Thursday, February 4, 2010

Mistakes in a query: When do we reject you?

I know that all writer spend countless hours working through that query letter, trying to make it just perfect for the agents and editors. Still, there are times that mistakes occur. So the question is: How bad of a mistake does a writer have to make before we reject you.

I will have to say, most of the time, it doesn't come down to a mistake in the query letter. The mistakes do send up red flags, but the query letter will not create the rejection. I like to remind authors about the slogan Head and Shoulders used for a long time - "You never get a second chance to make a first impression." Now, with that said, you have to remember that your query is that first impression. If you put the wrong impression into my head, your writing has to be so incredible just to over-come that obstacle.

So, what type of things create "a bad taste in my mouth?" I have to say this list is not a full list. There are certainly a lot of things I see, but let me highlight the big ones. With each, I want to highlight the correlation I see to the manuscripts.

BAD GRAMMAR! This one is a big one with me. If you can't compose a query letter with good grammar, what will your story look like? I have found a huge correlation between those writers with bad grammar in the query letter and manuscripts with equal problems. You have to show me you are a professional writer that knows what you are doing.

NO SENDING WHAT I WANT! I see this in two places. The first is my online form. I created this to insure that writers really sent me what I needed. When authors can't even fill out the form correctly, they are demonstrating to me they likely don't know the "rules" of publishing and the procedures we go though. Sure enough, the writers that tell me their story is so many pages but can't tell me the word count, often have stories that are either way below count due to large fonts and huge margins; or more often than not, the stories I see are equal to 2-3 books.

Now I will grant the addressing it to the wrong person at times. Say the person is cranking out a ton of letters and forgot to change the name. O.K. Mistakes happen.The second one, however really steams me. What both of these often say, however, is that the person has clearly not done their research about my agency, or for that matter, the publishers they think the story will go to. Sure enough, they pitch me stories that I likely blogged about earlier saying I would never buy the darn thing.

I think the whole point of this is to make sure you send out a document that truly represents who you are and your writing. Think the Hallmark commercial here. "When you care enough to send the very best." Just remember, I am thinking things about you from the moment I open up that envelope. Make sure I am thinking good things.



  1. I have to say I love your knowledge of commercial slogans!

    My sister and I spent a summer evening in the pool once just going through commercial jingles, past and present.

  2. Awk. No quibbling about your pet peeves. Those mentioned would leave me chewing the carpet also. Now, is there room to list agent pet peeves from the viewpoint of our hapless, clueless, writer worker bee? Please oh please??