Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Dispatches from the Query Pile

I respond to queries in batches, usually when I have a short break in the day, or first thing in the morning when I need to get my blood boiling at the correct temperature.

I'm still astonished at the number of writers who begin their email queries with the old school business letter format:

1 Reef Avenue
The Center of the, Universe 11111

The only thing worse is when they start with their own name and address:

1 Clueless Court
Not Even Close, TU 00000

Maybe this will help:  if you can tell me ONLY one fact that will make me want to read your book what would it be?

Would it be your name?***
Your address?
MY name?
My address?

I hope you answered no.
If you did not answer no, please feel free not to query. We're not a good match.

My guess is you want to tell me about the compelling conundrum your protagonist is facing.

Thus, you start your query with THAT.  Lead with your most enticing information.

I know I've railed about this before but honestly, at least a DOZEN queries today had this error.
The seas will soon be too salty with my tears of woe if this keeps up.

**exceptions to this: Lee Child, Dennis Lehane, Alafair Burke, Sophie Littlefield, John Sandford


JeffO said...

I'm embarrassed to admit my first few queries went out the e-door that way a couple of years ago. In the realities of the e-mail age, I knew it didn't make much sense, but I was schooled in the days of the typewritten 'business letter', and a query is a business letter.

Lesson learned.

Anonymous said...

Swooning over your exception list. Particularly Dennis Lehane. I have a dog eared copy of Mystic River on my desk, right by my current WIP.

Anonymous said...

It's always amusing to see agents' or editors' little pet peeves... until it's time to submit to them. That's when you have to hope that you're not one of those they consider to be idiots for doing something wrong and land at the bottom of the slushpile, unread. Not that I'd ever start an email with an address, of course, but it's good to read about those DOs and DON'Ts for future reference, so thanks for the heads up, Janet. :-)

(I do think it's slightly ironic, though, that you rail against old school scribblers, yet still hit double-space after a full-stop or colon. Tee hee.)

Her Grace, Heidi, the Duchess of Kneale said...

I do the same thing (double-space after a full-stop). Can't seem to break the habit.

Janet Reid said...


Elissa M said...

I finally cured myself of the double-space. I expect the extra space will become the new required style any day now, and I'll have to relearn it.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

I'd just as soon not let them know who I am right-off. They might expect brilliance or assume carp. Keep them guessing until the end.

Colin Smith said...

I'm in querying mode right now, and it takes a while to double-check everything conforms to the submission guidelines, that you've spelled the agent's name correctly, that some malicious typo hasn't crept in somewhere. But eventually you just have to throw your hands up, say you've done the best you can, and hit send.

I only hope the agent on the other end appreciates the effort to get it right. :)

Lance said...

There is nothing sadder than the Tears of the Shark,a heart-wrenching tale of a lovely shark sent into a feeding frenzy by queries for fiction novels and offers to let her see the manuscript. This story goes on and on and on. No f****** exception, thank you for your time and consideration.

Standback said...

Time Travel
Protagonist Uncovers Devastating Secrets, And Must Decide How To Act On Them
Genderqueer Love Triangle
Tongue-In-Cheek Portrayal of Quebec City


Dear Query Shark,

Have you ever asked yourself who lives at Nonesuch Blvd. 42 Apt 3?

Stephanie Faris said...

Before becoming a full-time writer, I worked in tech support. I always relate to editor frustrations because I had a daily need to vent about the stupidity I faced daily. I learned one thing during those days:

You can't legislate against stupidity!

You can try. You can even state rules. You can set up a form on your website and require that people use that to query. But, even then, people will do stupid, stupid things. I've seen it in just the people who have contacted me to ask for advice on getting their brilliant first novel published. They don't want to learn...they're just so sure their work is the best thing ever written that they know a bidding war will ensue as soon as they deploy a round of mass querying. Ignorance is bliss, I guess...

GSMarlene said...

There are still writing contests out there that take off points if you don't format your query letter as if it were hard copy. Bizarre.

Rebekkah Niles said...

"You can call me the Doctor, but my name is actually--

Sorry, never mind, I'm not on the list. Let me start over.

Sharque, the first true Timelord, will have to find a mate the Time Vortex can't destroy, if she doesn't want to become the last..."

^See? Even the Doctor can get this right. So we all should, too.

Anonymous said...

I WANT to do the right thing, I do. But the more pet peeves and tiny steps make me wonder how much of this is a herd-thinning soup-nazi stance.

I find it rude to start a query email straight off with the pitch. I absolutely understand why you want it, but don't see why an error like that sends you screaming "No soup for you!"

Aaaaand I realize this probably puts me on your "pass" list immediately, but all these submission guidelines that vary from agency to agency, it's like having to find the right adaptor for my phone at Target.

Maybe I need more coffee.