A Funny Thing Happened…

On the Way to my Query Box

Last week, as you know, I was away at a conference. I was responding to email the best I could on my Blackberry. I have my email structured so that queries won’t appear in the regular inbox; instead, they get filtered into the query box. They receive auto-replies so I can read them when I have time.

On Wednesday, emails started showing up in my inbox that were clearly queries. This happens when people don’t follow my guidelines and put “query” in the subject line. After about the fourth one, I started to get annoyed. After about the eighth, I was VERY annoyed and also confused. I’d glanced at the queries and a pattern was obvious. They were all formatted the exact same way. Each had their title in the subject line, without the word “query.” Most were from Arizona, several from Sedona. Finally, most were clearly New Age spirituality. They all appeared to be from different email addresses. Mysterious.

I twittered my agent friends: “Is anyone else being bombarded with New Age queries from Sedona?” Immediately several answers came back: YES. Apparently every agent was getting the same thing. A couple of the agents told me it was obviously a query service, someone who charges a fee to do your querying for you.

Now I don’t know about you, but if it were ME, and I were paying someone to do my querying, I’d want some kind of assurance they knew what they were doing. I’d expect them to research agents and submit my project to agents that might be right for me; I’d expect them to be aware of agent guidelines and follow them, so that my query would have a chance of being noticed.

This so-called query service… uh, not so much. Rather than helping, I think they severely reduced these writers’ chances of getting an agent.

Over a period of two days, I received a final count of twenty-one queries that appeared to be from the service. It was obvious that whoever sent these queries was mass-emailing to all agents. No attempts to match the writer with an appropriate agent. No awareness of either submission guidelines, or the fact that different agents represent different kinds of material. Not one of the queries included sample pages from the manuscript, as my guidelines clearly state. But the funniest thing of all was the clearly anti-Christian sentiments in several of these queries. I don’t have a problem with people having their own perspectives; but I make it pretty clear that I don’t represent books that expressly contradict a Christian worldview. I laughed out loud at the query that bemoaned all the pathetic people in this world who are forced into a “victim mentality” because they have to “look outside themselves for a savior.” Horrors! All this time I hadn’t realized I was such a victim.

Sadly, it’s these writers who were duped by this “query service” and are now the victims.

Beyond the fact that agents weren’t specifically chosen for each author and guidelines weren’t followed, the query service completely blew these writers’ chances by filling agents’ inboxes with twenty-one similar queries in two days.

Let’s say that I LOVED New Age books, and let’s go futher and say I loved all twenty-one of those queries. Would I be able to represent them all? Of course not. I’d have to choose one. Maybe two. In essence, all those queries were competing against each other. Doesn’t seem like a great plan.

I was curious about the whole thing, so I ended up talking with one of the authors. She told me it was some kind of writers’ group, and they’d worked together to craft their queries, hence the exact same formatting. Then they’d apparently hired someone to begin sending their queries to agents, rather than each of them doing it on their own.

Bad ideas, all around. The moral of this story is: Shortcuts have a way of backfiring on you.

But of course, YOU don’t need to hear this story, because you’re informed. You’re reading my blog and other blogs, you’re reading books on writing and publishing, you’re in a critique group and you’re planning on going to a conference soon. You know what to do and how to do it. You’re less likely to get taken in by this kind of situation.

So really the moral of this story is: Sometimes I just like to entertain you.

Are you feeling sad for those twenty-one writers? I am. I know they were innocently trying to get their projects out there into the publishing world, and they all seemed to have strong topics backed up by a lot of passion. But they need to get beyond their initial naivete, because this business is going to be hard on them.

Thankfully you’ve learned enough by now that none of you would EVER do anything like this.

Rachelle Gardner, Christian Literary Agent, Colorado

Rachelle Gardner

Literary agent at Gardner Literary. Coffee & wine enthusiast (not at the same time) and dark chocolate connoisseur. I've worked in publishing since 1995 and I love talking about books!


  1. Terry Burns on June 17, 2009 at 5:16 PM

    >I am so pleased you posted this, I've gotten maybe 50-60 from Sedonia or somewhere close in Arizona. I wondered what in the world was going on.

    Terry Burns
    Hartline Literary

  2. Glynis on June 11, 2009 at 7:19 AM

    >Oh dear, I feel for them. They must have been so hopeful and trusting.
    What a shame.

  3. Miss Mabel on June 11, 2009 at 3:28 AM

    >I am unsympathetic to whoever in this group came up with this idea and convinced everyone else it was The Way Things Are Done. If you really honour your writing, then do your research.

    Why would you pay money for a service like this, when you have no guarantee that you will EVER be published and make money off your writing?? …It's like paying someone to pick up your lottery tickets for you.

    To Timothy Fish: As Rachelle wrote, if you're going to hire someone, at least hire someone who's doing real work for you. Putting your query into an email and sending it to 80 agents doesn't require much work. Ease!

  4. lynnekelly on June 10, 2009 at 6:07 PM

    >I would love to hear who these writers think are the "top agents in the industry." If they know so little about the industry that they hired this query service, my guess is they have no idea who the top agents are.

  5. Anonymous on June 10, 2009 at 9:49 AM

    >Thank you for sharing this. Sometimes we get so caught up in getting the word out that common sense slips to the side. Everyone needs to be reminded from time to time that editors and agents are busy people. Blessings.

    Donna Fawcett
    Creative Writing Instructor
    Fanshawe College
    London, Ontario

  6. trinitybeacon on June 10, 2009 at 6:21 AM

    >Rachelle, thank you for such a wonderful, and informative blog. I agree that it's sad when a writer can't put the words to a query together for themselves. I hope this blog reaches a lot of new writers.

  7. Liana Brooks on June 9, 2009 at 9:30 PM

    >CONFESSION: I am a bad person.

    I don't feel bad for those people, not as much as I should. They make my query look that much better.

    Yes, that's a little mean and probably bad Karma or something. But at least it weeds out some of the competition for me.

  8. Melissa on June 9, 2009 at 8:54 PM

    >Oh man — I wonder how much those "top agents" are going to charge them? I'd be very surprised if the query service took the time to weed out the fee-charging, scam agents. Poor writers!

  9. Anonymous on June 9, 2009 at 8:45 PM

    >A query letter is one of the few things a writer even has control over–why pay someone else to possibly mess it up? Consider it a challenge–and if it doesn't work out, you can always rewrite it and send to a few more agents–much easier than revising a novel!

  10. DOakley on June 9, 2009 at 8:30 PM

    >Wow! I do feel sorry for them. Thank you for posting this, Rachelle. I didn't even know such things existed.

  11. Rowenna on June 9, 2009 at 7:08 PM

    >Wow…those writers are learning the hard way that you reap what you sow, I guess. But I wonder–were these actually 21 separate queries from 21 separate writers, or were they slightly varied approaches on the same project? I question this because most were New Age spirituality, coming from the same geographic region…Just wondering how dirty the pool is that these "pro" queriers are playing.

  12. Rachelle on June 9, 2009 at 4:38 PM

    >Mariana, regardless of what someone's worldview is, I never "feel offended" by it. I might disagree with it, but I sure don't take it personally or take offense. From a business standpoint, I simply determine whether it's a fit for me to represent or not.

    I've explained my take on Christian worldview pretty extensively on the blog. Click on the following link, and look especially at the last three posts from March 5, 24, and 25 of 2008:
    Christian publishing.

  13. Mariana on June 9, 2009 at 4:20 PM

    >Ugh, I mean "the urge". Sorry about that.

  14. Mariana on June 9, 2009 at 4:18 PM

    >I'm sorry for these people who trusted a "lazy service renderer", but I think it was really generous of you, Rachelle, to call one of them and tell where the problem on their plan was.

    I almost didn't ask the following question because of Carrie said, but I think it could be illuminating for others who intend to query you in the future.

    Which is *your* Christian worldview? Do you feel offended when an author does not convey, say, the Bible's version of the creation of the world; or are the principles of love and truth (generalizing too much here, I know) that you feel thee urge to see respected?

  15. Anonymous on June 9, 2009 at 2:28 PM

    >The way I look at things…I suggest all of us Christian Writers look at this as an opportunity: We could each one take a minute and SINCERELY pray for those other writer/query folks.
    Sure, it's fine and good to be taught the best way to do things; and we sincerely appreciate Rachelle's time and advice. But day by day we should always look for ways to serve and please God; and help the lost come to Christ.
    Sometimes we can only say a prayer for them. In this case it may end up that someone, most likely Rachelle, may have a chance to witness to some of these people…if so; the witnessing could fortified with our prayers. writer jim

  16. Timothy Fish on June 9, 2009 at 12:16 PM

    >Am I the only one who doesn’t see what’s wrong with this? (Other than the person who sent out the queries was too lazy.) I despise the query process. If there were a way to pass that off to someone else, why wouldn’t I?

  17. Dawn Herring on June 9, 2009 at 11:38 AM

    >One thing I've read a lot when it comes to sending a query letter: the last thing you want to do is send a form letter to more than one agent. The message it sends is often a red flag to an agent because it shows you didn't do your research causing you to look like an amateur. I've seen ads for query services. Hopefully they're not all the same, ignoring guidelines and just keeping to a form. I want to know who I'm querying and be as personable as possible. That's the only way to build a genuine relationship with an agent in the publishing world.

  18. Kristen Torres-Toro on June 9, 2009 at 10:50 AM

    >Too late. I most definitely listen to you! But thanks for the update!

    If they are hearing back positive responses, then I am really happy for them! It's wonderful to see dreams come true–even if they aren't my own!

  19. Kristen Torres-Toro on June 9, 2009 at 10:50 AM

    >Too late. I most definitely listen to you! But thanks for the update!

    If they are hearing back positive responses, then I am really happy for them! It's wonderful to see dreams come true–even if they aren't my own!

  20. Carrie on June 9, 2009 at 10:45 AM

    >I doubt it, too. If they can't do the basic research to learn that query blasting services are looked upon with great disdain by reputable agents, then how can they possibly know who the "top agents in the industry" even ARE? A scam query-sending company would certainly have no issues sending to scam agents, and scam agents would certainly say they were "top of the industry"… you all see where I'm going with this.

    At best, one or two of these authors has a genuinely good idea for a book, that idea happened to land in the inbox of a good agent who happens to represent that style of book, AND the agent was kind enough to consider that idea DESPITE the querying method.

    Nathan Bransford has said that a good idea will stand out even if the query isn't perfect, so maybe someone in the group lucked into a good fit with a real agent. But I don't think any of us want to gamble on succeeding "despite" our worst efforts…

  21. Dara on June 9, 2009 at 10:28 AM

    >Seriously? I kind of doubt that.

    Oh well. To each their own. I don't agree with their way of going about it though; it just seems a bit on the lazy side.

  22. Rachelle on June 9, 2009 at 10:16 AM

    >UPDATE! I'm hearing back from some of these writers. Apparently they're all part of a Sedona writers' workshop, and some of them are receiving positive responses from "some of the top agents in the industry." So hey, maybe I'm all wrong. Don't listen to me.

  23. Lea Ann McCombs on June 9, 2009 at 10:13 AM

    >Makes me wonder exactly what these writers were accomplishing in their writers' group if NONE of them had bothered to research query writing, agent guidelines, proper formatting, etc. Surely if they were a credible group someone would have been committed enough to the craft to do a little research when it's so readily available. Doesn't make me eager to read one of their manuscripts.

  24. Julie Gillies on June 9, 2009 at 10:05 AM

    >I'd never heard of a query service before this post, Rachelle. Those poor writers certainly got the royal rip-off.

    An entertaining post for all of us has been a most costly mistake for those writers. All together now: if you want something done right, do it yourself.

  25. Carrie on June 9, 2009 at 9:34 AM

    >"Thank you for not invalidating me because you disagree with my theology!"

    Likewise, Rachelle!!!

    I'm completely with you on the appreciation of a diversity of voices. I'm someone who believes that the cure for bad speech is more speech rather than censorship, and the more we read of other views, the more we learn. And if an idea can't take a little challenging, what good is it?

    And hey, just because I'm pretty sure you don't want to represent my novel doesn't mean you might not be interested in READING it someday, right?


  26. Anonymous on June 9, 2009 at 9:26 AM

    >The sad part of it is that had they gone to one of the writer's sites (like AbsoluteWrite or something similar), they could have gotten help on their query letters for free – in the form of people who critique them and tell them what does and doesn't catch someone's eye. Then they could have gone to the agents section and found out pretty easily who does and doesn't represent their genre.

    It might have taken a couple of days, but they wouldn't be out a dime and they'd have a stronger letter with better voice than going to a writing group where everyone writes similarly.

  27. Teri D. Smith on June 9, 2009 at 9:23 AM

    >Wow. And all they needed to do was read your blog and the submission guidelines.

    No, Rachelle, your readers would never do this!

  28. Cindy on June 9, 2009 at 9:12 AM

    >That is definitely sad. I think these writers are missing out on one of the most important parts of sending a query letter: the research. In the past, I've probably spent more time researching agents and their guidelines than I have writing the query letter. This is because I wanted to find the right place for my manuscript or an agent I believe would represent me and my work in a way that I respect and appreciate. Writing the letter is important, too, but you can have a magnificent letter AND manuscript and never have it seen because it's not being sent to the right agents or it's competition with 21 other queries that were sent at the exact same time.

  29. Rachelle on June 9, 2009 at 9:00 AM

    >Carrie, I LOVE the fact that you and I can be part of this writing community together even though we don't share a general worldview when it comes to spiritual things. I'm SO appreciative of all the people who visit this blog even though they don't share my Christ-centered orientation to life. Thank you for not invalidating me because you disagree with my theology! I love the varied conversation we get to have here on the blog, and just wanted everyone to know that I welcome a diversity of voices.

  30. Terri Tiffany on June 9, 2009 at 8:58 AM

    >I haven't send out only a query or two so far–but I would certainly do it myself.

  31. Carrie on June 9, 2009 at 8:43 AM

    >That's so sad. I'm glad you talked to one of the authors so that perhaps they could spread the word of how damaging this is…

    I had fun writing my query letters! It was hard at first, but then I really got into it, and I felt so good personalizing each one ("I've written to you because you represent my genre and say you like quirky" or "I've written to you because you represent my genre and in particular two books I adore").

    This kind of story kind of makes me want to offer a REAL query service where I could actually research and personalize… but to do it right I'd have to read each whole novel. Plus interview each writer. And all my colleagues would be scam artists. And, honestly, it's a job writers SHOULD be doing themselves.

    I mean, if you've spent the time to write a book, is it that difficult and horrible to spend some more time thinking about it, writing about it, convincing others that it's as awesome as you think it is, and trying to pick people who will most want to read and represent it?

    As I've said before, I love this blog, and I think it provides humor, insight, and more practical information than you can shake a stick at… but I have not submitted a query to Rachelle because my book does not meet her submission requirements. Specifically, my book — like some of the 21 manuscripts discussed here — contradicts a Christian worldview. So why would I waste Rachelle's time or mine submitting to her? It would leave us both frustrated.

  32. Mark H. on June 9, 2009 at 8:34 AM

    >I think you should take it a step further: use this as an excuse to spend a week in Sedona! Include a side trip to the Grand Canyon. Tell 'em you need to visit a vortex to "discover your aura" or something. Maybe the whole trip would be comped!

  33. Yvonne on June 9, 2009 at 8:25 AM

    >Ugh… I hate it when I misspell things…it must be my Maine accent slipping in there!

  34. Heather (errantdreams) on June 9, 2009 at 8:24 AM

    >Ouch; what a bad move! I'm glad you took the time to contact one of the authors; hopefully it'll help them learn from their costly (in multiple ways!) mistake.

  35. katdish on June 9, 2009 at 8:24 AM

    >Ooo! Good point, Keri Stevens!

    I tend to ignore any type of mass email, regardless of content. I do feel bad for the writers.

    Often times, the best writers are not the best self-promoters. But I guess that's why there are agents and publicists. Too bad I'm not a better writer, because I've got the shameless self-promotion thing down pretty good.

  36. thelittlefluffycat on June 9, 2009 at 8:22 AM

    >I am hoping that since you talked to that one, the group manages to turn off the service, get some of their money back, and that they all learn a valuable lesson. 😛 When you talked about this on twitter I couldn't imagine what was going on.

  37. Yvonne on June 9, 2009 at 8:22 AM

    >Yes, I do feel sorry for those writers. They were talked into this wonderful plan to help them get published…only it won't work. They are trusting in a false hope.

    It's ironic that their topic fits in the same catergory. They are following a false hope.

  38. Keri Stevens on June 9, 2009 at 8:16 AM

    >If you can't write one page yourself, why do you think you can write a book?

  39. Rachel on June 9, 2009 at 8:15 AM


    The situation for those writers is somewhat sad…but this post was so funny, that it is completely worth it to me. Is that wrong?

  40. Krista Phillips on June 9, 2009 at 7:39 AM

    >Right! And might I add, kudos for you for contacting one of them to see what was going on. I think what's more sad than their bad querying idea, is that they (or some of them anyway) don't think they need a savior. Anyone else think its ironic that someone would think they have to go outside of themselves to have a query sent, but by golly, they can save their OWN soul?

  41. Angie Ledbetter on June 9, 2009 at 7:16 AM

    >Query service sounds like a fancy name for scam-spam. Poor authors will probably never know the difference when said service charges them for "sending out 200 agent emails," without revealing that those 200 were split between one or two addresses. 🙁

  42. Jason Crawford on June 9, 2009 at 6:54 AM

    >In my heart I'm sad for these folks because I know how much of a writer's heart and soul goes into his/her writing, but my head loves it when writers do stupid things. Just makes it that much easier for the rest of us to get pubbed.

    Being a conservative, in battles between my heart and head, my head usually wins out (but only by a nose)

  43. Chatty Kelly on June 9, 2009 at 6:54 AM

    >So what was the cost of hiring someone…the physical cost of the billing, then the cost of offending all the agents. A big price to pay indeed.

  44. Katy McKenna on June 9, 2009 at 6:44 AM

    >I guess you could hire someone to write your wedding thank you notes, too, but you always run the risk of things turning out much worse for you than if you'd done the task yourself. Correspondence between two people, particularly–even business correspondence–can't be competently faked by a third party's intrusion.

    If a query letter, like any letter, should convey to the recipient something about the personality of the writer and what she might expect from further writings, we'd all do well to be composing them ourselves.

    By the way, the moral of your story? That's the motto of my life! 🙂

  45. Marybeth Poppins on June 9, 2009 at 6:34 AM

    >I just can't imagine being a writer and LETTING someone do the work for me, let alone PAYING someone to do it. Although I am sure they had strong ideas or great writing, I think that they need to understand that the writing world is hard work, and you aren't going to get anywhere by having someone do the work for you. If I were an agent I wouldn't want anything to do with any of these writers because clearly they are not going to want to put the effort needed into marketing/selling their book.

  46. Jessica on June 9, 2009 at 6:04 AM

    >That is sad. 🙁