What Not to Do When Querying Agents

Stop, drop, and listen. The publishing industry is a small world, and if you think you can act a fool with one agent because there are tons of others out there who will gladly let you charm them with your personality and give you a new chance at a first impression, you may want to think again. I have seen firsthand how much of a tightly knit community the writing groups can be, and while that’s an excellent thing for most of us, for those who are burning bridges left and right, I’m here to tell you that’s not cool. All jokes aside, however, there are things you should seriously avoid if you’re trying your best to land an agent and understand the query letter is likely to be your golden ticket.

Don’t ignore their guidelines.

The best thing you can do to show that you’re someone who can follow instructions is let your actions speak for themselves. If an agent posts guidelines on their website for how they’d like query letters formatted, rules on attachments, and other submission preferences, it’s in your best interest to adhere to these specifications. They’re not trying to make your life difficult (it’s not all about you), but having things organized a certain way likely helps them get through the hundreds of submissions they receive each week, and it’s super easy to reject a submission that doesn’t follow their criteria before they’ve even gotten a chance to read what your book is about. Yeah, that’s right. Don’t shoot yourself in the foot for thinking you’re above the rest and can ignore simple rules like “no attachments” and “please don’t query more than one agent at a time.”

Don’t talk about how your mom liked your book.

An agent has likely been a professional in their industry for years. Your mom, grandma, significant other, or best friend has not. Therefore, their opinion does not matter and will hold no credibility when you present your work to an agent, so do not include it! It’s the same when you go to a job interview. You rarely tell the hiring manager how your mom thinks you’re excellent at using Microsoft Word, because you were able to show her that button she couldn’t find. So why would you bring up other people’s opinion of your skills in a query letter? Let your work speak for itself, just as you let your resume speak for itself. A manager can figure out whether or not you know what you’re meant to do by seeing what you’ve been hired to do in the past. An agent can do the same, and whether or not your book is a good fit for them will depend on your first pages–not a family member’s praise of it. When you’ve only got a few paragraphs to sell the book to them, and they’ve got like 3 minutes in the day to pay attention to you, don’t waste it on boosting your ego. State the facts only, not opinions.

For instance, “this is my book, at XXX words, in this genre…” and so forth.

Don’t try to stalk the agents to get another chance.

While it may be surprising to some, agents are fully aware of the fact that there are writers with egos. It makes sense since the art of writing is very personal, but a professional writer understands traditional publishing is a business, and not everyone has what it takes. Or maybe, they just haven’t found the right person to represent their work, or it’s not their time. Whatever the case may be, there are instances when a querying author may get so upset that they result to other mediums to communicate with agents, in an attempt to redeem themselves and obtain another chance to convince the agent why they were wrong in passing on their work. This is not only embarrassing and unprofessional, but highly frightening. Imagine you’re a manager at a company and you politely tell a candidate they did not receive the opportunity to interview. Or perhaps they did get to meet with you but it wasn’t a good fit, and someone else was better.

Now, they look for your address and come to your home and ask for you to please give them another shot. read the first pages. Creepy. So are you if you keep pushing in the same fashion with, “I promise you’ll fall in love with the book.” Then, search for unlisted email addresses and attach more than was requested in the querying stage.

Some writers may see this as persistence and think, “They’ll be impressed I tried so hard,” but rest assured… No agent thinks like this. Respect their privacy, and their opinion. If they passed, trust they had a good reason and stop trying to go around their boundaries in order to get them to change their mind. That’s not an author any agent wants to work with, and at the end of the day the author-agent relationship is exactly that–a relationship.

Don’t send an unrevised pitch.

Microsoft Word can’t really be trusted to catch all your typos these days. You must take responsibility for everything you send out to agents. Reread and proofread multiple times over before hitting the send button. Any misspelled word (including their name) will make them cringe and make them think less of you. It’s not personal, but rather the way they are wired. As a writer, you should be the same. Revise your pitch, query, and work before sending it out to agents. They don’t want to be line-editing before even taking you on as a client. It shows you respect their time when you send over clean pages. A writer with typos and errors shows they didn’t take the time to revise and aren’t serious about their writing, or the possible opportunity of being a represented writer who may one day be published. Sure, there are editorial agents out there that will help you with this once you get to that stage, but you need to be in the habit of proofreading your own work as you write, and after you write, before sending it to another pair of eyes for their set of revisions. A writer needs to also be an editor by trade.

Don’t get personal.

No offense, but unless you are querying a memoir, most agents do not care about the personal reasons that motivated you to write the book you are pitching. If you were sitting at the beach one day and thought a story about four girls in different countries would be so rad, and then you happened to run home and tell your childhood best friend, and she just loved it and you began writing and finished it after six months, no one reading a query letter needs to know that. Don’t include it. If you have a buddy or family member suffering from a life-threatening disease and this is your last wish (or theirs)–to see your book published–that has no bearing on the quality of your work or whether or not an agent can represent you well, so again, no need to write about it. I cannot stress enough how much you should stick to the plot points of your book and what makes it interesting rather than what makes YOU interesting. The author behind the book will get his/her time to shine in the final paragraph of the query letter (when you typically including writing credentials). But everything else in the query needs to be about the book. That’s it. No ifs, ands, or buts about it. The agent does not want to hear anything about you. In a pile of 300+ queries, they just need to know quickly if the premise of your book is one that grabs their attention, so grab their attention!

Don’t insult agents.

I don’t know why, but I’ve seen plenty of examples of writers who send agents awful responses once they get those rejection emails. Anywhere from, “What were you thinking to not accept my work?” to “You’ll be sorry.” and even “I think this is a great book, and you clearly made a mistake.” All you have to do here is act professional! This is not professional in any sense of the word, and if you don’t care to represent yourself well then at least follow the golden rule and treat others how you would want to be treated. If you were threatened or berated every time you gave someone bad news or feedback, would you feel respected or good about it? I didn’t think so. Remember, you’re not the one in the power seat here, and what you do to one agent will get around to the rest, so don’t insult them. They are working year-round to get books on the shelves and don’t have time for your animosity.

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