10 Common Query Mistakes

I've been reading up to 100 queries a day in the past few days and these are the most common mistakes I see:

1. Letters than are not addressed to anyone. There are tons of queries addressed to Dear Agent, Dear Editor, Dear Publisher, Dear Beloved In Christ... Oh wait, that last one might be spam. My point is, if you're bothering to take the time to write a query, why not address it properly? Do your research and know exactly who it is you are querying.

2. Wrong genres. Along with doing research on the names, check to see if the agent even represents your genre. If they don't, this is a time waste for both of us.

3. No sample pages. While you're checking for names and genres, check to see if the agent wants you to include sample pages. It takes a while for your query to get to the top of the pile, and if I like it and you haven't included pages I have to write you back and ask for them. This means you go back to the bottom of the pile. Also, some writers just write crappy queries. The sample pages work as sort of a 'second chance' and if you can wow me with those pages I might just overlook a bad query.

4. Attachments. I don't know any agency that opens unsolicited attachments. Most of them delete queries with attachments without even opening them at all. If you've got sample pages, embed them in the body of the email after the query. Only send attachments if you are written to and are asked to do so in a specific manner.

5. Unfinished queries. I can't tell you the amount of queries we get that are blank or have nothing in the body. Sometimes there will be attachments that are called query.doc but there's nothing in the actual email, not even a greeting or a name. Always paste your query in the body of the email.

6. Queries about the author. We get quite a few queries that have five or six paragraphs about the author and his hobbies but nothing about the actual book he wrote, not even genre or word count. More often than not, they have pasted sample chapters after the query as well and we have to read a book that we don't know anything about. Honestly, we don't really care all that much about YOU at this point, all we care about is your book. There's plenty of time later on to get to know you and your fascinating hobby of studying owl bones. A simple two or three sentences is enough to let us know of any WRITING credentials that you may have.

7. "Previously published." If you've written a book and had it published on lulu five years ago and it's only sold 200 copies, this isn't the book you should still be querying. Write another book and query that one. Self published books do NOT count as being previously published. Only include books that you have had published traditionally. There are instances where self published books are picked up by large houses but this is a very rare exception.

8. Unfinished books. Probably one in twenty queries are from an author that's writing a book or plans to write a book and will promise that it will be done and edited in 30-60 days. I'm not talking about non-fiction proposals either, these are fiction books, usually paranormal romances featuring some sort of human girl falling in love with some non-human thing that wants to procreate with her. When dogs hump your leg, you're supposed to nudge them in the balls and tell them to get down.

9. Rhetorical questions and 'please imagine'. Please don't start your query with rhetorical questions. These are always vague questions like, 'What would you do if you found out that everything that you've ever known is a lie?' There are also the ones that start with this kind of statement: 'Please imagine that you are a sixteen year old girl and suddenly you find out that everything you've ever been told is a lie.'

10. Grandiose claims. It's nice that you're excited and passionate about your work, but don't write paragraph after paragraph about how your novel will appeal to all women and they will all want a copy and you're going to sell a gazillion copies because of this. Leave this bit up to the marketing department. It's what they are paid for. If you get a deal, ask them if there's anything you can do to help.

BONUS: 11. Anything other than a business letter. Gimmicks and cutesy queries are not something that we look for. These only make you seem unprofessional and who wants to work with someone that's unprofessional? The main goal is that you want an agent to partner with you and hopefully help you to make lots of money for the both of you. Treat your query like a business letter. It doesn't have to be dry and boring but leave the emoticons, glittery photos, colored backgrounds, and cutesy jokes and quips for someone else.


  1. Thanks for the information. It looks like I've only messed-up once or twice.

  2. I can add something: threats. I am in touch with a lot of agents and they tell me their horror stories of bad queries. This week, one received a letter which opened with something like this: "As you begin to read this letter, a curse is being raised, which will be activated if you do not reply with some degree of courtesy." The same agent has shown me other curses in query letters. It's utterly incredible. But true.

    Another real turn-off is when writers try to tell the agent or publisher about the film potential or make suggestions as to what the publisher might do to promote the book or exploit the rights. (Not that such writers would use such a technical term as "exploit rights"...) I guess that comes under "grandiose claims".

    Great post and very true. can't be said often enough!

  3. Thanks for this - really useful for when I ever get the novel out there :)



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