Sunday, February 15, 2009

Because you asked for it: a compilation of today's live-Twittered queries.

This afternoon, in an effort to educate some of the folks who follow me on Twitter about what it is that causes an agent to stop reading a query and reject it, I did a series of 20 live-Twittered query reads. In essence, I talked about what went wrong as I was reading that ultimately caused me to reject a particular query. A lot of folks asked me to compile them in one place. Here you go. I hope that some of you find this helpful:
Query #1: Writer spends six paragraph telling me about his previously published book, not the one he's querying about. Reject.

Query #2: 1st paragraph talks only about the multiple themes in the book. There is no second paragraph. Reject.

Query #3: Great opening paragraph, strong hook. Unfortunately, writer didn't follow sub guidelines. Ask her to re-query with pages & synop.

Query #4: Also did not follow sub guidelines. First paragraph talks about writer's self-published book. No pitch at all. Reject.

Query #5: Followed sub guidelines. Good first paragraph. Writing sample badly over-written. Reject.

Query #6: Didn't follow sub guidelines. Misspelled my name. No pages. Reject.

Query #7: Followed sub guidelines. Good pitch, great hook. Not a genre I'm interested in, however. Refer to colleague at FinePrint.

Query #8: Great query, but book is too similar to something I already represent. Personalized rejection, ask to see other work.

Query #9: Didn't follow sub guidelines, doesn't tell me what the book is about, spends four paragraphs on his Army career. Reject.

Query #10: No salutation. Two paragraphs about theme and philosophy of book. No actual plot, however. And no pages. Reject.

Query #11: One meandering paragraph, each sentence separated by ellipses. Reject.

Query #12: No salutation (again). No actual query, either. Just the first three pages from the book. Reject.

Query #13: YA fantasy, 175,000 words. Reject with educational note about word counts.

Query #14: Query for illustrated children's book, which I don't handle. Submission guidelines would have told him this. Reject.

Query #15: Query for Christian fiction, which I don't handle. Again, my submission guidelines would have saved her the trouble. Reject.

Query #16: This query was cc'd to multiple agents. Reject. You just shot yourself in the foot, dude.

Query #17: Unsolicited attachment. Delete without reading further. This one won't event get the courtesy of a rejection.

Query #18: No salutation. (Sensing a theme here.) Text is formatted in multiple colors and font sizes. Hurt my eyes. Reject.

Query #19: Another unsolicited attachment. Another query deleted without being read.

Query #20: Loves me. Loves my blog. Has MFA. Won contest I've never heard of. Three paragraphs in and it's still not a query letter. Reject.


Eva Ulian said...

Do you consider ATTN: Ms Colleen Lindsay a salutation?

If a novel talks about religion in a way that a Christian Agent would feel uncomfortable, would you handle it?

Love to hear from you.

Anonymous said...

You always hear that a good query will grab the attention of the agent, but I didn't know the amount of incompetence was that high. Gives me hope.


Amy Nathan said...

Great to read the rejection why's without all the fluff around it. Straight to the point goes straight to my memory bank.

clindsay said...

Eva -

Generally, "Attention: Person's Name" isn't really a salutation. I prefer the plain old "Dear Colleen" or even (if you must use honorifics} "Dear Ms. Lindsay" or "Dear Miss Lindsay".

I don't mind novels that talk about religion, as I've mentioned here before. That's not the same thing as Christian fiction.

Anonymous 5:56:

A good query will great my attention. Which is why I keep reading them.

Amy -

Glad you found it helpful. Sometimes short and to the point works best.

J. M. Strother said...

I did not see your tweets, so I'm glad you did a recap here. This is useful stuff. I am a little stunned at the "creative" ways people find to get rejected. Nothing but ellipses. Colored fonts! Whoa.

Was encouraging to see that you gave the good ones that did not match your requirements referrals to agents who might be better matches. That is very nice.

andrewkaye said...

So six of these 20 queries didn't follow your submission guidelines.

I'm frequently amazed at how many people ignore or simply can't be bothered with this sort of thing. I mean, these people want to get an agent, right? Why would they go about it in such a careless manner?

Lisa said...

With all the talk lately about agents seeing an increased number of queries, I've been wondering about the percentage of incoming queries that even stand a chance -- meaning they are professionally written, well thought out queries for a decently written book in a genre the agent represents. From your list of 20, I count 2 that might fall into that category -- 3 if if we count #3 who didn't follow your guidelines and include pages and synopsis. 2 or 3 out of 20 -- is that about the usual ratio lately?

Anthony said...

The lack of professionalism with some of these is astounding.

How rude. Personally, it would drive me crazy. You are a more tolerant person than I.

Vieva said...

This is my competition?

This scares me for two reasons: One, that they're that bad.

and two, that I haven't gotten past the door yet. *wry grin*

I hope the quality of your slush picks up - that sounds dreadful!

*scurries off to make sure she did a salutation*

Melissa said...

Thanks for doing this! Very informative. Now I feel like I have a leg up over the competition just because I use a salutation. Now to just work on the writing... ;)

Jen said...


Thanks for the recap. It was sad and hilarious all at the same time.

If those queries landed in my inbox, my desk would have a dent in it exactly the same size as my forehead. Glad to know there are a few gems amidst it all to make it worth your while to keep slogging through.

As Anon 5:56 says, it gives one hope.

Ann Victor said...

This was GREAT! Sort of like agent stream of consciousness!! :)

Colleen, there was an interesting line in your response to one of the comments: "I don't mind novels that talk about religion, as I've mentioned here before. That's not the same thing as Christian fiction."

Could you talk about that some more please? I must have missed that post - I had in in my head that you don't do religion, period.

gary gibson said...

I remember a chap in one writing workshop who liked to draw pictures of puppy dogs and sunshine in crayon on every page of his manuscripts. I asked him why, and he said it was because it would make his story really stand out. Jeez.

gary gibson said...

Actually, there's another point made by some other people here in the comments. For years before I started selling books, I'd constantly encounter doomsayers who'd point out that most agents and publishers received a deluge of submissions every week, meaning the chances of emerging from the slush were minimal to zero.

This naturally worried me greatly until I realised (having by then participated in several workshops) that a lot of those unsolicited manuscripts came from people who'd have trouble remembering their own name.

There's a website called set up by one publisher which allows people to upload their unpublished manuscripts and rate each other, the ones scoring the highest getting read by an editor. Which all sounds fine and dandy, except I signed up just to take a look at some of the submissions, given that it's pretty much the only way to experience a genuine slush pile without actually stepping into an agent or editor's office.

Anyone with even a smidgen of writing ability who's convinced themselves they'll drown in a sea of slush and never be noticed will come away from with a warm, comfy glow, since most of the time you only need to look at the first paragraph of pretty much anything uploaded there to understand why a lot of novels are rejected on the basis of the first paragraph alone. Or the first word. Or even the first crayon drawing of happy bunnies and sunshine to make the editor/agent feel good.

notanotherexit said...

This was good to see--an easy way to see what kind of mistakes might be made (like blithering on and not getting to the story) and a good reminder to do our homework.

Thank you for taking the time to do this, and for sharing it here in the blog for those of us still working up to get over Twitterphobia.

Anonymous said...

Could you please expand a little on what you mean by 'over written'?

ciarcullen said...

I read this and wonder what's taking me so long to submit? Salutation--I has one. Fonts--I has only one. Point, check. Story, check. Attachments, button missing on keyboard. Do people really do this stuff?

Sherry Ficklin said...


I also scurried to make sure I didn't make these rookie mistakes.
LOL! I think we're in the clear...

Jolie said...

Oh, I LOVE when agents live-blog and live-Twitter their query reading. It's like reality TV, only good.

And it makes me sad for you, but optimistic for myself. I KNOW I can do better than this.

ryan field said...

Reading so many queries would freak me out. So many people seem so uniformed.

Kristin Laughtin said...

I love when agents post quick and real examples of why they reject certain queries. It makes the things not to do stick in my head all the more, helping me create a mental checklist. And as several others have said, it's somewhat comforting to know that although there are a LOT of queries out there, a good portion will be discarded because they didn't follow simple guidelines.

laughingwolf said...

lot of twits on twitter, seems to me :(

Jeffrey L Riffe said...

*takes notes*

Interesting to see how people screw up the process that is so essential in getting published.

S. E. Ward said...

Am I the only one curious about #8?

Anna Lefler said...

It's comforting to know that, even when I receive a rejection, I wasn't the person who filled the query envelope with glitter and doused it with Hai Karate for "extra luck."


I'm enjoying your tweets!

Ulysses said...

Thanks for this. It's nice to know that with a little bit of effort I could rise into the top 10% of the query pile.

Jeffrey Hite said...

Thank you for this. I find this kind of thing fascinating. I know that it is said that men don't read instructions well, my wife will attest to this being true with me. I wonder how many of the queries that fail are from men vs. women. Not that it matters all that much, just an interesting point. Thank you for taking the time to do this for those of us who plan to ever publish.