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The Wrong Way

All agents post a lot on our blogs about the things writers do wrong in their queries. Certainly we’ve posted the “rules” for writing a query, but since we’re constantly bombarded with new and creative ways to screw up a query, those are the things that you see most frequently. After one such post of what not to do one commenter wrote, “The fact that you (and every other literary agent) have to deal with this makes me angry, because it just makes it that much harder for those of us who follow guidelines and present ourselves professionally. Agents are burned out by those that don’t by the time they get to those of us that do!”

And I wanted to make a correction to this writer’s statement. In fact, these errors do not make it harder for you. They make it easier for us to reject queries and clear out our in-box. They make us want to see something great and those really awful queries mean that when something great crosses our desk we get that much more excited. There’s no doubt that agents get fatigued by the vast numbers of queries we receive. They are part of our job, yes, and we want to receive queries because queries mean possibilities, but in any job there are things that can easily become overwhelming, things that will seemingly never go away (my filing is another example). It doesn’t make them bad, it just is what it is. Queries are the last things on our priority list and yet they are the one thing that builds up the quickest.

Anyway, back to my point. Don’t get discouraged by the writers who don’t seem to want to learn how to go about getting published. Instead, look at what an advantage you have by making an effort that many don’t want to bother making.

Jessica

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13 comments

  1. Thanks for this post. It has given me so much more motivation to make my query the best it can be and to not feel discouraged by the fact that they are so difficult to perfect. At least I know now that if I've actually made an effort on my query it should get noticed among the piles of not-so-polished ones.

  2. What about when you hear from people who had those queries which BROKE every single rule, yet they got requests from those queries?

    This compared to the other people who spent YEARS (or so they say) constructing the perfect query, but didn't even get a form rejection response from agents.

    🙁

    I kinda assume this points out the two things which our vile fellow queriers are doing to burn out agents and damage our chances….

    1. They write far more original story ideas and their writing samples are cleaner. Darn them.

    2. They ganged up on the agent, sending them too many half-baked and poorly written novels, partials, ideas, questions about fallen angels, vampires, zombies, werewolves, high fantasy elves/hobbits/dwarves… <- So the dearly beloved agent is SICK of those elements by the time a good writer queries them with a well-written novel.

    *pouts* <- Is mostly teasing.

  3. The thing that makes it harder is partly the fact that writers have access to good information about how to at least fix the big and obvious mistakes than writers had, say, forty years ago. The learning curve on presentation is shorter, so people can start presenting a proper query earlier.

    But, that's something that is overcome by the same tool as always – persistence. Quality will eventually be noticed, beginners will eventually get better.

  4. This reminds me of two things that I deal with in theatre.

    1) As a director, I want every auditioning actor who steps in front of me to be AMAZING! I want to be able to look at the first five actors I see in a 100-actor day and say, Yes! That's my cast! Everyone else go home!. I suspect that literary agents, also, want writers to be good. They are not gleefully waving the Worst Query of the Day, they are instead grateful and glad every time they find one that's exciting and interesting and that they can fight for. They are not our adversaries, they are our champions.

    2) Many people on many writer/editor blogs comment in a way that seems to have the subtext "Gee, MY work is secretly fantastic, there must be something wrong with the SYSTEM, because it's not ME."

    The true version of this is not always "we're crappier than we think". If we're working hard on our queries, and our writing is genuinely polished and genuinely good work, it may be a mismatch rather than a strikeout. In theatre, we say, "You may be the most beautiful red in the world, the scarlet of flaming sunsets and screaming fire engines, the best red there ever is or can be.

    They might want blue."

  5. I think a manuscript can be over edited and the end result can show the craft, but no heart. So too, the query.

    We sweat and struggle over writing a query and try to follow the rules (every rule we've heard or read over the years) and forget the most important part, and that is the excitement of the hook.

    Nothing else matters.

  6. I deleted some posts that seemed to be headed in the wrong direction, one that many would find offensive.

    As you know, I detest censoring blog comments, but I detest wording that might be deemed racially offensive even more. Please feel free to post your ideas if you can find a more acceptable way to word them.

    –jhf

  7. "As you know, I detest censoring blog comments, but I detest wording that might be deemed racially offensive even more."

    Thank you.

    I posted the second anon comment to flag the first, because I did find it offensive – though it is possible the first person might not have realized what the word meant.

  8. Thanks very much for your truly excellent blog. I've been lurking here for some time.

    I just posted the following Tweet, and I'd be so thankful to hear what you think about this question, if you'd like to answer it:

    #askagent A new author with a successful novel in the Kindle store: Would this make you more or less likely to want to represent that title?

  9. Frankly, it's reassuring to know there are still a few (or more) clunkers out there to make the rest of us look better. There are more than enough fantastic writers out there to help us with our humility.

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