Saturday, November 12, 2016

Six reasons I didn't request your manuscript



1. misused words.  
Writing gentile when you mean gentle, or maybe genial, is a huge red flag. I pretty much stop reading when I find them. Words are your tools. Misusing them is like showing me an ice sculpture you "carved" with a hammer.

How you will avoid this: proofreading. If you read your query out loud you'll find the homonyms (most likely.)  If you don't, well, that's a different problem that isn't going to be solved at the query stage.

2.  the number of free downloads of your story is less than 100,000 
The difference between how many people will pay $25.00 to buy your book and how many will say "yes" to "it's free" is a gap the size of the Grand Canyon.  I don't plan to spend any time explaining this to you.

I'm not all that keen on books that have been "market tested" anyway. I have confidence in my commercial taste. Maybe other agents feel differently.

How you will avoid this: Just tell me about the book. Save the bad news of your hamhanded marketing efforts for later.


3. "I'm following your query requirements exactly" and sending everything but what I specifically ask for.

How you will avoid this: I understand that every agent asks for different things. It's easy to get mixed up, send the wrong thing.  If you just leave out the part about how you explicitly follow directions, you're better off.  I've got a low tolerance for sloppiness right now. Make it easy on yourself.


4. Non-fiction book written by someone with no qualifications or education in the field.

How you will avoid this: you can write whatever you want, and publish it too. What you can't get is a publishing deal.  The answer to "why should anyone pay attention to what you say" is something you need to answer with credentials, not opinions.

5. Literally NOTHING about the plot in the query letter. NOTHING.

How you will avoid this: Ask someone to read your query. Then ask her/him "what is my book about?" If they can't answer the question at all, revise.  It helps to have the name of the protagonist and the choice they face, or the problem they need to overcome.

If there's no plot in the query, it's an automatic pass from me.

6. Telling me where you want your book submitted
I don't take well to authors who send me a query with a submission list. Time enough for that if I like your book. And unless you've worked in publishing, chances are you don't know enough to be making up submission lists. 

How you will avoid this: keep your query about your book. 


Bottom line: tell me about your book. If you can do that, you've done enough. Don't try to entice me with marketing numbers or your ideas on what make you special. Your writing should be special. 

 



24 comments:

E.M. Goldsmith said...

These are my absolute favorite posts. While I am far from query stage at the moment, it really helps to know the common pitfalls when submitting. Hopefully, when it comes time, I will be able to strike the right chord or at least avoid the sour notes. Thank you, your Majesty. You rule.

Melanie Sue Bowles said...

E.M. I'm with you! I love these "why I didn't request your manuscript" posts. Although, I don't know how many times poor Ms. Janet must repeat "just tell me about your book" without going stark raving mad.

That said, I will bare my soul and admit that writing my query letter has been one of the most difficult things I've ever tackled (in writing... not in life). But I have started sending it out, YAY me!

Theresa said...

A wonderfully helpful list.

Linda Strader said...

Holy cow, it's quite apparent none of those people follow your blog. That being said, even before I followed your blog I knew better. I did my homework before sending out a single query.

Colin Smith said...

Dear Sir or Madam,

I hope my query finds you. Well I found you mentioned in Writer's Digest in an article by Barbra Pell on Ten Agents to Fear When Drunk. Given I like a pint or wto of the old Sctoch vodka myself, I thought i'd give you try.

My story is the kind of thing you like, because I followed your submission guidelines exactly, as you can sea. It's been available on Whatpadd for the last six months to favorable reviews with at least 20 downloads. I think you will be impressed by this since my last book, a work of non-fiction called Your Station in Life, recounting what I imagine are the best train stations in the US, researched extensively at Moe's Bar and Grille with some of my most nerdy train-geeky friends, got only 5 downloads. Namely by said nerdy train-geeky friends.

I know this sounds just the kind of thing you want to publish, so I look forward to hearing from you. My number is at the bottom, but don't worry about that. I'll call you in a week if I don't hear from you by then. Just as a heads-up, I'd like you to submit the attached manuscript to Random House (because I'm a bit random myself), Disney Hyperion (because I loved The Little Mermaid--who didn't??!), and Penguin (because those little penguins are so CUTE!!!).

I love your blog, by the way. Give my best to the rest of the BookEnds team!

Love,
Poolah Buttonweazer (Mr.)

Elissa M said...

What I like about these posts is they remind me not to over-think any of the process. Write a good book. Write a query telling what the book's about. Simple works better than trying to "stand out". Easy-peasy. (I wish.)

Dena Pawling said...


>>Your Station in Life, recounting what I imagine are the best train stations in the US, researched extensively at Moe's Bar and Grille with some of my most nerdy train-geeky friends, got only 5 downloads. Namely by said nerdy train-geeky friends

Colin - If this was actually a well-researched book, I know at least 100,000 train-geeky folks who would in fact pay hard money for it.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Dear Poolah,
Are you related to Felix?
I heard he just got a job as an insider-advisor to you-know-who in DC. I dated him once and my lawyer Gloria A. says I should get in touch with him.
Oops "touch" is the wrong word :)
Yours truly,
Marla

Ardenwolfe said...

Paranoia senses tingling. . . .

Lennon Faris said...

There is something about these lists that is so fascinating. My only wish is that it was appropriate to show examples. I know it's not, just wishing :) Thanks, Janet.

Melanie - finished DOGS OF PROUD SPIRIT and bought HORSES and HOOFPRINTS on Amazon. I can't believe all the strays that found their way to you, but it always seems to happen that way, doesn't it? I especially loved the stories of Molly and Hank. Looking forward to the new reads :)

Karen McCoy said...

I wonder if "Poolah" is what Felix calls himself when he's high.

roadkills-r-us said...

I also find extra joy in these posts.

I'm sensing a common theme here. If I didn't know better (which I do because I read your blog), I would think you were asking for people to mention something called a "plot". But since you didn't mention coordinate preferences (number line, polar coordinates, Cartesian, etc.) I am sure I am missing something. Could you please be a bit more direct in what you want instead of hinting around?

As the secret love child of two famous people, I have a GREAT bio-graph-y for you, which I'll be sending as soon as you clarify.

Thanks so much,
Donald Clinton

Sharyn Ekbergh said...

Colin,
I'm just finishing editing my second railroad video and The Best Stations would be a hit believe me.

Theresa said...

Okay, Roadkills, wine almost came out of my nose.

Donnaeve said...

Huh. Did somebody say wine?

Craig F said...

#5 Damn that PREMEDITATED writer anyway. This seems to be the most consistent theme in these posts. Keep to the KISS system. Take a chunk of narrative arc, dress it for company and make sure it walks the straight and narrow smoothly.

#2 if you are going to write a book at least give traditional publishing a whirl. If that doesn't work out then you can self publish or post it to Wattpad.

#4 I think you could do a non-fiction without having degrees in something. Of course you would have to write some fiction first and develop both a brand name and espouse some theories that make astrophysicists stand and clap.

The rest are easy. Start with a glass, add scotch, two ice cubes and a splash of water. Drink that, mix another and learn to relax. Take you time and read everything through. Send it off in an email to yourself to make sure it is legible after switching protocols. Let some friends critique it. Do not hit send until you have done all you can.

Off Topic: I had to replace my computer. Couldn't find anyone I like enough to build me one so I actually went shopping. Found a Black Friday Special at Best Buy.

If anyone is looking for a desktop tower they have an HP 510 with:
2 terabytes memory
12 gigabytes of RAM
and an
i7 processor
for $539.
It is a hell of a deal.

Oh and cheers to you all on a Saturday night.

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

I too really enjoy these types of posts!

I sometimes misuse words while speaking (especially depending on my current migraine status), but interestingly, while typing I make fewer of those mistakes.


Also, how are my fellow NaNoWriMo folks doing? I'm at 24,897 words! A number of my writing workshop members are also doing NaNoWriMo officially, which hasn't previously happened, so that's been fun.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Hey Don,
Roadkills says we might be related. We DO have a lot in common. I too am a love child of two famous people.
Yours truly,
Hillary Trump

Timothy Lowe said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Timothy Lowe said...

I am learning well the long nature of this game. Yes, there are ways to want to rush it through. These lists remind us all that what you get is one moment only, after months and possibly years of work. God, what's not to love about this game? It's raw and real and can cut. I am enjoying the education I am getting by reading this blog.

kathy joyce said...

Colin, Kudos on the query. A very good bad job!

John Davis Frain said...

Excellent post. Unless, of course, you recognize yourself as one of the queriers in the examples. Then, ouch! But still, a learning opportunity.

Under the category of signs you know you're a writer:

Tonight, my wife had tickets to an event at the Peabody Opera House downtown where I live. Wishing to stay married, I agreed to go. (Sign #1: I flirted with the idea to say No just to see who would take my place. Perfect setup for the first page of a story, right? Realized, slower than I should have, that was a bad idea.)

We drove, paid to park in a parking garage, walked a few blocks to the auditorium where we couldn't get in. Odd, right? I suggested she might check the tickets -- November 19! We laughed so hard, a couple cops on the street stopped to see what was up. On the way back to the car, she realized I wasn't mad. I didn't admit to Sign #2: I was thrilled! Instead of a performance at the Opera House, I got to go home on Saturday night and write!

"Mad?" I said. "I think it's hilarious." Shamefully, I didn't admit my pleasure that I could now work on my WIP and accumulate Nano words.

"Who knows," she said. "Maybe you can put it in one of your stories."

"Oh, you know, I guess this does give me the opportunity to write. I hadn't thought about that."

My grin might have given me away.

french sojourn said...


A day later, and number 5 still slays me. Nice post. Hank

DeadSpiderEye said...

Wow a 100,000 free downloads, did you mean 10,000 because that's somewhat adrift from my expectation.