Here’s the memo, in which several agents and editors share the worst query lines from their slush piles. The intention wasn’t to mock writers, but to educate them. All of these query failures came from people who did not follow submission guidelines.
Failure to follow directions is an automatic rejection:
I know you don’t represent children’s literature, but I hope you’ll make an exception in my case.
I know that I have attached a file, but please have a read even though it’s against your policy.
I hope you don’t mind that I found your personal email address…
I don’t think you’re the right agent for me, but could you pass my query along to some of your colleagues?
Before you respond to my query, please send a test email for my spam filter.
I’M TYPING MY QUERY IN ALL CAPS SO YOU WILL BE SURE TO NOTICE IT.
What else gets you rejected? I sorted through 130+ QueryFail examples to find common failures.
1. Don’t include anything in your query other than what is requested. (Typically a one-page letter and first page(s) writing sample.)
Did I mention how creepy I find it when authors include gifts? Especially food. I worry I rejected them before and it is poisoned.
It is not necessary to include a glossy 8×10 headshot. No, really.
Physical props are a bad idea. Candy corn and whiskey in one submission package. With cammo fanny pack. [Wock, was that YOU??]
Dear Agent, here are 25 books I’ve written, do you want any of them?
I have attached two photos of the book to this email.
2. An agent makes a living by selling books. If you don’t have a book available to sell, you shouldn’t be querying.
The book isn’t written yet, and I can’t write it.
I don’t have any new material to share so I’m attaching an already contracted novella.
In lieu of a writing sample, I’ve enclosed articles about [topic writer wishes to write about].
My proposal is a work in progress.
I’ve got a great idea for a book. You write it and we’ll split the profits!
I am writing a book. What is the going rate for literary agents?
3. Only include relevant, professional publishing credentials in your query.
My credentials for writing this book include: A divine mandate to speak the word of God.
The best credentials I can share are the comments from my family and friends after they read my book.
Please Google my name for more information.
This isn’t my first published work, I have published 2 articles in G4S Pipeline Trade Publication.
I have been writing since I could hold a crayon, and before that I used finger paints.
I know 10 people who would buy this book right now!
This is not representative of my best work.
This is my first attempt at writing a fictional novel.
I read this to the high school English class that I teach and they all agreed it was wonderful.
I’m a real estate developer and you contacted me once in the past about a building or a home I had for sale at that time.
Four paragraphs about your former career as a technical writer. Not one sentence about plot of book.
The entire manuscript has been reviewed by both my writing mentor and a copyeditor and is ready for wide distribution.
The manuscript is complete. It is 320 pages in Font 10 with 178,313 words. It has 36 chapters. I am not a professional writer.
In a nutshell, I have no credentials.
4. I don’t know how else to put this: don’t sound crazy.
[Book of] quotes and more, all written by (?) and in the author’s own flavor of grammar.
My book is about a friendship based upon mutual vomiting practices in high school.
Tragically initiated into a secret panther-worshipping society…
It’s about unicorns. They’re the protagonists.
My name is Maya and I’m an elf.
Like my protagonist, I definitely could be described as overachiever, and I naturally have hair like Lady Godiva.
…contains a grand surprise near the end that the reader cannot grasp unless paying attention to the made-up language…
Have you ever wondered what it’s like to be pulled up a waterfall or to be flushed down a toilet?
My book is differentiated from Twilight because the vampires have wings, and are half-breed angels.
Forty-three years of toiling within my own mind have come to an end with this manuscript!
My inner voices told me to send this to you. I channeled the whole thing from an angel named Thomas.
I witnessed a lot of things that happened before I was born. How? Alien abduction.
5. And don’t toot your own horn.
Easily the boldest novel so far written in this fresh century of ours.
Three paragraphs, no plot, no hook, and lots of “me, me, me, look how wonderful I am!”
This is groundbreaking work that will change the way we view everything!
If your guidelines are that unforgiving, then stop here and pass on something that could be special.
I’ve been rejected by three other publishers who said my work was interesting.
I’ve queried more than 50 agents and have gotten nowhere and now I’m querying you.
In a week, I read works by Philip Roth, Junot Diaz, & Paul Beatty, and this is what I concluded: It’s my turn!
Hi. Are you a visionary agent who wants to take the stagnant fiction literary marketplace to new heights?
It will be a huge mistake if you do not publish this book.
After all those fails you may be wondering, what is a Query Win?
First sentence hook
One- or two-paragraph blurb
Relevant writing credits/background
Solid writing sample