Trying My Best To Love YouToday's Tune:
I've been involved with the fabulous online writing community for a few years now, and in that time, I've begun to see a lot of the same questions pop up over and over regarding querying. The more I watch, the more it feels like we're focusing on the little things rather than the big questions.
It almost feels like writers are trying to fill the tiniest cracks because we believe that the smallest, most insignificant mistake will take us out of the running when we're playing the Query Game. As though forgetting to word a salutation or order query elements in the exact right way will cause every agent out there to delete a query immediately. The anxiety over "screwing up" is so high that people will fly to a writer's forum in a panic to ask whether they should fix and resend, let it go, send an apology, send a clarification, OMG WHAT DO I DO WHAT IF I'VE RUINED MY CHANCE AT GETTING THROUGH TO THIS AGENT?!
There are probably a number of factors involved in this querying nervousness. First and foremost, I think a lot of people really hate the feeling of being out of control when they hit the "send" button, so they want to do everything exactly right because it will "increase their chances." Because form letters or non-responses are so common, people are probably looking for any reason at all that they might have been shut out. And let's face it... it's a lot easier on our confidence and ego to believe we got a form letter because the agent didn't like the way we wrote our bio paragraph rather than thinking that they might not have connected with the story.
The accessibility of agents on social media probably has something to do with this attitude, as well. We have access to every rule and pet peeve known to publishing. We see the pros making comments about how they "can't stand" to see another letter saying this, or formatted this way, or comparing to this book. The somewhat-logical connection to make is that even if your query/project is SUPER AMAZING, if you made that goof, then the agent is going to write you off, no questions asked, even if they think the project is interesting.
Here's the reality: subjectivity kind of sucks. Sometimes you can write the most stellar query on the planet and have a project that editors will fight over, and some people still aren't going to click with it. Writers love to read those stories about such-and-such famous author getting rejected because it's the truth -- we all get rejected at some point. Usually repeatedly. There is absolutely nothing we can do to make our project universally appealing. If you want to do this, you will get rejected. Sometimes for a good reason, sometimes for a bad reason, sometimes (much more rarely) because the agent/editor was having a bad day. The sooner we can accept that we can't avoid rejection, the sooner we can stop fussing over the little things.
Now, I'm not a literary agent and I do not have any kind of ~*super secret access*~ to industry secrets, but based on personal experience, talking with several agents, and following tons of industry blogs, I know that no one will reject you because of one tiny mistake. Hell, a lot of agents won't even reject you if you include one of their big pet peeves... as long as they like the sound of your project. It always, always, always comes back to the project and the meat of the query. If they think it sounds good, they DO. NOT. CARE. that you used a rhetorical question, or skimped on the bio paragraph, or made/didn't make comparisons.
Which doesn't mean your query should be sloppy, because obviously the point here is to make your project shine. The one thing I *do* hear everyone say is that they like each query addressed individually to THEM, rather than a CC of every agent in North America. Other than that, though, you're probably focusing on the little things too much.
It's not bad to want your query to be as polished as you can make it. You should want that. It's good business. Put your best foot forward and such. Just don't get so caught up in hoping the little things push you through that you forget what actually gets you the request for more: your story.
If you've queried before, did you suffer this kind of query anxiety? If you haven't queried yet, are you feeling the pressure to make your query *perfect*?