Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Query Mistakes

I’m not going to pretend I’m a master of query letter writing. I have sent out a number of queries in my time. I’ve had short stories published but I suspect it was due to the story rather than my letters. I look back at some of my early queries and I cringe at the mistakes I made.

Once I started a query with, ‘To whom it may concern’. Yes, really.

Failing to read the publisher’s guidelines, I sent out the full manuscript of my 130K epic fantasy... after the 2nd draft. The formatting was all wrong too. Insert face palm.

I was young and clueless back then. I wasn’t a member of any associations or writer’s groups to steer me in the right direction and I thought the internet was something geeks did in the basements of their mother’s homes. Mystery shrouded the publishing industry.

Thank goodness things have changed. There is a plethora of resources on the net and in print on how to write a strong query.

Elana Johnson has written a book, From the Query to the Call. You can get your FREE copy here.

Rachelle Gardner posted a great article recently on 13 ways to screw up your query.

Query Shark goes through weak queries and explains how to improve them

What are some of your query mistakes you’re willing to share? Do you know of other helpful query resources?

Note: This post is part of the A-Z Challenge. To learn more about the challenge click the image on my sidebar.

Thanks: A heart-felt thanks to Melissa Bradley for the Versatile Blogger Award. And to Victoria Dixon for the Sisterhood Award.

Reminder: Please vote for my blog here. I’ve entered it into the bonus People’s Choice Award as part of the Sydney Writers’ Centre Best Australian Blogs Award 2011. My blog is listed under W.I.P It: A Writer’s Journey -- Lynda Young.


erica and christy said...

for my first round of queries (also before i knew anything about the blogging world/writing community/or that anyone else ever really wrote anything that would be submitted at the same time as my work) i wrote in tiny font so it would fit on one page, i sent an email before rereading it four times and found later that the first paragraph was in present tense while the rest was in past....oh, yes. it's true. gah! christy

Maria Papadopoulou said...

I just downloaded Elana's eBook!

As I am a self-published author, I did not have the chance to make query mistakes (of course this may change, if I choose the traditional route at some point). I have heard of the '' My book is so great-you just have to read it'' query mistake though.LOL

Luanne G. Smith said...

I love the brave souls who post their queries on forums and places like Queryshark for others to tear into. It's a learning experience for me to critique other people's queries. After reading a dozen or so you get a feel for what works and what doesn't.

Emily White said...

Oh, I did the "to whom it may concern" mistake once. On the same query, I also quoted from my novel and informed the agent that it was "nearing completion" and part of a series.

Yeah. It was bad.

Emily Rose said...

Thanks for the resources!

Author Joshua Hoyt said...

Queries are so important and truthfully I have only sent one. I think my biggest mistake was sending it before my book was really ready.
I actually listened to a workshop by Elana on queries. It was great.

Old Kitty said...

Matthew MacNish's blog Quintessentially Questionable Query Experiment (phew!!) is a really friendly and helpful place to have your query dissected in a very positive way.

The Writers' and Artists' Yearbook (UK) are also very helpful.

Thanks for these other links - will save them when I get to this stage! LOL!!! If ever!! Oh dear! Take care

Lynda R Young as Elle Cardy said...

Christy, hehe, love the tiny font trick so it fits on the page. It's a shame agents/publishers don't ;)

Maria, hehe. In many ways we have to think our books are genius otherwise why put all our passion into them? We just have to realise that telling someone it's genius won't convince them.

L G Smith, I couldn't do it, but I'm thankful for those who do because I've learnt so much from reading them.

Emily, hehe "nearing completion" is an awesome mistake. Although, I know one Aussie writer who sent in 5 pages and had written nothing else and yet he still managed to gain an advance to complete the novel. His query must have been awesome.

DEZMOND said...

"To whom it may concern" :)))

There's really a book on querying???

I've never asked my publisher how people write queries here in my country, but I know it's not closely as complex as in the west.

Lynda R Young as Elle Cardy said...

Emily Rose, hope they help

Josh, that's a common mistake. It's tempting to get caught up in the excitememnt of finishing a novel. If we instead let it rest a couple of months we will inevitably discover we can improve it some more.

Old Kitty, thanks for those extra helpful resources.

Dezzy, querying is an art in itself ;)

M Pax said...

i have queries for short stories down. :D

Novels not as much. I know I did a fine job with a pitch in person as it got me over hurdle #1 and now I know my idea is one that interests agents and publishers. So, that's good to know.

I've taken workshops on queries, but have not nailed it yet. Obviously. I've only done 5 so far, though.

My 1st one was a disaster, too. Had no idea what I was doing.

Unknown said...

Sadly, I have no query stories. I've never written one. I just enter contests and they don't usually ask you to write one. Cool links though, I'll remember to use them when/if I write a query.

Talei said...

Excellent Q post! I love hearing everyones query stories as I've yet to reach that step. (soon, I hope) Thanks for the useful links too!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the links. I've done practice queries for my writing course. Scary things really. :)

LynNerdKelley said...

My first queries were pathetic. It's much harder than writing a story. I hate the whole submissions process, in fact. That's why I need an agent, but you need to query the agents, too! What's a writer to do? Give it my best shot, get my queries critiqued by my writing peeps. Sounds like a plan. Best of luck to you with your queries!

Susan Fields said...

Already voted - good luck with the People's Choice Award!

I downloaded Elena's book and used it to write my query and it is fabulous! Thanks for the links!

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

You mean mistakes like believing the larger publishers are interested in a writer who has no credits to his name or experience?

Sarah said...

My first query was ridiculously vague and cliched. I had no idea what I was doing. I think the important thing is to make sure your ms is ready to query, listen to feedback, and query in batches so you can course correct.

Patricia JL said...

After reading through query shark posts I went to my first query and was horrified. Since then I have improved and I've been using the challenge to write queries for my stories. Some I like, others I shudder but post anyways and a few I had to leave unfinished because the story was too chaotic.

My advice for queries: Keep practicing. Even if you have a little story you never plan on doing something for, write a query for it. Practice helps and makes perfect.

Katie O'Sullivan said...

I'm working up the courage to start querying again. Love Elana's book - can't wait for her YA debut!

Stephanie Thornton said...

I'm a total nerd- I love writing query letters! It's way easier than writing a 100,000 page novel and editing the heck out of it!

Lynda R Young as Elle Cardy said...

M Pax, well done. That's got to be encouraging.

Clarissa, lucky you :)

Talei, hope they help

Niki, they are. It's because they matter.

LynNerd, your best, informed, shot is all you can do.

Susan, thanks again for the vote. Glad you liked the link.

Lynda R Young as Elle Cardy said...

Alex, hehe yeah that would be a good one ;)

Sarah, yep, exactly right

Patricia, good advice.

Katie, her book isn't far away

Stephanie, hahah you have a point. I think what makes query writing so difficult is that it's so important to get right.

Ellie Garratt said...

I haven't sent a query letter yet but I've bookmarked this post. Thank you for the awesome link!

Ellie Garratt said...

Excellent Q post Will check out that book I 'm sure I've written some horrors but cannot quote anything. :O)

KM Nalle said...

I am query-less at the moment but I'm in the process of revising. Regardless of whether or not I send out the book when I'm done, I think I'll write the query for practice. Great links and resources!

Trisha said...

Congrats on your award!!

Also, re: queries, no matter how careful a person is, sometimes mistakes still get sent out. It's such a painful feeling when you realise what you've done! LOL.

Talli Roland said...

Oh gosh, a few years ago I mixed up the letters and the envelopes and sent the wrong letter to the wrong agent. I got it back in my SASE with a big red slash and 'NOT ME' written across it!

Suze said...

Don't feel so badly about having written 'to whom it may concern.' First, I'm sure you're not in the habit of doing it :), and secondly, how many 'dear authors' come from the other direction? Enough to warrant you not feeling badly about your words!

Carol Riggs said...

Great links, and sigh--wouldn't it be nice to skip all that awkward stuff like bad queries when writers are first starting out? ;o) At least we are learning!

Have a great day, Lynda!

N. R. Williams said...

Just thinking about synopsis or queries makes my brain hurt. I am thrilled I no longer have to suffer through that. I deleted them all.
N. R. Williams, The Treasures of Carmelidrium.

Elizabeth Varadan, Author said...

I downloaded Elana's book and also went to Rachelle Gardner's post. Good shares, both. Thanks!!

Donea Lee said...

I've only sent out a few, but a few form rejections later told me that my queries blew some serious chunks. I think my query-writing crime is that I try to be too chronological and synopsis-y in them.

Have Elana's book, Matthew Rush's QQQE blog is also a good resource, and Shannon Messenger has some great query writing tips on her blog, too!

Jo Schaffer said...

Elana is awesome and helpful. I get to hang with her this weekend. Yay.
Queries still unnerve me though. Haha!

Unknown said...

Oh, the query mistakes! LOL. I once wrote on my query that I had written a novel of 19,000 words, which is essentially 5 chapters. LOL!


I sent the agent a quick note apologising and told her that it was actualy 119,000 words. She replied with a smiley face and asked me to send the full! :o) I'm still waiting for her reply -and praying!

K.C. Woolf said...

I'm so thankful for all the information that's out there nowadays. Query shark is a great resource!

Lynda R Young as Elle Cardy said...

Ellie, hope it helps in the future

Madeleine, glad you liked

Kari, it would make good practise and it also helps revisions to break down your story into a couple of catchy paragraphs.

Trisha, thanks for the congrats. And yes exactly.

Talli, woops. That's one of my biggest fears hehe.

Lynda R Young as Elle Cardy said...

Suze, ah, but they are allowed. They have the power ;)

Carol, yes, it would be awesome ;)

Nancy, hehe yeah but you have a different kind of pressure: all that hard work with solo marketing. I admire anyone who can do it.

Elizabeth, glad you liked them

Donea, thanks for the extra resource places.

Jo, lucky you! :)

D U Okonkwo, hahah and that's an awesome story. Good luck!

K C Woolf, There's so much info out there it was hard to link only a few.

Gujjari said...

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Nice to see you in the A2Z blogging fest.
I am following your blog from now.

Please do stop by my blog and bless me with valuable comments. And if you like, please follow my blog.

With warm welcome,

Lindsay said...

Great post.
I love Elana's ebook. I re-read it before writing each query :)

Lynda R Young as Elle Cardy said...

Gujjari, welcome to my blog. The challenge has been great. I'll definitely pop on over to your blog.

Lindsay, it's certainly a handy thing to have :)