Since apparently it’s query season (no joke – inbox jumped from 99 submissions to 195 in ONE DAY!!!) I thought I’d take a moment to share a few…insights, into what actually annoys me as an agent when wading through the inbox.
So, without further ado…
Top ten query pet-peeves:
1. An email asking about how to submit
Any request for information available on the agency website, including “are you open to submissions?” or “do you accept this kind of material?” is just a waste of my time. I always want to scream back HOW did you find my email, then, if you don’t know how to find the answer to this?!
Avoid unnecessarily emailing agents, period. If your goal is to try and “establish a connection” or be able to write back “per our email conversation,” you’re just shooting yourself in the foot.
2. When I send a response, and get “oh, I already have an agent anyway” back.
Always, always, always (did I say ALWAYS? Yes? WELL AGAIN: ALWAYS!) either notify considering agents or WITHDRAW submissions. YOU should be keeping a log of who you submit to, and even if the agent never requested material, if it’s within his or her response time period (and especially if he or she is the kind who always responds), YOU should have the balls (and pride!) to withdraw your submission if you decide to accept an offer.
3. When I send a response, and get a bitter rant about how stupid I am and how I’m going to lose my job soon anyway and publishing/agent days are numbered and…
Keep your shirt on. Don’t burn bridges, no matter WHAT. Even if the agent IS wrong, even if you DO have another offer, if you don’t have anything nice to say, really, it’s just better not to say anything at all. We are your future colleagues, after all – keep that in mind in all correspondence!
4. Incoherent queries/typos
Spell check, and run your query by a few people. See if they actually understand what you’re saying. I’m not kidding – I get so many queries where I’ve read down two paragraphs and then suddenly realize…wait, what? Even if you have to simplify things to get the point across, do so; save the she loves him but he loves her not her but her who is married to his second removed cousin for the synopsis – “love triangle” or “complicated relationship” does just fine in a query. Even an un-complicated plot can be incoherent in a query if you say it in some high-falutin and unnecessary way.
5. Queries with so much world-building/assumed knowledge I can’t understand the plot
There is nothing more annoying than a bunch of character names I can’t even pronounce in my head. Give them a frikkin nickname, and keep in mind when writing your query that YOU WROTE THIS STORY and I AM SEEING IT FOR THE FIRST TIME.
6. Queries with lots of big paragraphs or tiny font
Short and to the point is best! I understand that you can’t always predict how an email will turn up at the other end, but at least from yours, don’t TRY to make the print tiny just to make it SEEM like a smaller letter. If you have to do that…it’s too long.
7. Clearly cut-and-pasted form letters
If you think you’ve figured out a loophole to that whole personalized letter business with one of those “from looking at your website I thought you’d like…” or “based on your interests, you seem like a good match for…”, you haven’t. It’s better NOT to put any personalizing details in there if they’re vague and washy.
I’m not begrudging you cut-and-pasted letters; not at all. I’m just saying don’t make it OBVIOUS. Take the time to highlight your email and make sure it’s all the same font size and style (and color); it makes a difference.
8. Self-bashing or arrogant statements
Either extreme is annoying, be it “I’m going to sell a MILLION copies!!!!!!!!” to “I appreciate you taking the time out of your busy schedule to read my bad writing.” Things like “your humble servant” or “I know your time is very valuable and I thank you for taking a minute to read this letter” make me feel squidgy. Even if you’re trying to be funny, don’t do it; sarcasm doesn’t usually shine through in a query letter.
9. Unwanted attachments
This applies to pictures and fancy backgrounds in your email, too. Contrary to popular belief, we don’t all have fancy, state-of-the-art query readers. If your email makes my computer freeze…no dice.
10. Copyright notices
I have SERIOUSLY gotten emails that state “All rights reserved. No part of this email may be reproduced without prior written consent from Ivalotta Trustissues.” Admittedly, these are far and few between, but even those blasted copyright symbols with the date next to your work annoy me. They tell me: I don’t actually trust you are a professional and moral person, even if that’s not what you’re saying at all.