How not to query (for new writers)

Are you aware of my journey to hybrid-dom? No? Well, let me tell you, it involves being both an indie published author, with all of the crazy DIY stuff that involves and it also means I’m aiming to get traditionally published by a publishing house.

Most publishing houses don’t accept unsolicited manuscripts though (for those of you who are at all familiar with writing, bear with me, I know this is soooo old news, right?) You have to hoof it from agent to agent. I’ve heard of at least a few big-time authors that went through 200+ rejections before landing representation (H.P. Lovecraft, J.K. Rowling). So that’s my rejection standard. Once I hit 200 rejections, I’m going to start seriously considering not going hybrid with one of my recently finished novels, The Ogress’ Son.

In the mean time, I’ve committed myself to sending out 2 queries per day until I hit 200. As of right now, I’m at 18 (that’s over the course of two weeks because life, family, and I could be writing on Bk 2 in The Unofficial Chronicles series: The Hellhound of Derbyshire).

Along the way I’ve made a few glaring mistakes that I now plan on embarrassing myself with for all the world to witness. So, yeah, don’t do these things because you will receive a rejection letter if you do. Just saying. :/

Always remember to use their name. I know this seems obvious. And it’s an egregious rookie mistake. No doubt the agent who received the email that looks like the one below snorted out their cup of tea and wondered if it was even worth the effort of sending a form rejection letter.


What if today is the……

Or worse:

Dear Phil (when their name is Sam)

What if today is the….

Aach. How did I screw up the name?!!!!

Actually, it’s easy, and I’ve screwed it up both ways. I was doing a copy and paste, and since everything (letter, bio, synopsis, first chapter, etc.) is included in the body of the email, and out of sight, out of mind at the top of the email, I thought I had already added the name or changed the name. I only realized I hadn’t after I hit send. Pffft. Duuuuuumb.

If you are doing a copy and paste, be sure to tailor the last paragraph to their submission guidelines. It’s a nausea-inducing feeling to realize you just sent a query that said they wanted a bio and a synopsis, when they actually wanted the first chapter and that’s it.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like they don’t know querying authors are doing a copy and paste, form letter of sorts. But it sure makes them wonder if an author has even read the submission guidelines when they are sending the first five pages instead of the first chapter or the synopsis – all with the statement of “as per submission guidelines.”

Talk about a great way to open mouth, insert whole entire body – author style.

Don’t accidentally or purposely send your query to multiple agents at the same agency. I’m not saying I did this this time, but it has happened in the past, when I wasn’t being as thorough as I should have been. I accidentally queried two separate agents at the same agency. This time around, I whipped out my excel spreadsheet. Before I even start the email, I check to make sure I haven’t already queried a specific agency or that the agent I queried already rejected me before moving forward with my query.

Just about any agency is fine with authors querying another agent in the same agency after one of them has rejected it. I think agents are usually regular people hoping, just as much as you are, that you are the next break out author (as opposed to hypercritical trolls that take a perverse joy in hitting that big red reject button, because, pshaw, who believes that? But really, I never, ever thought agents are like trolls. Agents are typically conscientious people that know just how vulnerable authorship can be.)

Here’s a few tips on what you can do to improve your chances of landing an agent:

  1. Use Query Tracker for a quick and easy way of identifying agents that take your genre.  Save the ones that work for your purposes to your handy dandy “to query list” (don’t quote me on the title of that).  It’s free, which makes querying those 200 agents oh, so much more doable.
  2. Read the submission guidelines. (For the sake of all the agents out there that weep tears on their keyboard as they read queries, I’ll repeat). READ THE SUBMISSION GUIDELINES. Seriously. Agents receive hundreds of submissions per week. If you want even a chance at avoiding the slush pile, read the guidelines.
  3. Follow the submission guidelines. See, you could take the line here that “they aren’t really rules. They are guidelines.” But when you’re going to someone and asking for their help, someone who could proverbially hold the life or death of your book baby in their hands, it’s just a good practice to do whatever they say. Synopsis? You got it. Bio? Coming right up. My first born child?! I’m drawing the line!
  4. Get analytical. Don’t rely on your brain, rely on Excel and a list. Have separate columns for the agent’s name, agency, date queried, items required by the agency, expected date of turn around, and final outcome. I personally write REJECTION in that field as it happens.
  5. For advice on how to write a great query, Writer’s Digest has some awesome, helpful articles. If you haven’t familiarized yourself with them, and you’re serious about writing, you should go browse. Excellent stuff.
  6. Check the query over before you send it. Check the agent’s name, the submission requirements, the correct email address, etc. And then check it two more times before sending it. Don’t make the stupid mistakes (uh, like I did. :P)

Have you experienced any major fails in the querying stage? Are you brave enough to kiss and tell? Share it with us in the comments!





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