Updated: Mar 19, 2020
Welcome to Part 3 of the 15 Common Mistakes Found in Queries. In this final part I’m going through the final five mistakes commonly found in queries. This one has a few more examples because some of the items in this part are more broad problems.
Common Query Mistakes 11-15
11. Over/under word count
The sweet spot for queries is about 350 words, and this includes your metadata and bio. As I said in Part 1, the query’s book summary should fall in around the 250 mark which only leaves 100 words for the metadata and bio. Some stories require a little more and some are better off with a little less, but in general stick to industry standards to give your query the best possible shot.
12. Wrong query formatting
I thought this standard was clear, but apparently it isn't since this came up more than once. Queries are business letters. As such, there shouldn't be indents and there should be spaces between the paragraphs. If for some reason you must indent your query paragraphs, the indent replaces the space after each paragraph; do not do both.
This next example talks about pages, but I felt it was important to include here. As stated in the first point of Part 1—always follow industry standards, AND the guidelines as set out by each individual agent.
13. Too much/ too little voice
Ah, the nebulous advice that is voice. This can be your author voice or the voice of your main character (but not as spoken through your mc—never use first person for queries). In queries, voice can be tricky to capture because of the short word count and can be left out of you use all 250ish words for your summary, but if you have the space and can phrase things with the same wry/humorous/snarky voice found in your pages, do it. Just be careful not to overdo it, especially with the character's voice. Set the tone of your ms with the flow and cadence of your query and let the agent know what to expect from the pages.
14. Readers left with unanswered questions
There are good questions to leave a reader with (like if the protagonist will succeed in their goal), and bad ones (like what the plot of the story is/ why is something happening/ or what something is). You avoid the bad questions by being specific with details, but make sure to keep these details relevant to the MC, the conflict, and the stakes. Don't leave the reader guessing about things in your query. World specific names? Better left out. Feel the need to include backstory? It better be directly relevant to the core arc or provide needed clarity if you're bringing it in. Anything that can make the reader ask why should be explained or left out.
15. Knowing standards for genre & age category
Are you writing an MG? The 98k word count in your metadata may suggest to an agent that you didn't research the industry standard for your age category. Or are you writing science fiction or fantasy? Because an adult sub under 100k word count warns an agent that your MS is likely not ready for submission and would require more work to get it submission ready. Always strive to ensure your ms fits within industry standards and don't argue that you're the outlier for a debut.
That's it for the 15 Common Mistakes Found in Queries. While everyone makes mistakes, give your submission package the best chance by double and triple checking your materials for these common mistakes before you hit send on that email.
Again, I am only one perspective and everything is subjective. As I said in the first post, 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 agents (or editors) a chance to reject your MS before they even get to the pages.