A few weeks ago, several agents took part in #queryfail day – a twitter-driven campaign that saw the agents revealing some of the worst queries (book proposals from authors) they had received.

“Like my protagonist, I definitely could be described as overachiever, and I naturally have hair like Lady Godiva.” #queryfail

Diana Fox

Here’s a big #queryfail: Telling me that U need your book to be published in 6 months. Nope. If you need it that quickly, then self-publish

Greg Daniel

And one of the best:

I have been queried via email by a man writing as [redacted], whose email ID says [redacted]–so I’m not really sure who he actually is. He has queried me at least once a month since November for an adult historical novel–the same novel in every query.

In November and December I sent him form rejections, which state clearly that I only represent children’s books and outline my submission policy. After that, I just deleted his inquiries.

I just got another, and this time I sent him a firm reply asking him to remove me from his email list and stating how many times I’d heard from him already.

This is what I got back:

“I know you would like to be left alone. But you are a literary agent, and I have a job to do. And I do apologize for any future queries that you must receive.

“But until [my novel] is published, you will be queried.”

Editorial Anonymous

I thought it was all pretty funny (and a hell of a learning experience for when I finally start querying agents and publishers), but it certainly did seem like the agents weren’t aware that their shit stinks just as much as the rest of us.

Some people, apparently, failed to see the humour in all of it.

[W]hen agent Jessica Faust decided to give writers a forum for their fury, asking for examples of agents failing authors, she was greeted with an outpouring of bile from hundreds of writers that went on for days.

“Take yourselves off the pedastals [sic] you stand on and stop acting like we should feel privileged that you allow us to bow and scrape to gain your attention. Without us, you would have no product to sell, therefore no income. To say it very plainly, without us you are nothing,” posted one frustrated writer (anonymously – it was interesting that, probably fearful their complaints could make it harder to get book deals, almost all of the commentators posted anonymously). “Reply with more than one freaking line via email that says something like, ‘I didn’t really care for the male characters’. I mean, a rejection is OK, but, after all that time (and $$$ in postage for 300 plus pages!!!), I thought I deserved a bit more. i won’t be querying her again,” wrote another.

Writers were most upset by the lack of response from agents (“It takes months if not years to write a novel…and what… a whole twenty seconds to send a rejection form letter?” wrote Evenstarr1); many weren’t asking for a personalised response, just the acknowledgement that their submission had been received, which seems fair enough.

But I couldn’t take seriously the complaints of two writers who were cross about having to write quality query letters (“please stop acting like they are the most important part of a submission. It’s advertising copy – and no guarantee that the author can pen a solid 100,000 word book,” said one, while the other argued that “just because we cant write a good query letter doesn’t mean we cant write a good book”). You’ve spent months, probably years, on your manuscript – it’s worth taking the time to make sure it gets the best chance of being read.


Uh… lighten up, people? Besides, it’s not like they don’t also point out the good stuff. Colleen Lindsay (who spearheaded #queryfail day) recently posted this on her twitter:

A (non-Fineprint) agent colleague just forwarded me an amazing query, and I had to request the manuscript. (Yes, we do all talk about you.)

The other agent knew I’d fall in love with the writing. And she was right!

So, uh, the lesson learned is that, if you’re serious about getting published, don’t write a shitty query. Could the agents have been a bit more tactful? Maybe. But the simple fact is that if you don’t follow the rules, if you’re arrogant, if you’re inarticulate, if you’re trying to completely rip off another author, you’re probably going to get laughed at. If you write a good, honest query about a well-written novel, you’re probably going to be taken seriously. The power’s in the hands on the writer, so what’s all the bellyaching about?

Learn to love #queryfail, because it’ll be your best friend when it’s time to get your own manuscript into the hands of the right people. Now, how about we see a #querywin, a glimpse at some of the best queries out there?

  • Alexander Field April 8, 2009 at 4:39 pm

    The whole time I was reading your post thinking…we need a #querysucceed…and then you finished with that. Agreed! It’s always nice to hear what didn’t work, but it would crazy helpful to hear a list of queries that actually kicked down the door and impressed the socks off an agent! : )

  • Shawn April 8, 2009 at 9:45 pm

    Funny. Great minds think alike. I saw this on another website and had to rant toward those writers on Suvudu. The anonymity of the internet affords them their rancor, but it is a rancor without real teeth. They only have themselves to blame.

    I look forward to reading your query letter, Aidan. As you know my first query letter was rewritten more times than I care to remember — far more than my first book, that’s for sure!

  • Tom Lloyd April 9, 2009 at 5:40 am

    Yeah, funny how these agents are so bad at what they do but just happen to earn enough commission off the authors they’re apparently failing to swim through piles of cash in between expensive lunches…

    On a more serious note, feel free to send me your query letter to look through if you want; I’ve done it from both sides of the process as well as writing reports on submission packages.

  • Gabriele April 9, 2009 at 6:40 am

    Dear agent, I suck at query letters so here’s the entire manuscript. :)

    Much as I’d love to do something like that, I know better and will stick to the rules. Once I get that monster of a novel finished. And then I’ll have to explain why it’s a more than 120K. ;)

  • Joe April 9, 2009 at 9:01 am

    God, if there’s anything worse than the undeserved and condescending arrogance of most agents (epitomized by Colleen Lindsay), it’s authors kissing up to those agents.

    Pathetic, all around.

  • Shawn April 9, 2009 at 5:03 pm

    And there is nothing worse than a writer who thinks laziness should be rewarded. As I wrote in my article, if the laziness stopped so would the condescension.

  • Joe April 13, 2009 at 3:28 pm