Don’t Nuke Your Own Query Letter

Authors seeking traditional publication will need to write query letters to agents and/or publishers as part of the publishing process. The query letter is a pitch for the author’s work – and many resources exist to help authors write and perfect them. One of the best query writing resources is Janet Reid’s Query Shark blog (in fact, it’s so good that I’d rather you read it all the way through, including the comments, before going elsewhere). Writer’s Digest also offers a lot of high quality information about the querying process.

However, that’s not why I’m bringing the topic up today. Today’s post is about not shooting yourself in the foot when you send that query letter out.

A well-written query letter involves many hours (yes, HOURS) of effort and careful editing. The pitch is written, honed, revised, and tailored to each of the agents on your list. After putting in all that effort, it would be foolish to send the query in a way that ruins your chances of getting to “yes”  – but many authors inadvertently do so.

Let’s take a look at some of these common errors…and how to avoid them.

1. Follow the instructions. Literary agencies and publishers have posted “submission guidelines” explaining how queries and sample chapters should be sent. Read them and follow them. Yes, it’s tempting just to write a single letter and send it to everyone, but many agents bounce queries that don’t meet the guidelines. Yes, it takes more time to read and follow the instructions, but publishing is a detail-oriented business.

2. Include your contact information in the query. More than once, I’ve heard agents (& editors) lament that they loved a submission but didn’t have a way to reach the author. If a return email bounces, and there’s no contact information on the query, the agent or editor won’t do research to track you down. That’s a missed opportunity, and a sad one.

3. Do not query from an email address that requires “verification” for emails sent to you. Some people have email programs (spam filters) that require senders to verify their identities before allowing them to email the owner of the address. Agents and editors will not jump through hoops for the sake of your email security program. Either whitelist the addresses you query BEFORE the query goes out, or create a new, open email address with no required verifications. (Just last week, I heard about an agency abandoning the author’s work instead of requesting a full because the author’s email required “verification” – don’t be that author!)

4. Never, EVER respond to a rejection letter from an agent or publisher, unless the rejection requests a response. Even polite responses to rejection letters clog an agent or editor’s already overfull inbox, but the real problem is when you respond to rejection with ugliness. Every agent and editor I know has received a number of rude and vitriolic responses from rejected authors. Rejection is painful, but it’s inappropriate (Note: that word isn’t strong enough) to vent your frustrations on the rejecting editor or agent. If you MUST vent your spleen, let your feelings out to your friends, your cat, or the coffee cup. Get a stress ball. Take a walk. But never, EVER let the send button go down on your anger.

5. Be courteous and respectful – treat the agents and editors as if they are real human beings who matter to you. Because…they are, and they should. Don’t query an agent or editor that you don’t consider a person you want to work with. And if you do want to work with that person, take the time to show respect and courtesy, in the query and thereafter. Addressing your query to “dear agent,” or worse, “to whom it may concern” sends a message that you really don’t care. Make sure your interactions are professional, polite, and reflect you in a businesslike manner.

The publishing industry is small. Agents and editors talk–both socially and personally. An author’s bad behavior will hurt his or her career. Why take that chance? 

Have questions about this or other publishing legal issues? Feel free to ask in the comments, email me through this website, or find me on Twitter (@SusanSpann)!

Have you taken steps to avoid common query errors?