10 Query Tips from a Literary Assistant

I’m a literary assistant at The Seymour Agency. Our agents, Mary Sue Seymour and Nicole Resciniti represent a range of genres.

Welcome to another edition of 10 Query Tips from a Literary Assistant where every Friday I go back over my Twitter feed (@LaneHeymont) and address at least 10 query tips I posted during the week. Here’s this week’s edition:


1) This first one comes via agent Sarah LaPolla‘s Twitter account. She is an agent with Bradford Literary Agency: You don’t need to be overly formal, especially if you’ve interacted with the agent you’re querying on Twitter However, there is a thin line between professional and out of line. If you’re not sure which is which don’t make that joke you’re thinking of! #querytip


2) Cut right to the chase. Don’t start your query with a long winded introduction — I used to do this — because only your writing matters. This comes from experience, because years ago when I first started querying I did just this! Hindsight is 20/20. #querytip


3) Never say or insinuate something negative about yourself in your query. It’s unprofessional and counterproductive. If you view yourself in a negative light how is everyone else going to see you? #querytip


4) Carbon Copying numerous agents in your query is a really, really, REALLY bad idea. Don’t do it. A query should be personalized for whichever agent you’re querying, and besides, it smacks of unprofessionalism, and may border on spam. #querytip


5) Queries must be written in the present tense. Period. It keeps us in the action as it happens! #querytip


6) This next one caused a big discussion between myself, some writers, and an agent, which was good: Don’t query an agent with the attitude that they work for you. Agents and writers work together and at that moment you NEED them! 

Now, as this agent pointed out, agents DO work for authors and I get that. Agents do the legwork of procuring deals, selling rights, collecting monies, etc. But my point was you should never query an agent with the attitude you are doing them a favor. You wouldn’t show up to a job interview acting like they’d be stupid for not hiring you, right? 

It may, and most likely, come off as arrogant and speaks to how it may be working with you. The agent-author relationship is very unique in the business world (including talent managers, etc) and should be view as a partnership. You’re submitting an “application” to the agent, requesting they “hire” or represent you. That requires a level of respect.

That was my point, and everyone involved in the Twitter conversation ended up agreeing on a number of points! #querytip


7) If you’re Abraham Lincoln, have been to jail, or were abducted by aliens, don’t mention it in your query. Unless that’s what your book’s about. I’m sure someone somewhere in the great sea of queries has done this, but keep in mind, many a great books about these subjects have been written and done quite well (Whitley Strieber, Sam Chaiton and Terry Swinton). Except for the Abraham Lincoln thing. #querytip

Note: Whitley Strieber actually promoted one of my old articles. #humblebrag


8) Don’t query one agent at a time. Query widely. Agents assume you are doing this. Occasionally when an agent requests a full they may ask for exclusivity, meaning you agree not to send it to anyone else. You should always inform them whether your ms is already with another agent, or ask for a specific time limit on said exclusivity. #querytip


9) It’s a bad idea to give any kind of ultimatum in your query, such as requiring a 6 figure deal or that the agent respond within a week. It indicates how reasonable, or unreasonable, you are. You wouldn’t demand a prospective employer call you within a week after your interview, would you? I hope not! #querytip


10) I think this one has repeated every week, and frankly, it demands it: Always include your manuscript’s word count and genre. If it’s not immediately clear from the first five to teen pages what genre your piece is, how is an agent going to know whether they even rep your genre? It’s not as easy as you think to pull this information from five to ten pages. Give yourself the best chance of landing that dream agent! #querytip


That’s it for this week’s 10 query tips. Thanks for joining in, and stay tuned for later in the day when I post a critique of the rewrite of last week’s query in “Query Critiques from a Slush Lord.”