I am taking a blog hiatus. This is an encore of a post from 2010.
As I read through the daily deluge of queries, I often become aware of how many times I see the same mistakes over and over. Most of them are not huge errors, but when an agent sees them repeatedly, they become more noticeable. So I’ve come up with a list of the most common querying blunders.
None of these are fatal in themselves. There is nothing on this list that makes me automatically reject someone. (Other agents have different approaches.)
But each mistake has the potential to make you seem a little bit less professional, a little bit less savvy, a little bit less serious. They can make it seem like you don’t pay attention to detail. It behooves you to make as few mistakes as possible.
Please note: I’m not talking about the quality or saleability of your book here. The best way to have a successful query is to write a terrific book, and convey that in the query. Your rejections will most likely NOT be based on mistakes in this list, but based on the unsuitability of your book for that agent (for any number of reasons). In this post, I’m just talking about the mechanics of the query letter itself.
Herewith, my Top Ten List of Query Mistakes:
1. Not making me feel special.
Multiple agents are listed in the “To” field of the email.
2. Not knowing or caring who I am.
Your letter is addressed “To Whom it May Concern” or “Dear Agent” or to another agent, or with no salutation at all.
3. Making me answer “no” after one sentence.
Your query begins with a rhetorical question. The problem with this is that usually my answer to your question is “no” so you’ve already lost me. Especially the “Have you ever wondered…?” questions.
4. Putting the cart before the horse.
Your query begins with “This is the first in my planned 9-book series.” Don’t do this! Pitch ONE BOOK first. Toward the end of your query, you may include a brief sentence something like, “If this book is successful, it could easily become a series.” Another getting-ahead-of-yourself mistake is talking about the awesome movie your book will make.
5. Fudging the truth.
False personalizing: Pretending you have a connection with me when you don’t. Or false referrals: Saying somebody referred you when they didn’t. It drives me crazy how many people write, “Michael Hyatt recommended you.” When what they really mean is: “I found a list of literary agents on Michael Hyatt’s website, and you were on the list.”
6. Fudging the truth, part 2.
Saying you’re a previously published author without giving details or mentioning that you’re self-published.
7. Intentionally breaking the rules.
You acknowledge that I don’t rep a certain genre or category, but you’re pitching it anyway.
8. Being stuck on yourself.
Your query is 90% about yourself, 10% about your book. I need to know about the book! Especially for fiction. For non-fiction, since platform and qualifications are so important, your query can be 60% about the book, 40% about your platform.
9. Making it obvious you’re not a good writer.
Your query is poorly written with bad grammar and punctuation, poor choice of words, lousy sentence structure, no unique voice… showing me that you can’t write.
10. Ignoring my submission guidelines.
I ask that you include the word “Query” in your subject line, and that you include a few sample pages of your manuscript, pasted into the email. I also ask that you do not include attachments or expect me to click on links. It’s not that difficult.
Bonus Query Mistake!
After receiving a rejection… you write back to ask for feedback. Sorry. If I offered feedback in the initial rejection, you’re lucky. If not, unfortunately that’s the way it goes.
And a few more just for fun:
Ridiculous word counts; failing to mention any genre at all; grandiose claims (“My book is the next Harry Potter”); telling me why you write and how you’ve been writing practically since birth rather than just telling me about the book.
What query mistakes have you made in the past? How did you find out you were doing it wrong?
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