No one likes a whiner. I know because I have a hard time keeping my eyes from rolling around in their sockets when someone assumes the position and blathers on about their lot in life. Blah, blah, blah…Don’t like it? Change it.
So, given that, I’m not whining about my lot in life. I love my job as much as I love Twinkies. And that’s a lot. But there are things about my job that make me want to run screaming for a fresh pitcher of the beagle’s margaritas…and that’s queries that fail to launch.
I realize I’ve written scads of posts regarding the ineffective query, but I do it in hopes that one writer will stumble across my blog and see the fatal mistakes they’re making that will result in rejection after rejection. They’ll scratch their heads and wonder, “What am I doing wrong? I have a great story here, so why don’t these idiot editors see that?”
I can almost feel their frustration oozing out of every pore. Thing is, I want you to be successful. I want your stories to be heard and enjoyed by readers all over the world. I want to be the one who makes it happen. But I can’t do any of that if you don’t tell me what your story is about.
What I don’t need to know (TMI):
- Where you were when you wrote your book – The setting that inspired you is a lovely side story, but save that AFTER you signed your contract, where we’ll have plenty of time to jibber jabber about your background.
- What your writing means to you – I’m truly thrilled that writing fulfills you and makes you feel complete. I feel the same way when I find the time to sit down and work on my novel. In fact, most writers feel this way. Join the club.
- How far you’ve come in your writing expertise – We were all novices at one time, so it’s lovely you’ve progressed – but hardly earth shattering. It’s simply the natural, logical progression that comes from experience.
- Your unknown poet/editor thinks your book is great – this is an offshoot of “Mom loved it.” I’m sure you love your mom or your unknown poet/editor, but this isn’t a persuasive argument. Unless Mom is packing heat or happens to be an award-winning NY Times bestselling author, you can safely leave Mom out of your query.
- You’ve been querying for quite a while now and have a very good book – Again, the idea is to be persuasive. This kind of information tells me nothing. There are no points given for those who query the longest. It just means you might not have a marketable book, even though you believe otherwise.
- That you’re looking for an agent to take you a long way – For some reason, this really bugs me. I’m not an agent. I’m an editor. This tells me the author is using a canned query letter and forgot to personalize it to say “editor.” It’s unprofessional. Am I being picky? Probably. But would you make the same mistake if you were applying for a job? Well, think of me as a future employer and see if that doesn’t offer some perspective on your delivery.
- Your voice isn’t boring and that you have a lovely command of literature – This is something I have to determine for myself. Since we pour thousands into our books, I’m not likely to take your word for your talents. We all think we’re fabulous. And we should! But what you think is fabulous may not be so for me. Besides, it means nothing if I have no clue what your story is about.
- You love literature, even though you are very young – I don’t really care how old you are. I’ve worked with authors in their 80s and authors in their 20s. The main thing I cared about is whether any of them wrote a great story. That you love literature is sort of a given. Otherwise, why write?
That an author included ALL these things into one query letter is why editors will never give up drinking. This was a heartfelt, honest query letter, but it gave me one sentence about the actual story.
This, out of two solid pages of endless detail and pitter patter.
If you want to be successful, concentrate your efforts on this – and only this:
- Who is the protagonist?
- What is his/her story?
- What does s/he want?
- What does s/he discover?
- What choices/decisions/changes does s/he encounter?
- What terrible thing will happen/ would have happened if s/he chooses (chose) one path; what terrible thing will happen/would have happened if s/he doesn’t/didn’t?
Stick to the story and save an editor’s liver.