First ten queries out the door, one immediate reply (A mutual friend in the publishing industry recommended I query an agent who isn’t taking new clients, and she kindly replied that she’s forwarding my MS to another agent who might…).

Querying is always a fraught process. Unless the agent has an e-form on their website (and a few still accept old-school paper submissions), the format is nearly always the same: date, agent’s information, salutation, the query itself, and whatever enclosures/attachments each agent prefers. Pretty standard stuff.

But even if you, the writer, have spent months, years, workshopping, editing, proofreading, or otherwise perfecting your MS (to the extent that’s possible–i.e., it isn’t), the possibility remains that your query will drag your entire project down, anyway. How many ways are there to botch the job? I hope I’ll never know, but I can provide examples of missteps I made in the past:

  • Typos: Anywhere, of any kind, but especially those involving the agent or their agency’s name. Anywhere, really. Won’t even mention typos in the MS, because if you still have those, you weren’t really ready to query in the first place.
  • Haste.01: Is your query as well-written as your MS? I saved a few queries from my first novel years ago and they’re… not great. If I were an agent, I would’ve passed on them, too. I did get better as the weeks wore on but by then I’d burned through Agents 1-50 on my Most Wanted list. Maybe there’s a strategy: query the bottom third of your list first to work out the kinks. Or maybe just get it right from the start.
  • Haste.02: Simultaneous queries are a matter of carefully cutting-and-pasting–usually fine, except it’s crucial to make all the little adjustments that personalize it for each agent. Cite other authors/books in the agent’s stable that resemble or compliment yours. And enclosing the first ten pages of your MS–exactly as the agent requested–but forgetting to change the sentence from a previous query stating that you’ve enclosed two full chapters looks sloppy.

Author Carrisa Taylor has helpfully assembled a large spreadsheet of successful query letters:

Useful to see how other writers got their foot (feet? Feetses?) in the door. Some of these letters are first-rate, while others are really odd, but they all worked. Invest the time and effort to put the right query in front of the right agent and yours might, too. I think I have it down this time, but only time will tell…

Back to work. Queries to send.