Query misfire: leading with your bio – platform or gaffe?

I realize there are many ways to blow a query letter, but one of the best ways to screw the pooch is to lead your query with your bio.The reason is two-fold. To my trained eye it says, “Hey, I’m a big shot, look at me. I’m this and that, and did this and said that. I am tooo freaking cool for school, and you’d be a bona fide cow pie for not jumping through the monitor to offer me a contract for…oh yeah, I have this book I’d like you to look at. ” Thud.

You should always lead with the thing you’re trying to sell, which is your writing. And here’s why; I received a query today that detailed an impressive bio. I grew more excited with each paragraph about the author’s lofty career. “Oooo, baby, you struck the muthalode this time,” methinks.

Wrongo.

See, his bio was impressive for the book I was expecting. But it was a grave disappointment for what he was pitching; a novel. His bio, which took up huge amounts of space within his query, had zilch to do with his novel. By the time I was halfway through his pitch, I was let down because there was such a vast disconnect between who he is and the book he wrote.

His novel could have been written by anyone, so why showcase his bio? Hello, Mr. Misfire. The author made the mistake of thinking his bio was his platform when, in reality, it was nothing more than an afterthought. Is this how you want an agent or editor to think when reading your query? It’s about the writing and the story. Just because you’re the CEO of a widget company doesn’t mean your book about woodworking or rogue angels who tamper with the lives of three teenagers is going to sell. You have no platform for it, and leading off with “I’m the CEO of Acme Widget Company,” makes my eyes cross because your readership doesn’t care.

Now before you think me as a chronically grumpy old broad, let me say that he was rejected because his pitch was substandard, and he left no gaffe or misstep to chance. But yes, I was already cranky, which upset the beagle and left the new copy editor wondering why she’d taken the job.

No matter how big your bio and no matter how groovey you think you are, it still comes down to the story and the writing. Don’t mistake your bio for increasing my slobber quotient.

Edited to add: I’m not talking about Big Name people who have major name/face recognition. They can crank out a diddy on a box of Shredded Wheat and some editor would buy it. I’m talking about mere mortals who may have a lovely list of accomplishments but has nothing to do with what they’ve written. [thanks, Jason!]

5 Responses to Query misfire: leading with your bio – platform or gaffe?

  1. Jason Black says:

    Agreed in sentiment: 100%

    But in practical reality, there are people whose platform are significant enough that you know you’d probably drool over them whatever they were pitching.

    My kid picked up a picture book at the library the other day. A cute, but very thin, story about a new baby coming home and the big sister’s fantasies about how they would be best buddies when the baby got older. Who wrote it?

    Brooke Shields.

    Yes, that Brook Shields. Fashionista-turned-children’s-book-author. She didn’t do the art. The “story” itself is pretty un-remarkable, probably less than 200 words total. Platform alone sold that book.

    Because come on. Much as we all prefer when an author’s platform does actually support the book they’re writing, we all know that famous people can get pretty much any kind of crap published that they want.

    I mean, you can’t seriously expect me to believe that if Britney Spears pitched you a legal thriller set in the world of aeronautical engineering and the defense industry, that you wouldn’t seriously consider it.

    You’d say “Sounds Great, Ms. Spears. I look forward to working with you.” You’d hang up the phone (because you know Britney Spears wouldn’t send you a query letter, she’d have her people call your people), take a deep breath, and start calling editors you know who’d be willing to basically ghost-write the thing should it turn out to be horrible beyond description. But come on. You know you’d ask for the full manuscript.

  2. Hi Jason. Yes, you’re quite right; a Big Name Star/Singer/Actor/Politician could write a story on a lima bean, and some publisher would buy it.

    This isn’t who I’m talking about, and I should have made that clearer. My focus is on us mere mortals who may have lovely bios but have nothing to do with what they’ve written.

  3. BubbleCow says:

    Do you not feel that a writer with a good bio hook (motorbike riding granny) is easier to market in the short term. This is assuming the book is good.

  4. Hi BubbleCow. Yes, I agree that a great bio hook like your cycle-riding granny would be terrific. The problem I see in some queries is that granny opens her query with her bio, so this sets me up to believe she’s written a book along the lines of her bio.

    However, if she wrote a novel about a baker who snorts his own flour, her bio, while interesting, isn’t an asset because her target market probably isn’t the motorcycle-riding group. It’s a misfire.

    Now, can I make it work? Maybe. It depends on the book. If granny had written a cookbook [which I don’t publish] then I think the publisher’s publicity team could have a ton of fun with it.

    It all comes down to the story, so that’s where I’d like the focus to remain. It’s smarter to lead with that and put your bio at the end of the query.

    Does that make things clearer?

  5. BubbleCow says:

    Yeah thanks. I have always wondered just how much of a part a ‘good’ bio plays in the choice to sign up a writer or not.

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