Querying Blunders Take Three: More Agents Share!

March 19, 2010

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So, time for part three of our Querying Blunders series. 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 request.

This week, we’ve got a new batch of agents sharing querying blunders with us. First up is agent extraordinaire Laura Bradford of the Bradford Literary Agency, agent to AW’s very own YA writer Corrine Jackson. Laura dug into her query vault for these quotable examples, and boy are we glad–there are some goodies. (Note: throughout our post, all agent comments are in blue.)

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“The book I am authoring is a fantasy/adventure geared toward teenagers to adults that will span 200 chapters and around 3,000 pages; word count roughly around 1.47 million.”

Be aware of general submission guidelines and the kinds of ms lengths your chosen genre will bear. (Talk about the need for the old editing chainsaw—or more like, 5000 of them.)

“By the time you receive this letter you will know that someone has kidnapped your child—that someone is me. I can promise you that this time you will not be sending me a rejection letter.”

This was a VERY notable query. It was for a ms in which a crazy, frustrated author terrorizes a literary agent and kidnaps her child. The subject matter is fine, but by opening the query in that way, without explanation, instead of being hook-y, it was actually ALARMING. It got my attention, sure, but in a really bad way. Probably it isn’t a good idea to open a query with anything that could be construed as a threat. (Wow. We’re not even really sure what to say here.  Just don’t.)

“Although my story is a novella, (39 000 words) I have been working on it for close to 5 years.”

I don’t know that I would recommend pointing out in a query that you are a painfully slow writer. It would be very, very difficult to sustain a career at that writing pace. I don’t know of any agents that would be up for taking on a debut author that could take more than a decade to complete 1 full length novel. (This falls into the realm of TMI.  Try not to share things with agents that chronicle how much you’ve struggled.)

One last query faux pas I have to mention (I don’t have a query quote for it) is don’t insult a genre or an author that the agent (or editor) you are targeting works with. An agent is not likely to look kindly on your query if you mention in it that your work is so much better that that derivative, semi-pornographic romance tripe when that agent specializes in that genre.

Next up is Lauren MacLeod of the Strothman Agency. You might know her as BostonBookGirl on twitter, or lovely agent to both AW writer Helene Boudreau and of course, the Query Project Queen herself, Jodi Meadows. Lauren says:

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The oddest sentence I have seen in a query this winter was “I would like to publish ch. 3, 6, 7 first.” I’m not even sure what that means. (Us either-unless the author thought chapters 1, 2, 4, and 5 really sucked. Um…) We actually got this query again (sent directly to an agent) after the agency rejected it from our submissions email, but this time forty or so other agents were also CC’ed—two more major query mistakes.

I also recently had an author walk in unannounced with a literary fiction manuscript. (EEK!)  Not only had the author not queried first, made an appointment, or called, the author also wanted to drop off a portion and come back for it in an hour! We tend to have someone drop by like this about every six months or so. (Sort of like the gift that just keeps on giving–Oh, joy.)

I find unannounced drop-ins incredibly creepy and slightly threatening. All agents tend to approaching querying slightly differently, but I think we would all agree that an author should NEVER EVER AND UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES drop by without an appointment to drop off their manuscript or query. EVER. (Yeah, we sort of thought this went without saying, but apparently not.)

On the more mild side, lately I’ve received a few queries written by the main character in the story. (Ex. Something like: “When I turned sixteen I found out I had magical healing powers and could talk to ghosts!”) Although there are circumstances where this might work, it usually results in me reading half of the query under the assumption that the author is a complete lunatic. (Which is a bad thing, in case you’re wondering.)

Though I understand the desire to rock the boat a bit to get noticed, I don’t think it works as well in a query as authors hope. I’m drawn to clean, by the book queries—they show me that the author did his or her research and can present themselves professionally.

And finally, a blurb from Jennifer Laughran on querying.  Jennifer, Literaticat on twitter and an agent at Andrea Brown Literary Agency, says her REALLY awful query stories are just too specific to name, but she had this to offer overall:


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I don’t know. I don’t think I can really devote brainspace to this. I try to erase bad queries from my mind as quickly as possible, and in fact, most of the “bad” ones are just the same collection of mistakes over and over and over and over… and over… AND OVER. Like, you know, not following basic directions, misspelling the word “query” five different ways, or sending very grown-up pornography or murder books when I only rep children’s/YA books… It is actually rather depressing, if you let yourself think about it too much. So I don’t.

While Jennifer wasn’t specific, we think her bit kind of says it all. Agents don’t want the “out-there”, the bizarre, or the downright creepy. They don’t need you getting all wild with your query to stand out. Really, they just want a query that follows directions, is easy to read, sums up your story and fits the agent’s profile.

Now, that doesn’t sound so hard, does it?




  1. Man, these just make me feel better about my mess-ups! I love this series.

  2. Fun (though cringe-worthy) post. Thanks for the great read!

  3. Like Jennifer, I feel much better about my own queries.

    People really query this way? Now my head is filled with a mash-up of all of the above – a threatening query written by the protagonist, followed by a request to publish chapters of this 350k word book out of order, hand delivered by the author who is wearing a chicken outfit while complaining that all your clients are utter lightweights in comparison.

  4. Lol, Helene–yeah, this post turned out a bit more cringe-worthy than the last one. But hey, at least the vast majority of us feel better now.

    Seriously, though–as stated in the last two posts, the main point of this is–look! Everyone makes mistakes–and there’s probably someone out there that made one worse than yours! So don’t get discouraged. Learn, move on, and most importantly, LAUGH. Because you’ll need a LOT of laugh-therapy if you’re trying to make it in this industry.

    Sparkle out.

  5. Oh MAN. My queries may have sucked at one time but at least I never threatened someone’s child. Or admitted to writing at the pace of a three-toed sloth on sedatives.

  6. Another great post of blunders! This is great.:)

  7. Another great list of blunders! Thanks so much Debra for organizing this, and thanks especially to Laura, Lauren, and Jennifer! AWESOME!

  8. LOL! That kidnapping one is hilarious.

  9. Oh dear. ROFL

  10. Wow. Some of these are scary. It’s never good to have an agent think you’re mentally unstable…

  11. I laughed so hard I cried. Not because I didn’t feel for the authors (I did and I do), but also because some of these mistakes were made honestly and I could have done them. (TG I’ve been doing my homeword before getting to the query stage.)One question, however. If I sent a query to one agent and the project was rejected, can I not send to another agent in the same agency (and I don’t mean multiple query letters sent at the same time.)?

    Love the blog Thank you for posting this 🙂

    • Cynthia–this varies by agency. Some agencies like Writer’s House–absolutely, query away! Other agencies, like Andrea Brown, only allow you to query one agent with a particular project, and a no from that agent means no from the entire agency. Look at the individual websites for details, and even query tracker and agent query and the like (although, I think the default of those sites is to say “only query one agent” when it’s not always true. Individual agency website trumps all.) A great resource is the Backgrounds and Bewares forum at http://www.absolutewrite.com. You can search info on agencies and post comments for others to answer.

      Good luck, and glad you enjoyed our post! 🙂

  12. […] More Query Blunders (by agent Laura Bradford) — among other things, be very careful about mocking/insulting authors or genres the agent or publisher works with. […]


  14. I would dearly, dearly love to know why that author wanted to “publish” those particular chapters first. I mean, what does that even mean?!?!

    Great series! 🙂

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