Whenever I go to writer’s conferences, the question usually arises; “What’s the absolute worst thing an author can do?”
Oh. The mind boggles.
I’m usually the one on the panel who urges my synapses to fire more quickly so I can go back through the many years of some of the more interesting WTF-ery that has flown across my desk. And truthfully, my brain rebels because I’d rather concentrate on all the right things to do.
There is one little thing that busts my chops every time because it’s just so absolutely horrible. It’s the query letter that doesn’t tell me anything about the manuscript, but instead asks for advice. Could I please talk a bit about my company and what we’re looking for? Could I please state how I want the query to look? Then I’m told the author “isn’t really a writer,” but, oh gosh, the story is JUST SO GOOD, that it’ll sell a bajillion books. Everyone who’s read the manuscript says so.
There is the “new writer” and then there’s the “hopelessly lost, out-of-the-zip-code writer.” It’s so achingly incredible that anyone in 2016 can be this lost. This goes beyond living on Writer’s Island. This is more like living under a rock.
I realize this is an extreme case of the Terrible Awful (thank you, Minnie Jackson) – but the fact that it still happens is worrisome. And of course, there are varying degrees of the Terrible Awful, and there is a very simple solution: Pretend this is a job interview.
The gods would toss down lighting bolts if you went into a job interview and ask the boss to tell them about their company and their guidelines…all the while telling them absolutely zip about you. It would go back to that getting laughed out of the zip code thing. If you want a job, then you make sure to put your best foot forward.
There is no reason for me to reply to a “query” such as this, so the author has blown the one chance they had with me. So think about your own query; is there a compelling reason for an agent or editor to reply in the positive…let alone reply at all? Does your query detail your main character? Does it focus on the heartbeat of your story and highlight what’s at risk? Does the tone of your query match the tone of the writing in the manuscript? I’ve seen any number of queries that insist the story is a comedy, yet the writing is somber and the storyline is anything but amusing.
Most importantly, have you written your query then walked away from it for a while? Did you let others read it and ask them if it’s written in a fashion that makes them want to read more?
Don’t be the Terrible Awful. Be the Holy-Margaritas-I-Gotta-Have-This!