Thursday, August 18, 2011

Querying Mistakes

So first of all I wanted to start off this post by announcing that my critique partner, Liesl Shurtliff, has signed a deal with Knopf/Random House for her debut novel RUMP!!! I've known about the deal for almost a month but she hasn't been allowed to release it publicly until today. I'm sooo excited for her, and RUMP is the most adorable MG story I've ever read (also, it's perfect for both boys and girls). Head on over to her blog to check it out!

Today I'm posting about querying mistakes. I queried two books at the same time (it's a long story) and made a few mistakes, although I researched extensively before sending them out so most damage was kept to a minimum. That said, I have a lot of writer friends who have made querying mistakes, and I've talked to agents about them as well.

Here are some things to avoid:

1. Never query prematurely. I know it's tempting to send out emails the moment you finish your book, but don't. Wait a while. Revise. Rewrite. Do this a few times at least before querying.

2. This may be my personal opinion, but I prefer to send out a bunch of queries at one time rather than doing small batches like many writers. Why? Because sometimes agents offer quickly. I know writers who sent out a "test batch" of queries before querying the agents they actually wanted. What if someone from your test batch offers, and you still haven't queried the agents you really want? What if an agent from your first batch offers when the agents from your third batch have just barely received your manuscript? The third batch agents are going to feel like they weren't given a fair chance to review your work.

3. Don't obsess over the query. You should to some extent, but I have writer friends who've spent weeks writing draft after draft of their query letter. These days, most agents ask for sample pages along with a query letter, and if anything you should focus on your first few chapters. Even if your query isn't stellar, odds are an agent will request more based off awesome sample pages (after all, it's the actual writing that counts).

4. Never compare your book to a bestseller.

5. No opinions. For instance, never describe your book as "heartwarming."

6. MAKE SURE you've addressed your query to the right agent. I made this mistake once (I copied and pasted a query into an email but forgot to change the name). Believe me, agents don't like emails titled "Dear Agent."

7. While you're querying, keep writing. Try not to focus on the rejections/requests because there's no way to tell how things will turn out. Just keep working, and if your book doesn't garner an agent you'll have a second project to send out.

8. Never respond to rejections. If you get a personalized letter with editorial suggestions (I got two of these), feel free to send a polite (albeit brief) thank you.

So there you have it. Is anybody out there querying at the moment? If you have tips/tricks to share, feel free to post them in the comments!


  1. I just took a break from querying, but your suggestions crack me up. Pretty sure I did all of them wrong the first time I queried. :) OK, well, I never compared it to a best-seller or said it was "heartwarming," but the rest. So glad I eventually figured it out.

  2. Thanks for the shout out Kate!

    And very good post. You rock!

  3. #5 is so important! I queried one agent--I even changed the name on the document--but missed the name in the body of the email and got a response saying that there was no agent by that name there. Very embarrassing.

    I would also recommend keeping a spreadsheet of who you've queried, when, expected response time, etc. (Kate Shafer Testerman also suggested this in her Write On Con address.) It makes it so much easier to keep track of things.

  4. Yep. I'm querying now.

    Your #1 can't be stressed enough, Kate. Look at it again. Revise. Don't jump the gun and send massive queries out when you still have changes to make on your MS. You may have the best query ever, but like you said, those sample pages make a difference.

    One rejection I've received was brief, but rather nice. That I wasn't the right match for her, though the sample I sent was "well written."

    Great post, Kate. I AM taking lessons from you. :)

  5. Ah, the dreadful time of querying. Its awful - okay, mostly awful the first go round. I think its just so stressful, you've put so much work into your book and now you're sending it off for rejection & hopefully acceptance too! These are good tips though. I am so glad you shared. :)

  6. Haha I'm soooo far from the querying stage, but I still like reading about it. I'm curious about what you say in #2. In the hypothetical situation that a writer receives an offer of representation by a "test batch" agent, isn't it ok to ask for time to consider and then send out queries to dream agents and mention the offer? They might pass due to the time pressure, but I'd think it's still worth a shot. Unless that's frowned on in the industry and I just had no idea. I don't think anyone would complain about not being queried first since agents work through slush at different rates anyway, so even if you query everyone at the same time I'd imagine that you'd get responses from some agents before other agents even got to your query. Thoughts?

  7. @Linda, that's generally frowned upon in the industry. If you receive an offer, you're supposed to notify only those agents who already have a partial or a full. Also, it's standard to give the first agent who offered an answer within one week. One week is hardly enough time to query your dream agents, wait for their responses, send them the manuscript, and have them read it and make a decision.

    I've heard a couple agents complain before when they receive a manuscript and then one day later receive news that the author has an offer. They feel as if they haven't had a fair shot. Of course, that's just two agents, so others may feel differently.