Querying Blunders Take Two: Agent Stories

March 12, 2010

So, last week, the OPWFTers shared their personal querying goofs with you.  Now, it gets even better.  A group of fabulous agents are sharing some notable querying blunders they’ve found in their slush piles.  Our plan was to present them all at once, but I think we struck a chord.  Our participating agents had a LOT to say about querying blunders—as it turns out, too many to stick into one post.  So we’ll be breaking this up into segments.

These stories are guaranteed to do one of three things: 

1) Make others give you The Look because you’re laughing out loud in your little writing corner of Starbucks

2) Make you feel FIVE THOUSAND times better about any querying faux pas you’ve made and/or

3) Make you thank your lucky stars that you’ve remained anonymous if one of YOUR querying blunders is named below (and help you realize that you should never, ever, do it again.  Ever.).

Seriously, though–we all mistakes.  Hopefully, this will be a fun way to guide you through querying no-no’s.

First up!  Here’s what twitterific new agent Kathleen Ortiz of Lowenstein  Associates  (who just signed amazing Absolute Write YA writer Jennifer Walkup—WOOT Jenn!) had to say:

Worst offenses? Oy vey…

And I’m only allowed to list a couple? Hmm…  (our note:  is anyone else getting the impression that it was hard to only pick a couple?  Heads up, aspiring authors!  Your query is the FIRST impression an agent gets of you.  Try, try, not to stand out in a BAD way.)

– “Dear Sir” – I’m a girl, last I checked. But besides that, it’s just rude. Authors get offended when we “Dear Author” them on a form rejection, so please at least use our names in a salutation.

– No salutation – or query: some people send an e-mail with an attachment and a “Manuscript Attached” as their only message in the body of the e-mail. Instant rejection.

– Sending gifts – won’t lie: sometimes this is amusing, but it’s completely inappropriate. It’s almost as if you’re trying to bribe the agent, which is offensive. You wouldn’t (hopefully) bribe a prospective employer, would you? I’ve received tiaras, mugs, cookie cutters, boxes of cookies, you name it. And I, for one, won’t eat food from a random stranger – sorry. A friend of mine received a Starbucks cup with a bag of white powder inside. They later discovered it was flour (for a recipe), but seriously – what were they thinking? The entire agency could’ve gone into a panic attack.

– Rude responses – I get so many “You’ll regret when I’m a NYT bestseller!!!” e-mail responses to my form rejections. It doesn’t help your case, because I just block your e-mail from our system. We need clients who can accept constructive criticism and take rejection, because when you go on submission, chances are you’ll receive a couple of rejections.

– Asking for tips on who to send queries to – there’s this fantastic invention called GOOGLE with hundreds of blogs by authors for authors and by people in publishing for authors. Use your resources. Some agents get up to 100 queries a day. In addition to working with our clients, foreign rights, permissions requests, contracts, manuscripts on submissions and more, we don’t have time to sit and think “who would like this MS?” If we do think of someone, we’ll tell you in the rejection. Otherwise, it’s really up to you to do the homework on who to query.

And in case you don’t know which Starbucks cups story she’s referring to?  Here, it is, straight from the agent’s mouth!  Suzie Townsend of FinePrint Literary, and agent to Absolute Write YA authors Tracy Martin, Hannah Moskowitz, and  Kristin Miller):

The Most Interesting Query I Received…

In case anyone missed the conversation on twitter.  I got a query on Monday that came in a Starbucks cup.

Starbucks by mail? Hmmm.....

And when I opened it up, I was baffled to find white powder…

That ain't instant creamer....

Which was flour – not anthrax or drugs – and a query with bound pages.  O_O  This makes for an interesting/sort of funny story, but most of my colleagues were quite freaked out.  Sending white powder to New Yorkers = Not a Good Idea.

So, for a quick recap:  agents like you to know their gender, would prefer you didn’t reply to a rejection with a “you’re going to regret this cuz I am DA BOMB!” rant, and they never, EVER want you to send white powder in Starbucks cups.  Ever.

Tune in next week, when agents Laura Bradford and Lauren MacLeod chime in with blunders, and agent Jennifer Laughran gives some querying advice.

By Debra Driza



  1. LOL– nice post guys. 🙂

  2. Seriously, with the white powder in the mail? That’s just…*blinks*

    Great post!

    • I know! I’m kind of shocked that made it through the mail. Can you imagine, if the DEA or Homeland Security had come bursting into Suzie’s office? That would have made quite an impression, lol!

      Of course, I’m sure the person querying was just trying to do something cute–but it’s probably best to save the flour until Suzie actually represents you. 🙂

  3. I remember reading about the white powder on twitter. How crazy is that?

  4. OMG, sending flour in a Starbucks cup? I can’t even begin to understand why someone would think that was a good idea. Wow…just wow…

  5. I used to work in a mail room back in college – even if I suspected it was only flour, I might have called the cops anyway just to make the papers!

  6. Glad to share my story. (I love the tags for this post btw!)

    I really liked what you said though so I want to reiterate it: The query process is hard. I know that if I were a writer and someone who had never worked in publishing, I would make mistakes. A lot of them. Everyone does.

    I think what’s most important to remember (and pass out as advice to writers who are getting ready to query), is that the querying process requires a similar amount of work to the actual writing process. Writing a manuscript takes research, blood, sweat, tears, revisions, all nighters…and whatever else you’ve invested into it. Writing a good query also takes some of those things – hopefully just the research and revisions rather than the emotional rollercoaster. But when writers don’t put the time and work into their query, it actually cheapens and undervalues their manuscript.

    Happy Friday all 🙂 Can’t wait to see the other posts!

  7. Oh, and I was also SHOCKED that you can send a Starbucks cup via mail! And if anyone else in my office had gotten that query, we might have made the news. I got a couple hysterical “And you opened it?!?!?!” comments that day.

  8. Freaking awesome. Thanks for sharing Kathleen and Suzie!

  9. Awesome post, Deb, and Grats to Suzie and Kathleen for sharing some of the uglies of their career!!

  10. Free Starbucks always gets my attention so I can’t criticize that part of it, but what the heck was the powder for? Weight? Fun post!

  11. Very reasonable and common sense advice here! Did laugh at the white flour gift. At least the writer should have sent the finished product (cookies, etc.) even though that’s a big no-no, too! 🙂

  12. Oh yes, the old ‘white powder’ thing. It was done to death in London too, except it got fashionable during the anthrax scare which wasn’t at all funny and which didn’t land anyone a deal either. Things some deluded morons do in order to get on the margin of the action…


  13. Actually, it just occurred to me that perhaps these few points on going for pro may be helpful to those who think that sending gifts is a good idea…


  14. This is great stuff, and freaky. Wow. I find it hard to believe people are that dense sometimes. You’d think if writers are really passionate about the business, they’d learn to get a clue or do some research. Great post!!

  15. Great post!

  16. I loved this post and thought I’d share my latest oops. I debated a lot who to send my query to at a certain agency -took two months to decide- and when I finally sent it, I didn’t put a complete salutation in, It only reads, Dear Ms I wonder how detrimental that will be.

  17. Some of these stories just baffle me lol. Nice post, guys!

  18. Thanks for posting! Love being paired up w/ Suzie 😉

  19. Love this post! Warms my toes to know I’m not the only writer nervous enough to sabotage myself in grand and glorious style…

  20. […] of the Old People Writing For Teens thread on the AW Forums. Here’s a terrific round-up of what NOT to do in your query, collected peeves from lots of different literary […]

  21. […] If you missed part two, you need to read—agents Kathleen Ortiz and Suzie Townsend talk about how sending your query in a bag of flour will neither a) turn your agent-of-choice into Betty Crocker or b) garner you a […]

  22. Good day to all. I wonder if the flour was not a hint for the receiving agent, perhaps, to make some “dough” for the aspiring author?

    I guess we’ll never know, but that would have been my intent.


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