In the relatively short time I’ve been an agent, I’ve noticed something that makes me smile and sigh at the same time: the paralyzing fear some writers experience when they query agents. To them (and you) I say: Relax. It’s okay if you make a small mistake. It won’t ruin your career if you accidentally query an agent twice. Or if you get their name wrong. Or if you found a typo on page three that you were sure hadn’t been there before you sent your sample pages. Don’t let the anxiety of the querying process rule your life.
For the most part, queriers are going about it well. You hear so much about the horror stories because they’re much funnier (and scarier) than the majority of normal queries sent. That said, there are two majorly important rules every querier must follow or they will forever burn in the pit of unpublished writers:
- Be courteous
- Don’t be annoying
That’s pretty much it. All you can do is act professionally in all your communications with agents, follow their submission guidelines, and then hope for the best.
If you do mess up, don’t let the worry eat at you. In most cases, it won’t make much—if any—difference at all. Agents are looking for great books. That’s it. So if you have a good manuscript and get most things right, you’ll be okay.
To state it even more succinctly, I’ll quote Neil Gaiman’s excellent commencement speech from earlier this week (replacing “freelancer” with “writer”):
“You get work however you get work, but people keep working [as a writer] because their work is good, because they are easy to get along with, and because they deliver the work on time. And you don’t even need all three! Two out of three is fine.”
While you should always strive for all three, getting something wrong will not kill your chances of ever getting published.
In summation: Relax. If you do make a mistake, fix it or ignore it as the situation demands. Send out another query to a different agent, this time without your earlier mistake, and keep going.
Then, once you’ve sent out your queries, move on. Forget about queries and your manuscript and publishing in general, and live your life without anxiety. The only thing you’ll get from obsessing over every little thing is an ulcer. Why not put that energy to good use? Start on a new project. Reacquaint yourself with your significant other and/or children, whom you’ve probably neglected to some extent over the past few months as you feverishly wrote and revised your masterpiece. Do whatever you’d like, so long as it isn’t spent refreshing your inbox every two seconds with a half eaten gallon of ice cream melting on your lap.
It will be okay.