Saturday, August 27, 2011

Do You Make These Query Mistakes?

We all talk about agents as the gatekeepers to publication. Well, your query letter is your key to that kingdom. With so much riding on first impressions, here are five query no-no’s to avoid.

You query someone who doesn’t represent your genre. Make sure to research the agent you send your query to. Websites like Query Tracker and books like Writer’s Market all list the genre agents represent. Do your homework so you don’t waste your time.

You don’t talk about your book. I know it sounds crazy, but a lot of people do this. Queries are pitch letters for your book. So make the bulk of your one-page allotment about the manuscript. Don’t go off on what inspired you or how you researched it. Sell the idea of the book.

You have grammar mistakes. This one is a biggie because it represents you as a writer. Do you have a grasp on the craft? Can you get to the point? Have you heard of a comma?  Queries reveal a lot about you as a writer. Make sure you shine.

You come off as arrogant, clueless, or both. Yes, you want to show confidence. Of course, you are proud of your book. But telling the agent that your manuscript is the next Twilight or whatever your genre’s superstar is makes you look terrible. And don’t announce that it’s "recently finished" – otherwise known as unedited.

 You don’t wait long enough. One thing you don’t want to do is annoy the agent. Don’t call five times to see if they got it. Don’t call them at all, actually. An email after a month is acceptable for follow up.

What are some things you should do?

Write it in the voice of your book. Is your novel fast-paced? Then convey energy in your pitch. Show them that you pack a punch in your writing.

Hit all three biggies: Who is it about? What is the conflict? What happens if they don’t stop it?

Give the vitals: What is the word count? What is the genre? Give them specifics that will help them visualize who they’d pitch your book to.

Mention you’ve gone social: Don’t refer them to your website to read more…they don’t do that. But do mention you feel comfortable using social media to promote your book. List a blog address or a Twitter account, but remember—those are NOT for the agent to go searching for information they need.

Send the right format: Some agents have gone paperless and only accept email queries. Some only want the query as the body of the email and not as an attachment. Don’t knock yourself out of the running before you even start by not sending what they want.

With a little research and attention to detail, your query can catch the attention you deserve. Take the time to do it right and you’ll give yourself a fighting chance to snag that dream agent.

(Post originally appeared on Purple Knot blog tour.)


Sarah Pearson said...

I'm not ready for querying yet, but I'm so looking forward to it.

Yeah, I'm lying :-)

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure if I actually want to get to the stage of querying someone :))) It terrifies me!
- andrea

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Considering I wasn't online when I queried, I guess I got lucky.

Andrew Rosenberg said...

And don't use cliches!

I see stuff like this all the time:

My novel PULP STORY is a fast-paced, action-packed thriller that will excite and satisfy. My hero goes up against incredible odds and fights to the end, only saving the world when all hope is lost. It's a story about love, sacrifice, and the goodness that lies in everyone's heart if they just look for it. It's really good, all my friends say so.

Raquel Byrnes said...

Sarah - It is something I definitely didn't look forward to.

wordyliving - Totally with you, but it feels so good once you're done.

Alex - CassaStar luck to it. ;)

Andrew - Perfect example. You are too funny. :)

Anonymous said...


I'm making my rounds through my Campaigner groups. Nice to meet you :)

Excellent post. I'm not at the query letter stage and with the indie drive right I'm not sure I'll bother but your points are spot on.

L'Aussie said...

Hi Raquel. Thanks for these practical tips. Won't be long before I put them to good use.Thanks.


Claire Robyns said...

Excellent advice there. I'm just over from the campaign to say hi as I make my rounds and follow, etc.
I've always found queries the most terrifying process, no matter how good your story is, if you don't get that query letter just right, no one's gonna ever know.
Thankfully I'm at the stage now that I no longer have to query, just send an email off to my editor, but if I ever want to expand to other publishers, I'll have to go through the query process again and not something i look forward to

Trisha said...

Very excellent things to watch out for when at the querying stage! Great entry Raquel.

Jamie (Mithril Wisdom) said...

Great tips! I imagine that first time authors send queries to the wrong genre quite often. If I were an agent and someone told me that their book was the next Twilight, it'd go straight into the bin, hehe.

Crystal said...

Great advice. Also? I can NOT believe that people actually write query letters that don't say anything about their book!! Wow... I'm totally going to have to save the URL for this particular post so I've got it handy for when I'm ready to query!

Erin Kane Spock said...

You have some excellent points. Thank you. Especially since it seems my queries have problems.

My books are written in past perfect, but I write my queries in present tense to make them more active.
Am I not representing my voice honestly?