Query mistakes

by Jane

Every once in a while, a writer sends me a query addressed to another agent at another company and it makes me think that she or he couldn’t be that serious about getting representation if s/he is so careless with his or her submission.

Then there are those who query every agent in our agency at the same time, a definite no- no.

And I am always suspicious of the writer who refers to his or her work as a fiction novel.

In response to Miriam Goderich’s very clever blog entry last week regarding having fun while we do our jobs, Mary Witzl suggested that we ask writers what their worst query mistakes have been. That sounded like a great idea to me and so I am throwing the question out to our blog readers.

Bring those submission errors on! I am eager to hear about them.

27 Responses to Query mistakes

  1. Jennifer says:

    I definitely sent one to an agent using her maiden name and not her new name. A major goof considering the agency's name is her new full name. I panicked and didn't know what to do, knowing that it had to look really dumb and would be an automatic rejection, so I sent the email again, one minute later, with her correct name. Needless to say, she did not request my manuscript…

  2. Chris says:

    My worst (so far) was sending at least three e-mail queries that listed the length of my novel as 135,000 words in the subject, and 120,000 words (the correct count) in the body. Not so terrible, I'm sure, when compared with some other experiences, but still pretty embarrassing.

  3. Sangu says:

    Although I don't write them very well, I think I try to be really careful with the actual query (although I occasionally catch the odd typo later that makes me cringe). But I did once copy and paste in an agent's email address, put in my subject line and then, completely by accident because I was distracted and on the phone, clicked 'send'.

    I think the entire text of the email was 'Dear [Agent's Name]'. Coward that I am, I didn't dare re-send properly.

    You'll be shocked to hear, no doubt, that I never heard back from her.

  4. Todd says:

    Sending out a query with "Dear:" as the salutation. I used to use a copy and paste query letter, then put the person's name at the top of it. A couple of times I forgot to put the name… yeah, not smart.

  5. Yat-Yee says:

    I accidentally hit "send" for a query that was still being tweaked, ie with an incomplete sentence, abrupt end, and no signature. I re-sent a proper one a few minutes later and got polite rejections to both.

  6. Julie Weathers says:

    Several years ago when I first started querying my childrens works, I queried all of them at once. I got a few rejections, but oddly enough I also got several requests and a really good agent. Perhaps agents were more forgiving then, but even the ones requesting just laughed when they called and said it would probably be best to query one at a time, but they liked them all.

    The worst mistake, though, was hanging up on my dream agent when she called. A friend who was a practical joker knew I was querying. I thought there was no chance Ms. Dream Agent would even look at my work let alone call, but I had determined to start at the top. I told her I didn't know who she was, but she could tell Tommy it wasn't funny and hung up on her. She was kind enough to call back and hurriedly say, "Please don't hang up, this really is–."


  7. Anonymous says:

    According to Query Shark, you're not suppossed to put your contact information at the top of an email query. I did that several times.

  8. Elizabeth Flora Ross says:

    An agent I was following tweeted that she had sold a new book for one of her clients. I immediately looked up the client, and found what I thought was the book. I wrote an intro to my query that congratulated her and tied that book to my own and shot it off, thinking I was being clever. Then I discovered that the book I had referenced was already on the way to publication. She was referring to an entirely different book.

  9. Mike Jastrzebski says:

    Years ago, before the information was readily available on the internet, I queried an agent whose name could have belonged to a man or a woman. I addressed it to Mr. or Ms. and I've always suspected this didn't go over very well with the agent.

  10. Designs by JoLea says:

    It would definitely have to be in my very first queries (yes, more than one), mentioning that I was published in the International Library of Poetry Anthology as a WINNER! Aren't we all?!?! When I found out what a farce they, were, I quickly decided that no publishing experience was better than that!

  11. Anonymous says:

    Uh, I just sent a query saying I enclosed 5 pages, but then forgot to enclose the pages. Oops.

  12. MaryWitzl says:

    I queried an agent using the wrong name TWICE (she was very nice about it, too), but the submissions that still make my face burn are the ones I remember sending with long, convoluted descriptions and synopses that were far too detailed. I've also done what Elizabeth and Yat-Yee mention above, and a few other things as well, but I think that's enough to start with.

  13. Connie says:

    I sent a query letter to an agent with an unusual first and last name, and I mixed them up! Yep, I got a form rejection to that one.

  14. Kelly Wittmann says:

    I've definitely guessed wrong on the gender of a few agents over the years. Sometimes you can google and google and google and just not find it. Cameron… Leigh… Penn… These are the names that immediately come to mind. But there are more. Many more.

  15. Judith Mercado says:

    Where do I start? Bad pitch, misspelled agent name, wrong genre, in the snail mail days–not signing, not really investigating the type of work the agent represents, taking lots of time off between queries because of discouragement from rejections, etc. I'm sure I could continue the list for a long time.

  16. Michelle says:

    I proudly noted my word count was 250,000 on my first query until research showed me the error of my ways. I had no idea agents wanted smaller first ms, all my favorite fantasy books are long. Of course, they are all successful authors. So then I split the ms into two books and reduced, reduced, reduced.

  17. Still waiting on reply from Dystel request says:

    Just as an experiment a month or two back, I wrote a subject line that said, "You don't want to be my agent because, of course, of the curse…" Limited it to 4 agencies I knew little about.

    Then went on to tell the mostly-true story about how my first agent (in the 90s) disappeared without a trace, the second got hired the next week by some struggling publisher, another 'brand new one' got ridiculed by some snobby editor that my work was horrendous (at which point he felt he had to dump me or risk his career,) and the next one got fired like an hour after he signed me (which was true but had nothing to do with me.)

    And I stretched the story a bit of course. I immediately got a warning back from one agent to NEVER tell that story ever again in any query or I'd be literarically doomed! Then two others told me "funny, but no." So, doomed? This is just writing and publishing, it's not supposed to be an anal contest.

    So what is a 'mistake?' Wow, if the agent can't laugh at us and give us a break for being "new" and "reallly stupid," not sure I'd want to work with them for years and years.

  18. Lisa_Gibson says:

    I had been emailing my query back and forth to myself to make sure all the formatting was just so. Right as I clicked the 'Send' button to the agent, my eyes saw that the subject line said "Try this". Not a hideous mistake but a mistake for sure.

  19. Em-Musing says:

    My first query ever had many mistakes. Got a nibble. Since then, better queries, but nada. I can't figure this process out!

  20. Anonymous says:

    Still waiting… The agent who gave you a heads-up was giving you a break! Otherwise, you might have kept sending around that query.

  21. February Grace says:

    My mistake was too anxiously querying a second ms to my dream agent before I realized that I hadn't done nearly enough paring down.

    The request for the full came- but the second I sent it off I suddenly had the sinking feeling it wasn't as ready as I'd thought. Sure enough-it wasn't.

    Now the word count is dropping steadily, the project is looking so much better and I really wish I'd had a bit more patience.

    A rookie error and a lesson learned the hard way but at least it has been learned.

    Edit, people. Edit, edit, then really start editing before you send.

  22. Lynda Young says:

    I think lack of patience is my greatest mistake as well. I query too early.

  23. DGLM says:

    Many of these are things we have seen over the years (I think I missed the person with the really bad luck stories, although that would have caught my attention). In the end, we all learn from our mistakes and hopefully move on to writing successful queries and finding the most perfect person to offer representation.

  24. Still waiting on reply from Dystel request says:

    Oh yes, the reply that I was an idiot for sending the "curse approach" was ABSOLUTELY trying to help me. I stopped.

    Overall, even though we get made fun of for being idiots sometimes, it's a welcome belly laugh to hear about others chasing their tails.

    And DGLM, actually, you already had requested the ms, I was eagerly waiting a reply and trying to generate other interest.

    I just couldn't take it, was on the edge of my seat, nervous, scared, apprehensive, frightened, edgy, worried, jumpy, panicky, hungry, so I ate, then petrified, terrified, and horrified that I'd be rejected, (Or even worse, ha ha, accepted, then the curse would strike you, which would be a shame, because I love your work and had been knocking on the door for months)

    Anyway, I got drunk, as is the writer's way, and went surfing, as is the surfer's way. Felt better. Still waiting though.

    GREAT blog, thankya.

  25. Anonymous says:

    I have two comments. A while back someone at this blog, which is very classy I might add, suggested that it might be worthwhile if a writer having difficulties with a petulant character check on a blog entry by Mr/Ms Grandiloquent, the advice was five levels of achieving depth to one's intractable and annoying obstacle to a brilliant work of art. Yet, they used the five stages of acceptance for the final curtain made famous by Kubler-Ross in a hospice setting. Erik Erikson's eight-stage view of life's epigenetic evolution and decline would have been more fitting.
    In all due respect why is the query such an annoying impediment to actually tasting the essence of a story well told. Let's face it, the industry does not have a high success to failure rate and an argument can be made that it is the inverse and failure is the norm while successful manuscripts are declined at every turn. Of course, what do I know? Having sound so negative, I have chosen to send your agency based on the overt scent of genuine class when the time is ripe. Also a man named Edward Jay "Action" Acton had enjoyed a story of mine and asked the man who had sent the yarn if the author could develop the story into a novel because of its length. It did not fit in slicks between ads for Cutty Sark and Porsches. This was prior to 1994. I did in fact develop it into a book that bears the same title as one of your successes, Insatiable. However, my version was too surreal and absurd and I didn't allow it out of the house.

  26. Maggie Parr says:

    I once got a request for chapters from an agent, and in my excitement, I forwarded the email to my partner with something to the effect of, "I'm so happy! Love you!" Turns out I accidentally hit 'reply,' not 'forward'! Once I discovered my mistake, I sent the agent a sheepish apology. He admitted he was baffled by the letter but seemed to understand. Oh well, live and learn!

  27. S. S. Post says:

    My first query letter, I had searched for weeks about how to write a query letter. I got so caught up in tooling the description of the book that I entirely forgot to mention who I was, what the book was, or any info about how to contact me. I received a form rejection from the agent's SECRETARY.


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