Even in the cases where I’ve gotten a form rejection instead of a more personalized one, I know I’m at least on the right track and that it’s just a matter of time and luck till I find the right agent who likes my work and who wants to take on something in that style. After all, from reading various writing and agents’ blogs, I’ve got a pretty good sense that I’m not committing any of the cardinal errors that will get one deleted right away or have a form rejection sent out before the agent even finishes reading the query. I have never:

1.  Sent unsolicited attachments. I only attach a sample chapter or synopsis unless the agency’s rules specifically say to attach them instead of pasting them into the body of an e-mail.

2.  Sent out a form query to every agent under the sun, with a CC or BCC instead of a more personalized one-on-one e-mail. Seriously, that doesn’t make an agent feel like you took the time to read about what s/he wants or likes, esp. if you just begin by saying “Dear Agent.”

3.  Gotten the agent’s name wrong, or used the wrong title. Thankfully I haven’t yet queried anyone whose biological sex I don’t know and who has a unisex first name, like Ashley, Shannon, Dale, Taylor, or Chris. I do remember one of the agents I queried when I was too-briefly querying my Russian novel was named Ashley, in the era before most agents got online and querying was still done the old-fashioned way, by paper, so I think I just used his/her full name instead of trying to guess if this Ashley were a man or a woman.

4.  Had the gumption to declare that I’ve written the next best-seller or blockbuster. Even if I want to believe that I will have bestsellers, that’s not really my call to make before I even have an agent.

5.  Stated whom I’d like to play my characters when the book gets made into a movie. I don’t even follow modern actors, so I wouldn’t know the first thing about which modern-day actors I’d like to play any of my characters if I do someday get a movie deal.

6.  Used guilt trips or threats to try to get someone to take me on as a client. In what universe does this work?

7. Pre-queried. Apparently this is when someone e-mails or writes to ask if s/he can send a query. Seriously, what is that all about? What a colossal waste of time and energy!

8.  Called an agent. One should never phone an agent unless there’s been an offer of representation already made.

9. Knowingly tried to submit something in the wrong genre for the agency or that particular agent. I’m rethinking how I was originally pitching my book as YA and am now just pitching it as a historical fiction family saga, with the information in the query and synopsis that clearly indicates it is a growing-up story involving characters who are all kids or teens when it starts. Maybe that would work as upscale YA, with readers who like longer books and don’t mind reading about characters who start out younger than they are. I’m also thinking it would be better pitched as something that could cross over into YA instead of the other way around, such as how the Harry Potter books originated as YA but then a bunch of grownups began reading them. (For the record, I haven’t read any of them and have no desire to do so, though I will say that I’d read all of the HP books plus Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit before I’d ever read that anti-feminist Twilight series. I just don’t like fad literature; if they’re still around and being praised in twenty or more years, then we’ll talk. I also hate how rabid fans of HP, Twilight, and LOTR act like you’re a Devil worshipper if you say you’ve never read those books and have no desire to do so. I don’t launch into a tantrum if someone tells me s/he isn’t interested in reading, say, Hermann Hesse or Ivan Turgenev!) Anyway, you clearly haven’t done your homework if you’re querying a sci-fi book to an agent who only does romances, or querying your illustrated children’s book to someone who only does horror or crime.

10.  Ended on a begging note, like telling the agent I’m desperate. It’s a business letter. Rejection isn’t personal. The agent doesn’t know you from Adam and probably doesn’t have the time or inclination to care how long you worked on your book or how long you’ve been trying to find an agent.

11.  Compared my book to some famous writer or bestselling book. Some agents want you to compare your style to other books in your genre, but that’s not the same as actually saying your book is in the same league as an established bestselling author. In the last few queries I’ve sent out, I’ve said that this book has themes influenced by Grimm’s Fairy Tales, The Velveteen Rabbit, The Divine Comedy, and the Five Little Peppers series, but that’s as far as I go for comparisons. I don’t think a writer should compare oneself with any other author, since every book is unique and shouldn’t be made to stand in another’s shadows.

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