At our morning meeting today, we were chatting about query letters and how to help authors who contact us (and other agents) make the best first impression possible. As we’ve mentioned many times on this blog, crafting a successful query letter is by no means an exact science. In some instances we’re hard pressed to account for our decision to request one project over another based on the relative merits of their query letters. Sometimes, I think that the process of elimination is a better way of communicating what works. Maybe by telling you what elements of your query letter turn us agent types off you might avoid having your very worthy book rejected before it’s even seen.
One of the things that makes me (and others here) crazy is self-hype that’s hard to verify or quantify. If we can’t find that award or publication you mention on Google and we can’t track that bestselling novel on Bookscan or even find it on Amazon, it should definitely not find its way into your query letter. Eric, over at Pimp My Novel has a very useful post about when and how to mention awards and accomplishments when querying agents. On a personal note, I’d rather have you tell me something fascinating that you’ve done that’s in no way related to book publishing–e.g., you wrestle alligators as a hobby–but that makes me look at your letter twice than to read about obscure literary accomplishments, real or imagined.