Monday, October 13, 2008

Six Things I Never Want to See in a Query Again

1. Theme

I don't care what the theme of your work is. I care what the story is.

2. I love to write

I don't care. I only care about whether you can write well enough to tell a good compelling story.

3. I think my book will make a great movie.

I don't care. I only care whether it will make a good book.

4. It took me x+1 years to write.

I don't care. I only care if it's a good story.

5. Global marketing potential.

What this says to me in screaming bold red letters is:
Unrealistic Expectations

Even if you have a great novel, the idea of dealing with someone who would write it down, and might actually believe it to be true and not understand how ludicrous and pretentious it sounds, is enough to make me stop reading and say no.

6. I am aware of your background.

I'm hoping you don't mean this to sound as creepy as it does.


Just_Me said...

What? You mean not all authors go criminal background checks and hire private eyes to stalk potential agents? I thought that was routine.

Gosh. I better call back Trace Bullet and tell him I don't need to know what color socks you wear...

Kerry said...

Damn. Just_Me pretty much said EXACTLY what I was going to say. I guess I'm not as original as I thought!

(Also gotta go call back Mr. Bullet now. Excuse me...)

Nancy said...

I'm hoping by "I am aware of your background" the authors are trying to imply they've done the proper research as to what sort of texts you represent and therefore feel their text would be appropriate, but some rephrasing would definitely be beneficial.

It's interesting to me to hear another agent say that they don't particularly care about global marketing potential. I work for a small press (Ooligan Press) in addition to my editing career and I know that in query letters sent to us we like to hear about the marketing potential of the book and that asking for such information is fairly common procedure among small presses. I guess the difference is that the agent doesn't need to know that because it's their job to pitch it?

Nancy D'Inzillo

Janet Reid said...

Nancy, to my mind the difference between "will appeal to readers who love zombie haiku" and "global marketing potential" is all the difference in the world.

To my way of thinking the only thing with global marketing potential is Coke, coke, and petroleum.

TerriRainer said...

I seem to be seeing a "stalker-fear" theme this month from several agent blogs. I'm sure you guys get hate mail from writers with a God-complex, but I never considered that you would be stalked, or even be afraid of being stalked.

I suppose it's easier in this day and age to cyber-stalk vs. REAL stalking, but where is that line crossed (I suppose the guy/girl showing up at your office repeatedly would be an indication)?

Makes me hesitant to even comment too often....don't want to fall into that "I'm too familiar with you and it creeps me out" category.

Marie said...

As TerriRainer says, would reading your blog regularly (and carefully noting what agents want and don't want) count as stalking? Would it be creepy to say to an agent "I read your blog regularly"?

I don't even have the book finished and I'm already agonizing over how to word my query letters.

Mags said...

It has always been my impression that those truly aware of your background would avoid calling attention to that detail.

I, for one, would prefer to skip being called in for questioning about the nefarious activities of Satan's literary agent, but I'm kind of a wuss.

(Unless, of course, it led to a really good story with global marketing potential that would also make a great movie. If it did, I'd be sure to let you know that in my query after you made parole, but I digress.)

Picks By Pat said...

It's assumed that a writer making a query would know what the agent is looking for, but a comment such as, "I'm a fan of your blog and appreciate the advice you dish out" makes the point without triggering the alarm bells.

Good luck with your query, Marie.

Wordy Boy in a Floppy Hat. said...

It does seem creepy when you put it on the blog like that.


Super Salt Girl said...

Phew. Glad I read this today. Guilty of the "theme" addition. Repenting and beginning again.

Just_Me said...

I'm allowed to stalk Miss Reid's blog because she doesn't rep my genre and will never see my query. Well, not a serious one. Maybe something for fun on query shark, but I'm not worried about actually trying to get her to read my novel. :o) It makes my life easier.

For the record, Janet, I adore your sense of humor even if you don't love biopunk. No one is perfect.

Joelle said...

What about, "I think my YA has crossover appeal and will also sell well to an adult audience. Kind of like Harry Potter did." ?


Eileen said...

But you love when we include glitter in the envelope right? Just to show what a party for your mind reading the manuscript will be when you request it.

It's important to make a statement after all.

Lynn Price said...

Nancy, to my mind the difference between "will appeal to readers who love zombie haiku" and "global marketing potential" is all the difference in the world.

Spot on, Janet. We don't have "global marketing" in our Rolodex. However, we do have the entire internet list of zombie haiku clubs. Good, savvy agents like Janet understand that we want a defined audience. "This will appeal to everyone" is another comment that makes me twitch.

As for your background, Janet...heck, girl, I still like you.

moonrat said...

i must politely decline the ministrations of your herpet-american assistant, unfortunately, although i thank you warmly for your kind and generous offer.

i know your background.

Ryan Field said...

Number one is a good point. A lot of people confuse theme with storyline.

Deaf Brown Trash Punk said...

Janet!!! Hi! I'm writing a book about RACISM... and uhh...I LOOOVE to write.

um, on myspace, I've been told what a talented writer I am...

oh and I read your blog all the time.

LMAO!!! Stupid morons.

Jessica said...


Hehehe, you mean you don't like the creepy stuff?

Sha'el, Princess of Pixies said...

Dear Ms Reid:

The theme of my fictional, semi-biographical novel is the transcendence of goat-love. It will make a great serialized television show on the Sci-Fi Channel, not that it’s science fiction at all. It’s just that I watch the Sci-Fi Channel a lot because my mistress watches it and I can’t change the channel with my tongue without getting goat spit on the remote. That always drops me right in the middle of trouble.

Let me say before I tell you about my book that I think my grandmother met you in Portland or somewhere way back when, probably at the zoo. So, I know ALL about you, including that unfortunate incident in Vancouver with the clown and the purple parasol.

So, back to my talented-self and the dozen reasons why you’ll love Goats of the UP Trail on the Elephant Walk to the Wonderful Land of Shangri-La in Sherwood Forest, or How I met a Wagging Tail and Fell in Love During the Crusades. This is really a wonderful book. It has to be; it took me seven month, six days, ten hours, five minutes, two seconds, and .008 nanoseconds to write. (Goats have a wonderful sense of time. It comes from having scent glands.)

Oh, the plot … I’m sure you want to know all about the plot, and I’d be happy to tell you about it, if I knew what that was. I think it’s about quick and passionate adventure among the knights of the crusade chasing cows up a railroad track way high in some low down valley in the Himalayas. (We goats may have a wonderful sense of time and timing, but we do have a very poor sense of geography.)

There is world wide marketing potential! Let me tell you! There are bazillions of goats world wide. We’re all interested in the exact same thing … I’m too delicate to tell you what THAT is … but it’s what my book is all about. Think of it! Bazillions of readers World Wide!!

Send me a check.

Yours affectionately (No blackmail implied),

W. E. (Billy) Goat, III

Anthony said...

"will appeal to readers who love zombie haiku"

Zombie Haiku!

Shuffling too slow
Not a 28-Day zombie
Dinner is too fast

Boss now a zombie
“Brains,” the PowerPoint title
Click, shuffle, click, shuffle, click

Mmmmm aahhh rrrrr groooan rrrrr
Munch munch munch munch munch…

clindsay said...

I got Number 6 yesterday. And, yeah, it was kind of creepy.

Also had the same feller write to me five separate time asking me if I took on new writers. I answered him the first three times. I hired a voodoo priestess by the time I'd gotten the fifth email. he should be coming down with an itchy rash tomorrow.