Tag Archives: query letter mistakes

Optimizing the Query Process with Fewer Mistakes

Eldest leaves for college tomorrow. We–or should I say, I?–have a ton of checklists to keep us on track. And yet, I’m not overly concerned because a giant Walmart lives four blocks from his dorm and he’s only 45 minutes from home. Even if he forgets his tennis shoes, he or we can easily make the trek–on a weeknight if need be–to get them returned to their rightful owner in a timely manner.

And yet, after years of writing, I can’t help but check my lists to make sure we do this thing right the first time.

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard exasperated, frustrated or terrified cries of, “Oh for the love of all that’s holy, guess what stupid query thing I did now?”

Yep, more than I can count.

So I thought it would behoove us all to remember that move-in day isn’t the time to first start thinking of how to make a smooth transition. Rather, we need to bear certain things in mind long before we show up at the dorm room with only  Doritos, goldfish and pony keg in hand.

The first and only truth of querying is that first time queriers are often impulsive. We’ve worked hard to polish our manuscripts. We’ve researched agents and have A, B and Z lists. We’ve even had our query letter beta-ed, line edited and tweaked to near-Godliness. We’re ready to go.

And so we forget things like our names or the agent’s name. We attach the wrong file or send blanket queries to a thousand and one agents–only to realize we never changed the agent’s name, so Agent Awesome, Super Agent and Agent Incredible all received a query addressed to Dear Mr. Agent.

We hang our heads in shame, climb back into the closet and vow never to query again–or at least not until our pain subsides and we can once again look ourselves in the mirror.

To help curb those last-minute mistakes, keep a checklist close at hand. Because nothing is worse than showing up for the main event ill-prepared. This list can be used for agent or editor submissions, though I use the term agent almost exclusively.

LAST MINUTE CHECKLIST

  • Start by sending only one query at a time, and start each query new. It’s easy to forget that each agent might want a little something different.
  • Go through the checklist with each new query. Until querying becomes second nature, it’s important that you pay close attention to each detail with each new query. Fast fact, the mistakes we make generally occur when we send batches at a time.
  • Check to make sure your agent information is current. Even if you compiled your list two weeks ago, things do change. In fact, agent/editor shuffling might be the only thing in the publishing arena that moves quickly–at least from our point of view–and it does us no good to shoot an email to Uber Agent when he’s been replaced by Agent Incredible.
  • Check the spelling of the agent’s name (and address if snailing it). Nobody likes having her name misspelled and it leaves a bad first impression. In fact, some agents get quite jaded about it over the years. Not that I blame them, as nothing irritates me more than telemarketers massacring my name. Now multiply that by 100 times per day and you’ll understand the importance of getting it right.
  • If you are sending a different query/submission package to each individual agent, double-check the guidelines of the agency and make sure they match the query you are sending. Agents get good at sniffing out blanket submissions. Especially when a query tailored to someone else finds its way into their inboxes.
  • Imbed, paste, attach or collate hard copy sample pages only after you’ve checked and double checked your guidelines. Yes, some agencies still require snail mail submissions and it’s just as important to send the right info to them as it is to e-agents.
  • SASE if snailing it and the agency requires it. The self-addressed stamped envelope is sent so agents can respond with ease. In fact, many agents will leave you hanging forever and ever amen if you don’t provide one for them.
  • If submitting by snail, sign your name. You laugh, but don’t. This is a frequent mistake.
  • Now hit send or hike it down to the post office. Just make sure you have enough postage or your precious letter will never make it to your intended destination.

One of the things I do when researching my agents is create a graph that tells me step by step what to do. It makes it easy to know who gets what, when and how. For example:

  1. Agent Awesome
  2. Address/Agency Info (for snail) or Web Address and email for e-queries
  3. Submission Guidelines (query, query and synopsis, query and 10pp, etc…)
  4. Special Notes (such as attachment directions, credential requests, request for clips, etc…)
  5. Simultaneous or Exclusive Submissions and SASE requests
  6. Time Frame on when to hear back (if this info has been imparted in guidelines)

By combining both lists, I’ve kept my mistakes to a bare minimum. Just like I hope I can do with Eldest tomorrow.

What query/submission mistakes have you made? If you know the outcome of making such a mistake, please share it with us, so we can learn. What things have I forgotten?

Curious minds want to know.

Query Bio Mistakes

While googling my name to see if I ousted famous rodeo star of his search engine slots I ran across an ad for a dating service in my hometown.  On it were three pictures of local singles wanting to hook up with local lurkers lookers.

One pic was of a handsome guy dressed in fancy duds and was likely taken at his BFF’s wedding.  The only problem?  His left side was cut off at the elbow and a feminine arm circled his waist.  Yep, Dating Genius’s pick-up picture had another woman in it.  Barely, but still…

In my writing world, the pick-up picture is our query letter.  It’s our first, and sometimes only, chance we get to land a first date.

We should look good–polished and captivating.  Hot in our tux with our hair styled just right and a crooked grin that makes our whole face light up. 

It’s easy to spiff up our pitch (though some might disagree), and it’s a snap to provide details–42k word,  YA paranormal romance titled You Know You Wanna Read Me.

But sometimes we get tripped up by our bios.  We forget to photo shop our pictures and leave in little details that usually turn off potential dates.

Biography Paragraph Traps 

We’re too handsome for words: My grandmother says it’s the best book she’s ever read.  Ever.  And Granny is the most honest person I know.

We’re drooling like a black lab after pheasant scent: I just wrote the end yesterday and I just know you’ll love it as much as I do, so please read it today and I’ll get back to you tomorrow, oops, that’s me calling now.  TTFN.

We’re Freud’s couch patients: I would be eternally thankful if you would just humble yourself enough to read my lowly book which you probably won’t like anyway because it’s been rejected by every other agent in the world.  But here it is.  If you’re still interested.

We have bigger egos than Arnold Schwarzenegger has biceps: Listen here, Mr. Agent, this is the best book you will ever read.  If you pass on it, you’re missing out on millions.  Millions, I say.  And I won’t be back.

We put the proverbial sock in our trousers so we look better than we actually are: My poem, Willy the Worm, was published in our fourth grade keepsake book from Mrs. Robbins.  I also wrote a letter to the editor of our local farm newspaper about the gestation period of elephants.  Please consider my murder mystery which has no poetry, worms or elephants in it.

We have the Seven Degrees of Kevin Bacon Syndrome: My best friend’s, cousin’s, uncle’s dog was trained at the same facility as the dog owned by the next door neighbor of Suzanne Collins’ pool boy.  (Not that Suzanne even has a pool boy, but if she did, how cool would that be?  For me, not the agent.)

We’re hopelessly all brawn and no brain: Dude, call me.

We could play the leading role in a Stephen King movie: I noticed by the book on your nightstand that you like middle grade fiction.  And since your bathroom had an African theme, I can only assume that you will love my book which is set in the Serengeti.  Oh yeah, and all those old pictures in the photo albums beside your 60″ tv, the ones with your great grandma beside the horse?  Yeah, my novel has an old lady in it too.  And might I add that you looked hot at your sweet sixteen?  Anyway, for your convenience, I left my entire manuscript on your kitchen counter beside the fresh-baked cinnamon rolls (your favorite) and a pot of hazelnut coffee.  PS. I locked the door on my way out.

My advice to you is this: introduce yourself, simply and honestly with relevant information only

I’m an SCBWI member.  My article, “Into the Wild” was published in Boy’s Life (July 2010).  For the past seventeen years I have worked as a guide in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area.  Each summer we take at-risk kids on a two-week trip where they can learn life skills and gain self-esteem.  These experiences are the basis for my adventure novel, Tales of a Teenage Screw Up. 

I look forward to hearing from you,

Bob Good Bio 

What other bad bio mistakes can writers fall victim to?  If you’re brave enough to answer, have you every made any of the above?  I have!