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Query rant

I’ve done my Query Dos and Don’ts more times than I’d care to count…at conferences, in posts, etc.  However, it always shocks me when writers don’t put any more thought into their queries than they would a hurried e-mail to their best frienemy.  In a ranty frame of mind, I’ve put together a top three list of what not to do.  It would have been ten, but I have a friend coming in this weekend and a novel I’ve started that I’m very enthusiastic about finishing, so my time, as always, is limited.

#1: Comment something to the effect that: “You’ll probably be one of the sheep and reject me like everyone else.” Do they really think we’ll say, “Wait, I don’t want to be a called a sheep. Of course I’ll rep you.” If we’re so easily manipulated, why would you want us?

#2: Spout vitriol of any kind, whether it’s racist, sexist or otherwise biased against the industry, a political party or sexual orientation.  We’re business people.  Our agenda is to get our authors published.  If you’re pushing some other agenda, you can pay to spread the propaganda like everybody else.

#3: Comment about how everything else out there is standard crap, but since you poop diamonds, you’ll probably be rejected.  We rep the “crap” out there or you wouldn’t be coming to us, so there’s a very good chance we’ll take offense at this on our authors’ behalf.  Second, this sounds like sour grapes.  Already you’ve given the impression that you’re cranky and egotistical, not exactly the top two traits I look for in an author.

What do we look for?  What can we tell from a query letter?  We can tell whether or not you take the business seriously, which is likely to be reflected in the effort you put into writing and revising as well.  We can tell if your ideas, the length of your manuscript, your ability to put words together are in the right ballpark.  The tone can tell us how you’ll be to work with and how well you’ll respond to editorial suggestions.   If you disrespect our jobs, our colleagues, our industry or our time, we're glad to reciprocate with a rejection. 

Your query letter is meant to get your foot in the door and encourage the agent or editor to read on.  Then it’s up to the material you provide – your synopsis and sample chapters or full manuscript – to close the deal.

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( 25 comments — Leave a comment )
andrian6
Jan. 15th, 2011 03:12 pm (UTC)
*peers at the above with a distinct state of dismay*

I'm now entrenched in the belief no one should write query letters, much less correspondence of any sort, under the influence of cable news punditry.
JaredBlake7
Jan. 15th, 2011 03:14 pm (UTC)
Frustration at inherent societial brain damage
Lucienne,

I've subscribed to your twitter, like I have many other publishers, as a humble new author hoping to pick up some crumbs of wisdom as you go about your business of cooking up the next big thing.

Not to dis-credit what you've said, as it is undoubtedly valuable advice (and some that i will take to heart), but I am in an udder stupor after reading this.

My complete lack of comprehension as to WHY anyone would do this to you, is an obvious sign of my green nature, but good-golly Ms.Molly, this is outlandish.

On behalf of authors everywhere, both new and old...LOL, and I'm sorry :-(

The fact that you get these Queries is a befuddlement worthy of a documentary on the fragile psyche of crazy-people/authors, or a PSA on PBS about proper manners...
I am still tweaking my very first Query, and i would NEVER think to do any of the items listed above. Alienating someone who i would ultimately look to work with hand-in-hand seems to be counter-intuitive...

I'm obviously ranting, i have that problem (sorry), but what i really mean to say is - thank you for my morning laugh - and again... sorry
deborahblakehps
Jan. 15th, 2011 05:04 pm (UTC)
Re: Frustration at inherent societial brain damage
Jared,
Since we share the same last name, I thought I'd give you a tip that might help you in future. Us Blake's have to stick together, after all.
The word you want is "utter" not "udder" which hangs under a cow.

I know, the English language...
JaredBlake7
Jan. 15th, 2011 08:17 pm (UTC)
Re: Frustration at inherent societial brain damage
thanks for catching my fopa!

Although the imagery of a udder stupor (likely to occur after a lil too much tequila and a night out on the town), sounds far worse...

I'm claiming an intentional foul here :-) Blake is only the middle name btw, it's Jared Blake DiCroce if you were curious, as in www.JaredBlakeDiCroce.com :-)

Thanks again:-)
deborahblakehps
Jan. 15th, 2011 10:17 pm (UTC)
Re: Frustration at inherent societial brain damage
You're welcome, Jared not Blake :-)

Although I like your image of an udder stupor. I live in the country, where such things are all too possible!

And just to continue being helpful with a side of annoying, I think you meant "faux pas" not "fopa." It's from the French, obviously, and means blunder.

Look how educational this has all turned out to be! [You'll thank me when you don't make these mistakes with agents and editors....really you will.]

Deborah, the former English Teacher, putting away her red pen
JaredBlake7
Jan. 15th, 2011 10:41 pm (UTC)
Re: Frustration at inherent societial brain damage
Lol,
thank you much, i am always appreciative of red ink, though I'm worried that we're stealing the stage here a bit.
We should always remember (so long as it's not in a professional setting), language i.e. writing is meant for expression, not perfection.
You know what I'm saying, fopa, or faux pas, it's all gravy :-)
thanks again!
~J
(Anonymous)
Jan. 15th, 2011 03:18 pm (UTC)
Query rant
I think that people who commit those sins must live/write in a narcissistic vacuum. Writers with any sort of community -- especially these online days -- would know better, I'd wager. Their egos are more likely to be under stricter control. There are some people who refuse to believe they can't write, and write brilliantly, and who take furious umbrage with even the faintest whisper of constructive criticism. The phenomenon you discuss seems to be an outgrowth of that.

For my part, I hone the query until it's like a scalpel. I run it by my peers online or via e-mail. Short and sweet, is my motto. Editors, writers, agents -- we're all under the gun and I don't want to waste anyone's time any more than I want my time wasted.

(And speaking of that -- the LiveJournal ads are pretty annoying.)

A.L. Sirois
varkat
Jan. 15th, 2011 03:29 pm (UTC)
Re: Query rant
I completely agree with you on the LiveJournal ads and will write to them again. I have a paid account. They should not subject my readers to their ads!

These queries I'm ranting about are definitely in the minority, but not so much as you'd think, sadly.
joycemocha
Jan. 15th, 2011 06:36 pm (UTC)
Re: Query rant
Unfortunately, IRL I have an exposure to one of the writer-types you talk about. If I mentioned the name it is quite possible it might be memorable from a big splash this person tried to generate in order to promote their alleged nonfiction small press books (plural, sigh) potential as "Hollywood blockbusters."

I could barely get through a quarter of the book before I flung it against the wall. In IRL, this person is ragingly narcissistic and difficult to work with. I suspect many of your problematic queriers are that way IRL as well.

For my perspective, short, sweet and to the point. But I don't have agent or book sales to my credit yet, either, so I probably am missing something as well.
wowalready
Jan. 15th, 2011 04:26 pm (UTC)
Queries
I found this article eye-opening and a little shocking. It amazes me that anyone, much less someone trying to sell a product (their work and themselves), would consider any of the things mentioned appropriate in a business letter.

As a balance, would you consider printing a similar list of 'to dos'? I was approached by a small press that wanted to publish a novel I'd written (in edits now), so I've not written a query. However, though they'd like to option my next book, I'd like to attempt the larger publishing world. I'd appreciate a primer before I sit down to write the letter.

Thank you for your time and consideration.
varkat
Jan. 15th, 2011 11:10 pm (UTC)
Re: Queries
Yup, I posted a list of "Dos" over at Magical Words around Thanksgiving. Here's the link: http://www.magicalwords.net/lucienne-diver/querying/
wowalready
Jan. 16th, 2011 01:07 am (UTC)
Re: Queries
Thank you!
elfmama
Jan. 15th, 2011 04:37 pm (UTC)
Poop diamonds- lol, its good that you can keep your sense of humor. As an unagented-writer, these types of posts are soooo frustrating. It's the people like this (and those who don't bother to do any research on sub guideline) who eat of agents' time so that they are unable to respond with any sort of feedback to those of us who carefully follow guidelines and do's and don't lists and who could benefit so much by a simple- good premise but it's just not marketable, right now- isn't right for YA- whatever professional advice we might be able to get.
questofdreams
Jan. 15th, 2011 05:07 pm (UTC)
It continues to amaze me the way so-called aspiring writers treat the business and those who would help them.
deborahblakehps
Jan. 15th, 2011 05:08 pm (UTC)
I always thought that appearing professional was the fastest, easiest way to get noticed by an agent or editor--since then you stand out from the crowd.

Doesn't it occur to the folks who say, "You'll reject me like everyone else," that they've just told you that no one else likes their work? Seems sill to me...
(Anonymous)
Jan. 15th, 2011 05:44 pm (UTC)
Those Query Letters...
When taking my freelance writing biz to the next level of full time ghostwriting, I've had to learn to weed out the wannabes from those who truly understand that writing and publishing books is a business that requires knowledge of the process, respect for agents and publishers, and who have taken the time to perfect the process. I've worn out several shovels in the last year. Talking to these wannabes about their vision and purpose for their book usually gets me a "HUH?" in response. But the net spreads far and wide and I guess all we can is keep throwing the scavenger fish back into the sea and keep hoping for the big lobsters that have bothered to learn the ropes.

Jilly Prather-Nehls
www.balancedbooksghostwriting.wordpress.com
serendipityteacher.blogspot.com
Jan. 15th, 2011 05:59 pm (UTC)
Thank you for keeping me entertained. Your blog post has left me in a fit of giggles. I am not sure that that was not your intent, but it made me laugh.
I really need to get help for my weird sense of humour.
jongibbs
Jan. 15th, 2011 07:44 pm (UTC)
Thanks for sharing :)
PIBarrington
Jan. 15th, 2011 07:54 pm (UTC)
Surprised
With so many agents writing helpful and honest blogs like this one, I am constantly surprised that authors continue to make these type of mistakes or have these attitudes!
martharamirez
Jan. 15th, 2011 09:51 pm (UTC)
I feel for you and all the other agents. I cannot believe what some people write. It's really too bad. Unbelievable at times.

Kudos to you for taking time for this post.

BTW Loved this! "but since you poop diamonds."
Alexander Pendergrass
Jan. 15th, 2011 11:34 pm (UTC)
It's reassuring to know I avoided the no-no's. It would get pretty frustrating to have to read so many letters that accomplish nothing but a good, self-inflicted wound to the foot, I imagine.
_ElizabethMay
Jan. 16th, 2011 03:48 pm (UTC)
It seems that there are a certain percentage of writers who lack the most fundamental understanding of a query: that it is a business letter. It's not a place to rant, feel sorry for one's self, insult, or provide excessive TMI. Sometimes I wonder if people just haven't done enough research to distinguish the personal nature of writing and the impersonal nature of querying. In that regard, I feel sorry for them - they'll probably never figure out they're at fault. They'll just keep blaming agents.
(Anonymous)
Jan. 17th, 2011 08:04 pm (UTC)
I always thought the golden rule for queries were clean polished, polite yet confident. But that's just me.
Cynthia Vespia
Jan. 31st, 2011 04:39 am (UTC)
Query Question
Lucienne, what would you think of a query told from the character's point of view?
varkat
Jan. 31st, 2011 01:08 pm (UTC)
Re: Query Question
I haven't seen it work yet. I'm not saying it couldn't, but eighteen years in the business, I've never requested anything where the query was from the character's POV (or written by a secretary, brother, sister, favorite aunt, etc.). The query letter is our introduction to the writer. The synopsis and chapters should speak for the work.
( 25 comments — Leave a comment )

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