Common Slush Mistakes

  1. Querying an agent who doesn’t rep your genre
    No one at our entire agency represents screenplays, yet I get multiple queries for screenplays every week
  2.  Sending the wrong materials
    If an agent asks for 10 pages and a query, they want 10 pages and a query. Not “I know your sub guidelines say ____, but–“
  3. Unsolicited attachments
    Most agents do not want attachments with the initial query. You send them, you get deleted
  4. Wrong email address
    Sending a query to an agent’s personal email is not a shortcut to skip the line. Depending on how forgiving the agent is, they may forward it to their query inbox (where it is now even lower on the list) or simply delete it
  5.  Wrong subject line
    This may not seem like a big thing (in some cases, it’s not), but some query inboxes have a specific spam filter that deletes/sends to spam any incoming query that doesn’t have the word “query” in the subject line. Unless the sub guidelines indicate otherwise, a good default is “Query: TITLE”
  6. Not including important information
    Book title
    Category/genre
    Word count
    Author name
    Return email
  7. 20 words about the book, 200 words about the author or 0 words about the book, 700 words about the author
    See also: super short/long queries (1 sentence or 1000+ words)
  8. Listing 3+ genres and categories
    See also: “This is a contemporary fantasy military thriller mystery for all ages”
  9. Pitching multiple books in the same query
    This goes for multiple projects AND multiple sequels
    (“stands alone but has series potential” is your friend)
  10. (Fiction) Manuscripts that aren’t finished
    Non-fiction has its own set of rules
  11. Wrong genre/category
    10YO MCs in YA and adult MCs in MG are possible, but not terribly probable. And I know genre can be hard to pin down, but make sure you don’t label it something that it’s not.
    READ YOUR GENRE
    READ YOUR CATEGORY
  12. Odd/outlandish word counts
    Adult thrillers under 40K
    MG contemporaries over 100K
    YA fantasies under 25K
    Adult fantasies over 400K
    Word count is flexible, but definitely be aware of it
  13. Inappropriate overfamiliarity
    The internet gives an artificial sense of closeness, so it’s easy to think of the agents you interact with as your friends. Some might genuinely be, but the default will always be to professionalism
  14. Unedited manuscripts
    See also: “I just finished this manuscript, and–“
  15. Vague or Generic Stakes
    Agents really need to know what’s at stake. Don’t just give them “OR HE WILL LOSE EVERYTHING HE LOVES” or “OR THE WORLD WILL END”
    That’s like 90% of books right there
    Get more specific
  16. Too much about the world/magic system/backstory, nothing about the plot
    See also: queries where nothing happens . . . or EVERYTHING happens
  17. Too much about the character, nothing about the plot
    Same goes with too little about them — find me some CHOICE descriptors to hook me on your character
  18. Not telling me what the character wants
    You can nail the stakes and the character description, but if you don’t tell me what your MC actually wants, it completely undercuts those. It is entirely possible that the world REALLY IS going to end . . . but your MC doesn’t care. Or someone’s life is at stake . . . but your MC kind of actually hates that person, so they may just be okay with letting them die
  19. Queries that read like dry synopses and just list events
    “STAR WARS begins with a space battle and then the droids C-3PO and R2-D2 escape and crash land on Tatooine where they are captured by Jawas and then sold to Luke Skywalker and–“
  20. Ten zillion proper nouns
    There is no absolute rule for this, but an agent does not need to know every single character’s name or every city and country
  21. VAGUE/UNCLEAR STAKES
    Agents really, REALLY need to know what’s at stake.
    And don’t just give them “OR HE WILL LOSE EVERYTHING HE LOVES” or “OR THE WORLD WILL END”
    That’s like 90% of books right there
    Get more specific
  22. Passive characters
    Your MC should be DRIVING the story, even when things take them by surprise or come out of nowhere. If things are just happening to your MC in the query, an agent will likely assume that’s how it will be in the book too
    (See also: Jupiter Ascending)
  23. Writing a full synopsis instead of a query
    Your query has exactly two goals: Show that you’re not an unprofessional dick and get an agent to read your pages. If you give away how it ends in the query, there’s no suspense — no reason for an agent to go OMG I MUST KNOW WHAT HAPPENS NEXT
  24. Writing the query in the character’s voice
    An agent is going to be representing YOU (and hopefully ALL of your work), not a character. It’s not original or gimmicky or professional or a good way to stand out. (I mean, you WILL stand out, but not in a good way)
  25. Loads of infodump in the opening pages
    As difficult as it is, you must strike a balance.
  26. Re-querying the same project after minimal edits and/or only a few months
    Refer to the sub guidelines above everything else, but most agents agree that you should only re-query a project after SUBSTANTIAL revisions
    As far as timelines go, that’s up to individual agencies
  27. Apologizing for your work

    Don’t begin with an apology for taking an agent’s time or for how bad you think your book is
    Breathe
    You’ve got this
    Let your work stand on its own
    Apologize for nothing
    Unless you’re being a dick
    Apologize for that
    Actually, just don’t do it in the first place 👍

 

#20 – Bad writing
Yeah, I know, that seems like a given
But it’s true
Even the best query will do you no favor if your pages are weak
And reading queries means that most of what I see is ultimately unpublishable

#1 – (And I cannot stress this one enough) VAGUE/UNCLEAR STAKES
I really, REALLY need to know what’s at stake. And don’t just give me “OR HE WILL LOSE EVERYTHING HE LOVES” or “OR THE WORLD WILL END”
That’s like 90% of books right there
Give me something SPECIFIC
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#1 a – You have to set your book apart. You have to make me care about what happens to your MC by telling me exactly what’s at stake
“OR FIRE LORD OZAI WILL BURN THE WORLD TO THE GROUND IN HIS MAD QUEST TO REMAKE THE WORLD IN HIS IMAGE”
is better than
“OR THE WORLD WILL END”
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#2 – Passive characters
Show me that your MC is DRIVING the story, even when things take them by surprise or come out of nowhere
If things are just happening TO your MC in the query, I’m going to assume that’s how it will be in the book too
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#2 a – This is one of the big reasons I disliked Jupiter Ascending — the MC was just flung from place to place without actually driving events
I know that was a conscious choice, but it made for a boring watch with a character who could have been replaced with a ham sandwich
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(If you liked Jupiter Ascending, you do you
I’m not criticizing you or your taste)
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#3 – Giving me a full synopsis of the book (in the query)
Your query has exactly two goals
1) Show that you’re not an unprofessional dick
2) Get an agent to read your pages
If I know how it ends, there’s no suspense — no reason for me to go OMG I MUST KNOW WHAT HAPPENS NEXT
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#4 – Too much backstory
I’m so proud of you if you’ve taken the time to flesh out your world and its history
I really am
But if you spend the entire query trying to dazzle me with your worldbuilding skills, you leave me with almost nothing about the actual story
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#4 a – If the history is relevant, you can totally include a line or two!
“Nineteen years ago, after a period of civil war, the Republic was reformed into the Galactic Empire by a ruthless space dictator. BUT NOW THE REBELLION IS GOING TO KICK HIS ASS”
See?
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🗡 🐍 ed 🗡 🐍
#4 b – If you want to see a GREAT example of “just enough backstory,” check out the opening of Avatar: The Last Airbender 🗡 🐍 added,
🗡 🐍
This actually works as a really interesting query-writing strategy, believe it or not https://twitter.com/RaeAChang/status/977334106068430849
Show this thread
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#4 c – A:TLA has SO MUCH GREAT BACKSTORY
AND THEY SPEND AN ENTIRE EPISODE SHOWING YOU THE HISTORY OF HOW THE FIRE NATION SCREWED EVERYTHING UP AND IT IS GLORIOUS
But all of that backstory is summed up in only 6 words
EVERYTHING CHANGED WHEN THE FIRE NATION ATTACKED
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#5 – Too much about the character
I LOVE me some amazingly fleshed out characters
But I need to know what’s happening too
(Same goes with too little about them)
Find me some CHOICE descriptors to hook me on your character
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#5 a – I know it’s super hard, but try to sum them up in a catchy way for me
(“Compulsive collector and kleptomaniac mermaid Lysandra” is legit my favorite character query-description that I’ve ever written 😂)
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#6 – Writing the query in the character’s voice
Oh guys
Oh GUYS
An agent is going to be representing YOU (and hopefully ALL of your work), not a character
It’s not original or gimmicky or professional or a good way to stand out
(I mean, you WILL stand out, but not in a good way)
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#6 a – Because I KNOW someone is going to bring this up
Yes, there is ALWAYS an exception
Yes, I have seen this work exactly twice
Both of them were with different agents
Please don’t assume you are that exception
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#7 – Not telling me what the character WANTS
You can nail the stakes and the character description, but if you don’t tell me what your MC actually wants, it completely undercuts those
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#7 a – It is entirely possible that the world REALLY IS going to end . . . but your MC doesn’t care
Or someone’s life is at stake . . . but your MC kind of actually hates that person, so they maaaaaayyy just be okay with letting them die
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#8 – LOADS of infodump in the opening pages
Trust me
I KNOW how hard this is
I struggle with this all the time in drafts
This post is MASTERFUL at teaching how to work in backstory and pertinent info
http://blog.janicehardy.com/2013/09/baby-got-backstory.html
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#8 a – If you open with “Alie walked silently through the forest. She was an experienced ranger who could see in the dark. She’d spent fifteen years training with Master Chief, who had taken her in after her parents had been slaughtered by aliens, and–” . . .
you get the idea
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#9 – Re-querying the same project after minimal edits and/or only a few months
Refer to the sub guidelines above everything else, but most agents agree that you should only re-query a project after SUBSTANTIAL revisions
As far as timelines go, that’s up to individual agencies
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#10 – Apologizing for your work
I see this mainly with young women, but it happens quite a bit
Don’t start off with an apology for taking an agent’s time or for how bad you think your book is
Breathe
You’ve got this
Let your work stand on its own
Apologize for nothing
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#10 a – Unless you’re being a dick
Apologize for that
Or just don’t do it in the first place 👍