writers tips / writing

Writers Tip #93: 16 Query Tips From Agents

When you read your story, does it sound off, maybe you can’t quite put your finger on it, but you know you’ve done something wrong? Sometimes–maybe even lots of times–there are simple fixes. These writer’s tips will come at you once a week, giving you plenty of time to go through your story and make the adjustments.

When your manuscript is polished, your query letter honed to perfection and you’re ready to contact agents about representing your baby, you still aren’t done. Each agent you contact will have unique requirements, personal favorites as to how to oil your manuscript so it slips smoothly through the gears of their application process. Trust me as a veteran of the query process–they’re all different. Visit an agent’s website. Check out their requirements before submitting. Spend the time to make each contact personal to the agent’s requirements, area of expertise, and current successful publications.

Here’s an example of what  3 Seas Agency requires. They’re good basic rules that make sense when seeking representation:

In General:

  1. Your manuscript needs a header on each page. It should include the title, the author’s name and the page number. (Note: If you wish, the page number can be inserted at the bottom of the page.)
  2.  Make sure your entire book flows.
  3. Avoid overuse of flashbacks.
  4.  A slow-moving beginning turns off agents and editors. Write a beginning hook to suck in the reader. Use action rather than narrative.
  5.  Make sure the climax isn’t resolved too easily. Be certain to tie up all loose ends that may have drifted throughout your story.
  6.  Double-check for grammatical errors, such as misspelled or repeated words and sentence structure.
  7.  Do not use unusual words more than once in your entire manuscript. A reader will remember them and be pulled out of the story if you repeat them.

Common Manuscript Errors:

  1. Improper use of the word — its.
  2. Toward is preferred over towards.
  3. Overuse of the word: that–Read, and then read again all sentences which contain the word “that.” Many, many times “that” can be omitted, or the word “which” can be substituted. Sometimes, however, “that” is necessary and must remain in the sentence. Only by reading the sentence out loud and concentrating on it will you be able to delete all unnecessary usage. HINT: Use the “find” for locating all of the times you used “that” in your manuscript.
  4. Sprinkle contractions throughout your manuscript in dialogue, inner monologue and narrative. You will notice how the words flow better immediately. NOTE: We talk using contractions, therefore, your characters should too.
  5. Name Dropping: Be sure not to keep repeating a character’s name over and over in a paragraph or even on a page. When more than one character appears in a scene, it’s sometimes necessary to repeat names.
  6. Dialogue is Not Conversation: There is no room for bad dialogue in a good manuscript. Dialogue’s only purpose is to move the story along. If it doesn’t, and it sounds like conversation, DELETE IT. Try not to have a character answer a question directly. It’s better to answer a question with a question or to refer to something else.
  7. Using too many adjectives and adverbs–Strong writing demands strong nouns and verbs. A verb can be either active or passive. Always choose “active” voice whenever possible.
  8. A noun is put to best use when it paints a definite picture of what you’re trying to say.
  9. Be professional! Making a sale depends on it!

Galley Cat has 23 query letters posted that work. Writer’s Digest has 60.

To have these tips delivered to your email, click here.

Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. She is the author/editor of dozens of books on integrating tech into education, webmaster for six blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, adjunct professor of technology in education, a columnist for Examiner.com and TeachHUB, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, monthly contributor to Today’s Author and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. You can find her book at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning. 


34 thoughts on “Writers Tip #93: 16 Query Tips From Agents

  1. Pushing 1oo writer tips, nice! And 1,000,000 views. . . Think you can hit them both at the same time?

    Good tips, by the way. I, myself, have a tendency towards, ahem, overusing “that” a bit now and then.

    Sidenote: I’ve added you to my Writer Resource page. It’s a modified RSS feed, so every time you post, the page shows a short excerpt, the feature image as a thumbnail, and a link back to the full article. Hopefully you’ll see some folks follow it on back here.


    • I appreciate any help I can get on marketing, Connor. Thanks!

      As for ‘that’, I found a wonderful online tool called Autocrit that rigorously reviews my writing—and yells at me when I abuse ‘that’. Love it.


  2. Jacqui, this is exactly what I need right now. Thanks for the links to query successes – my biggest problem area, IMHO – of course, others may see plenty more problem areas than I recognize.
    Off to re-write my query – again!


  3. I think this is all good advice.

    On the subject of loose ends, I’m not sure that all of them need to be tied up.
    They aren’t all tied upo in life and sometimes, in books I have read where every one is neatly tied up, the result is an artificial feel.

    And then we have people who write books in threes, fives or whatever.
    A loose end from book one is just what we need to follow up on in book two.


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