16 Query Tips From Literary Agents



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!



Guest post contributed by Jacqui Murray. Jacqui 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.  


44 thoughts on “16 Query Tips From Literary Agents

  1. Thank you! I love number 6 – Dialogue is not conversation. I am really putting a lot of effort right now into becoming comfortable with dialogue. This is a jewel.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you for the heads-up; these are indeed important points to remember. I will say, though, that a good editor will spot (and fix!) such errors *before* your manuscript reaches the agent. I think it would pay to hire one to fix and/or polish your work before it is sent off. As an editor as well as a writer, I try to catch my boo-boos before sending work off; but just in case I might miss something, I do have a couple of literate friends take a look. Again, thanks for sharing this!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. As a young writer, I didn’t even know these were things to look out for! I am writing a novel, and just started the editing process. And this blog post is going to be so helpful!


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