The Top Ten Query Mistakes

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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  • Gabrielle Meyer

    I haven’t written a query letter, yet, but this list will definitely be on my mind when I do! Thank you for reposting it. I’ve only been following your blog for six months, so this was brand new to me!

  • Jill Farris

    This is very helpful, Rachel, thank you! Your list of not-to-do’s makes agents and publishers seem more approachable (although I know this is your personal list). Your list encourages me to be real, be honest, pitch my book more than myself and pay attention to what you’ve asked me to do.

    Thanks so much!

    Jill Farris

  • Ruth Taylor

    When I first started submitting queries, I failed to include the genre. The letter was also too long, due to the fact that I included too much information about the story. It’s so hard to sum it all up in just a few sentences!

  • Neurotic Workaholic

    I’ve never written a query before, but it’s good to keep your tips in mind when I do start writing queries. I think when people say that their book will be the next Harry Potter, what they should say is that they HOPE their book will be the next Harry Potter (though of course they still shouldn’t put that in the query). But I’m willing to bet that there really are people out there who think they will be as successful as J.K. Rowling.

    • Andrew Budek-Schmeisser

      J.K. Rowling will wish she were as successful as me.

      Ohhh, I shouldn’t make myself fall down laughin’ when I gots a broke rib!

      • Jeanne

        Thanks for the chuckle this morning, Andrew. :)

      • Cherry Odelberg

        Being able to laugh at yourself, or not take yourself too seriously is such a fine thing, isn’t it?

        • Andrew Budek-Schmeisser

          Without humor, where would we be?

          JC said that He came to bring us joy, and we should embrace it in any good way we can, to be faithful to our God, our Friend.

  • Natasha

    Thank you for this list! Like Gabrielle, I haven’t submitted a query letter yet, so this is helpful insight. I especially appreciated number 8 with respect to non-fiction. I am coming to understand the deep importance of platform and credibility, but was unsure of the balance in presentation between those points and the book itself.

    Thank you!

  • sally apokedak

    I think my biggest mistake, besides not having a compelling short summary (which was my problem way early on), is when I get too chatty. I query people I feel like I know, because I’ve followed their blogs or I’ve read a bunch of interviews or I’ve taken classes with them at conferences. But they don’t know me. So it’s a little odd, the whole query thing.

    I finally figured it out, but it took a long time. And even now, sometimes I chat too much and come across like I’m trying too hard. I’ve mostly grown out of that, but every once in a while I slip back into feeling like a blathering middle schooler talking to the kid I have a crush on. It’s not a comfortable place to be. I have to remind myself that I’m fairly happy with myself and I’m loved by my family and by God.

    • Andrew Budek-Schmeisser

      I understand the feeling well. A job search can be similar – I lost my college teaching job over a year ago, and in the ensuing search have had to send resumes to former classmates…and former students.

      The temptation to familiarity is hard to resist, but the Biblical story of the man going to a banquet stays with me – take the lowest place, and you will be told, “Friend, sit higher.”

    • Cherry Odelberg

      What? You actually talked to the kid you had a crush on?

      • sally apokedak

        :) I either said nothing at all, or I blathered like an idiot.

  • EnnisP

    I enjoyed writing the query almost as much as writing my book. It forced me to think about issues like why the book is needed and what makes it special.

    I was also very careful to personalize each submission, noting where I found the agent’s information. One agent’s profile stated she was a die hard Boston Red Sox fan so I mentioned that I always root for the Sox especially when playing the Yankees and enjoyed their World Series success in recent years.

    It was very time consuming but I enjoyed the process. It was a learning experience.

    So far, I haven’t signed a contract but I have received some very nice responses and possibly established contacts for the future.

    I’m taking the long view.

    • Andrew Budek-Schmeisser

      My first thought was, “You’re nuts.”

      Enjoying writing the query? But that’s exactly the mindset I need to develop – so, thanks!

      • EnnisP

        But my friends do say I’m a little nuts :)

        • Andrew Budek-Schmeisser

          I will take that as an invitation to friendship, with deep gratitude!

          My friends say I’m just about 90 degrees out of phase with the rest of the world.

    • Jeanne

      Love your mindset, Ennis. I’m not as fond of writing the query as you are. :) Maybe I’ll try to adopt your perspective. :)

    • Stephanie Berget

      What a great attitude. Think you can do something and you will. I need to incorporate this into my query writing.

  • Andrew Budek-Schmeisser

    I’ve managed to avoid most of those mistakes – I read Rachelle’s blog (and others) for a long time before querying anyone.

    What weighed me down was an inability to really describe my books. It’s not that they’re complicated – but distilling down to an appealing couple of paragraphs in a query seemed to be beyond me.

    So I didn’t get an agent – I published on Kindle, a publisher saw it, and picked it up. So I’m still batting .000 on my queries.

    What I’d love to know about queries though, is this – how to you tell an agent that you have a book in print by a publisher who saw it on Kindle – and that you got a standard royalty contract from a publisher that usually does subsidy work (Tate)? I’d still like to be agented.

    • carol brill

      Hi Andrew, I agree, finding the “elevator speech” summary of the novel when you know every nuance of character and plot is challenging.
      It helped me to ask readers and critique partners for their 2-3 sentences summaries.

      • Andrew Budek-Schmeisser

        That’s a great turn of phrase – elevator speech summary. Describes the need perfectly!

  • P. J. Casselman

    I did write an agent back until I realized it was a no-no. Now I’m grateful for the ones who are wise enough to send replies at all. (Writers are readers, so no response is bad business.)

    Two mistakes that I made until I read Query Shark were:

    1. I gave the actual word count and didn’t round it. 78,452 words says “noob” to an agent. 78,000 is the word count.

    2. I stated my lack of credentials in the bio, which in essence said: “You shouldn’t represent me, but please do anyway.”

    Whatever I’m doing isn’t working, but I at least found out those two major goofs.

    Here’s my latest query that’s received a plethora of “no’s.” Have at it if you wish. I ain’t gots no more pride. :-D

    Fourteen year old Daniel Lunden is as menacing as a tin can and twice as likely to get kicked around. After school bullies strip him of his dignity and hope, he grabs the only solution he can find–a blade. Taking place in Boston’s North Shore, Hatched on the Moon is my completed 53,000 word, YA novel.

    When Daniel loses hope, he seeks peace by gashing his wrist with a paring knife. Doctors save his life, but he doesn’t want to keep it. As part of his therapy, his psychiatrist sends him to a group home for troubled teens called New Start. He finds their group therapy sessions are nothing more than a meaningless monologue to mutes. Can his fellow patients offer him hope while they dine with plastic spoons? Find out in Hatched on the Moon– an irreverent tale that probes bullying and teen suicide.

    This is my first novel for professional publication. My writing experience includes sketch comedy and short stories for online publications.

    • Andrew Budek-Schmeisser

      PJ, first, thanks for having the guts to take on the subject of cutting and teen suicide.

      I’ll have a go at some suggestions – please take them as thoughts of a non-professional who’s done a lot of reading, and who’s taken probably too many writing courses –

      – Daniel’s grabbing a blade as a solution in the initial paragraph made me think he was going ninja – I was a bit disappointed that he didn’t. You might be able to fix this by saying “a blade, turned inward”

      – At the end of the first paragraph, the shift from Daniel’s situation to the word count and venue was a bit jarring.

      – In the second paragraph, the specificity of the paring knife is unnecessary, and a bit ‘cute’ – awww, he’s such a little loser he tried to kill himself with a paring knife!

      – Does the group home name New Start have any significance beyond the obvious? If so, it should be touched, and if not, the name reference should be deleted

      – Alliteration is overrated – I would eliminate meaningless monologues to mutes. It may be a personal idiosyncrasy, but I found the flow grating.

      – Asking whether his fellow patients can offer him hope is great. Asking whether they can do it while dining with plastic spoons is not. The humor’s misplaced, and it makes the other patients a little bit caricatured.

      – The word irreverent bothers me here, I think because it may be redundant. I think you covered both humor and irreverancy beautifully in the first line: “harmless as a tin can and twice as likely to get kicked around”. I would tell it straight from that point, no additional humor, no ‘self-review’

      • Shauna

        Wow. Kudos to P.J. for laying it out there. I’m still trembling when I hand over a 450 word article to a close friend.

        And kudos to Andrew for the honest, thorough and thoughtful evaluation. If/when I write a query letter I might have to contact you. That kind of feedback is hard to come by.

        • P. J. Casselman

          Shauna, after a few novels went through the “no” cycle, I stopped trembling and am at the “whatever” stage. :)
          Andrew is an honest friend and his insight is invaluable.

      • P. J. Casselman

        Thank you, Andrew. I cherish honesty and savored each line with a nodding head. See? This is why writers’ groups rock.

        • Andrew Budek-Schmeisser

          They do indeed rock.

          So does your story – it is SO needed!

      • Gerri Wetta Hilger

        Great advice, Andrew. Had some of the same thoughts while reading.

    • sally apokedak

      Wow! I loved that!

      I moved some things around.

      I disagree with Andrew on a couple of things. I loved the plastic spoons comment.

      Taking place in Boston’s North Shore, my contemporary YA, HATCHED ON THE MOON, is complete 53,000 words.

      Fourteen-year-old [“fourteen-year-old” is a compound adjective] Daniel Lunden is as menacing as a tin can and twice as likely to get kicked around.[love that!] After school bullies strip him of his dignity, Daniel loses hope and grabs the only solution he can find–he gashes his wrist with a paring knife. [combined lines because when you move the word count up, you don’t need the repetitive lines about losing hope]

      Doctors save his life, but he doesn’t want to keep it. [love that] As part of his therapy, his psychiatrist sends him to New Start–a group home for troubled teens. There he finds group therapy sessions are nothing more than a meaningless monologue.[I think mute is overkill] Can his fellow patients offer him hope while they dine with plastic spoons? [I love that]

      Find out in HATCHED ON THE MOON– an irreverent tale that probes bullying and teen suicide.

      I am a member of the American Christian Fiction Writers and the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. [if you aren’t a member of these two, join them now–it will cost you about 140 bucks for both and you need to invest that–they are great organizations and they show you’re serious]
      I think teen suicide and bullying is hugely important.

      My questions are: is this aimed at CBA? This would be hot, hot, hot in the general market. I can tell from the query that you have a sense of humor which is hugely in demand for teen novels, suicide is hot in the teen market, and bullying is everyone’s favorite topic. But what is your angle? Would this fly in the ABA? Are you going to paint homophobes as responsible for suicide, or are you going to show that the ones bullied can find God and stop allowing bullies to affect them?

      If I were an agent I’d ask you to clarify that. And…what books are you comparing this too? You could answer my question about your angle by telling me “readers who love Jay Asher’s work will enjoy HATCHED ON THE MOON” or readers who like Gary Schmidt or…whatever. Give me a handle so I know who your target audience is.

      I loved this little summary and would like to read this book. Sorry I’m not an agent. :( If I was one, I’d ask to see a complete. :)

      • P. J. Casselman

        Thank you for the advice and kind words, Sally. The second eyes of a friend really catch the nuances. After a lot of “no’s,” I’m wondering if the biggest problem with the book might be the old guy author.

        The questions you asked were precisely what I wanted an agent to ask so they’d dialog with me. :)

      • Cherry Odelberg

        Yay! I agree with Sally on her take on things and was also enlightened by Andrew’s comments. This is a subject that needs to be out there (you know this) so you want to get it out there clearly and with as few distractions as possible.

    • Christine Dorman / @looneyfilberts

      Thanks for sharing your query. Andrew and Sally gave excellent feedback, so I’m not going to go much into content. I do want to bring up Carol’s wonderful phrase “elevator speech.” Everyone feel free to correct me since I haven’t sent out a query yet and many of you not only have, but have succeeded. However, I read on Wendy Lawton’s blog that the pitch in a query letter should only be about five sentences long. (And yes–ugh!)

      I’m going to go out on a limb here and share what I’ve come up with as a pitch for my YA fantasy novel, Music of Dragons. I’m not giving it as an example of a great pitch, just as an example of the 30 second elevator speech. Again, I haven’t sent it out yet in a query. I am planning first to have it critiqued by Writers’ Digest query critique service first. All feedback is welcomed. P.J., I just want to give an example of what I understood Wendy to say in her blog.

      “Your soul is singing. Do you hear it?” Cay the Unicorn’s words have inflamed Siobhan’s heart with the courage she needs to defy societal custom, disappoint her mother and pursue her secret yearning: to become a Dragon Learner. In order to become one with the dragons, the teenage fairy will have to journey through the alluring, yet treacherous Dragonsword Forest and up the jagged slopes of Shadowshield Mountain in search of Riordan, the Dragon King. But if she finds him, will she be willing to pay the price he demands? And is this really what her soul is calling her to or is she being deceived by the melody of her mind?”

      Of course, the first paragraph of the query will be an introductory paragraph (addressing the agent personally) and include the genre, word count and the title of the novel and sentence asking for the agent to consider representing me. Then the pitch in the next paragraph and a concluding paragraph with a little bit about me and that I look forward to hearing from her. (BTW, if you count, you’ll notice that I have 6 sentences, but I don’t think 5 is a hard and fast rule).

      I hope this helps, P.J. You have an incredible book. You know that you are in my prayers as you journey towards publishing it.

      • P. J. Casselman

        It’s such fun trying to figure out all the agents’ advice and such. My format was based on Michael Hyatt’s book and Query Shark. I call it the hook, bind, and summary.

        I’ll try to give a critique of yours, but I’m definitely not qualified.

        “Your soul is singing can you here it?” isn’t a rhetorical question, but it does does begin the query with a “yes/no” response. If there are agents with that pet peeve, they might not read further. This is your hook, do you want it to be yes/no?

        Cay the Unicorn’s words have inflamed (is the present perfect necessary here? From what I understand, queries are best done in the present tense, even if historical.)

        Siobhan’s heart with the courage she needs to defy societal custom, disappoint her mother and pursue her secret yearning: to become a Dragon Learner. (Wow, all in one sentence. This is good writing, but is it marketable? <– that's what agents might think. Elevator speech is quick. The more commas and subjunctive clauses you put in, the more it bogs down.)
        In order to become one with the dragons, the teenage fairy will have to journey through the alluring, yet treacherous Dragonsword Forest and up the jagged slopes of Shadowshield Mountain in search of Riordan, the Dragon King. (I like this, but it's so much detail in a quick sale.)

        But if she finds him, will she be willing to pay the price he demands? (OK, IMHO these lines should be the crux and starting point of you query. This is the heart of the struggle, not the cliffs or dragons.) And is this really what her soul is calling her to or is she being deceived by the melody of her mind?”

        Top of head-
        Will Siobhan follow the longing in her soul or the deceptive melody in her mind? <– That's a hook to start the query. Perhaps mine is not the best, but it's a hook. It makes the reader ask "What longing?" You can then tease them with a partial answer.

        Will Siobhan follow the longing in her soul or the deceptive melody in her mind? Inspired by a unicorn's words, a teenage fairy pursues her dream of uniting with the dragons. To reach the dragon king, she must battle through a treacherous forest and climb jagged cliffs. Yet her worst enemy is within. Can she defeat the song of the fairies and pay make the sacrifice to become a Dragon Learner?

        I've probably made a mess of this. Perhaps a few more adjectives are needed. I only know that more details are often death in queries, but necessary in the subsequent summaries. Hopefully this was helpful and if not, chalk it up to my lacking success in the market. :)

        • Christine Dorman / @looneyfilberts

          Thanks, P.J.

          Yes, it’s frustrating that there is so much contradictory information. Something I just read on Wendy Lawton’s blog is encouraging. She posted about book proposals and, in answering a commenter who mentioned all the sources that claim to give the “perfect” book proposal outline–yet they’re all different–she said (paraphrase)Be creative, dazzle us and make us sit up. So I guess I shouldn’t stress over structure, as long as it fits the submission guidelines.

          Thanks for your feedback on the pitch. Good points and suggestions. And you certainly didn’t “make a mess” of it. I like your revision of my pitch. Now I have to figure out how to take your suggestion without plagiarizing you :)


          • P. J. Casselman

            Thank you for the plagiarizing comment. That’s a high compliment. If you want to use any of it, it’s yours. There, now you have copyright permission. :-D

      • Christine Dorman / @looneyfilberts

        Correction for clarification: I meant the pitch part of the query should only be five sentences long.

        • Christine Dorman / @looneyfilberts

          Merci! :)

  • Carolyn Hughes

    Thank you for these great tips!

  • Claude Nougat

    Great tips, even if they’re two years old and I’m no longer querying anybody (I’m into self-publishing…for the moment!) Just one small point: I’m not sure a query letter’s style can tell you much about an author’s “voice” or capacity to structure a novel and tell a story that will prove a page-turner.
    The query letter is a business letter and you need to transmit in max 2 paras what your book is about (and stimulate the agent to ask for a partial!). A tall order and one that requires a TOTALLY DIFFERENT PART of the brain than your story-writing does…

    • Andrew Budek-Schmeisser

      For me, that last bit translates into changing the track shoes on my hamster.

      • P. J. Casselman

        Andrew, don’t make me spit coffee on the screen. Thank you. :-P

        • Andrew Budek-Schmeisser

          Can’t help it. It’s a gift.

    • Susan Foy

      I agree with that – I was also puzzled that a query letter is supposed to show an author’s voice!

    • sally apokedak

      I think the query letter can express voice. PJ’s query letter shows his sense of humor. His summary is not dry, it’s humorous and I’m expecting his main character to have that kind of voice.

      • Julie

        Hello, P.J.

        With a starter line like that, I was expecting a humorous novel (Diary of a Wimpy Kid-ish):

        “Fourteen year old Daniel Lunden is as menacing as a tin can and twice as likely to get kicked around. After school bullies strip him of his dignity and hope, he grabs the only solution he can find–a toothbrush.”

        …or something like that. The “blade” gave me a “Huh?” reaction. My humble suggestion is to rewrite the query for this serious novel with a darker beginning…and then write another novel using the humor that seems to come so naturally to you. I’d like to read it :-).

  • Lanny

    Great repost, Rachelle.

  • Andrew Budek-Schmeisser

    One thing that may be useful is studying advertising. Writing ad copy is one of the hardest jobs around, and there are a number of good books on the subject – “Ogilvy On Advertising” is and will remain a classic.

    • P. J. Casselman

      I sent my daughter to Emerson where she’s majoring in advertising. Did I cover this or what? GRIN

  • Walt M

    In a query I submitted three years ago, I mentioned that I was contacting the agent as I greatly enjoyed the work of two of her clients and thought my writing was similar to theirs. I never heard back from the agent.

    About two months ago, I decided to query the same agent on a different project and I pulled out my old query to look at it. It took me less than two seconds to realize I’d misspelled the first name of one of the agent’s clients in my prior query.

    • Cherry Odelberg

      Oh, those moments. I try so hard and still I slip.

  • kathryn Magendie

    When I first completed my first novel, my Number One All Time Query Mistake was being in a hurry to query too soon. The book was not quite ready. But I was in so much a hurry to shop it, I queried about 25 agents or so before I began to think “Hmmm . . . .”

    What gave me hope were the positive feedback comments I received. But what I kept hearing was “not quite . . . .”

    (I quit querying, wrote another novel draft to give the first one time to simmer and when that was done, I took out the first novel, tweaked the heck out of it, and found a respected small press publisher within a month of that – so there are happy endings!)

    • P. J. Casselman

      I love it when the princess fits the slipper.

      • kathryn Magendie

        *smiling warmly*

  • Maggie Lyons

    As a children’s writer, I have made the mistake of writing a query letter that contained a long sentence, too long for a children’s book. My book didn’t contain sentences as long as that one. No matter. My letter should have reflected the style of my middle-grade book. I don’t know for sure that the long sentence was what caused the rejection, because the agents didn’t give me a reason. I can only suspect that sentence was at least partly to blame.

  • Beth K. Vogt

    Sometimes my queries are too short — not surprising for a “write it tight” journalist. My critique group buddies have to talk me through writing a more thorough query. Sometimes less is not more.

    • P. J. Casselman

      It’s all that tweeting on Twitter. 140 character queries. #pjsbeinggoofy

      • Beth K. Vogt

        Well, there is that.
        I do love Twitter.

  • Heather

    The perfect reminder as I rewrite my novel. Bookmarking this one for when I submit!

  • Jeanne

    I haven’t written a query yet, but I know that I will. All these tips are great. I’ve been reading up on query letter writing, so hopefully I won’t make the obvious mistakes. :)

    I appreciate what others are sharing here. I’m learning lots.

  • Brian Henwood

    As usual, this is all very good stuff. I see that Query Shark was mentioned earlier and I would like to second that site as a good read. If you haven’t been and you’re writing a query, go there. There’s also a blog/forum by Nathon Bransford where you can post your query and have people critique them. Word of warning: Don’t offer your work to either unless you’re ready for the cold hard truth.
    That said, both sites were incredibly valuable to me. Although I haven’t shopped around my latest query yet, it is ten times better than what I thought my best effort was.
    On a personal note, my biggest mistake in my query was told to me by an agent I submitted to. She took the time to reject me with a personalized comment which I thanked her for. She said my Idea was good, but my plot sounded too flimsy. That hurt at first, but I soon realized that I spent 3/4 of my query on the idea, and 2 sentences summing up the other 93,000 words. No wonder it sounded flimsy. Try not to make the same mistake. The idea (in its truest form) should be summed up quickly. Then spend time telling the agent about your story and characters.

    • Christine Dorman / @looneyfilberts

      Good information, Brian. Thanks.

  • Charley Pearson

    Great advice, Rachelle – thanks. I spent months researching query advice like this some time back, pulled together the best links I could find, and added a page to my website as an aide to other writers. It’s at: Hope it helps some of you!

    • P. J. Casselman

      Now that’s how you get your blog bookmarked. Good page and thank you!

  • Garrett Hutson

    Great list. What about sending a short “Thank you for your consideration” reply e-mail after a rejection? Is that alright, or is it annoying?

    • Christine Dorman / @looneyfilberts

      Good question. Thanks for asking it, Garrett.

  • Cheryl Anderson

    Fantastic tips! One of the issues that I struggle with is that I feel so pressured–in some ways, writing the whole manuscript seemed easier than trying to sell it on one page. I am a writer, NOT a salesperson, so that automatically amps the tension for me.

    I’ve constructed my query with a one-sentence opening hook, a follow-up paragraph giving a little more detail, a third paragraph giving word-count and genre details and a last paragraph summarizing my very short bio. Even though I have read that this is the PERFECT setup, it feels confining to write according to this formula–and I also wonder if agents get tired of reading this exact format every time.

    • Christine Dorman / @looneyfilberts

      I completely agree, Cheryl. This one page letter feels so stressful and difficult to write. Theoretically, a good writer should be able to write to the purpose and do it well, but as you said, I’m not a salesperson and I find the marketing part extremely difficult.

  • Laini Giles

    I usually just lump it and move on after rejections.

    But I did ask for feedback once. After a series of form rejections, I had some REAL enthusiasm from an agent before she read my manuscript, and we had a really nice rapport going from our e-mails back and forth. She was quite excited about the topic and wanted to see what I had done with it.

    When I received a standard form rejection back again with no comments or anything, I was more flummoxed than usual on where the enthusiasm had gone after the big build-up. It would have been so helpful if I’d known in what area she found it lacking, so I could re-examine that area. It was more heartbreaking than the others, simply for that reason.

    • Christine Dorman / @looneyfilberts

      Laini, that had to have been so hard when you felt you had a rapport with her and some momentum going.

      • Laini Giles

        It was the worst.

        But my wonderful husband could see how sad I was, and it was because of that that he quit hemming and hawing and let me register for the Writers Conference in Surrey, BC. So it still kind of had a silver lining. I’m hoping for the best there. Networking, and pitches and seminars, oh my!

        • Christine Dorman / @looneyfilberts

          So glad something good came out of it. Best of luck at the conference. :)

  • Ursula Jordaan

    Very good advice, thank you!!! I will certainly review this again before submitting anything to anyone.


  • A.J. Zaethe

    Some of these mistakes seem like common sense. Like not making it appear that you are writing to about thousand others. Personally, I would probably reject it based on that alone. I would feel that with so many others they are emailing, I can ignore this and let someone else pick it up.

    Other ones not so common sense for me, I guess. Like talking about having more down the road. I probably would have said the first of a trilogy, but I will note to keep it at “possible series”.

    Awesome post.

  • Beth MacKinney

    This post just makes me feel tired all over. I guess if you’re an agent, you live for the gems, and they make it all worth it.

  • joan cimyotte

    I try not to do any of those things. Nathan Bransford had great advise and I’ve been studying. Your advise is always brilliant. I’m thinking I have to keep improving on my letter. I’m thinking maybe I need to improve on my book.

  • Debra McKellan

    The people at Agent Query Connect are really good at helping to not make these mistakes. I had added that my book had a similar tone to an author the company represented, and apparently, agents don’t like that. X)

  • R.A.Savary

    In preparation of a new query letter after letting my story “simmer” for quite a spell I have created an in-depth outline and made what I would call some minor edits. I had already come across most of what I read, here today, which isn’t to say, “Now it’ll be a piece of cake.” My ego can let me forge ahead, trying to slip something by. My old letter, began something like, “Have you ever wanted to choose your own family?” My ego was so involved that it never occurred to me that some people would answer, “No.”

    Since following Rachel’s blog I notice she is fond of using the word “behooves” (a favorite of mine, also). In this particular post she seems unable to stop with the planned ten mistakes. I really like this also, as with my ego it behooves me to remember that I can make number 11, 12, or . . .

  • Heather Day Gilbert

    Hee–I remember the first time I queried you, Rachelle, and you were kind enough to give a little feedback. I didn’t appreciate it at the time (I was young and naive then!), but I know now that what you said was spot-on. I’d mentioned that my book started slowly, then picked up speed, and you very rightly told me not to EVER say my book started out slowly. I did keep that in mind for future queries (and I’m going to tighten up that first chapter if I ever do a full revamp on that book!). Thanks for the advice you do give querying writers–you know the industry and we do well to listen!

  • David

    One question:

    You mention that none of the items on this list is a deal breaker, yet number seven’s example (Intentionally breaking the rules) seems like it would have to be. Or would there ever be a situation where you would consider a query for a genre you don’t rep?

  • Christine Dorman / @looneyfilberts

    I have yet to send out queries, so I haven’t made mistakes yet. I read everything I can on how to write successful queries, and I especially read what agents, such as Rachelle, say about what excites them and what immediately turns them off. So this post is extremely helpful. I think # 1,2 and 9 are unforgivable mistakes. If you want to do business with someone or write a letter asking an agent to represent you, the very least you could do is to address her by name. Also, you should know something about her (if you don’t care, it’s a sign that you are either desperate or lazy). As for # 9…! Finally, #10 is a shooting-yourself-in-the-foot thing to do. #10 really resonates with me because I’m a teacher. I write directions as clearly as possible on assignments and tests and then I go over the directions verbally with the students and ask if they have any questions about the directions. Yet there are always students who do not follow some of the simplest directions. I have developed a policy, which I write on every test, that if the directions are not followed, I will deduct one-half of the point value for every correct answer. Still, there are students who ignore simple directions such as “Write the WORD ‘true’ or the WORD ‘false’ in the blank. Do NOT write ‘T’ or ‘F’. How hard is that? But I’ve had students get 10-15 points taken off because they answered ‘T’ and ‘F’ throughout. It seems like following submission guidelines should be a “duh!” but obviously some people feel directions are unimportant.

    • P. J. Casselman

      That is very T Christine.

      • Christine Dorman / @looneyfilberts

        Ha! :D

  • Reba

    Thanks for the helpful post.
    It is as important to know what “not” to do, as it is to know what to do.
    To answer you question, my biggest mistake is letting fear keep me from writing a query letter.

  • Carrie Padgett

    Great “rerun” with lots of good info. Thanks for the reminders!

  • Gerri Wetta Hilger

    Currently working on query for my first novel. Thanks for the “rerun”. It like all of your blogs offer wonderfully simple and useful information. Thanks for all your inspiring ideas.

  • Indy Ink

    Your tips translate well to cover letters (for creative jobs) and blog posts too.

    I once pinned a barrage of Ogilvy-note-style resumes to an idea board on Pinterest, and was bombarded by criticism from the corporate set on how wildly creative but inappropriate and unprofessional they are.

    I’ll bet the same folks believe there are truly unique bestsellers in the back of their brains that will one day wow the world.

    Most aspiring writers don’t realize how humiliatingly vulnerable their writing must be in order to authentically connect with readers, and it comes across in their attempts to connect with an agent.

    It’s pretty terrific of you to lend a hand in that department.


  • Kristin Laughtin

    Read a few blogs or agent websites and you realize how important #10 is. There is no one-size-fits-all query. Some want pages in the email. Some don’t. Don’t assume anything is OK because you want to be lazy and do one thing rather than personalize your query package for each agent. It’s just like applying for a job; your query is just like a cover letter and you want to be sure you check off each point of their guidelines to show why your book is the right fit. It will take longer to do, but you’re likely to have better success if you take the time to adjust each query a little bit.

    • Cherry Odelberg

      Well said, Kristin. I have been (real) job hunting for the past six months. Some potential employers are “old school” and are looking for a certain type of résumé, cover-letter and presentation and others are completely electronic and contemporary. Some scoff at TMI and others feel you omitted essentials. One needs to read the directions and requirements and carefully customize each submission.

  • Jenni Wiltz

    I must admit–I’m guilty of the dreaded rhetorical question opener. It was a mistake and I’ll never make it again, I promise!

    I think it’s especially important to obey #10. I know another writer who usually ignores submissions guidelines and does not personalize query letters. He won’t take the time to say how he found the agent or why he thinks that agent might be a good fit for him. I think this is deadly. Why not show the agent you’re paying attention? It might not get you out of the rejection pile, but I’m sure it doesn’t hurt, either.

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  • Alton Bock

    I just sent off a query today. I’m so glad I didn’t make any of these mistakes. *breathes sigh of relief*

  • Dolores E. Green


    I am brand new to this field, so can you explain to me what a QUERY is etc?

    Thank You!

  • Jim Gilliam

    First, the perfect query is like the Unicorn, it is a myth.

    The most important of the ten is not following the agent’s submission guidelines. Not following her guidelines, tells the agent that you’re going to be difficult to work with. I don’t care if you’re the next Lee Child, the agent doesn’t know you. With all she has to do, why, she might ask herself, should I buy trouble.

    Agents like Anne Rittenberg and Donald Maass gladly share tips on how to query. They are just two of many. Listen to them. Writer’s Digest has a query clinic. I believe it’s free.

    Just as you should have your MS professionally edited, you should make an investment and have your query package professionally edited as well.

    Juar my 2 cents worth.

  • Tania McCartney

    I LOVE this, Rachelle! Brilliant, and . . . I feel for you.

  • Bill

    I like these, especially the “special” line. For me, writing (tweets, books, queries) is about connecting with others who care about books.

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  • Mandi Lynn

    I have a laundry list of query mistakes, but none of them too bad. I think the worst was sending a query addressed to the wrong agent.

  • Avery Frost

    With so much information out there about query letters and the mistakes one can make, it’s nice to have a concise list to refer to for some of it. Great post (or re-post, haha).

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  • Betty

    I sent out a bunch of query letters and one agent wrote back saying she wants to see the manuscript. I sent it to her over a week ago. How long do I wait for an answer? Should I keep querying other agents while my MS is out there?

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  • Christy Piper

    Rachelle, thanks so much for your honest advice on querying. This advice can also be useful for querying news stories.

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