, and address him or her directly. You should also make sure that the agent is a man or a woman; it is extremely offensive for a female literary agent to open mail addressed to “Mr. Smith”.
Fiction Query Letter Mistake #8: “I’m sorry if this letter comes off as poor…”
Whatever you do, don’t apologize for the state of your query letter. Just because you are new to publishing doesn’t mean you can’t read articles like this one and books about writing a superb query letter. Do your research and edit your letter until it sounds professional and interesting. After all, if you can’t write a letter, how are you going to sell a fiction novel?