Written by A Guest Author February 25th, 2021

How to Lose an Agent in Ten Seconds

By Katherine DeGilio

While querying is an essential part of the traditionally published author’s journey, the process can begin to feel a lot like climbing a never-ending ladder. Every step up leads to more steps. There is a myriad of information on how to make the process easier. “How to Query” articles rule the internet, but there isn’t much advice on what not to do. Working as a literary agent intern, I found that people tend to follow the advice they see online, but many common mistakes don’t get mentioned in these articles. So, today, in the vein of How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days, here is How to Lose an Agent in Ten Seconds.

Post Your Query Online

While “How to Query” articles may have helped you produce the best query letter and best synopsis available, you have to actually send it to an agent for them to see it. Agents may find an unknown author on Wattpad every once in a blue moon, but that is the exception, not the rule. Most agented authors found their agent through good old cold querying. I’ve seen so many people post their query online on Twitter or in writing groups with “any agent’s interested” written at the end rather than sending it out. Doing this won’t raise your chances, but it will turn the uphill battle of querying into Mount Olympus.

Send the Wrong Thing

Most agents ask for the first five to thirty pages of your manuscript with the query. Make sure to paste this in the body of the email unless told otherwise, but also make sure you’re sending the right pages. Don’t count your title page, acknowledgments, or table of contents. Start where the story begins.

Send them Published Work

Some agents represent already self-published work, but those are few and far between. And those books always already have huge sales (Think The Martian). If you’re an average Joe like me, you probably aren’t querying with a New York Times’ level sales history under your belt, which means you shouldn’t send agents books that you’ve already published. Agents want something new they can make shine. If the work is already self-published, you’re severely limiting what they can do for it.

Force Personalization

I know, I know. Every resource seems to say you must personalize your query letter to the agent you’re writing to, or they’ll take away your birthday. While personalization is always helpful, if there isn’t a real connection there, it feels forced. If you’re querying a specific agent because they represent a similar book to yours, let them know. If someone recommended them, let them know. If you met them at a conference, let them know. I’ve seen so many authors struggle and strain to come up with an explanation as to why they are bothering to query, but if there isn’t any concrete reason other than you need an agent, you can feel free to stop stressing about it and leave it out. I’ve received full requests from queries I never personalized. I promise it won’t break you but coming up with a weird half-baked excuse might.

Brag or Be Over Insecure

Writers are odd creatures. They skirt the line between narcissism and abject self-hatred. One minute we’re the best thing since Shakespeare. Next, we shouldn’t be allowed to write at all. It’s a symptom of the profession. However, it’s something that you should hide from a query letter. Don’t compare yourself to the greats. If you are the next one, we’ll see it in the writing. Just because you think there are flaws in your story doesn’t mean we’ll see them. Prefacing your sample pages with excuses as to why they may not be up to standard can make an agent question your writing ability as a whole when they may not have before. The same goes for bragging. Show us your story and run with it fast enough that we’ll miss any discrepancies.

Query Without Research

Now, everyone querying has probably researched how to query, but have they researched publishing as a whole? So many authors understand querying, but not their genre, the market, or how agenting works once you have one. Make sure your wordcount makes sense for your genre. Make sure you know what your genre is and where it will fit into the market. Understand that working with an agent is a business relationship. Sure, they’ll help you navigate the market, but they want to work with someone who starts knowing which way is North.

Finesse the Submission Guidelines

Please follow the submission guidelines. Don’t make the font super small to try and turn a five-page sample into a ten-page one. Don’t ignore the sample outlines and send your whole manuscript because “you’re the next Mark Twain.” Don’t try to manipulate the rules. Follow them. Some agents will insta-reject submissions that ignore the rules. Don’t lose out on a great opportunity because you thought you could get away with doing it wrong. Do it right the first time.

In summation, querying is hard, but it’s harder if you do the above. The good news is the more you query, the better you’ll get at it. So, if you’ve made the above mistakes, don’t beat yourself up about it. We’ve all sent out embarrassing queries. Just keep your chin up, follow the submission guidelines, and keep on keeping on.

Bio: Katherine DeGilio has worked as a creative writing workshop leader, a writing intern, a literary agent intern, and an insufferable optimist. Now, she spends her time as an editor for Salt & Sage Books while focusing on her own manuscripts. Her writing can be found in Scribble Literary, Third Wednesday, & Fifty Word Stories, among others. You can learn more about her here.


We Send You Publishers Seeking Submissions.

Sign up for our free e-magazine and we will send you reviews of publishers seeking short stories, poetry, essays, and books.

Subscribe now and we'll send you a free copy of our book Submit, Publish, Repeat