I’ve talked quite a lot about querying in the past, but I’ve yet to mention some of these major mistakes I see in queries (and a few mistakes I made myself). There’s a lot of bad advice about querying out there, which can make it difficult for writers trying to research the querying process to understand which advice to follow. And then there are some outright mistakes that always seem to crop up. So, let’s discuss some of those mistakes and bad pieces of advice:
- Faking credentials or referrals
Never exaggerate your publishing credentials in a query, and never say that someone referred you unless they’ve explicitly given you permission. Agents/editors will find out about this, and it makes you look incredibly unprofessional at best. It’s okay not to have any publishing credits to include in your query, and it’s okay not to have a referral. (I didn’t have either in the query that got me my agent). Better to start with a blank slate than a fake one.
- Querying exclusively
It’s rarely in your best interest to query only one agent at a time. It can take an agent months, if not longer, to respond to a submission, and querying exclusively is going to severely delay the process. Now, if an agent asks you for an exclusive, that’s a different situation. But don’t query only one (or only a few) agents at once.
- Querying everyone
On the other hand, you don’t want to send out a query to every possible agent. I often see writers advised to “take advantage of every opportunity,” which, in general, is great advice. But you also need to make sure that you’re going after opportunities you actually want. Make sure to do your research on the agents you’re querying and be certain that you actually want to work with them. I see a lot of writers participating in contests and pitch parties who send their materials to everyone who asks, both agents and editors at once. But not everyone who participates in these events is someone you want to work with. Don’t sub to a small press or an agent that you don’t want.
- Mentioning that you’ve queried them before
If you’ve queried an agent/editor with a different project and received a form rejection, it’s probably not in your best interest to mention it when you query something new. This is essentially a fresh introduction to this agent/editor, and beginning with “you’ve rejected me before” isn’t really the best first impression. Now, this is different if the agent/editor read your full MS, gave you feedback, and mentioned wanting to see more of your work. In that case, you definitely want to mention the previous MS. But if they didn’t read a full or significant partial of your previous project, you might as well start with a clean slate.
- Querying a new project too soon
It’s going to raise a red flag if you receive a rejection on one MS and query a new one the next day. It’s not a good idea to be querying more than one project simultaneously, and you definitely haven’t had enough time to thoroughly revise something new. I’ve heard that six months is a good rule of thumb for how long to wait between queries, but in general, waiting at least a few months is in your best interest.
- Querying before your MS is finished
Even though querying often takes a long time, you need to be prepared in case an agent asks to see the full MS. When I was querying, I received a full request within 48 hours more than once, and I also received several partial/full requests within a few weeks. Although you won’t usually receive responses that fast, it does happen, and you need to be prepared for that. Have the entire MS written, thoroughly revised, and as polished as it can be before you even think about querying. Otherwise, you’ve missed your opportunity with an interested agent.
- Insulting your category or genre
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen this in a query: the writer will dismiss or insult entire categories or genres in order to make their book sound better. “This is more than your typical YA with vampires” or “unlike most fantasy novels” or “despite being YA, this book has no love triangle,” etc. The problem is that these generalizations aren’t making your book look better; they’re making me think that you don’t understand your own category/genre very well or haven’t read much of it. Which, in turn, makes me question your ability to write a novel in that category/genre. I think one reason this happens so often is that writers are encouraged to show that their book “stands out,” but that doesn’t mean you should claim that your book is better than all other books like it. Don’t dismiss other books in order to build yours up.
Have you made any querying mistakes? Have any advice to offer querying writers? Need advice for querying? Let me know in the comments!
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This post is part of my Submission Tips series. For information about submitting to literary agents, publishing houses, and more, check out other posts in the series here, and follow the blog to see future posts.