Monday, December 12, 2011

I actually counted the words cause I couldn't quite believe it

This morning's incoming queries coughed up a query that was 690 words.  I know because I pasted it into Word and clicked "word count."

None of 690 words told me what the book was about. None.

The letter was full of how this book would be promoted; how "controversial" was an understatement; how it will "provoke" readers. Well, it provoked me, but not in the way the writer intended, I'll bet.

I couldn't even tell if it was fiction or non-fiction. I certainly couldn't tell where it belonged in a book store; the premise of the book; what problem it proposed to illuminate or solve (essential for non-fiction) or anything other than the writer had no clue how to communicate effectively.

This, as you might suspect, is a recipe for instant rejection.

It's easy to get so caught up and familiar with your project you forget your audience hasn't heard ANY of it. You have to start with the basics.  Tell me the category, and the problem if it's non-fiction. Tell me the start of the plot if it's a novel.

If you're wondering if this could apply to your query, ask someone who has never read your book to read your query. Then ask them "what is this book about?"  If the answer is anything but "I don't know" you're probably ok.


Ali Trotta said...

The first query I ever wrote was terrible. It used a few rhetorical questions. It had a few too many adjectives and adverbs. It wasn't my best work by any means. BUT it did summarize what the book was about, mention the main character by name, and list the genre.

Still, I cringe a bit when I think about it -- but this post makes me feel better, because at least I got a few things right.

That last paragraph is excellent advice.

Matthew Delman said...

I received a similar query, where I was informed the story (which was fortunately described) had high marketing potential as a first-person shooter video game because most of the action was gunplay. The author also proceeded to tell me how to market the book, AND attached the full MS to the email he sent.

Ali Trotta said...

Matt, the only thing that'd make that worse is if the person also mailed you a hard copy. *shakes head* Wowzers.

Terri Lynn Coop said...

Yeesh, my Query V1.0 was bad (I included character outlines), but at least you knew the length, genre, and a bit about the plot.

My query is now on about V2.6 and I finally feel like it is "getting there."


Jen said...

Every once in a while I run across a piece of advice that really resonates. This is one of those times. One day maybe I'll master the query.

Virginia Way said...

A case for the queryshark, no? :)

Kristin Laughtin said...

The fact that so many agents and published writers blog is a fantastic thing, because it helps those who care to know learn how to write a decent query. At the same time, we realize just how many people are doing the same thing and how tough our competition is. Maybe there's a bit of cruelty in it, but I like when we see examples like this that show not all the competition is equal. It still provides a "what-not-to-do" learning example, though, so it's not all bad!

TC Avey said...

My first query was bad. In fact I am still working on it. Thanks for all the advice, I have learned so much from you.

Kathryn Elliott said...


Keisha Martin Romance Writer said...

I have pasted you're query suggestion on my writing wall, very easy steps to write a concise query, but a while back when I was a total dolt and sent my first query to query shark, riddled with no information about my book and the main fact you don't rep the book I was offering. (double dolt) I hope you never find that query, let it fly away in cyber space where it will never see the day of light.LOL