Wednesday, January 12, 2011

It's QUERY season!

Since apparently it’s query season (no joke – inbox jumped from 99 submissions to 195 in ONE DAY!!!) I thought I’d take a moment to share a few…insights, into what actually annoys me as an agent when wading through the inbox.

So, without further ado…

Top ten query pet-peeves:

1. An email asking about how to submit

Any request for information available on the agency website, including “are you open to submissions?” or “do you accept this kind of material?” is just a waste of my time. I always want to scream back HOW did you find my email, then, if you don’t know how to find the answer to this?!

Avoid unnecessarily emailing agents, period. If your goal is to try and “establish a connection” or be able to write back “per our email conversation,” you’re just shooting yourself in the foot.

2. When I send a response, and get “oh, I already have an agent anyway” back.
Always, always, always (did I say ALWAYS? Yes? WELL AGAIN: ALWAYS!) either notify considering agents or WITHDRAW submissions. YOU should be keeping a log of who you submit to, and even if the agent never requested material, if it’s within his or her response time period (and especially if he or she is the kind who always responds), YOU should have the balls (and pride!) to withdraw your submission if you decide to accept an offer.

3. When I send a response, and get a bitter rant about how stupid I am and how I’m going to lose my job soon anyway and publishing/agent days are numbered and…
Keep your shirt on. Don’t burn bridges, no matter WHAT. Even if the agent IS wrong, even if you DO have another offer, if you don’t have anything nice to say, really, it’s just better not to say anything at all. We are your future colleagues, after all – keep that in mind in all correspondence!

4. Incoherent queries/typos
Spell check, and run your query by a few people. See if they actually understand what you’re saying. I’m not kidding – I get so many queries where I’ve read down two paragraphs and then suddenly realize…wait, what? Even if you have to simplify things to get the point across, do so; save the she loves him but he loves her not her but her who is married to his second removed cousin for the synopsis – “love triangle” or “complicated relationship” does just fine in a query. Even an un-complicated plot can be incoherent in a query if you say it in some high-falutin and unnecessary way.

5. Queries with so much world-building/assumed knowledge I can’t understand the plot
There is nothing more annoying than a bunch of character names I can’t even pronounce in my head. Give them a frikkin nickname, and keep in mind when writing your query that YOU WROTE THIS STORY and I AM SEEING IT FOR THE FIRST TIME.

6. Queries with lots of big paragraphs or tiny font
Short and to the point is best! I understand that you can’t always predict how an email will turn up at the other end, but at least from yours, don’t TRY to make the print tiny just to make it SEEM like a smaller letter. If you have to do that…it’s too long.

7. Clearly cut-and-pasted form letters
If you think you’ve figured out a loophole to that whole personalized letter business with one of those “from looking at your website I thought you’d like…” or “based on your interests, you seem like a good match for…”, you haven’t. It’s better NOT to put any personalizing details in there if they’re vague and washy.

I’m not begrudging you cut-and-pasted letters; not at all. I’m just saying don’t make it OBVIOUS. Take the time to highlight your email and make sure it’s all the same font size and style (and color); it makes a difference.

8. Self-bashing or arrogant statements
Either extreme is annoying, be it “I’m going to sell a MILLION copies!!!!!!!!” to “I appreciate you taking the time out of your busy schedule to read my bad writing.” Things like “your humble servant” or “I know your time is very valuable and I thank you for taking a minute to read this letter” make me feel squidgy. Even if you’re trying to be funny, don’t do it; sarcasm doesn’t usually shine through in a query letter.

9. Unwanted attachments
This applies to pictures and fancy backgrounds in your email, too. Contrary to popular belief, we don’t all have fancy, state-of-the-art query readers. If your email makes my computer freeze…no dice.

10. Copyright notices
I have SERIOUSLY gotten emails that state “All rights reserved. No part of this email may be reproduced without prior written consent from Ivalotta Trustissues.” Admittedly, these are far and few between, but even those blasted copyright symbols with the date next to your work annoy me. They tell me: I don’t actually trust you are a professional and moral person, even if that’s not what you’re saying at all.


  1. I think I'm going to have to get a folder and just keep printed copies of your posts in it for future reference.

    One question though, do you mean we shouldn't thank the busy agents for reading our queries, or just that it shouldn't sound like we're grovelling? Cause I'm the type to write “I know your time is very valuable and I thank you for taking a minute to read this letter” or words to that effect.

  2. Sometimes I can't imagine the number of people who send queries and simultaneously disqualify themselves...

  3. There is so much information out there on how to do this right, and it's not hard to find. How can people get it wrong? Agents seem to be so generous with their tips too.

    Honestly, if you can read, you should be able to figure out how to do it right.

  4. With all due respect,
    I have to disagree with you about the copyright issue. I'm a professional illustrator and I know very well what that means. In all my queries I place the copyright symbol. Not just because my work is unpublished but secured with a notary, but I've also read in the writer's and artist's yearbook that whenever we send sample with unpublished work, we should place the copyright symbol. I would just like to excuse myself as an author. I think that authors won't do that because they don't trust you, but because they want to show their professionalism and that they are careful with their work.


  5. Hi Natalie.
    I was wondering if you could elaborate on topic #2 on a future post. That's a shady area for me. I know that we're definitely supposed to let agents with partials or fulls know if we've received an offer. But I had never really thought of the agents who haven't answered to a query yet. Should I let those who have clear response times in their websites know? Should I let all of the know? What about those who say we should assume rejection after a certain period of time? Should we let them know if that period of time isn't over yet? Wouldn't that come accross as nagging them? Wouldn't some think "I haven't even expressed any interest in your work, why are you telling me this?". I guess there are so many agents with so many different guidelines that it gets confusing...

  6. Great post :) One thought--could that "your humble servant" thing be a writer's attempt to add voice to the query? I guess I'm thinking of historical fiction, like they're trying to sign off as their nineteenth century characters would sign off? Feels weird regardless...and maybe points to "avoid cutesy crap" as a suggestion lol.

  7. First....crazy on the in box jump!

    Second, I am guilty of number 7 (not the copy and paste thing-yikes) but the vague, I've read your blog, your profile, read your interview on_____. However you're right-you do need to know more. I always go back and forth on this when it's a general impression/feeling I have, things I've heard, but no specific, I just go too vague and when you get more than a hundred emails in a day (!!) and you read that over and over again, yeah-it's not going to work for you. In other words take the time and thought to put that "feeling" into words.

    Hope you find a treasure in that mass of queries you just got!

  8. OK, *snort* "copyright notices" just made me LOL! :D

    I take it this means you're back in business! good luck in your new digs~ :o) <3

  9. Hey Natalie! Great post! When I was querying, I generally cut and pasted the middle of the email (the part that described the book) from one email to the next. You are absolutely right here - sometimes the outgoing message would look PERFECTLY FORMATTED, but when I viewed the email in my sent messages - GAH! - the pasted part would show up in a different color!!! I learned the hard way that pasting from a prior email was not a good strategy! :)

  10. I knew I'd have to clarify some of these. :)

    F.I.C. - you're absolutely right - thank you's are just fine and very appreciated; just don't grovel!

    Marilena - I don't represent illustrators, so I'm not familiar with that process or what works in that area. Speaking solely to the written-area crowd with this post, and for those, it's just not necessary. We assume it's yours when you send, and aren't going to steal it. I can understand the thinking behind it looking serious and professional, but really, it doesn't look professional to copyright a raw manuscript - I would never, ever send something on submission that way. I've said before: if it really bothers you, do it, you just don't have to state it.

    Gabriela - bottom line: if it's possible ANY of your submissions might still be considered, it's just courteous to let the agent know if you have an offer or are accepting one. It's a waste of my time to read something that's not available. I would say yes, however, if it's past the response time to a no response=no submission, let it go, because the silence, in that case, was your answer (unless you know the agent was backed up).

    Deb - the example you gave is actually not vague! If you're listing my blog and twitter and interviews, that's pretty specific; it's things like just mentioning the agency website or or some guide book that are washy, and statements that could apply to ANY agent that are vague.

  11. Great info, appreciate it. I love the name Ivalotta Trustissues as well. Made my day!

  12. Thanks for this. I just posted it on a She Writes Query Critique group.

  13. Great post, Natalie. You got me giggling with Ivalotta Trustissues.

  14. Great post! I think many writers could avoid these common pitfalls if they took the time to go over their query closer. I think so many writers are itching to send that letter off that they end up making some of these mistakes.

    Of course, I'm sure every writer makes one of these mistakes at some point, but it's nice to be reminded of it too. I think we sometimes get so caught up in our story world that it's hard to transition back to the real one. :)

  15. Absolutely. I agree that agents need to email writers when they reject and that writers need to email agents when they accept somewhere else.

    Not responding -- either way -- isn't nice.

    Respect goes both ways. Good point.

  16. Your #2 seems a little off. Granted, if you've had any dialogue with an agent who's considering your work, then, of course, notify them that you've accepted representation. But if you've had NO contact? Bah.

    I have an agent, the lovely Stacia Decker of DMLA, for over a year now. But I'm STILL waiting to receive acknowledgment of queries I sent out in 2009 from numerous agents.

    Checked the spreadsheet. Still waiting on acknowledgment from eleven agents. Hmmm. Silence, in this case, doesn't mean assent. Screw them. I'm not notifying them of shit.

  17. I'm not sure whether to laugh hysterically or be horrified that these show your sad lot in life (sentenced to read numerous terrible queries) as an agent. I'd ask you to tell me this doesn't constitute the majority of the queries you receive, but I know that it probably does.

    Chin up!

  18. Love these I-Hate-To-Read-These-In-Queries posts!!! So entertaining! :D Good breakdown. -seph

  19. QUERY season???? When does that end? LOL I will say that once I did do the cut and past, just the major query info, and when I looked in my "SENT" realized that it sent in two fonts. Felt sooo stupid! Thanks for clarifying what's whisy washy info : )

  20. I really appreciate all of your posts! There is some information that you just can't get unless it's from someone who's "in the know." Thanks for the blog!

  21. Thank you for your post! I will keep this stuff in mind in the future when it comes time to start writing queries. I like to think I wouldn't have done those things anyways, but it's always good to be reminded of what not to do.

  22. Great list!

    (Blog comment copyright (C) 2011 by :) incorporated. No part of this post may be reproduced without express written permission of :) (which costs approximately $1 million) All rights thoroughly reserved in perpetuity.)


  23. Great post! Fascinating to see what fills an agent's in-box. :)

  24. I submit that the huge jump in queries has to do with New Year's resolutions. It is funny what it takes to motivate us.
    I am truly appalled when those who are looking for work, (in any industry), think that it is acceptable to be nasty or start name calling. It's great that you seem to have a sense of humor to deal with it all. :D

  25. Hi, I'm popping in for a visit. Great post, with some really nice tips :) I have two questions though.
    Why is it wrong to write "thank you for taking your time to read this." Isn't that polite?
    And how do you send a non-awkward email telling an agent you've already signed?

  26. This comment has been removed by the author.

  27. Hi Riv,

    Saying thank you is polite and appreciated; it's things that are groveling that are annoying. When you expand past what you've written there, that's groveling.

    To withdraw, you're probably going to feel awkward no matter what. You just have to do it. You can put: WITHDRAWING submission re: XXX in the subject line, and explain that you've received and accepted an offer of representation and so are withdrawing a submission. No hard feelings will be had, I can assure you!

    (in case anyone's wondering, I removed the post the first time because I misspelled groveling on the second use. Doh.)

  28. I think the copyright pet-peeve extends to many writers as well as agents; there's something presumptuous about unnecessary copyright notices. It assumes they've created something worthy of theft . . .

    But it does happen. :( Cook's Source for one, David Boyer's plagiarism of Ferrel Moore's "Electrocuting the Clowns" is another. But even then, a copyright notice is no protection at all. Great post.

  29. Cute and informative at the same time. Gotta love it!

  30. Some of this is sad people don't know. If people don't act professional in the query process, it's a red flag that they won't be good clients. As an attorney, I enjoy working with good clients and really don't enjoy the difficult ones. I'm sure it must be the same with agents.

  31. I thought you were closed to queries until you moved agencies???

  32. Omigod, please tell me that no one claimed to be your "humble servant". I almost blew tea from my nose. Not cool when you're sitting in a doctors office.

  33. LOL I'm quite guilty of the whole... "Clearly cut-and-pasted form letters". It sucks when you're trying so hard to get all these queries out and you accidentally forget to change the, "Dear So and So" to the agent's name.

    I just sigh and shake my head while picturing a crumpled piece of electronic paper being thrown in a vast digital garbage can.

  34. Even though I'm not to the query point yet, your post will be greatly helpful when I do make it there. Thanks for such honest information.

  35. Thank you so much for this information!
    I'm not at the querying stage yet, but I will be soon! And I've always wondered what the "DON'T"s are to querying.
    Thanks again!

  36. Wow, I'm prepping to query you in particular, Mrs.Lakosil. So this was very helpful. I'm probably guilty of one those, I'll keep this all in mind. Thanks!

  37. Good and another post from you admin :)