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The Seven Deadly Sins of Querying

YA Highway contributor Kody Keplinger joins us from Teens Writing for Teens, a spectacular blog crafted by talented teenage writers. For more about Kody, visit our Who We Are page.

So, I’m a query junkie. In a strange way, now that I have an agent, I miss writing queries. They were fun (to me at least), and I still love working with them. I love everything about the query-process because it truly did wonders for me.

So, to help out my fellow writers, I’ve composed a list of 7 No-Nos in querying. Some come from personal experience. Some come from the experiences of others. Some are just things I’ve picked up from industry blogs and such. Either way, they might help you out a bit, so take a look.

Sin #1: Mass Querying

I won’t lie. This has worked for some, but I know a number of people who have found mass querying (i.e. querying EVERYONE in the biz at once) to be their down fall. When you send out 50 queries at once, you run the risk of having 50 agents reject you. That’s 50 agents you can’t resubmit to. That’s 50 agents who could have LOVED your work if you’d just taken the time to get advice along the way.

Better solution: Send out like 5 or 10 letters. Once you get some feedback on a few of those, take the advice and work on the book or query letter a bit. Then try 5 or so more agents. This gives you a chance to improve as you go rather than messing up your chances with 50 agents at the same time. I know it’s hard to be patient, but slow and steady wins the race, baby!

Sin #2: Sending Out Your First Draft Query

Okay, I’m going to tell you the truth, and it might hurt. Chances are, the first draft of your query letter kind of sucks. There are a few miracle exceptions out there, but I, for one, most certainly wasn’t in that category. My first draft was horrible.

So, once you have a draft you feel decent about, I’d suggest showing it to people. Getting feedback. Revise, revise, revise!!! Remember, this letter is an agent’s first impression of you. You might have an amazing book, but if your letter doesn’t convey this, you’re kind of screwed. So get tons of advice on the letter first, and THEN send it out. Make sure it is pretty and shiny! I think mine went through 5 major rewrites before I started mailing it off.

Sin #3: Querying Unfinished Work

I’ve faced this temptation in the past. You have a pretty query letter and you’re almost done with the book, and you just want to test the waters, right? See if you get responses. No biggie…

I know it is tempting, but trust me, this is a no-no. First of all, agents don’t particularly like it when you query them for a work-in-progress. Second, doing this will not give you a chance to fix your book up! What if the agent wants the full manuscript right from the query? Well, then you have to scramble to finish your novel in a timely manner, leaving no time to revise. Eek!
It’s tempting, but don’t do it. Just don’t.

Sin #4: Querying At Random

Do your research, kids. Don’t just send letters to agents without studying them a bit. Now, this is not to say you need to have read every book they’ve ever represented. That’s not necessary, but check their genres. Check their submission requirements. Know what they want and make a good impression.

I found my agent randomly. She was on a list of agents a friend of mine sent me. I knew very little about her, but I googled. Good reputation—check. Represents YA—check. Takes email queries—check. Then I looked up her submission requirements. Hey! Look there! No sample pages. Good thing I took a look, huh? You want the agent to know you know what you’re doing. Don’t send them at random, kids. Bad idea.

Sin #5: Singing Your Own Praises

While it might help to compare your book to others in your genre to give an agent a sense of your style, don’t tell them that you’re book is “the next Catcher in the Rye.” Don’t pull the, “Oh, I’m awesome and will make you tons of money!!” trick. It fails. I promise. Agents hear that stuff all the time, and it isn’t often that it is true. Confidence is good, but singing your own praises kind of makes you sound like a jerk. You aren’t a jerk, I assume, so don’t give off that impression. You want the agent to think, “Oh, this person has a cool book and seems really cool.” Not, “Oh, this person is arrogant. No thanks.”

Think about what you say in queries. Another good reason to REVISE them!

Sin #6: Lack of Personalization

Every agent I’ve ever read about has stated that they don’t even look at queries that aren’t personalized. This means, don’t write “Dear Agent” or “To Whom It May Concern” on your query. This makes the agent think you’ve committed Sin #1 (see above) in conjunction with Sin #4 (also above.) Agents want to know you did research. The best way to demonstrate this is by personalizing your query letter. Get their name—and spell it correctly! This will be a big help, I assure you.

Sin #7: Asking for Recommendations

I know this process is tough. I know it can get really tiring. I know that when you have agented friends, you just wish they could help you out. But don’t ask them to recommend you to their agent. Please, please don’t.

I’ve had 2 people do this to me. It is incredibly uncomfortable for the writer, and I promise that it probably won’t help you anyway. If an agent ASKS their client for recommendations, then that’s one thing, but I, personally, don’t feel comfortable just saying, “Oh, hey, I have a friend….” It isn’t very professional. And asking a writer—even if they are your friend—is very insensitive.

This also applies in smaller situations. If you have a query out with your friend’s agent, don’t ask your friend to “put in a good word.” It not only makes your writer friend feel used, but it also comes off a bit desperate. You can get an amazing agent on your own! You don’t need to rely on others because you can do it! It takes time, I know, but knowing you did it on your own merit is worth the stress in the end.

No one recommended me.

And, hey, even if they did, it still takes work. A good friend of mine got a request from an agent through a fellow author who had recommended them. This girl didn’t ASK for a recommendation, but was, of course, flattered. Even with that recommendation, though, she had to go through the submission process for her material. It wasn’t an automatic contract. It just doesn’t work that way. You still need to put in the effort, even if someone does decide to recommend you.

I think that is all, kiddos. The Seven Deadly Sins of querying. Hope you found this a tad bit helpful!

--Kody Keplinger
Kirsten Hubbard

Kirsten is the author of Like Mandarin, Wanderlove, and the middle grade novel Watch the Sky.

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  1. Great post, Kody! This advice is all awesome :)

  2. I'm not so sure about the mass querying sin D:

    I've been querying in stages only because of time-constraints, but even if I had done it on purpose, it wouldn't help. I have sent 19 queries so far, with only 5 responses (all rejections) and not one of those rejections had any information that would help me change the letter or the book to be better.

    Maybe this means that, overall, I'm not a good enough writer yet, but to someone in my situation, mass querying seems to be my only hope...

  3. Great post, Kody. Can't wait to read "The Duff" when it comes out.

  4. Interesting points you make on asking for recs from writer friends. I didn't do that for my first novel (which was agented, but not sold) because I didn't know any other writers then! But I did ask other people I know who were in the entertainment business if they had recommendations, etc. and I got a few referrals that way. Though no offers! I do agree though that it makes the writer feel uncomfortable because taste is so different and unique. I'm comfortable with it only if I the writer asking for one is a very good friend, I have read the book, know it's great and know my agent could be a good fit. But those are a lot of ifs and rarely do they ever align.

    And, like you, I have found that most of the agent success stories come from blind queries. My current agent I found by sending an email query, as you did.

    I will add that as writers do their research, see if you can find a reasonable connection. I.e. if you are a college graduate and an agent you are interested in also went to the same school, be sure to mention that in your query. That's helpful and shows you did your research and there's often the alumn feel good factor. It won't win you representation by itself but it might get you a read.

  5. Great post Kody!

    In addition to sin #1, writers should beware of mass querying multiple agents at the same time. I hate opening a query that I can see has been sent to 58 other agents including 5 at my own agency.

    Along the lines with sin #7, writers should also be wary of replying back to an agent who rejected them asking for recommendations of who else to query. If I read something awesome that's not right for me, but I know an agent who might like it, I'll tell the writer. Otherwise, the writer is better off doing the research and querying elsewhere.

    Christopher, I'm not sure how long you've had to wait, but patience and persistence are two of the most important qualities writers have to have. It sucks, but waiting is something that continues through the process until the very end! Chances are if you're getting form rejections you need to modify your query and re-draft.

  6. Yay! Glad to hear I was on point, Suzie!!

  7. Kody, this was so good!! Really really important points. I committed super duper double sin when I mass queried my first draft, and I mean MASS haha.

    It was after you suggested that I send out very few at a time that I got the lovely Ms. Joanna. So, thanks for that ;)


  8. Awesome post Kody M. . .err wait just Keplinger hehe. Amazing advice and insight as always!

  9. Amy - Baaaaaah!

    Amanda - Haha. Yeah...I wanted to be Kody Mekell Keplinger, but no one listens, so I"m Kody Keplinger on all sites I just dropped the middle name. Sorry to confuzzle! And thanks!!

  10. Aww, I liked Mekell... *moment of silence for Mekell* <3

    Awesome post girl. I remember when you thought I was about to ask for a rec of some sort on FB CHAT, but I never was, I promise! Lol :)

  11. Haha. I don't remember that, Emilia!!!! OMG, did I really think that?

  12. Let's see how these correlate to the real Seven Deadly.

    #1 is definitely Gluttony. also Greed.
    I think #3 might be Lust. #7 too.
    #7 can also be envy.
    #5 is Pride for sure.

    Sloth could be #2, #3, #4, #6 and #7.

    Can anyone do better?

  13. Very awesome post, Kody! Great points that should be taken seriously :)

  14. Super informative to someone beginning to think about writing the first draft of her query - thanks :)

  15. You are wise beyond your years, Kody. These are EXCELLENT points for writers to heed. And if more writers did take note, agents would have an easier job as well!

  16. Amazingly on-point post, Kody!

    And Christopher--the lack of constructive feedback is ALSO a form of feedback in a way. If absolutely no one is giving you any advice, your query probably just isn't working (that doesn't mean your story isn't!). Revise and redraft and dive back in.

  17. A number of authors (e.g. Lisa McMann) have queried agents and included the first couple of pages even though the agent requested query only. Just make sure it's only a couple of pages and it's pasted after the query and not attached. They won't reject you just because you did that.


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Item Reviewed: The Seven Deadly Sins of Querying Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Kirsten Hubbard