I understand the importance of following standard formating while writing a query. The problem is, I am a new writer with not much of a biography that would sway the interest of an agent (no literary accomplishments already published). Would it be better to concentrate on the work and let it sell the query? Can't an agent always call or email for more information on the writer later? Or would this be a bad move?
No. You do not need any credentials in the query letter. You only need a good novel. (If you have no published material, just don't mention anything. We'll figure it out, but it's less annoying that someone saying 'I'm an unpublished author)
I've been meaning to talk about credentials for a long time, so let's get down to it.
Every query letter advice site says to list any credentials you may have that would qualify you as a series writer. Problem is most first-time novelists (meaning, this is the first novel they're trying to get published, or the first novel that is good enough to be published) don't have any creditials. They didn't take an MFA program, they didn't publish a bunch of short stories because they don't write short stories, and they haven't written for textbooks. They've just got a novel. That's good, because it's all we really want. The advice, however, often leaves writers scrapping the bottom of the barrel for anything to put down. Good credentials help you (a little). Bad credentials are annoying and just show us you've read some query-letter-writing websites and are desperate to throw something in. We don't care. We just care about your novel.
1. You have had short stories (any amount) published in a pro-market magazine, meaning they paid you more than .3c a word.
2. You have written one or multiple non-fiction books that were published, whether they have anything to do with your novel or they don't.
3. Your manuscript is about something that was in the national news (and not just the metro section for one day) and you were involved in it.
4. You have a serious academic background (masters/PhD but from something more elite than an online masters program) in the topics the novel focuses on. If you've written historical fiction this is a big deal.
5. You have been previous published as a novelist by either a major publisher, a small press, or have sold more than 3000 copies of your self-published novel.
6. You've taken an MFA program. (Okay, we're on the fence about that, but you should mention it)
1. You have had one short story published in a non-paying literary journal we've never heard of.
2. You've had 31 short stories published in the same non-paying literary journal we've never heard of (this happened once).
3. You have the same job as the protagonist and it's not a job that would be hard to research, like being a flight attendent or an RV salesman.
4. You write for a local small-town newspaper. We will assume this means you wrote one editorial about how you saw rotten meat in the supermarket or the synagogue construction is making too much noise, because that's what most of these small-town newspapers are about.
5. You say you submitted previous novels, but they were rejected. Some people are even dumb enough to include the rejection letter because it has a few lines of praise between the "we won't want this and won't pay you any money for it because it's bad." Sometimes they highlight the generic praise part so we won't miss it. Look, it's false praise. We know because we give out a lot of it in some attempt to be nice to people.
6. You've written 10 unpublished novels and they're sitting on your shelf.
7. You have a BA in English. Most career writers went for a BA in English or history. I was history.
I hope this clears that up.