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.