Cardinal Query Sins

October 6, 2009

I am not an agent. I do not have an agent. I did once talk to an agent on the phone. I babbled. My cousin happened to be with me at the time (we were having lunch) and, afterward, said I hadn’t looked that nervous since I decided to ask Brent C to the eighth grade formal dance.

All of this is a roundabout way of telling you that I am completely unqualified to give query advice. That won’t, however, stop me from presenting you with my list of TOP TEN CARDINAL QUERY SINS (I figured it deserved capital letters).

  1. Start off with a rhetorical question. I’m not saying they can never work but enough agents hate them that you’re probably better off steering clear.
  2. Mention movie potential. Mentioning series potential is debatable (I think it’s fine for certain genres, others disagree) but mentioning movie potential is definitely the sign of an amateur. Concentrate on selling the agent on your book.
  3. Mention that another agent passed but said your character, plot, premise (insert item of choice) was great. You’d think this one would be common sense but, alas, not always.
  4. Use the words “fiction novel” (science fiction novel, however, is fine). I’ve read this in more than one query and it sets my teeth on edge.
  5. Tell the agent that this is your first book. Good agents are sharp (and , hopefully, you’re only querying good agents). When you don’t list your publishing credits, they’ll figure things out.
  6. Quote your characters. Don’t. Just don’t.
  7. Compare your novel to Twilight.
  8. Waste space on irrelevant details. You don’t have to tell the agent that you love to write or that you have a blog about kittens (unless your book is about cats). The goal of your query is to interest an agent enough to read your pages. Always ask yourself if the details you are including work towards that goal.
  9. Begin with “Dear Agent/Sir or Madame”. You spent year(s) working on your manuscript. For the love of 12 point Times New Roman, take a few seconds to properly address the query letter. And, for the love of Courier, don’t Cc other agents when you send it. One agent. One letter. One email.
  10. I leave up you, faithful commentators. What’s your cardinal query sin?

– Kathleen who receieved some wonderful feedback (on AW) about her query letter from Janice Hardy. Her new MG book, The Shifter, hits shelves today. Congrats Janice!



  1. So, I shouldn’t say that my kitten purrs the loudest when I read from page 21 of my Twilight-esque paranormal romance, and I quote, “Eduardo stroked my hair, like he would a tiny kitty. I lapped up his love like sweet milk.” ???????


    How about a YouTube homemade book trailer link? 😀

  2. You mean, I shouldn’t say my Love Interest is Edward-esque? Lol. Great post! I’d add:

    DON’T call the agent by the wrong name. Example: Apparently, Ginger Clark at Curtis Brown gets addressed as Ms. Brown quite frequently. Yikes. Also, calling her Mrs. Clark vs. Ms.? No. Take the time to get the name correct–because turning the agent off with the salutation? Never a good idea.

    DON’T forget word count. Oh, and while we’re at it–please round. Another good way to distinguish yourself as an amateur is to say, “My YA novel, complete at 72,369 words.”

  3. Great advice, and nicely helpful. Just one question:

    How’d things turn out with Brent?

  4. Sadly, before I could ask him, my best friend humiliated me by getting his little sister to ask him if he liked me.

    I didn’t talk to my friend for months and he ended up taking Stacy to the dance who, being bulimic, kept making excuses to go to the washroom.

    – Kathleen

  5. You should write about this, Kathleen. Sounds like a YA novel in the making, loosely based on actual events. HAHA! Just saying. 🙂

  6. My first query letter was so terrible, I committed more like 30 sins. TERRIBLE!

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