Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Two Query Mistakes to Avoid

Every once in a while I do sample critiques of query letters on my blog. Sometimes, I ask for volunteers to submit their work and other times, I’ve held a contest where an edit is the prize. If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you’d have seen these samples and may remember I’ve told writers not to reveal in their query that this is their first novel.

In today’s post, agent Jessica Faust of BookEnds explains the reason you shouldn’t include this information. “Honestly, I wouldn’t divulge any of this information to an agent or editor. Don’t tell me it’s your first novel. That makes the agent immediately think that you’re sending the first writing project to ever come out of your printer — whether that’s the case or not. Writing generally gets better with practice, just like anything else. Perhaps you’re the exception and have penned a classic the first time you sat down to write. It doesn’t matter, because agents and editors have preconceived notions. And you don’t need to give up that information anyway.”

Jessica isn’t the first agent to say this and it probably wasn’t the first time she’s posted about this topic. The point is when you’re contacting agents, you want to put your best foot forward. You want to appear professional and a part of that is showing you’ve done your research. Mentioning this is your first novel or that your novel is complete defeats this purpose. If your novel isn’t complete, you shouldn’t be querying agents because there’s a possibility they’ll request to see your full manuscript immediately. Sure, that doesn’t happen often, but it does happen. And wouldn’t you look silly if you had to come back and say you’d only written the first hundred pages? If the writing is really good, the agent will wait, but you’re risking a lot here. She may lose interest and the initial excitement she had for the book. The trends might change by the time you hand in your manuscript and she may no longer believe she can sell your story. Or, in the meantime, she may have signed a client with a similar idea (or one that’s close enough) and now can’t offer to represent you because of the conflict of interest. Besides, there really is no reason to write your book is complete. You should include a word count, right? Well, how are you supposed to calculate that word count if the novel isn’t done?

Be smart. Do your homework before contacting agents. You’ll get better results if you do.

What are some of the other mistakes writers make when contacting agents?


  1. Great advice, Lynnette :) I've read conflicting advice on this. Both Nathan Bransford and Kristen Nelson over at Pubrants have said 'This is my first novel' is fine, but this is clearly not the case for all agents. And, of course, this comes down to doing your research and making sure your query is personalized for each agent.

  2. Interesting, I never thought about whether or not making mention that this is your first novel would be a bad thing or not.

    Having trolled the agent websites for many moons, I think you need to check with each agent and find out their preferences before you query them. That is always the safest bet.

    Great post.

  3. I think this is solid advice. Even if agents don't cringe at an actual first novel (and from what I've read, most do) --you only have 250 words. Why waste them? Don't have any credits? More room to quote the agent's bon mots from some interview. You know "In your interview with Chuck Sambucchino, you said you're especially fond of WW II historical romance..." They WILL pay attention to that.

  4. The one I've noticed many agents point out as a major no-no is when authors state "My cat/grandma/uncle/mailman says this is my best novel so far." =)

  5. My first thought was the same as Lori's, but now that I think about it, just because they say that's *fine* to say, doesn't mean it was that useful either. Anne's comment made me think of what else I could put in place of that paragraph, when I have no credentials and no prior publications. I suppose that may be a fine time to mention and link your writing blog, just to show that you've made a networking effort. I've heard even if agents don't go to the site, they like to know you have one. Any thoughts?

  6. I have read contradictions to this statement, but I have to agree that it sounds a little unprofessional.

    However, when your "first novel" hits the stands and the professional reviews start in on it, or the publisher does a write up, the first line begins with something like "This is debut author Donna Hole's first published novel . ."

    I imagine though that if the agent does like your concept, they'd probably google your name, or search on Amazon or B & N or something to see if you've published before.

    Just thinking out loud here . . this was a good discussion topic.


  7. I've heard some writer address their queries to "Dear Agent"! Writers need to know exactly who they are submitting to and why.

  8. Lynette, great advice! I did do this with my first novel. It got rejected many times! Maybe not because I said it was my first, but it wasn't ready and sounded like my first. I'll avoid ever saying "this is my first novel" in a query again!

    BTW, you have an award waiting at my blog!

  9. Lori and Corinne: You're right. It all boils down to doing your research first.

    Anne: Great advice!

    Coffeelvnmom: Ack! Yes, that's bad, too.

    Christine: If you're going to direct agents or editors to your blog or website, make sure it's writing related and professional. I've heard of agents who were turned off by negative sites. Even if the writing was good, they didn't think they could work with the writer. If your site is all about your kids or your jewlery making business, don't include it. Just like publishing credits must be relevant, so should your blog/website.

    Donna: There's a big difference between the first novel you've written and the first novel you have published. Even if that ends up begin the same book (which is rare), so much work will have been done to it between the time the agent goes through it, then the editors at the publishing house, and your final revisions.

    Las Vegas Writer: LOL Doesn't seem very personal, does it?

    Maria: Thanks. I'll check it out.

    Lynnette Labelle