Queries, live-Twittered, and the outcome

Literary agent Colleen Lindsay gave her Twitter followers a peek into her inbox full of queries this afternoon. (For those of you who don’t know about Twitter, check it out here. I’m emccullough if you’d like to follow me.)

For the benefit of writers hoping to improve their pitch, Ms. Lindsay quickly went through 20 queries and noted the outcome of each. See if you can detect a pattern:

Okay, let’s live-Twitter some queries:

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 childrens 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. (Sending 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.

Okay, that’s enough. I think y’all get the point. Number one offense in most queries is failure to follow submission guidelines.

To sum up:

  • Eight of the queries did not actually pitch the author’s book;
  • Seven of the queries did not follow Ms. Lindsay’s submission guidelines, including two queries for genres she doesn’t represent;
  • A couple of emails included unsolicited attachments and were deleted without being read;
  • Three queries were strong and received (1) a request for re-submission, (2) a referral to a colleague, (3) a personalized rejection. These were the strong queries. These are good outcomes!
  • A couple were just loopy (E.g., 175,000 words is about 700 pages. Seen many 700-page YA novels lately?).

So that’s what you’re up against if you’re pitching your book to an agent. Be encouraged! If you write a strong letter (there are a ton of guides and discussion boards for how to do that; Google “query letters”) and follow the agent’s guidelines, you’re ahead of 75% of your competition! This is the easy part! This is before your book is even under consideration. If you’ve written the best book you can write, don’t let yourself down with a weak query.


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  1. […] devil, Screwtape, instructing a novice demon, Wormwood, on how to tempt a Christian man away Queries, live-Twittered, and the outcome – cvillewords.com 02/15/2009 Literary agent Colleen Lindsay gave her Twitter followers a peek into […]

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