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Query Mistakes that Won’t Lead to Instant Rejection

I feel like agents (on Twitter and otherwise) love to focus on the mistakes authors make that lead to rejection. And according to hashtags like #100Queries there are a lot.

I’d like to spin this conversation in another direction. I’d like to focus on those mistakes you’ve made, will likely make, and everyone makes and reassure you that, I don’t care. Mistakes happen and, to be honest, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to having done each and every one of these things in my own submissions at some time or another.

  1. Calling an agent by the wrong name. Half the time I don’t even read the Dear Super Agent: line in the query so half the time I won’t even notice. Bonus points though if you address it to the wrong agent and I can see how my competition is.
  2. Sending the wrong manuscript. It happens. We grab the wrong file. For agents who use Query Manager, it’s an easy fix. Simply go back and upload the correct file.
  3. Typos. Have you ever read this blog? Typos happen. All the time.
  4. Querying too early. You realize later, as you’ve learned so much more, that you had no right to query when you did. You weren’t ready and either was your book. So now you know. No biggie. Get yourself and your query into shape and get back out there.
  5. You query the same agent twice for the same book. No matter how careful our records we sometimes get excited and forget that agent already has or had our query or our submission. Okay. Mistakes happen. No biggie. In fact, maybe she’ll fall in love the second time.

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16 comments

  1. I did number 5 a couple of times. When I caught my mistake I immediately sent the agent a note apologizing. I was surprised when both of them responded to let me know it wasn’t a big deal.

    Like you said, mistake happen and it’s good to see we are forgiven for it.

  2. Thank you for your positive spin on things. Your love of agenting and authors always shines through. This post was exactly what I needed today as I am nearing requerying the so, so, so much revised disaster of novel I prematurely sent out nine minths ago. Luckily, I only sent out four before I realized I had no business unleashing it into the wild!

  3. Thank you for your positive take on things. Your love of agenting and authors shines through in every post. This was exactly what I needed to read today as I (think) I am nearing requerying my so, so, so incredibly much revised disaster of a manuscript I queried nine months ago. Luckily, I only sent out four queries before realizing I had no business umleashing it into the wild!

  4. Oh my goodness, you are my dream agent, Jessica. I’m heartbroken that you don’t work with Middle Grade fantasy authors, but this blog is genius, and for it, I am eternally thankful. Could you address the following questions sometime? Rejection letters are ‘soul-lacerating,’ as Isaac Asimov says, but they would be much less so if only one knew WHY one was being rejected. It’s agonizing trying to work out what aspect of your book wasn’t good enough. It would be so helpful if agents could say something like, oh, the plot is too jejeunne for me, or the dialog is flat, etc. An agent once rejected me because I used the word was on the first page, but so did Dickens, for that matter, so did Rowling I wanted but did not say.
    It would be nice to know because then we could make it better.
    The second question deals with the meaning of rejection. I equate rejection with either failure on the one hand, or the final word on the fact that my writing isn’t good enough on the other. Can you comment? What do rejection letters really mean? (Aside from the obvious: your writing is atrocious. Please never approach me again. Ever.)
    Second: do you really like being called Ms. Faust? Wouldn’t you rather be addressed dear Jessica, or is that insulting? I really want to know because after watching your videos, I feel as if we’re friends and it would be ridiculous to address you in such a stuffy manner.
    Then, finally, do agents realize, I mean do you have any idea of the anxiety writers suffer waiting to hear from you? I saw a video showing a young agent complaining about working on her queries when Happy Hour was about to start. It depressed me.
    Thank you so much for this remarkable blog.

    1. Nancy: You are too kind. We have so many great agents seeking middle grade. I think the entire BookEnds team only makes me better so you’d be in good hands with any or all of them.

      I’m going to answer your questions in a blog post. I think they are great. Thank you for sending them. In the meantime, please call me Jessica.

      I know that we at BookEnds understand the anxiety writers suffer. I hope other agents know it as well.

      Thank you again!

      jessica

  5. I was mortified when I recently addressed one agent with a wrong name. I went back to the form, admitted making a mistake, and apologized. I fully expexted never to hear from that agent. But to my surprise, that individual not only accepted my apology, but also asked to pass along partial since the sample pages piqued their interest.

  6. Hello!

    Thank you for this column. I have a question: Most agents request samples pasted into the email, to avoid viruses. Can you please clarify how you’d like these pasted excerpts formatted? If I copy and paste my double-spaced, indented manuscript as is, it sometimes looks funky after sending. Also, the page numbers fall off (headers and footers disappear).

    I’ve read that for readability, agents prefer excerpts/sample chapters copied and pasted into email in plain text, single spaced, with a space between paragraphs. Is this correct? How about page numbers?

    Thank you for any insight.

    Laura

  7. Hi, Jessica:

    This is very helpful information, and it seems like other agents would agree with you. I know I have been guilty of several of your listed items from time to time, so it’s nice to know that we don’t have to be super-perfect and prim and proper and all that jazz.

    I haven’t searched through your blog archives just yet, but do you offer any guidance on mistakes that *could* lead to instant rejection? I’m sure that this is highly subjective, and most of the *standards* have already been well established, but do you have any particular pet peeves? (Also, any juicy secrets about the industry would be more than welcome as well. I’ve been particularly fascinated by the rise of feminist political beliefs and their influence on publishing and wondered if you could weigh in on that?)

    Thanks for posting!

    Thomas

  8. I learn so much from your posts and YouTube videos. I’m the editor for SPAWNews, a monthly online newsletter for small publishers, artists, writers network. I’m putting a link to this blog post in the November issue to calm the nerves of some of our writers. I also posted it on the email list of our writers group, Writers Under the Arch (WUTA). They make themselves crazy, thinking a word over the limit or a typo is an excuse to reject their books. I look forward to submitting a book of my own to you in the not-too-far future too. Thanks for all your good advice.

      1. If you have publishing news you’d like me to add to the newsletter, I’m always happy for that. Or reprints of articles, links, whatever I can do to help. Plus, I can count on you for a good snark now and again!

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