Just like there is more than one way to skin a cat, (side bar: where did that saying come from? I mean really, was there a point in our history where we were skinning cats left and right and were looking for new and better ways to get the job done? Do they mean jungle cats, like for fur? I don't get it. Maybe I'll hit Wikipedia after this...) there are endless ways to write an effective query. There are general rules about what to do, which we all know. What surprises me however, is that there are general rules regarding what not to do, that countless agents have commented on, agreed upon, blogged about, spoken about etc., that are constantly ignored by a huge number of writers. Sure, we all know not to address queries with 'Dear Agent', and not to go on and on for pages, that's amateur hour stuff. What I'm talking about are the things that writers consider to be expected in a query, that agents actually hate. For example, number one:
The phrase 'I am seeking representation...' should appear nowhere in you query. Really folks - nowhere.I mean think about it, why would you put that in there? OF COURSE you are seeking representation, why else would you have sent a literary agent an email with the subject line 'Query'? You have just officially wasted five seconds of this agents time by stating the obvious. Top notch agent Uwe Stender has stated on may occasions that if the words 'I' or 'My' appear anywhere in your query outside of the bio section, he passes on you instantly. 'I am seeking...', 'I have written...', 'My manuscript...' 'I have contacted you...', and the like.
The Fix: Be creative! Show them right off the bat that you are worth your salt! Open with your hook, and work your title, genre and word count into your pitch.
Second mistake: It's okay if you don't have an impressive bio. The last paragraph in your query should be a short bio telling them about your writing experience. No, they don't want to know how many cats you have, no, they don't care that you won the county bake-off last year, and no, they don't want to know the names of all your grandkids. They want your name, where you live, and any relevant writing experience. If you don't have any writing experience, that's okay, just be upfront about it. Many people think that if you don't have a list of books, or a degree in writing, or something impressive, that you will get passed over, and it's just not true. Be honest, and for god's sake, be brief. If your bio section is more than four or five lines, you most likely have a problem.
Third mistake: Not Proofreading. Alright everyone, brace yourselves. I am about to give you one of the best boosts in your confidence that you have probably gotten in quite a while. Ever send out a query with an incorrect name on it? Ever say that you have attached the first chapter then forgot to attach it? Never fear, cuz I am about to top it. For those of you who don't know, my book 'Once Upon A Second Chance' (which was called 'Bibbity, Bobbity, Do-Over during querying) is basically a modern and somewhat whimsical retelling of the classic, Persuasion. The following is the third paragraph of the query letter that went out to 75 potential agents:
Jane Austin’s Persuasion, is one of my all time favorite novels, and it makes me sad that it has taken something of a backseat in the world of classic literature. Bibbity, Bobbity, Do-Over puts a modern yet whimsical spin on Austin’s classic love story, and serves as my personal tribute to that amazing, yet somewhat under-appreciated work.
Did you catch it? Yep, that's right... I misspelled Austen. Not once, but twice. My entire project is inspired by a Jane Austen work, and I can't even spell the woman's name. This letter went out to every... single... agent. Crawl in a hole and die, anyone? What's worse, is this letter was read by my mother, my mother-in-law, my husband, was posted on this very blog under the 'Projects' page for months, and is currently posted in my success story on QueryTracker, and no one has said a thing. So either no one has noticed, or everyone is laughing behind my back, either way, when I realized, I wanted to die. My tummy hurts when I think about how many potential agents may have actually wanted to read my stuff, but got tot hat line and said, "What the hell?..." Not that I am complaining as I have the best agent ever, but still, it's hard to find out that you have made a total ass of yourself.
So there you have it. At the very least I hope I made you feel a bit better about any querying slip-ups you may have made. Remember, there is no such thing as perfect, and any agent who expects it, you don't want to work with anyway.