How NOT To Query

June 23, 2020 4 min read


Guest post by author @StephanJHahn.

I am no expert in the art of the query letter. In fact, I’m deep in the trenches of a war that I don’t even want to be fighting with all the people I don’t want to be fighting with.

I recently finished an epic fantasy manuscript and I thought to myself:I’m going to be a traditionally published author. How hard can it possibly be?

How hard indeed.

You might be thinking to yourself, why would I listen to someone who is not an expert in query letters? The reason is threefold.

For one, this is a guide of what NOT to do when writing a query letter. So, I am telling you all the things that are contributing to my failure. Secondly, as of yet, I am undefeated in not getting a literary agent. And third, I have a witty sarcastic way of explaining things that makes you want to read more.

For these reasons I feel I am uniquely qualified to tell you what doesn’t work, or at least what hasn’t worked for me so that I can spare you at least a little pain and suffering.

5 Things To AVOID When Querying

1. Changing Your Query Letter 

Now, don’t get me wrong. You need to tweak your query letter to continually make it better. Especially if it is not getting any requests.

What you need to avoid is obsessively changing it.

It is hard enough to boil your 100,000-word novel down into 250 words, but it is even harder to do it multiple times. Every time you change it, you are putting more work into something you have already done.

Try to perfect what you have instead of completely altering it. Try to say what you’re already saying with a little more pizzazz.

2. Querying Everyone At Once 

You see this included in every query guide, but I feel it is more relevant now than ever. The more I talk to other authors, the more I see the CNR (Closed No Response).

Even in my own query attempts, I have noticed that not responding seems to be the new norm (it almost makes me miss the form rejection). You have to ping a few agents with your query and see the response.
You are always going to get some form rejections, but if you are finding that ALL of your queries are coming back form rejection or CNR then you need to regroup and rewrite.
If you have queried all 700 agents on your list with a bad query, who is left to send the revised version?

3. Thinking Every Form Rejection is a Form Rejection 

The form rejection is the easiest and most common rejection. It is just that: a premade email template literary agents will reply with instead of a personal email with feedback.

And you can’t really blame them; could you imagine giving personal feedback for hundreds of emails every day?

When you get a form rejection you need to read between the lines. Something about your query didn’t incite a fire within the agents you are querying.

Keep going over it to figure out how you can make it more irresistible. Or better yet, get new eyes on it. The more people who look at it, the better it will become.

* Please reference point 1 before you revise too much.

4. Take Rejections Personally 

Nothing is worse than taking every single rejection personally. There are many reasons why an agent may not be interested in your manuscript.

The truth of the matter is that most of those reasons are out of your hands. I mean, think about it. No matter how well you research you will never know what is in the mind of another person at any given time.

Your manuscript can be absolutely loathed by one person and loved by another. You just have to find the ones who love it.

* Please see point 5 coming up shortly.

5. Forgetting to Relax and Breathe 

This one is at the end because it is the most important one. This is the one that you need to remember above everything else.

There are many reasons for agents to decline to represent your manuscript. Maybe it is not the right genre or trends at the time are not correct.

It also comes down to personal taste. If they don’t absolutely love your manuscript, how can they absolutely champion it for you? Do you really want someone representing you half-heartedly?

Personally, I don’t plan to stop until I have exhausted every method of getting published. This is your dream, and you need to pursue it with a clear head.

Just relax. Breathe. Brew another cup of coffee (or tea if you’re a monster) and send out a few more letters.

Your time will come.

    Want query letter feedback from a professional? Book a 1-on-1 meeting with our experts.

    Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash.

    Leave a comment

    Comments will be approved before showing up.

    Also in So You Want to Write? Blog

    9 Ways to Market Your First Book
    9 Ways to Market Your First Book

    May 30, 2024 6 min read

    Have you ever wondered why some first-time authors gain a lot of attention while others don't? The secret often lies in how well they market their books.

    For new authors, getting the hang of marketing can make a big difference. Having a solid plan to promote your book can really boost its success.

    Read More
    4 Essential Tips for Marketing Nonfiction Books
    4 Essential Tips for Marketing Nonfiction Books

    January 31, 2023 5 min read

    Read More
    How to Build an Author Platform to Market Your Work
    How to Build an Author Platform to Market Your Work

    November 07, 2022 4 min read

    Here's how to build an author platform that attracts readers that will buy your book(s).
    Read More