How not to write query letters

More than 20 literary agents have been sent queries for Volve this week, the first time in the book’s long life that I’ve made this kind of effort toward publication.  I finished the third rewrite a couple of weeks ago, and I have a good feeling about this version.  The rewrite tightened up the narrative considerably, and re framed the opening chapters to engage the reader faster, introduce the main characters and their conflicts, and get the plot moving.

One thing I discovered during this query process is that I prefer paper query letters.  If  you mess something up, you can open the envelope and fix it.  Nothing is final until the package is in the mail.  E-mail queries are final as soon as you click “send,” and that can sometimes lead to trouble.

Just for fun, let’s look at some of the screw-ups I made in my e-mail queries.  Sigh.

  • On one query, I forgot to revise the boilerplate language, so even though I included the correct items in the actual query (five pages and a brief author bio), my cover letter says, “enclosed please find a brief synopsis and the first fifty pages.”
  • On another, my subject line says the book is 135,000 words, while the query letter says (correctly) that it’s 130,000 words.

Nothing so bad as addressing an email to the wrong person, but still embarrassing.  I’m hoping neither mistake is severe enough to warrant an automatic rejection.

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