STATUS: Do I dare ‘fess up that we listened to the XM Holly holiday station all day? Is it too early? I know I’ve already dived into many an eggnog chai…
What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? WINTER WONDERLAND by Jason Mraz
As I sit here contemplating the great mysteries of the universe… Okay, in reality I’m really just sitting here having a relaxing glass of wine. Still, even though it’s not a great universal mystery, I puzzle over why journalists always ask this question during an agent interview:
What is the single most common mistake that turns you off of a query letter?
I puzzle over this Q because it strikes me that writers are looking for a magic silver bullet in the answer–as if it’s only an errant comma or grammar mistake keeping the agent from falling in love with the query and asking for sample pages.
In truth, there isn’t a single most common error that puts me off a query letter. Anything that I can list here (such as addressing the letter to the wrong agent, submitting a project in a genre we don’t rep, writing the email without periods or capitalization) are all issues that immediately weed out the wheat from the chaff.
If you are serious about this biz, those query letters are not the ones you should worry about. It’s the queries that are close but no cigar that are your competition. In other words, decent queries, well-written, and actually make us read the whole letter.
We still might pass on asking for sample pages but we gave the letter serious consideration. The rest are non-contenders.
So the real question is out of those queries, what is the single most common mistake that turns us off a query letter?
The answer is there is none. Because these queries are well written and unique enough, we read them. Why we still pass can’t be summed up into a neat little list that writers can then checkmark off the “turn-offs” to make sure their queries will pass the muster.
It’s never about one thing in the letter. It’s about every facet of the query letter as a whole. And even then, if you put the same good query letter in front of 10 different agents, all 10 of them might have a different response. And some would ask for sample pages and the others wouldn’t.
It’s this unknown factor that drives writers crazy.