Query Mistakes: No Turning Back?

The submission process has been nicknamed the “query trenches” by the legion of aspiring writers online. With good reason. If you are serious about finding an agent, you must spend a lot of time researching literary agencies and polishing your submission material. After this careful preparation, you enter the “trenches”, submitting to each agent in accordance with their specific guidelines. All while navigating the endless posts/tweets/comments by publishing professionals about the horrific mistakes they see writers make, and trying not to get killed by rejection letters.

When I was in the query trenches myself, once I received a rejection letter for my angel/demon novel, then that same agent tweeted a minute later how annoyed she was that writers continued to submit angel/demon manuscripts to her, despite her regular tweets that she wasn’t interested. I was mortified. I thought I’d made the worst mistake ever, almost as bad as the dreaded grammar-error-in-query-letter (gasp!). I could never show my face in that agency’s submission inbox again.

I was wrong of course. Making a mistake in your submission is not the end of the line. You should do as much research as you can and polish your submission until it gleams. But errors happen. We don’t auto-reject authors just because they misspelled a word or incorrectly identified their subgenre. Trust me, we can tell when an author has worked hard on their submission materials versus slapping something together. Treat the query process as you would a job search, with professionalism, and we agents will return the favor. Although, I’m guessing if you are agonizing about that error in your sub, you probably already fall in this category. So know that if we passed on your carefully-edited query, it’s because it wasn’t a good fit, not because of the way you used “whom.” (Don’t use this post as an excuse to be lazy though, you should have multiple people proofread that query!) And, we’d be more than happy to see your next project when it’s ready.

I was asked specifically on Twitter about this, so here’s a list of “mistakes” authors make that will actually cause an agent to blacklist you.

  1. Being rude and unprofessional
  2. Responding to our rejection with angry/hurtful comments (see 1.)
  3. Badmouthing us online (see 1.)
  4. All of the above


  • Carla Suson

    January 14, 2019 at 8:56 am Reply

    One of the things I like to do is send a thank you note to agents that have reviewed my wor. However with the use of programs like Query Tracker, that is not possible. Do you have any suggestions?

    • Mary C. Moore

      January 14, 2019 at 11:19 am Reply

      As kind as that is, I wouldn’t worry about it. We don’t expect thank you notes. Often submission forms are set up to streamline our inboxes so we can read and respond faster, eliminating extra communication, which sadly includes thank you notes.

      • Laura

        March 3, 2019 at 11:15 pm Reply

        I’m going to say thank you right now – for this post. Thank you for making me feel better about the last two months of querying, LOL.

  • Jan M Flynn

    January 13, 2019 at 8:55 pm Reply

    Thank you for the encouraging words, and for the reality check to all writers that it’s not just we who must pitch our work 🙂

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