Of late I’ve collected a lot of query letters where it’s obvious the authors lost sight of its actual intent – to the point where all I can do is shake my head and utter, “Wow.”
And not in a good way.
“Everybody Wants Me”
One query named every editor and agent who had asked to see pages. I understand the desire to make oneself look like they’re in demand because sometimes it actually works. That’s the stuff auctions are made of. However, they have a topic that’s worth fighting over because they know what the story is about. The one sentence she expended on her book had me looking around my office wondering if The Rescues had played another trick on me.
If she’d sent the same query to all those people clamoring for her work, how were they able they draw enough of a conclusion to warrant asking for pages?
The icing on the cake is that she never actually mentioned she was querying me. It was merely an email telling me about everyone who wants her. Her reply was that she “forgot” in all the excitement. Forgot. To. Tell. Me. She. Was. Querying. Me.
Alrighty then. I think I’ll let all those other agents and editors duke it out.
“I Did This and That”
One author offered up accolades from a play performance and being featured in the local newspaper twice, and only included one teensy sentence about the topic of the manuscript…which is in a very crowded category.
One short sentence. I’m pretty good, but the reception on my tinfoil hat doesn’t extend to reading author’s minds.
Humor is a tough thing because it’s so subjective. What the author may find utterly hysterical may put my teeth on edge. If you’re tempted to use humor in your query letter, ask yourself whether it fits with the flavor of the manuscript, and whether you’re trying too hard to be witty rather than simply telling me what your book is about.
One author’s query letter made me belly laugh – and I’m a very hard sell. So, of course, I asked for the full. Her manuscript is a humor piece, so the humor in her query was appropriate. She had me at hello, as the line goes…
Another author wasn’t as lucky, and had me dropping Pepsid OTC. Her first line begged me not to eat her. Eh? I’ll admit that I can have a bit of bite to me on occasion, but to actually consume another human being is beyond my capacity or desire. I’ll leave it to the bears ‘n gators. There was also an odd reference about hair-pulling which still has me scratching my head. But the ultimate killer was that her subject matter was of a serious nature, so the use of humor fell as flat as my efforts at baking.
“I Thought the Manuscript Was Attached”
Another query was long on the braggy stuff – “I’m the coolest thing since sliced bread.” – and short on detail; also one short sentence. The kicker is that the author thought he’d attached the manuscript, which he hadn’t. But that wasn’t the bad part. The bad part was the author’s assumption that the manuscript would speak for itself, thus making up for a vague query letter.
The truth is that an incomplete query won’t compel me to open up an attachment…even if it is attached. Well, okay, yah, in truth I’ll open it and read a page or two. But if it isn’t even attached, thar be no way I’ll carry the conversation any further, other than to reject it.
“To Whom It May Concern”
This is always a favorite of mine because it instantly makes my intestines do a backflip. I know, I know, maybe it’s petty, but I view query letters like a job interview, and my mama always taught me that when job hunting, you always know the name of the person to whom you’re talking, and you’re familiar with the company. It shows due diligence and professionalism.
“How Much Do You Charge?”
This is another favorite of mine for the sheer humor of it. That simple question tells me buckets about the author’s knowledge of the publishing industry. And hey, what better compliment can one have than to be assumed as being a vanity publisher? Cracks me up every time because there are so many responses I’m tempted to write:
“A quart of your blood and any beagles you have stashed around.”
“If you gotta ask, then you can’t afford me.”
“I don’t charge, I lollygag. Slowly.”
Oh dear, the list of possible replies goes on and on…
“I Have an Agent”
Now this confounds me every time I read this – and yes, over the past 13 years, it’s happened more than I care to count. For the love of all that’s holy, why, why, why would you write a terrible query letter that’s on equal footing with bug repellant when you Have. An. Agent? Isn’t that why you have an agent?
I know of some authors whose agents will only query the Big Guns and permit their clients to query us “less worthy” sub-humans. This offers up its own roadblocks because I find it arrogant and offensive. So if those Big Guns don’t bite, and the author does all the dirty work of querying us peons, then how has that agent earned their 15%? Uh uh. Not in my book.
Do It Right or Go Home
The long and short of The Query Game is this: If I have no idea what your story is about, then it doesn’t matter how funny, popular, forgetful you are, who your unnamed and absent agent is, or how much money you have. Send a query that’s short on giving me the goods, and you’re bantha fodder.
A query letter exists for one purpose; to attract an editor or agent to the point of uttering “Wow” in a good way. My particular needs are the following:
- What is your book about? – this means details about your personal journey and how it impacted/changed your life.
- What makes it a “gotta have it”? Is there an identifiable audience? If so, what are the unique elements of your story that make it stand out from the herd? If you don’t have something unique and revolutionary to say, then I probably won’t bite.
- Who are you and what kind of platform do you have? Furthering that idea of a unique message, you need to have a platform to back yourself up. This doesn’t mean how many people you know, but how many people know you. And how do they know you? If you’re known for being a painter, then I’m leery about whether your book on manic depression or cancer will carry much weight. Reason being, there are a jillion books on those topics, and the thing you’re known for doesn’t impact the subject of your book. Nonfiction is funny that way.
Conversely, Erika Armstrong, author of our upcoming release A CHICK IN THE COCKPIT, is known for being a pilot and writing amazing aviation articles in many mags. However, the fact that she’s a pilot is the compelling hook for her personal journey. Given the vast numbers of pilots, this is going to be a hot seller because her platform supports her book.
This is how you Wow an agent or editor. Don’t be bantha fodder. Go out and be fabulous!