Monday, June 17, 2019

Five reasons I passed on your query, and you're right, some of them are NOT FAIR

1. You tell me we corresponded X YEARS AGO and would I like to see your manuscript now that you've extensively revised?
You don't tell me anything about the manuscript of course.

At 8:05 on Saturday night I'm not going to spend ten minutes digging around in my email archives to find you.

It's YOUR RESPONSIBILITY to give me the information I need to assess your query and "what the book is about" is #1 on that list.

Mess that up and you're in the pass pile.
Don't worry though; you'll have lots of company.

HOW TO AVOID THIS: Always tell me what the book is about. Even if you're rock solid sure I have the whole thing memorized, and have been poised at the inbox just waiting for you to send it.

HOW TO RECOVER IF YOU DID THIS: Just requery. Don't mention your previous #QueryFail.

2. You include the rundown on the ENTIRE novel, and the ending sucketh.
Honestly give yourself a break here. Tell me about the START of the novel and let me discover the crappy ending on my own. I might even have some suggestions on how to fix it.

HOW TO AVOID THIS: Your query should only cover the book up to the first act, or the first 30 pages, or some other cutoff point in the first 25% of the book.

HOW TO RECOVER IF YOU DID THIS:  Just requery. Correctly this time.

3. You commissioned a cover and include it with the query.
This doesn't just shriek unprepared, it put Unprepared in fancy togs and sends it to the Homecoming Dance.

I've spent ten years doing blog posts about how to query effectively. You don't have to read the posts. It's not a requirement.

But I AM going to hold you to the standards I talk about in those posts. It's YOUR RESPONSIBILITY to be prepared. I've helped you as much as I can and if you don't listen, it's on you. Not fair? I'm ok with that.

HOW TO AVOID THIS: Don't do it. Recognize you are not prepared to query and invest time in learning how querying works. If you think I'm an idiot, there are other agent blogs out there, Jessica Faust for starters.

HOW TO RECOVER IF YOU DID THIS:  Just requery. Correctly this time.

4. The log line is boring.
Here's the big plus: you don't need a log line in your query for me.
I'm convinced log lines are a total waste of time, and hurt you more than they help.

At least twice in the last week I've thought a book was about one thing cause of the log line, and I was wrong.

But a boring log line in a query intended to showcase that you can write in a compelling way? Game over. Not fair? Probably.  I don't care.

HOW TO AVOID THIS: If you think you need a log line, understand they must be compelling and visual.

HOW TO RECOVER IF YOU DID THIS:  Just requery (and leave off the log line if you're querying me)

5. Your query was "can you just take a look and tell me what you think?"
What I think is you are unprepared and believe you're entitled to be the exception to the guidelines I've posted.

HOW TO AVOID THIS:  Learn how querying works. Follow the guidelines which are there to help you, not to make things more difficult.

HOW TO RECOVER IF YOU DID THIS: Wait a while before requerying. The emails with the stench of unprepared disdain take longer to fumigate from the inbox.

Are you sensing some rancor here?
I'm actively seeking good work and it just makes me cranky when you shoot yourself in the foot.


Kitty said...

I'm still plugging away on writing my WIP(s). But I still think about the query process and recall you telling us you'd like us to query you when The Time comes. Is it okay to add a personal note?

Colin Smith said...

Those of us who have been here a while maybe thought nothing of this, but I want to draw the attention of the newbies to something Janet says here. You might have heard how querying is a "one shot and you're done" deal. If you mess up your query, you're done with that agent.

Well, notice how many times Janet said, "Requery." Yes. She's giving you the opportunity to do-over. In other words, while these are "pass"-worthy offenses, they are not the end of the road. She's inviting you to learn from your mistake and try again.

She might not be the only agent to offer this, but she's one of the few, if not the only one, I've seen articulate this.

Be encouraged weary writer! :)

AJ Blythe said...

Yes to what Colin said - Janet is incredibly generous with both her advice and her do-overs.

While I would never do anything listed here (been at the Reef to long for that) the list is a good reminder to take a breath and stick the query to one side for a day before hitting send.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Although I've been swimming about for a while here, these are still my favorite posts. I hope I know better than to do all of these silly shoot myself in the foot rookie query mistakes, but I like being clubbed over the head with them. I can be super self-destructive at times because of my total lack of social graces so I like these kind of sharp reminders of what is good and what will never work at all.

I want to make sure the next dive into the trenches leaves a few less scars than the last one.

MA Hudson said...

I read these posts with dread gripping my heart and sweat pouring from my brow, but thankfully, by the time I get to the end of the list I'm usually laughing out loud with sheer relief that I've never done anything quite that off the mark... yet.

nightsmusic said...

I think log lines are useless and have never seen the need for one. The only compelling one I've ever heard or read, and even then, it still wasn't remarkable, was James Cameron's when he pitched one of his best movies: Romeo and Juliet - Titanic.

Terri Lynn Coop said...

Rough day in the email office?

BTW, not one of these is unfair.

Anyone still doing this gets what they deserve. Queryshark is your friend.

And there's an idiot stalking agents on twitter in #MSWL. I'm going to be helpful and add that this is probably a bad choice as well.


Jennifer R. Donohue said...

Like honestly, one of the few bonuses of writing a query letter is you don't give a rundown of the entire novel. Why would you do it anyway?? That's what the torturous synopsis is for! (where your ending still might suck but, well, that's how it goes)

Panda in Chief said...

There is a big honking spam comment in yesterday's post, if you want to get rid of it. It's toward the end. No, NOT mine. The one before that! ;-D

Leslie said...

To me, the only use for a logline is when I meet people (not publishers or agents) who are curious about my book. It sums up the book in one sentence. Always leave 'em wanting more!

LynnRodz said...

I've been struggling with writing a query for a long time. Reading #2 on today's post gave me some insight as to why. My story starts at the end then goes to the beginning and circles back to the end so writing the first part of the story doesn't really work here without talking about the end. (Back to the drawing board!)

Selerial said...

All’s fair in war and querying. And also Jell-O shots. Which might explain the issues with some queries...

Craig F said...

The first sentence of a query should just make the reader want to read the whole thing. Trying too hard can spoil that. Work for a balance, not the shock and awe of a log-line.

LynnRodz: Can you just skip past that ending and start your query at the beginning. A query should be about the approximate first third of your work. Just enough to get the story arc to shine through.

Thanks to all of you who helped me through another fathers day. I appreciate y'all

LynnRodz said...

Craig F, I've thought about that, but the first chapter is the beginning of the end. If I start the query at the second chapter and then the agent reads the first, they're going to say, "Wait a minute, where did this come from?" Or maybe I'm over thinking this.

Ninja Cat said...

LynnRodz, this might be of some assistance. It's all about what works, and there are a number of ways to capture an agent's interest.
Maybe head over to Absolute Write, critique the queries of others first, then post yours and see what happens.

LynnRodz said...

Thanks, Ninja Cat, I do remember reading that post last year, but it's always good to refresh my memory. Your suggestion to head over to AW is a great one. It's been a few years since I've done that, but the timing may be right now. Thanks again.