Literary Agent Query Letter - Book Agents Giving Bad Advice

Query Letter for Literary Agents – Warning About Bad Advice

Warning Sign - Query Letter Literary AgentLiterary Agent Query Letter – Did you know that many authors, literary agents, and other publishing professionals give bad advice about how to write a query letter? They’re not doing it on purpose, but you need to understand it so you don’t fall into their trap and follow their advice. This article is part of a free 15-part guide called How to Write a Query Letter written by Mark Malatesta, a former literary agent and former Marketing & Licensing Manager of a well-known book publisher.

This free training guide shares everything you need to know about query letters, such as: What is a query letter? What are the different query letter formats? What’s the best query letter length? What’s the best query letter template? What does a sample query letter look like? Where can you view successful query letter examples by successful authors? What is a SASE? Synopsis vs query letter? And where can you get query letter help?

This article reveals why authors, book agents, and other well-meaning publishing professionals often give advice that puts writers at a disadvantage.

* * *

Literary Agent Query Letter – The Problem

There are five types of people in the world giving advice to authors about how to write a literary agent query letter (including book agents). I’m going to tell you a little bit about each of them. That way you’ll know who to pay attention to and who to ignore.

And that will greatly improve your chances of
getting a top literary agent, publisher, and book deal.

So, let’s get started…

* * *

Literary Agent Query Letter – Expert #1

The first type of person giving authors advice about the best way to write a literary agent query letter is easy for most writers to ignore. But you might struggle with someone like this, so I thought I better mention it. This type of “expert” is someone you’re emotionally connected to–who has absolutely no experience with (or connection to) the publishing industry. 

People that fall into this category might include your best friend, son or daughter, sister or brother, father or mother, spouse or lover, grandfather or grandmother, or distant relative. These people might have the best intentions (they usually d0), and you might feel somewhat obligated to take their advice since they’ve spent hours listening to you talk about your book.

But that doesn’t make it right.

Because they don’t
have a clue.

And they can destroy your chances of getting
a top book agent, publisher, and book deal.

Turn to these people for inspiration, but
don’t put your writing career in their hands.

* * *

Literary Agent Query Letter – Expert #2

The second type of person giving authors advice about the best way to write a literary agent query letter is harder to ignore. This type of “expert” is someone who’s really smart and/or successful in life, but who also has no experience with (or connection to) the publishing industry. 

People that fall into this category might include that guy you know who’s the top salesman in his region for the company he works for. The entrepreneur you met last week at a party. The English teacher you dated for a while. Your business coach. Your doctor. Or the woman who manicures your nails who was recently voted “Best New Salon Franchise Marketer of the Year.”

One of the biggest mistakes that successful people make (like those I just mentioned) is thinking that success in one area translates to another area. It doesn’t. In other words, just because someone is CEO for a Fortune 500 company doesn’t mean he or she can write an effective literary agent query letter.

In other words…

These people can do
more harm than good also.

* * *

Literary Agent Query Letter – Expert #3

The third type of “expert” giving authors advice about the best way to write a literary agent query letter is… someone who has experience with the publishing industry, but isn’t an “expert” on how to write a successful literary agent query letter.

People in this category include other book authors (including those who’ve written one successful query letter that got them an agent).Other people that fit in this category include publishing professionals like book editors, illustrators/cover designers, book publicists, etc.

Why shouldn’t you listen
to these people?

Just because someone might know more than you about the publishing industry doesn’t mean they know how to write a successful literary agent query letter.

At least not on the same level as someone
in categories four and five (below).

* * *

Literary Agent Query Letter – Expert #4

The fourth type of person giving authors advice about the best way to write a literary agent query letter is… someone who’s recognized as an authority in publishing, who regularly reads query letters.  In other words, literary agents and publishers. But you shouldn’t listen to them, either.

At least not completely.

Yes, book agents and publishers are certainly more knowledgeable than everyone else I’ve talked about in this article so far. That’s because they’re constantly reading query letters.

But…

When literary agents and publishers give you advice about how to write a query, they can only give you their personal perspective. In other words, they can only share what they want to see in a query letter–their individual preferences and pet peeves. That’s why authors get confused; they’re getting conflicting information.

Yes, advice from a literary agent or publisher is better than none. It can help you get the attention of that particular literary agent or publisher. And, in some cases, it can help you get the attention of multiple agents and publishers. But, if you follow that advice, you’re not creating the best query letter possible. Your query is going to look like every other query letter.

It isn’t going to pop.

* * *

Literary Agent Query Letter – Expert #5

The fifth and final type of person giving authors advice about how to write a query letter is the most qualified. This type of expert is someone who’s recognized as an authority in publishing, who also spends most of their time helping authors create successful query letters–resulting in those authors getting top literary agents and book deals.

Now I know what you’re thinking.

Do people like that exist?

Yes…

Although there aren’t
many of us.

And, I don’t know of anyone (other than myself) that has built an entire business around helping authors improve their query letters. In other words: it’s their main area of expertise, it’s what they do best, and it’s the main service they provide. I certainly haven’t seen anyone else with an entire website devoted to query letters. And I don’t know of anyone else with more than a hundred success stories and testimonials from authors they’ve helped achieve success.

Now I’m definitely not saying
I have it all figured out.

I don’t.

Writing a successful query letter is one part science and one part art (complex and imperfect). But I love what I do and I’m really good at it (that’s not ego talking, but experience); I have a 95% success rate helping authors get literary agents asking for more material. I’ve helped unpublished authors without any “formal writing education” get top agents and book deals. I’ve helped authors who’ve sent their query to hundreds of agents (and gotten nothing but rejections) to rewrite their query and start getting full manuscript requests. And I’ve helped previously published authors who’ve been dropped by their agent and/or publisher find new representation.

Of course, I don’t have the same success rate (95%) helping authors get representation and/or book deals (because the book has to be great as well, and that’s your job).

Now, why am I
telling you all this?

Because getting agents (especially top agents) to ask you for more material, based on your query letter, is extremely difficult. You need to be careful who you listen to. And you need to position your work in the best way possible–using every bit of leverage that you can, to get agents wanting more. The good news is that that’s exactly what I’m going to show you how to do in the rest of this free training on how to write a query letter.

* * *

Now that you’ve read my warning about literary agent query letter “experts,”
click here for important information about Query Letter Examples.

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Author Success Story: Fiction/Young Adult  
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"When I got the phone call about my publishing offer with Harcourt, I was in my office with three other people. I slammed down the phone, ran into the secretary’s office, threw myself down on the floor and said, ‘I got a deal!’ They sat there and held my hand. I was speechless. I’ve never ever been that happy in my life. On my wedding day I wasn’t that happy! Getting married and having children are wonderful experiences, but I didn’t ‘work’ to get my children!" [Click here to see all Mark Malatesta reviews]

Author of many YA novels including The Body of Christopher Creed (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)   
Author Success Story: Memoir  
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"I got the number one agent on my wish list thanks to Mark. He’s done more than 100 deals in just two year and has a long list of accolades, including being talked about in the New York Times. Within 4 minutes of sending out my revised query letter, my literary agent called me on the phone. Less than 30 days later I had three major publishers making offers. And, a few days after that, I signed a deal with Random House. Mark’s query letter did that." [Click here to see all Mark Malatesta reviews]

Author of the memoir Lights Out (Penguin Random House)   
Author Success Story: Nonfiction/Narrative Nonfiction  
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"Berkley Books recently published my book in hardcover after Mark helped me get multiple agents interested in my work. I was able to speak with literary agents from top agencies such as Janklow & Nesbit, Trident Media, Anderson Lit, and Folio. I signed with Don Fehr at Trident Media and a short time later I had a publishing contract! Having Mark on your side is incredibly valuable." [Click here to see all Mark Malatesta reviews]

Author of the narrative nonfiction book Single Handed (Penguin Random House / Berkley Books)   
Author Success Story: Fiction  
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"Before I revised my query letter with Mark, I got no responses. When I sent out my new query, I got four requests for more material within 24 hours The support Mark provides is fantastic. His suggestions changed my original query significantly, but they also helped me see that I had something to offer. Now I have a top agent! Mark is smart and reliable and working with him has made all the difference." [Click here to see all Mark Malatesta reviews]

Author of novels including The Wings That Fly Us Home (Penguin Random House / Ballantine Books)   
Author Success Story: Eleven Fiction and Nonfiction Titles  
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"Finding Mark has been both a treat and a treasure. I now have two different agents for my work, and a book deal with Sky Horse Publishing. I’ve served as Creative Director of the TIME Incorporated Magazine Group; Director of Time World News Service, a Founding Director of TIME-Life Films; Executive Producer for both the CBS and NBC Television Networks; and Producer/ Director: Movies of the Week: CBS Cinema Center Films and Universal MCA. You just can’t do it alone today as an author." [Click here to see all Mark Malatesta reviews]

Author of eleven fiction and nonfiction books (Harper Collins and many others)   
Author Success Story: Nonfiction/Business  
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"Not long after Mark helped me land a top literary agent, I got a call from my agent letting me know that I had three different publishing offers from well-known publishers: Amacom, Palgrave Macmillan, and McGraw-Hill who recently published my book in hardcover! It was a fantastic feeling and a huge smile came over my face. For a moment I felt like life was perfect and the angels were singing." [Click here to see all Mark Malatesta reviews]

Author of the business book Customer Focused Process Innovation (McGraw-Hill)   
Author Success Story: Nonfiction/Self-Help  
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"Mark helped me get five different offers for representation from top literary agents. I signed with Stephanie Tade who got me a 6-figure book deal with Penguin Books, which published my book in hardcover! When Stephanie first contacted me, she was very excited and said, ‘I can’t get your book proposal out of my head. It’s brilliant – I mean, really, it’s fantastic. Editors should be salivating by the time they get to the chapter outline.’ Working with Mark was completely worth it." [Click here to see all Mark Malatesta reviews]

Author of the self-help book Woman on Fire (Penguin Random House / Penguin Books)   
Author Success Story: Memoir/Christian  
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"Before I decided to work with Mark, I submitted my book to literary agents but didn’t get any interest. After I revised my query letter and book proposal, I got several agencies interested and decided to sign with Fine Print Lit, a top literary agency in New York. They got publishers bidding against each other and I ended up signing a contract with Thomas Nelson (an imprint of Harper Collins) for what I’ve been told by several people is a very large advance. What cloud is higher than 9?" [Click here to see all Mark Malatesta reviews]

Author of the memoir The Unbreakable Boy (Harper Collins / Thomas Nelson)   
Author Success Story: Fiction  
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"It has been an awfully long and bloody road towards publication but I’m finally on my way. Hard work, struggle, disappointments, and perseverance are important. So is following the advice of publishing industry experts like Mark. He helped me get a top literary agent and now my novel, The Wrong Hand is being published by Penguin Books and their prestigious Michael Joseph imprint, which is ‘principally interested in publishing Top Ten Bestsellers’. It’s hard not to be excited." [Click here to see all Mark Malatesta reviews]

Author of the novel The Wrong Hand (Penguin / Michael Joseph)   
Author Success Story: Fiction/Mystery/Thriller  
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"Ballantine Books published my first two novels in hardcover and paperback after Mark Malatesta helped create an auction and bidding war for my books, resulting in a six-figure offer. Mark is one of the rare and genuine good guys, but he also has incredible information (even his ideas have ideas). One of the most important keys to success as an author is good information and support." [Click here to see all Mark Malatesta reviews]

Author of the mystery thrillers 24/7 and Black Valley (Penguin Random House / Ballantine Books)   

About Mark Malatesta

MARK MALATESTA is a former literary agent turned author coach. Mark now helps authors of all genres (fiction, nonfiction, and children's books) get top literary agents, publishers, and book deals through his company Literary Agent Undercover and The Bestselling Author. Mark's authors have gotten six-figure book deals, been on the NYT bestseller list, and published with houses such as Random House, Scholastic, and Thomas Nelson. Click here to learn more about Mark Malatesta and click here for Reviews of Mark Malatesta.
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