If you have an agenda, hide it, hem it, get rid of it

Janet Reid, who is wicked funny and wicked nice, has a post on her blog that showcases an author’s query letter, which turned out to be all political commentary and no substance. I know, you read it and are clucking your tongue like a chicken on speed. Me too. In this case, Janet was wicked arse-kicking. And with good reason.

Thing is, we get these kinds of query letters from time to time, and it just begs for an eye roll. Yes, even at my age, I still roll my eyes.

It’s one thing to be passionate about your writing – it’s what we count on. But it’s quite another to be so passionate that you degrade everyone who doesn’t think like you – and there are plenty, believe me – because you make yourself look like a whack job.

We. Avoid. Whack. Jobs.

Agenda vs Controversy

There is a huge difference between controversy [which sells books] and an agenda [which just pisses people off].


  • taking drugs is awesome for improving your writing and you’re an idiot if you don’t believe that;
  • all Catholics wear Army boots, you know it, we all know it – what the heck does that even mean?
  • Democrats/Republicans are the anti-Christ and if you’re [either one], you are the root of all evil;
  • all divorced mothers are shameless money grubbers because all women are man-haters; all divorced fathers are shiftless losers because men are basically swine in pants;
  • over-protective parents are lame brains and you’re doing nothing but turning your kids into indecisive mush;
  • gays are ruining the country and if you like gays, you’re a fool who’s helping destroy America;
  • any doctor who uses alternative medicine in their practice is a pathetic goat, and anyone who goes to these quacks shouldn’t be allowed to cross the street alone.

Yes, these are pickings from my personal query pile that have come in over the years and every one of them make me sigh.

See, an agenda is a provocative opinion that gets personal and takes over the tone of the query letter. Agenda queries poke me squarely in the eye by insisting that anyone who believes differently from the author is a moron. Whether my personal views agree with them or not, I dislike having my morality, faith, political persuasions, and social beliefs questioned by someone who doesn’t even know me.

To presume to be the answer to these “burning” questions, frankly, scares the crap out of me. If you’re this loose a cannon in your query, what will you be like at an author event? I’ve seen and heard these types, and it’s far from pretty because it’s too easy to get them off track from fact to opinion without foundation. Is this an effective way to sell a manuscript?

On the other hand, queries with controversial subjects focus on the topic, not blathering on about the author’s personal opinion. That is already implied by the merits of the subject. Let’s take a look at the difference in tone:


  • [title redacted] takes a look at fifteen authors who take drugs when they write because they feel it improves their writing
  • My story is about being molested by a Catholic priest
  • Democrats/Republicans are driving a wedge into the moral fabric of this country
  • My story is about how my ex-wife falsely  accused of molesting my child in her attempt to gain sole custody
  • My book is about how my ex-husband abandoned my children and me when he ran off with an exotic dancer
  • My story focuses on how my over-protective parents retarded my life by controlling my every thought and action. When they died, I had to learn all these things on my own.
  • My book highlights what I feel is the moral decay of American life by allowing gays to marry
  • [title redacted] is about how [character redacted] falls seriously ill when her doctor insists on using alternative healing methods rather than standard medical procedures

The difference with controversy is that it invites discussion – much of it quite heated – but doesn’t call into question my own faith, belief system, morality, or political persuasion. The author keeps it “out there” and doesn’t make it personal. It’s simply more professional.

I wouldn’t make such a big deal about this, but I see way too much of it. Authors – dear authors – reign in your passion and stick to the subject. Don’t get personal, don’t attack with your personal biases. Don’t act like a noob. There is a perfect time for advocacy, and that’s when you’re at Tattered Cover standing in front of fifty people who are breathlessly awaiting to hear your wise words.

One Response to If you have an agenda, hide it, hem it, get rid of it

  1. catwoods says:

    Lynn, this is a nice reminder on how to present our information. The written word is so loaded by connotations that we must be diligent in presenting the facts, not our opinions when it comes to query writing.

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