Thursday, March 14, 2013

egad! Report from the Query Quagmire

I started the morning with a quick spin through the Query inventory today and found a couple things that were pretty perplexing.

1. Word count-short.  No, a novel isn't 20,000 words. That's a novella, or a long short story. When you tell me your novel is 20K, it's an automatic rejection before reading pages.  Novels need to be somewhere in the neighborhood of 80-100K.

2. Word count-long. No, you can't send me a novel that's 220K for a debut YA. That's just too long, and you should know this if you've read any debut YA in the last couple years.  That's also an automatic rejection because I don't want to spend four weeks fighting with you about which of your darlings need to be killed.


3. A query with the pages first, then the query in the body of the email.  I'd never seen that before and assume it was just a cut and paste error but make sure you don't do this, ok? I've gotten a raft of queries with ONLY pages, no query and this one looked like that. I need the query to introduce the pages or I don't know what I'm reading.

4. It really helps if you include the title of your book. Not three options for a title, and no designation of "working title." Just give the novel a title and we'll sort it out later if it stinks.

5. When your email address is info@yourdomainname.com don't be surprised if I reply with Dear Info. Sometimes I do it just to make a point, but sometimes, it's the only thing I have to call you. (hint: sign your name to your query)

6. Please for the love of all that's chocolate, don't laud your novel in your query.  "It's enthralling" doesn't work. It's like someone saying "I'm attractive!" Even if true, it's so offputting as to make it not so.  Just tell me what the book is about.  Get the plot on the page.  Leave the description to me for my reply asking for a full manuscript.

24 comments:

Joyce Tremel said...

I hope you don't mind, but I'm stealing this for the query workshop I'm doing next month.

Janet Reid said...

Steal on!

Chro said...

For #6, what if we're including a blurb from a trusted, well-respected reviewer of literature?

For example: "My mom says it's enthralling!" ;)

Janet Reid said...

Chro, much as I admire your mom's literary taste, leave it out. What anyone else thinks is irrelevant. Don't waste valuable real estate that could go to better things: plot, character, setting, promises of whisky and $20 bills.

Christine Monson said...

E-gads is right. This little guppy has committed crime number 6 many times. So, point well taken, Ms. Shark, and lesson learned. Thank you for posting this.*promises to never do it again.

mj said...

At the risk of being redundant and sounding completely nuckle-headed, how do you feel about someone including a snippet of a review from PW or Kirkus?

And--holding my breath here--what if that snippet is from a review of the writer's *previous* book?

Don said...

But I AM attractive!

JeffO said...

I know that titles can always be changed (and that, quite frequently, they are), but I can't help but wonder if you've ever tossed a query over the transom simply because of a horribly offensive or mind-numbingly stupid title.

Ellipsis Flood said...

Holy cow, 220K. Even for an adult novel, that's rather lengthy.

Just curious, what's your personal word count preference for the various kinds of genres/demographies?

Also, it would be helpful to know the word count of some pub

Janet Reid said...

MJ, add that to the list of NO NO NO. You're querying for a new novel. I'm only interested in that.

You put those reviews on your website where I will see them when I start swimming around to find out more about you.

Janet Reid said...

JeffO, well "The Cannibal's Guide to Dining in New York" was a close call but generally no, titles don't have much effect. They get changed so often anyway you can just call it "My Next Great Work of Art" and be done with it.

The Writer Librarian said...

I'm one of the "Info" crowd, though I'm not one who's queried you directly (my genre falls outside what you're currently looking for). I still sign with my real name, of course--but this may prompt a change as soon as my business cards run out. Ironically--I changed to "Info" in the first place due to some "your email needs to be more professional" type of advice. Looks like there's a middle ground to be found.

Marsha Sigman said...

The worst mistake I 'almost' made was calling an agent 'highly retarded' instead of 'highly regarded'.

You should always read OUT LOUD before sending. Which I did. Because I listen to Janet.ha

Michael Seese said...

Regarding #6, what if I say something like, "My book is enthralling, and anyone with an ounce of brains can see that." Then, it's sort of a compliment, right?

Carolynn with 2Ns said...

So I asked myself...have I ever been perplexing?
1. No
2. No
3. No
4. No
5. No
6. I did mention that readers had already picked out the cast for the movie and that one reader said my book would make me famous. A couple of years back I got so frustrated with the whole query experience that I ended the letter with, “Will you just read the God-damn book.” He never answered...I wonder why.

Maybe I should have said please.

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

Do people ever sign their letter "kisses"? Would that help?

Janet Reid said...

Shark kisses!

Jessa Russo (Stadtler) said...

Doesn't anyone read Query Shark anymore? It's alarming that you still get wonky submissions!

Janet Reid said...

Jessa, interesting observation. And when I tell you that NO one who sends a query during the Chum Bucket experiment does this kind of thing, does it tell you something? It tells me that the queriers who are paying attention (reading this blog, hanging out with me on Twitter, reading QS) are exactly the kind of people I want to work with.

Tammy Bundy said...

As for the word count --what if it's a novel-in-verse?

BP said...

Ohhh...Marsha, that would've been tragic. ;D

MaryAnn Kempher said...

If a novella is 20,000 words, but you don't consider the work a novel unless its at least 80,000--what would you call a book with 66,000 words?

Janet Reid said...

MaryAnn, There's a spectrum for word count.

20K is too short, 200K is too long.
The sweet spot is 80-100k.

66K is a novel for sure BUT it's too short for a historical novel, and yet probably just right for a noir novel.

MaryAnn Kempher said...

Thanks Janet. Mine is romantic suspense. Next novel, I'll try for a higher word count--but this one just felt done at a lower one.