I know you think I’m cool (I’m really not). Or you read something about me that makes you think I’d be the perfect person to have as an agent. But the truth is that if I don’t read and represent the kind of book that you wrote, I’m just going to reject your query. I’m not really sorry about that either. You see, when you have an agent you want them to totally love your work, to get it, to be able to make editorial suggestions to you because you’re on the same page and to go to the ends of the earth to sell it. When someone sends me a thriller, a horror story, paranormal romance, a mystery, I just want to get on a bus, go to their house and shake them! Look on my agency website or this blog to see what I’m looking for! Why can’t you do that? Ok, so I said I might like a cozy mystery, if it was really quirky. Glomming onto the word mystery and sending me your mystery manuscript, when it’s neither quirky nor cozy is just being a dumb-ass.
I know I’m not famous. I know I’m new to this agent game. I know it’s scary to send your work out into the world to be read by someone you don’t know. But you need to at least know my friggin’ name. If you send me a query letter that starts out, “Dear Agent,” “To whom it may concern,” or even worse, just begins by blabbering at me with no salutation at all, I just don’t start out inclined to read whatever’s coming next. Of course the worst thing you can do is open your query letter with, “Dear Michelle.” Or anyone else’s name that isn’t mine. Seriously, people.
3. Being too weird or too familiar
A query letter is a business letter. I’m kind of weird myself, so I have a little bit of room for weirdness. You can be creative in a business letter. But when I get weird queries or ones that I have to take a deep breath and focus focus focus on to understand what they are even saying, I invariably just reject them. I don’t have time for this! I have a gazillion other queries to read! And you know what? I’m not your friend. You don’t know me, no matter what you might have read about me. We might get to be friendly, if I represent you. But for now, just write your query like you’re writing to an insurance company trying to get them to cover something they don’t usually cover. You wouldn’t be cutesy. You wouldn’t start rambling about unrelated things. If you were smart, you wouldn’t try to bully them or threaten them either, because that never works. (You’d be surprised at some of the nasty follow-up e-mails I’ve gotten after I’ve politely rejected someone’s manuscript. And then the writer still thinks I might represent them!)
I’m in this business because I love books and reading, writing and working with writers… I’m not your friend or the enemy and I’m also not a plumber you’re trying to hire. Writers, please do your homework before sending out queries and then be professional and polite.
(This blog post was originally posted here in 2011, but is still absolutely relevant and true.)