It's an imperfect system, but in a business of art and humans, it's the best way we know how. So go forth, aware that in deviating from the formula, you might catch a tired agent's attention, but that we'd much prefer if your awesome idea did that catching instead.
So no, there are no real "rules" to querying, but there are standards that exist for a lot of reasons. None of those reasons are meant to keep you out. These are not gatekeeping requirements by nature. I know I and many other agents teach queries constantly.
This bears reiteration: agents are human. We try to be open-minded when answering queries, but the fact is is that we're curating a list of our own. We also get impatient, or don't read as carefully as we should because we don't get paid for slush, so it's pushed to late nights
There are also reasons why we turn things down that have nothing related to you or your book. One of my most common is that I already rep something too similar to your book. It means you're on the right track, but repping two similarly pitched books makes my job difficult
One of my goals with #500queries is to show writers a snapshot of 500 emails from my slush. Nothing is skipped, and this is about a month's worth of queries. This is meant to show you exactly how even following the rules a little bit will put you at the top.
And related to #3, Reason #4) these rules exist so that we can look at slush without all the bullshit; it's so we can assess ONLY the story idea to see if we want to read it. It's why you telling me why you wrote the book doesn't matter at this stage. All of that we'll ask later
Reason #3) These queries are meant for skimming. As opposed to the rhetoric, a query letter is not important on the whole. Its sole purpose is to pique my interest enough to get me to the pages. That's it. It's not supposed to make me want to sign you right now.
A lot of the formatting rules exist for reasons:
Reason #1) If you follow directions, we know you've actually put the time and energy into prepping your book for submission, and you actually want to work with us (read: not wanting to waste anyone's time)
Laura Zats @LZatsSo we're just over 50% through with this session of #500queries and I have a few minutes before a call, so let's do a quick thead on query "rules"
There are hundreds of businesses and blogs out there trying to convince you that there is one right way to write a query. That you have to follow all these ridiculous rules, and that agents love turning you down.