Querying literary agents has never been harder. If you’re about to enter the query trenches in 2022, keep reading to know the 5 querying mistakes to avoid so you can find representation with the right literary agent for you.
Soooo I’ve been in the query trenches, on and off, since 2018. The first 4 books I queried got no offers. The 5th got two offers of rep in 2020, but I made the difficult decision to part with that literary agency in 2021, and now I’m querying book 6.
With 40-something full requests for book 6 at this point, I know my querying game is on point. But those first 4 books I mentioned? They only got a handful of requests each–and it wasn’t just because I wasn’t a great writer then. It was because I made some really common querying mistakes.
1) Ignoring the agent’s query guidelines
This is, like, super obvious, but you’d be surprised how many writers try to circumvent the usual querying process. If the query guidelines state you need to email them your query letter and 10 pages, and you send the full manuscript and synopsis; or if the agent only accepts queries via Query Manager, but you email them directly… it isn’t looking great for you. This will be the agent’s first impression of you. Make it a good one–show them your attention to detail and professionalism!
2) Using a ‘blah’ subject line
Agents don’t always read queries chronologically. They might read something right away if the subject line catches their eye. For #desiEMMAromcom, my subject line always started with QUERY: [BOOK TITLE] by Swati Hegde, but sometimes I personalized it based on the agent’s MSWL. If they said on Twitter that they’re hungry for rom-coms, I’d mention [Adult Rom-Com] in the subject line after my name. They love Jane Austen? I’d write [Austen-Inspired Rom-Com]. All of the above, PLUS they want to champion diverse voices? [Desi Austen Rom-Com] it is!
I’m pretty sure this is why I received most of my full/partial requests within a week of the initial query. Even if you can’t personalize it the way I did, make sure you at least include the word “query”, plus your book title and your name in the subject line. That’s the bare minimum, according to me.
3) Being rude, ignorant, or straight-up douchey
I’ve heard SO many agents complain about this. No matter how great you think your book is, don’t bash other books in your genre for not being “good enough” or “original enough”, especially not books the agent represents. If you say things like “[Agent Name], you’d be a fool to not request this book!” or “My romance novel is better than your client’s books because…” then you might get a form rejection at best, or no response at worst.
Yes, you need to love your writing–god, I hope you do! But let your query and pages speak for themselves instead of making this querying mistake. Nobody wants a douchey client.
4) Querying before you’re ready
Look, I get how tempting it is to send off 30 queries the day after you type “The End.” But it’s not just your manuscript that needs critique partners, beta readers, and self-edits–it’s your query letter, too. [PS: Click here to read about my query package critique services]
I can hear you asking, “But Swati, how do I know if my book is query-ready?” A good rule of thumb for me is this: if your book were to be published and on display at your favorite bookstore tomorrow, would you be excited and hopeful that people will love it? Or would you feel cringey and awkward?
A lot of agents don’t allow you to re-query the same project, not even if you’ve done extensive revisions. Don’t risk losing your querying chances. Re-read, revise, edit, and only then head to the query trenches.
5) Not having a querying strategy
Going off the previous querying mistake–try not to send out 30 queries at once. Please. Most genres will only have 60-80 reputable agents to choose from, so I always recommend batching your queries. With #desiEMMAromcom, I sent 10 queries at a time, waited for requests, and then sent out the next batch a few weeks later. It’s also best to include not just your “dream”/top-tier agents in batch 1, but also agents with a speedy response time, or those who are known to give personalized feedback.
Coming up with a querying strategy on your own is not easy, which is why I offer 30-min calls where we brainstorm your query list and strategy so you don’t make any of these querying mistakes. Click here to book your call for $79 only.
Well, these were the 5 biggest querying mistakes I see most often. Are there any others you would add? Comment below and tell me.