QueryTracker Blog

Helping Authors Find Literary Agents

Monday, March 23, 2015

Query Lessons Learned the Hard Way

This is a continuation of our series on queries and the query process.

So this is the post where everyone gets a good laugh at my expense. And it’s also the post where it becomes clear that despite stepping in it a few times, you can still get an agent.

In my previous post, I described how I broke down my query and why I included what I did. But I did not include my blunders, because who would do such a thing publicly? Um, right.

It goes like this…

Dear Ms. – Before I sent out my first batch of queries, I asked a couple of agents who were my alumni to evaluate my query and give me their honest opinions. I didn’t know this wasn’t usual, and wrapped in my blissful ignorance, I sent out casual emails to people starting with “Hi!” and “Hey!” I can feel you all cringing for me already.

I had no idea that I was supposed to start emails to literary industry folks with Dear Ms. and Mr. I work in entertainment, and all of our emails resemble texts. So I rightfully got an email back saying, “I dislike the expression ‘reach out,’ emails that start ‘Hi’ and being addressed by my first name by someone I don't know. There's brutal honesty.” Needless to say, I never did that again. In fact, even when I write emails to my mother now, I question how I should address her.

Grammar Police – I know it’s captain obvious to double-check your grammar before you send out a query. I did. All my commas where in tip top shape. But, I made one critical error and got this response, “I'll get over my initial winces at ‘hung’ for ‘hanged’ and read your query letter.” Yes, my book is called How to Hang a Witch. And yes, this mistake was not only repeated in my query three or four times, but it was in my MS about a gazillion times.

With my tail between my legs I learned that people are never hung; they are hanged. I also learned that it is worth it to find a couple of grammar whiz friends and run important things by them.

Format Shmormat – When I got my first full request, I almost fainted from delight. I jumped in the air, clicked my heels together, and pressed send. Surprisingly, even though query dos and don’ts are addressed everywhere on the interwebs, the format used when sending a full or partial is not. I sent mine single-spaced with no title page. Nuff said.

The sound of my forehead hitting my desk could be heard down the block. But, despite all of this brouhaha, my request rates were good. And I’m not sorry I made these mistakes. I’m actually really glad I did. They taught me right up front that there are all kinds of things about querying and the literary industry that I don’t know that I don’t know. Because of these blunders, I joined writing groups and developed a whole network of knowledgeable people who would ultimately save me from myself.

If you have any embarrassing query experiences that you feel like airing out, please share! 

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