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