Ringin’ in the New Year – helpful query hints

I’m always hopeful that with every new year, writers are that much wiser and careful about their writing careers. In order to help with that endeavor, I’ll share a few of the query blunders that slid into my Inbox while I was out drinking champagne…

Calling Google…where are you?

If your query lists your accomplishments, then it makes sense that I should be able to find them, yes? If you’re as fabo as you attest, then I would expect you to include a link to your website. What? You don’t have one? How can you be a:

  • Motivational speaker
  • Community leader
  • Public figure

and not have a website or blog? People with platforms have these things. If I find zippo on google, then all your insistence that “yah, I’m all that” melts the ice in my margarita. After all, if I can’t find you, then how does your public find you? Your future readers?

Learn before you leap

The dreaded query letter…so much hinges on so little, and it’s so easy to earn a very quick rejection letter based on how you communicate your story. Or lack, thereof.

Don’ts:

  • I’m a new writer. Not only is this unnecessary, but it could work against you because we’ve learned that new oftentimes means a glaring lack of understanding how to write a proper query. So we’re wary.
  • I attached my synopsis. NO. Do not attach anything unless you’ve been directed to do so. Many people won’t open attachments. Your pitch is short, and it belongs in the body of your email.
  • Reply to a rejection. Argh. Please sit on your fingers until the urge passes. The rejection letter went out, we’ve moved on. This isn’t an invitation to open a dialog, and it certainly isn’t an offer to send pages. I rejected an author yesterday for her lack of a coherent pitch, and she replied that she sent her synopsis (yes, I know…it was less than stellar). She decided that I needed to read her first four chapters. This is headbangy stuff that screams noob. As rude as it sounds, I really don’t need (or care) about the reasons why or how you blew your query. If I offered some insight in my rejection letter, cool. Move on and be smarter the next time. But you can keep me out of the loop. Really.
  • Can I rewrite my query and resend? I know there are differing opinions on this. Some agents/editors have no problem with authors asking if they can fix up their query and resend. If a story sounds interesting, I’ll contact the author and ask for more detail. Otherwise, a no is a no. And it goes back to that “a rejection letter isn’t an invitation to open up a dialog.” I’d suggest that you take your time, learn how to write a bang-on query. Go jump in the shark tank at Query Shark and do it right. If you have a fabulous query, go ahead and resend. You don’t need to ask permission.

Do

  • Follow the submission guidelines.

Be clear…clue me in

I know you know your story. But. I. Don’t. Help a gal out, willya? I don’t need clever, I don’t need esoteric, I don’t need wandering diatribe. I need only one thing – what your story is about. It should always include:

Who’s your protagonist?
What does he/she want?

What’s keeping him/her from getting it?
What choice/decision does he face?
What terrible thing will happen if he chooses A; what terrible thing will happen if he doesn’t.

An incomplete pitch is the #1 reason for rejection.

Competition/Platform

With the exception of a poorly written pitch, the biggest problem I see is the author who writes in a heavily impacted category and has no clue that he’s facing some very stiff competition.

New writers tend to be very insular; they battle some affliction or another (cancer, depression, alcoholism, weight issues, etc.) and decide that the world MUST read their story. The problem is that they have no clue that the libraries and bookstores are FILLED with these stories, and that their stories invariably say the same things that hundreds of other books have already said.

I’m ok with a book written in an impacted category provided the author has the platform to back him up. As lousy as it feels, a platform is the only way to get that book noticed. It’s like wearing school uniforms. Everyone looks the same, yet there’s always someone who wears an outrageous pair of socks or hair-do in order to stand out.

If you’re gonna write about weight issues or cancer – or any theme that’s been heavily written, you better have one hell of a hook and a platform that will catch a large readership because I guarantee that readers of an impacted category are better read than you. You have to deliver a unique message, and that means that you can’t be insulated.

You. Must. Know. Your. Competition.

Word Count/Genre

I’m amazed at the number of writers who forget to include this info. It’s as important as your pitch. I’ve lost count of the times I was interested in a story only to find out it was 35,000 words. Yikes.

Fiction/Nonfiction – thar be a difference

Now stop it, I see you rolling your collective eyes. Just yesterday I read a query that stated up front that it was a memoir, but later down the page, it stated it was the author’s first novel. Eh? Whazzat? Which is it? Memoir or fiction?

A novel is fiction.

This means that you don’t say “fiction novel.” It’s like saying you bought an automobile car. Makes me do a double take, and Cosmic Muffin knows I do that enough during the day.

So those are my New Year’s gifties. May your plots be rich and your characters three-dimensional. Go forth and be successful!

10 Responses to Ringin’ in the New Year – helpful query hints

  1. NinjaFingers says:

    I have spent quite a bit of time explaining to total newbies, too, that you don’t thank people for sending a rejection slip. People think it’s rude and don’t easily grasp that agents and publishers get more than enough mail without extras like that.

  2. Thank you, Lynn, for your usual acerbic, practical and extremely helpful advice.

    You reminded me to update my ‘About and Contact’ page on my site. *blushes*

    Happy new year to you and the beagle,
    Alison

  3. Another enormously helpful post that I’m going to link all over the place. Because there will always be newbies and there will always be the discussion (several times a year at my writers group at least) about ‘sending a thank you for a rejection, because I’m polite’.

    A very happy new year to you.

  4. Just had another thought. You’re asking writers not to send a thank you for a form reject, but perhaps writers are in denial about what a form rejection really looks like? Time for me to google.

  5. Chris says:

    Yikes!! That was ferocious.

  6. Great post, with good, common sense suggestions.

  7. kimkircher says:

    Excellent post. However, I am NOT going to send you a personal thank you note for this advice. I promise.

  8. Ebony: A form rejection letter is anything that thanks the author for their query, but unfortunately it isn’t what the editor is looking for. Or something along those lines. It’s generic.

  9. Another wonderful post, Lynn. Thank you.

  10. Website says:

    Website…

    Ringin’ in the New Year – helpful query hints « Behler Blog…

Tell me what you really think

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: