Writers Beware – Don’t Try This At Home

Sometimes my in-box turns up the most interesting things. For example, this query I received:

r It showed over a dozen agents’ email addresses in the “to” line.

r It was addressed to “Dear Sir/Madam.” (I don’t answer to either.)

r It was not even remotely related to “Christian worldview” which is our agency’s specialty.

r It didn’t include the elements required in a query letter as explained in the WordServe submission guidelines.

r Best of all, the letter stated that that the writer believed I was “exactly the right agent” for the project – apparently all the other dozen-or-so agents on the list fit this description too.

r And just to make things interesting, the book was pitched as a novel but was only 35,000 words… a novella, for which the market is miniscule.

Now let me tell you something. Many agents would simply delete this query, unanswered, no guilt, not waste a second on it. (See this agent interview.)

Of course, I chose to respond in my slightly-snarky-yet-trying-to-be-polite fashion. I said that I couldn’t consider the query, but asked the writer to “please read our submission guidelines to determine if we really are the right agents” for that project.

If you want agents to take their valuable time reading and considering your query, you would be smart to:
(1) research the agency first,
(2) address it to the agent’s NAME, and
(3) do NOT let your “to” line show other addressees!

I’m just sayin.

P.S. On a related note, you gotta read Nathan Bransford’s post and Janet Reid’s post. Apparently we are all thinking similar things today.

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. Melanie Avila on March 14, 2008 at 1:01 PM

    >I’m a writer who hasn’t even begun querying yet I’ve received a couple queries from someone who seems to think I’d be great at representing his work! The queries were AWFUL and while I ignored the first one I had to write back after receiving the second. I wasn’t TOO snarky and told him to do his homework a little better before sending more out.

    Love your blog!

  2. Pam Halter on March 5, 2008 at 10:57 AM

    >Books for dogs, huh? I guess that’s kind of like the videos of birds for cats to watch. HA! I have three cats, but have never been moved to buy that for them.

    Although I did catch one of my cats watching the Westminster Dog Show once. Really. He sat there for a half an hour. Too funny.

  3. JC on March 4, 2008 at 11:27 PM

    >Hmm. Would I write if I did not have a comp? I am assuming this is about the number of pages that would be trashed due to all the errors white-out couldn’t handle, the lack of cut and paste, etc.

    I guess, I would have to say yes, assuming I lived in a typewriter only world. Not knowing what I was missing, I would still write becuase I can’t not write this story. Take twice as long though, if not more. And I’d probably have already gone gray.

  4. Richard Mabry on March 4, 2008 at 6:27 PM

    >Thanks for the links to the blogs of Nathan Bransford (whose site I like) and Janet Reid (who apparently ran out of Prozac the day she posted). I enjoyed reading them.

    Some of the glimpses I’m getting at the inner workings of the publishing industry make me think that Will Rogers should have added “books” to “laws and sausage” as things one should not watch being made.

  5. Christa on March 4, 2008 at 6:24 PM

    >Well, at least it wasn’t a book meant for dogs to read…and if it was, I don’t want to know!

    I admire your self-discipline in holding back on the
    B-A-D queries. Perhaps posting quality fiction queries would help?

  6. Katy McKenna on March 4, 2008 at 4:21 PM

    >Dear Anonymous, Thank you! I was starting to feel kind of hung out to dry! 🙂

  7. Rachelle on March 4, 2008 at 3:53 PM

    >Pam, you have no idea how often I have to hold myself back from posting bad queries on my blog. You’ll notice I never blog about specific “topics” or story ideas people send me — I have to draw the line somewhere. My purpose is not to humiliate people. But I just know you would be STUNNED to see some of them! Seriously, like the one where…. eeek…. I just can’t do it. Stop! Must stop myself… I will NOT tell you about the book meant to be read to dogs… no, I won’t, I won’t!

  8. Pam Halter on March 4, 2008 at 3:46 PM

    >Oh boy.

    Agents should get together and publish a book of all bad query letters. That’s it. Just BAD query letters. Preface it with a statement like, if you want to write a good query letter, don’t make it look like these. HA!

    Unfortunately, the people who write such bad letters don’t read books on writing, or they wouldn’t send such things in the first place. Maybe.

  9. Anonymous on March 4, 2008 at 2:29 PM

    >I don’t really have anything to add here. I was just experiencing a minor moment of grammatical numerical agreement angst and wanted to change that “1 comments” line to “2 comments.” Hope that was okay.

  10. Katy McKenna on March 4, 2008 at 8:39 AM

    >Rachelle–Your post and the others remind me of a discussion going around the ACFW loop. Basically, the question is, “If there were no computers, would you be writing?” Very fascinating how many people said, “No!”

    I’ve got to think there are untold numbers who perhaps find writing/querying/mass submitting SO easy that they can’t resist the lure of doing it badly/rudely/prematurely.

    Katy McKenna http://www.fallible.com