1. Query talks about what happens but doesn't give me a sense of what the story is
(9 queries in this category)
How you will avoid this: Make sure you've given me a sense of how the character must change, or what's at stake, or what's at risk for the character. Telling me what happens is just a series of events. Why it will change the character is what I'm interested in.
2. Outside the categories I take on
(4 queries in this category)
How you will avoid this: you can't. Query me for anything even if I don't rep it. I'd rather see something outside my area of interest than miss something fabulous. Of course you have to BE fabulous.
3. Overdone topic
(3 queries here)
How you will avoid this: know what's been done before. Make sure you're not writing a new version of Starksy and Hutch. If you love Starsky and Hutch tell it in new way, don't just make the characters female, or green, or on pogo sticks instead of cars.
4. A book I know I can't sell
(3 queries here)
Categories go in and out of fashion just like hem lengths. It's hard to write vampires right now. Also, medical and academic mysteries.
How you will avoid this: Know your category. If you're going to write a medical mystery it needs a fresh spin.
5. short story collection
(2 queries here)
Some agents will take on a collection as an initial project. I generally do not. I start with a novel. If I can sell that, then we talk about a collection.
6. The opioid epidemic.
(2 queries here)
Like domestic violence or sexual abuse, this is a topic I just don't want to read about for entertainment. There's almost no nuance to these topics; they're just plain sorrow on a stick.
7. cliche ridden query means a cliche ridden novel
(2 of these)
How you will avoid this: know what cliches are. Avoid them.
8. the category so gummed up it's clear the writer doesn't have a clue
How you will avoid this: pick one category. Stick to it.
There is no such thing as an fictional biographical memoir.
9. query written in character's voice
This is so confusing you have no idea. Everyone who does this should be sentenced to reading my incoming queries for a week. You'd never do it again.
How to avoid this: DO NOT DO THIS. And remember: plain and simple is best. I'm not sitting down with tea and a ruler and a notepad and pen (pens!!) to parse your query letter. I'm reading it right now at 7:11pm on a weekday evening while I wait for everyone to log on to a conference phone call. Plain. Simple. Elegant.
10. physicist by day/stripper by night-I'm REALLY over this trope
If your female characters are caricatures, I'm done. Really really done.
11. boring villain
If your villains are just plain evil for no apparent reason, we're done.
12. the query letter so clueless I just can't even
How you will avoid this: Don't worry, you're not at risk. If you're reading industry blogs and paying even a modicum of attention you'll be fine.
13. Query letter attached to the email
How you will avoid this: Don't do it.
14. If you write what you know, you're writing non-fiction.
Novels need imagination. The opposite of that is science fiction that defies science. If you're going to defy earth's science, set your book on Pluto
How you will avoid this: Accuracy is vastly over rated as a story telling technique BUT you gotta have it for things like gravity. If people can fly, aerodynamics is in play. If gravity doesn't factor into your story, set it on Pluto. I hear it's nice and light out there.
15. impossible to read 1600 word query, single space, one block of text.
How you will avoid this: don't do it. A query is 250 words. There's a compelling reason you should follow that rule: it forces you to be concise. And a big block of text is impossible to read. Make SURE you have white space.
16. No clue what writer is querying for
How you will avoid this: See #12
17. So overwritten I went to adjective/adverb detox after reading
Not every noun needs an adjective, especially rain, sky, hair, and gait. Unless of course it's raining cats and dogs from an purple sky and your hair is green and you're pulling me in a sedan chair toward the bar. In other words, use an adjective or adverb if you need to distinguish your noun. Undistinguished nouns are not lesser nouns.
18. Not enough story /word count too light for category
This is tricky because not enough story is often measured by low word count, but not always. Not enough story means the stakes are too low to carry a novel, or not enough happens. Editors often say the book isn't "big enough." And any novel under 60K with some few category exceptions is too short. Anything that requires real world building should START at 100K.
As always, remember I keep these stats from queries I saw a while back. If you heard from me recently, this isn't about you.
On the other hand, these kinds of problems pop up over and over again....