During my time reading queries whether for myself or another agent, I’ve seen the same mistakes over and over. Querying is hard and you don’t want to be your own biggest barrier to finding representation. If you’ve done your research these mistakes shouldn’t be a problem. However, many of the authors I see making these mistakes often appear to have not done their research on querying and end up hurting themselves right out of the gate. Remember to always be prepared and well-informed to give yourself the best chance!
Not following submission guidelines. I see this far too often. If an agent says to query them on a specific form or at a specific email, do so. Not following guidelines is an easy way to get your query rejected and possibly not even seen by an agent. Guidelines exist for a reason and going against them will make you stand out, but not for a good reason. Make sure you are pitching agents who represent your genre and age category. Don’t get yourself started off on the wrong foot by not following guidelines.
Pitching agents on social media. This is something I think every agent active on a social media platform experiences at some point and this ties in to the first point. For me it took being open to queries for less than a week for this to happen. The casualness of social media has a tendency for people to forget what is professional and what isn’t. Some authors think pitching an agent on Twitter will push them to the top of the pile or get their story to stand out more. That isn’t the case. If you DM an agent they might not even see your pitch and if they do, they will likely ignore it. Telling an agent about your book on social media unsolicited won’t help you stand out either. If you want to pitch on social media wait for pitch parties.
Word counts that are too high/low. Know the accepted word count for your genre. If you take your writing seriously part of being a writer is knowing your genre, and that includes word count. Fantasy is a big offender in this category. I often see books with word counts that are way to high and make for an easy rejection since the project will need too much editing to get the word count down to industry standard parameters. Don’t give agents a reason to reject you so quickly. And just because some famous author got away with a slightly higher or lower word count doesn’t mean an unknown debut author can get away with it too.
Not writing a standard query letter. By this I mean not following the usual formula in which you give us a short synopsis on your book along with title, word count, and author bio. More times than I’d like I see authors focusing on everything but what the story is about. I find out what inspired the book, why the author thinks they are the next big sensation, how much their family loved it, but no information on what the book is actually about. Other times authors write query letters that are simply way too long. They use the one or two page synopsis instead of a shorter one for the query. Remember to focus on the current book. Don’t waste words telling the agent all about the other books you are working on. We want to know about your current finished book.
Self-publishing to snag a traditional deal. This is a mistake that seems to be on the rise. Due to the success of big name self-publishers scoring traditional book deals, some authors now think self-publishing is the path to traditional success. If you want a traditional book deal, you shouldn’t self-publish. Plan on one or the other. It’s hard to sell already published books unless so many copies are flying off shelves that book publishers can’t help but to take notice. By this I don’t mean a few dozen or hundred copies. I’m talking so many copies that you are about to be or already a bestseller and not just in some obscure Amazon category. Even then some indie authors wait until their next book to snag a deal. If you self-publish do so only if you are certain of it being the right path for your book because the majority of self-published books do not get traditional deals. You hear about the exceptions because they are the exception.