Updated: Mar 19, 2020
Recently, ReviseResub held a #10queries mini-event for writers. After reading all 200+ tweets, I wanted to write a little about my observations since there were quite a few commonalities between the editors’ critiques.
For those of you who don't know what #RevPit is, it's an annual competition where writerly hopefuls submit to freelance editors for a chance to win a coveted month-long mentorship. You can find more information about their spring contest at reviseresub.com. As part of #RevPit, the editors hold a fun #10queries mini-event where lucky raffle winners can submit their query and first 5 pages to a RevPit editor who then tweets their critique. If you haven't seen the event before, it's worth scrolling through the 2019 #10queries feed.
Common Query Mistakes 1-5
1. Above all—FOLLOW ALL GUIDELINES
At first I was going to save this one for last, except, nearly all ten editors mentioned receiving materials that did not fit their guidelines or were otherwise outside of standard manuscript format. It is imperative that you research each agent's or editors’ guidelines and follow them to a T. Not doing so is the fastest way to end up in the Reject pile.
2. Missing age category
This one I see often enough that I added it in at number two. Age category is essential in your query letter. This lets the agent know that you know what your primary market is and where it belongs on a bookstore's shelf. If you feel your manuscript crosses genres, pick the main one and add that it has “cross-over potential”, but do this with caution. There is NO reason to leave the age category out of the query. It is an essential part of your metadata (discussed in Part 2)
3. Missing bio
I put this one near the top because it is important to let an agent know who you are. It doesn’t have to be long, but it must be included before your closing. If you do not have anything writing related to add, keep it simple with your day job and where you live. Bios always come in at the end.
4. Too much bio
Here is the flip-side to the no-bio issue. Putting in too much about yourself overshadows what you actually want the reader to show interest in—your book. In a query, the summary should be approximately 250 words, which only leaves you about 100 words for your metadata (discussed in Part 2) AND bio. That doesn't leave much room to talk about yourself. Keep it brief and relevant to your story.
5. Too much story explained
While this one varied with each editor—and I'll get into this more in Part 2—the commonality between them all came down to this: the queries didn't stick to character, conflict, and stakes. Either through backstory, sub-plot, or too much of a step-by-step walkthrough, these unfocused queries tried to fit in too much information in too little space.
I was one of the lucky winners this time around on #10queries; you can find the query and feedback here. I'll be revising based on this feedback and will post my revision on the forum as soon as I'm ready.
That’s it for the first five of the 15 Common Mistakes Found in Queries. As always, I am only one perspective, and as we writers are told again and again, everything is subjective. Yes, there are outliers who catch an agent's attention with their pages, voice, concept, or whatever else an agent may connect with in submission materials, but don't give them a chance to reject your MSS on a technicality because you chose to step outside the guidelines.
Part 2 >>