1. Dear Agent/Editor
a) Why are you contacting this person if you can’t even bother to learn their name? This will only show them that you didn’t do your research. If you don’t know their name, do you know their guidelines and what they do and don’t accept? Not a good start. And if you do use their name, please, for all that is good in this world, do not misspell it.
b) “But I used ‘Dear Agent/Editor’ because I’m sending my query to more than one.” This is just another way to show you’re not serious about being a professional writer. It shows that you don’t care who represents you. It also shows you are lazy and haven't done your homework. It’s not a good way to start your career.
In general it’s a good idea to address your query letter as you would any other formal letter to a person you want to take you seriously. For example Mr. or Ms. and use their full name or just their last name. Never use only their first name.
2. HEAR ME ROAR…
All capital letters is a big no-no. Some of you are thinking “Who does that anyway?” It’s surprising how many do. This is not what they mean when they say ‘grab our attention’. All capital letters will only make you seem desperate and it’s considered extremely rude. It doesn’t matter what you say in the letter, it could be the best query letter they’ve ever received, but all they’ll see are the capital letters of desperation.
3. You are my last chance!
No. No one wants to be your last chance. This is wrong in so many ways but let me point out the most obvious ones. Like the all capital letters, it is rude. No one likes to be picked last! You basically just told them that you tried everyone else and they are your last choice. Also, if everyone else has rejected you already, why should they take you on? Begging is not the way to start a business relationship. Don’t ruin your chances by attempting to play on their sympathies. There is always another chance as there is always another project.
4. My book is a masterpiece, it’s the next…
We all hope our book is a masterpiece and will be the next (insert best-selling book) but we won’t be the judge of that. Neither will our friends, family or mailman.
Bragging about your unpublished book to someone that has probably seen it all a thousand times is a bad idea. Let your book speak for itself when the time comes. Your focus now should be your pitch, what your book is about and not your future fame and glory. No one wants to work with a diva.
5. This query comes directly from my characters.
Although this might seem like a good marketing idea, it really isn’t. Agents won’t be signing a contract with your fictional characters no matter how well you channel them. Keep in mind that queries are business letters; it’s the same as applying for a job. You don’t want them to think you’re crazy, they don’t want to role-play with you, what they want is someone who knows that publishing is a business.
6. The mystery query.
My book begins so and so but to find out what happens you have to request the whole manuscript. That’s like sending a letter for a job interview where you tell them you finished high school but they have to call you to find out if you went to college or not.
Agents/editors are not your everyday readers that need a cliffhanger to keep reading. I can’t stress this enough; publishing is a business. Don’t play games, don’t be coy, and don’t try to trick them into reading more. It won’t work! They know all the tricks and they’ve seen them a thousand times. Your best bet is professionalism and honesty.
7. What would you do?
Although as writers the “what would you do?” is a good exercise to hone our writing skills, starting a query letter that way is not in the least intriguing to an agent/editor. It’s one of those things that’s been used to the point of being a bad cliché. It’s just a waste of good query space, when you could jump right into your story plot and let it speak for itself.
8. Do not send a query letter that’s longer than one page.
Focus on the work you’re submitting for consideration and a short to the point bio for yourself. Do not go on and on about how great your story is or about the time you did this and that. As a professional you should be able to keep your letter to one page and give them a good idea of what you are proposing.
9. Do not query agents/editors for more than one of your works at a time.
Maybe you’re a fast writer and you can even write while you sleep. You have a rich collection of material ready to be published on the spot. How tempting to toot your own horn and let them know you’ll never keep them waiting for your next masterpiece. The problem with that is you’ll only give them the wrong idea. If your work is so great why is all that material still unpublished? And no, they won’t believe you never tried to publish it before. So, instead of coming off as a sales dead-end, wait…once you have your first sale then reveal to them you have more. This way it will be a welcome surprise rather than raising red flags.
10. Tossing numbers.
Unless you have published or have been published before and had good sales, do not throw numbers in your query. It doesn’t matter how many sales you THINK your, as of yet, unpublished work will have. No one can know that, not the agents, not the publishers and certainly not you. That is unless you want to come off as greedy and unreasonable and never sign a contract with them.
11. I told a little lie, how are they going to find out?
Lies, little or big, have a nasty habit of rearing their ugly head when you least expect them. For example, you told a lie about a referral: “Author ‘Name’ said you would be interested in my book.” The problem here is that agents and editors are not shy about checking up with the author you named to see if your statement is true.
Lying by omission: You’re sending them something you have published before and for A or B reason you don’t mention this. If they find your query interesting enough to consider asking to see more, they WILL jump on-line and search your name, book title and any other information you provided them with. If however your submission is unrelated with previous publications you can probably get away with it.
Note: I should mention here that posting your work on-line for all to see is previous publication. If you post your work on-line, be certain it has limited access, by either membership or even better a private group of people of your choice. Not by anyone that happens to stumble on it.
12. Did you read it yet? Did you? Did you?
Anyone that knows anything about the wonderful world of writing knows that it’s just like waiting in a long line. They just called number 24 to step up and you’re holding number 124. Stepping out of line to pester the agent every so often will most likely get you kicked out and you’ll lose your turn entirely. A polite enquiry after a reasonable period of waiting is fine but don’t ask them every single week if they got around to reading your submission yet.
13. How dare you reject me!
We have no solid proof of this but we’re fairly sure that agents and editors DO talk to one another, even ones from different agencies/publishing houses. So if you’re tempted to write back after a rejection to tell them how foolish you think they are to pass up on your masterpiece, don’t. Maybe your work is good but not their cup of tea. Maybe it needs more polishing, maybe, maybe. What’s certain is that you’ll get a bad name and no one will ever want to work with you. It only takes a moment to send an angry response but they will never forget they got one and you better hope your name doesn’t come up when they talk amongst themselves.
Did we miss something? Let us know in your comments below.
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