Eight Query Do’s and Don’ts

By Renée Ahdieh

1. DO: Personalize your query. Take the time to look up the agent's name and gender. A "Dear Sir or Madame" will not get you far. Nor will a generic "To Whom It May Concern" or an email blast to fifty agents on a preferred list. That being said, I wouldn't write "Sup, Barbara" atop my query, either. Well, my agent might laugh. Right before she deletes it.

2. DON'T: Begin your query with a question. I know the temptation is there. After all, so many movie theater trailers do it. In fact, the ubiquitous-ness of the rhetorical question in all things pitchy makes it an itch that just begs to be scratched. I mean, why wouldn't you want to read something this awesome, har-dee-har? DON'T DO IT. I've seen the rhetorical question work exactly one time. And that person got EIGHT offers of representation. The moral of the story is this: don't count your agents before they offer. Stay away from questions of all kinds. Especially rhetorical ones.

3. DO: Stick to naming one character. Maybe a villain, if you're feeling lucky. If your plot has two points of view, then name both. Once you start naming the main character's grandma Mae, best friend Aesop, and pet hamster Cheeko, you're in Character Soup territory. Trust me. The agent's lost. And his/her finger is hovering over "Delete."

4. DON'T: Go over a page. Really, I don't think your query should be longer than three hundred words. And that includes the ditty about yourself. I know, I know . . . your fantasy world is complex. But the truth is, we don't need to know why the planet is in turmoil from a nearby star in constant flux. We just need to know who the main character is and why we should care about her/him for 60,000+ words.

5. DO: Show us how you write. I know this isn't always what you might hear elsewhere, but I do think it's important to show your voice in a query. That doesn't mean you should write as your character, but be voicey. Showing and not telling is of tantamount importance here. And the best way to do that is by being voicey. Bonus points for making an agent laugh. Seriously.

6. DON'T: Lie. This seems like a given, but it's amazing how many times I've heard this to be an issue. Agents ALWAYS google potential clients. If you say you've been published in something or that you've sold a gajillion things as a self-published author, please know how easy it is to check this. Don't lie in your query. It won't help you. Maybe an agent might give five seconds more to your pages than they would have given without the lie, but if your writing doesn't stand up, it won't make a bit of difference.

7. DO: Offer comparative titles. This is a great way for an agent to get an immediate appreciation for how your book stands up against the market. It also shows an agent your understanding of the industry.

8. DON'T: Compare your book to blockbusters. For the love of all that's holy, don't say you've written the next TWILIGHT or HUNGER GAMES or HARRY POTTER. Please. It's also unlikely you've written the next LORD OF THE RINGS. Just don't do it. And, no matter how many badass sigils and fire-breathing winged things you have in your near-Welsh-like world, you're not GRRM. Just don't. Mmkay? Be original. Show that you've read beyond the grocery store checkout line.

About the Author :


Renee Ahdieh is a writer of Young Adult books. Her novel THE WRATH AND THE DAWN, a reimagining of The Arabian Nights, will be published by Penguin/Putnam in 2015.
Connect with Renee . . .
Website ~ Twitter ~ Goodreads


  1. Thanks so much for this. Reading insights from and 'inside woman' is always good. Even if sometimes it may be confusing, because - as you said - not all agents think the same things. Sometimes, you just have to make your choice and take the chance.

    Your example of 'voice' is spot on. I'm preparing to send out my queries for my novel and I've written my synopsis more like a short story than a classic synopsis, which game me a few bad crits on my critiquing group, also on the base that 'agents fon't liek this'. I'm still going to go for it. Let's see.


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