I’ve been spending a lot of time reading queries these last few weeks and even though I try to be objective and reasonable and give every query a fair chance there are little things that irk me. I don’t want them to but they do. I’m afraid they probably bias me from the outset. Here are some of my pet peeves:
1. When the query letter is addressed to Dear Agent or, even worse, to Whom It May Concern. Forgive my fragile ego, but I would just so much prefer to be addressed by name rather than instantly know that I am one of hundreds this query was sent to in an email blast. Even though we all know that you are querying multiple agents, I guess we all want to be made to feel a little special.
2. When there are fifty other email addresses in the address field. See above for why this irks me.
3. When the first paragraph begins with “so and so thought you’d be interested in my book” and I’ve never met so and so or even worse, I have no idea who so and so is.
4. Similarly, when the query writer claims to have met a client who urged him/her to send a query to me. Of course I immediately verify this with said client only to find out that the supposed encounter never happened.
5. Similarly, when the query writer tells me that someone I have had a falling out with (and yes this has happened to even a peace-loving soul like me) has referred them to me. This is probably not a guaranteed way to get your query read.
6. Grammar mistakes, spelling errors, typos. These induce anger, I don’t know why and I can’t help it. I know that many very wonderful writers do not spell well and so I still read the entire query but I do so while gritting my teeth.
7. Listing multiple projects in the same query. While I’m always eager to know what other projects authors are working on, I would like to be sent just one for consideration. If I like it, I will ask about the others.
8. Five query letters in a row for five different projects – from the same author. See above. While it is impressive to know an author has written multiple works, it’s not entirely confidence-inducing to know that none has as yet been published, so it’s better to keep this information to yourself until a dialog has been established.
9. No biographical data. I’d like to know a little bit about previous writing experience and what led the author to write this novel.
10. Queries sent to the wrong email address; queries sent without the five sample pages; queries for projects that are entirely outside my sphere of interest. I feel grateful and honored to receive so many queries but it puzzles me why someone would not do a simple check of my submission guidelines before sending. It’s a simple but effective way of ensuring that your query will be read.
11. Nasty vicious retorts to my standard rejection. I get hundreds of queries a week and while each one is read with great care it is truly impossible to respond to each one individually. While I am fully aware of the amount of work and commitment that has gone into writing an entire manuscript and into crafting the query letter, I believe it’s essential that that commitment extend to professional and courteous conduct throughout the querying process, painful though it may be.
Next week: What makes a query stand out.