Thursday, July 07, 2016

10 Reasons you heard no, and what to do about it

1 . A query was a police blotter list of events.
How you will avoid this:  Don't be afraid of voice in a query. "A query is a business letter" does NOT mean strip out the voice and verve. If your query doesn't have voice, I think your novel won't either.

2. Nothing about the plot. Enough other detritus to make me unwilling to read pages.
How you will avoid this: get the plot on the page. It's the FIRST thing you do when drafting a query. There's a template for this at  Find it, use it.

3. A query with no voice thus not enticing.
How you will avoid this: See #1

4. A book I don't want to read. Textbook example of  "not for me; query others."
How you will avoid this: You can't, and you don't want to. Query me for everything. Realize going in that not all books are for me, but assume yours is.

5. More about his mentors and beta readers than the novel.
How you will avoid this: I don't care who read and liked your book even if it was my sainted grandmama.  Mentioning mentors and beta readers is the  hallmark of a student. If you have publishing credits, those matter. Other opinions, not so much.

6. A book I have no interest in reading.
How you will avoid this: See #4

7. The logline shoots the query in the foot. The query never recovers.
How you will avoid this: Loglines in queries are like vipers at your bosom. Avoid putting them there. If you think writing a 250 word query is hard (it is) why you'd want to synthesize your book to one sentence I do not know.  Short form writing is incredibly hard. Avoid a log line in a query.

8. Everything but the actual query.
How you will avoid this: Do not write a book proposal instead of a query. The first thing I want to know about is the plot. The second thing I want to know about is you. That's it. Not the target audience and certainly not why you're the right person to write this novel.
(Just to prove the author isn't paying attention, my agency name and my title are wrong.)

9. Not a novel I want to read.
How you will avoid this: See #4

10. More about the author's ambitions than about the novel.
How you will avoid this: See #2


Not for me: 3/10 (#4, #6, #9)
No plot on the page 2/10 (#2, #5)
Not an actual query: 2/10 (#8, #10)
Flat, uninteresting queries: 3/10 (#1, #3, #7)

Sadly, no requests in this batch.


Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Over the years I think I have done all the underlined a few times. And, if I could figure out how to underline the underlined, just to prove how tech-savey I am, I'd do that too. But because what I learn today I forget tomorrow, and recall only at times I'm trying to exhibit intelligence regarding something else, I'll stop right here.
What was the question?
Was there a question?
Have a nice day.

Lisa Bodenheim said...

ohoh, that expression on Maximus' face? Someone get a good query to the QOTKU. Quick!

Ellipsis Flood said...

Is this going to be a recurring category? It's quite interesting to see why queries are rejected. I'm not sure what to think of the good to bad ratio though. I suppose it's uplifting to know that lots of queriers fall off the shelf by not following the friggin' rules, and that following them will put you into the smaller pool of good queries.

So: Don't assume all of your competitors are good at what they do. It's a false assumption that will only dampen your mood. Yes, I speak from experience (job applications, not queries, though).

2Ns: You can't underline in here. The HTML markup hint under the comment box is misleadingly implying that you can use more than the tags listed.

Kitty said...

Janet Reid’s query template

Colin Smith said...

Ooo! Janet's version of #10Queries only with more than 140 characters, so we get a bit more detail. Cool cool cool!! :D

Just to prove the author isn't paying attention, my agency name and my title are wrong.

How..? Slip of the keyboard (FinePrimt), or complete facepalm (FuzzyPrint)? And your title?? You mean they called you Ms. instead of Your Most Royal and Majestic Queen of the Known Universe? Seriously, how do you mess that up? Okay, I did accidentally mistype the name of one agent on my last querying bout, but he seemed to be forgiving of that (clearly a common error), but I was mortified when I discovered. If I hadn't been trained in the QOTKU school, I would have emailed him and apologized vociferously. As it is, I let it go. After all, the number of times people have addressed me as "Collin" (yes, even here), if I can be gracious, I had no doubt he could too. So what egregious mistake could this be that would make Our Shark of the Blogisphere bristle?

Here's hoping "Ten Queries" becomes a regular feature. :)

Brigid said...

Seconding Quolline. "10 queries" is a really delightful look behind the curtain.

Colin Smith said...

Brijit: ROTFL!!!! :D

Theresa said...

I'm echoing Colin this morning. It's helpful to read explanations that are more than 140 characters.

I'm still at the book proposal stage (nf), which seems to be taking forever. Thinking in terms of query is rather daunting; log line is paralyzing

E.M. Goldsmith said...

#4, #4 - so excited for #4 at a future date.

I did not query that much with my last book- perhaps 20-25 queries before putting it in drawer. So can't say for sure how strong query was in end- I did get requests, and I got several form rejections and a small pile of NORMANs for good measure.

With all future books, I believe I will be writing query and synopsis as I go- a process I started with a nudge from our own Donna of the soon to be published Education of Dixie Dupree .

This helps give voice to query and synopsis while focusing my writing. I do believe this will give me an edge when I climb back on query train. Yippie for #4. I'm just saying.

french sojourn said...

Yet another reason, your blog is my first stop of the day. Great post. Cheers Hank.

DLM said...

Colin, thank you for mentioning #10Queries, because I am pre-caffeine at this moment and was SO confused why Janet kept repeating #4. :) I was like, if this is some sort of top ten, why are so many of them "see above" basically?

Time for my dark chocolate covered espresso beans. Clearly.

RachelErin said...

#4 brought up a question for me - I clicked on your QueryTracker link out of curiosity (no query yet, alas), and noticed that the list of genres is limited to what I imagine is the same list you have in your submission guidelines. The genre label is also required.

Is that required by the software running QueryTracker? Are you assuming that it's fine to miss the one or two great people who choose not to query you because what they think their book's genre is is not on the list? Can I classify my YA fantasy as an adventure if I use that form =) (even though I know that quests in secondary worlds are not the kind of adventure you mean)?

Just curious how that system works, and if it has constraints that might make it difficult to query as widely as possible.

Sherry Howard said...

Interesting, just interesting.

Unknown said...

Thank you for another helpful clarification of what a Query should present.
Still confused about first line of Query: Dear Ms./Mr. Last Name? Hi First Name? Good morning First Name Last Name, Title?
I do feel confident about spelling Colin now (apologies for past transgressions) and always appreciate his comments written with the lightness and grace of spot on tone.
If only I could get my first three chapters spot on. Back to the revision dungeon.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Claudette Not sure about how to address other agents but queries to Janet should absolutely start with

Your Majesty

Or Dear Snookums (this only if you are in despair and wish to be shark chum)


Linda Strader said...

What a mixed-bag this morning. Not only did I discover my new, massively improved query letter probably sucks for at least one agent, for at least one other, it was good enough for her to request a full ms.

julieweathers said...


This is a business letter. I always address a query to Mr. Smith or Ms. Johnson.It's easy enough to find out if the agent is male or female. Granted, I call Janet Miss Janet here, sort of like if I were saying, "Well, I'm off to drive Miss Janet (crazy)." However, in the business world, most females these days prefer the non-marital Ms.title. Or Michelle Wolfson from time to time though I know she's married, but she writes poems for me, so maybe she gives me a pass for stupidity and familiarity.

I don't like to address someone I know in a professional setting by their first name until I've been invited to. Southern thing.

When I worked for the stud farm the vet remarked one day to me, "You'd think after going to school for ten years I'd at least merit being called "Doc" instead of by my first name by everyone from the manager on down to the stable hands around here." I always called him Dr. ____, because he was, but most people seemed to forget he was one of the top equine vets in the nation.

Linda Strader said...

I forgot to say that I don't know whether to celebrate or cry.

Colin Smith said...

Claudette: Awww... shucks! :D Thanks for that. And I'm not keeping record of who misspells my name--I've just noticed it from time to time.

Linda: Celebrate. Whenever there's good and bad news, we always want to focus on the bad news. One agent requests, another rejects, we want to know why that agent rejected. What did I do wrong? Do I need to change something in my query? How can I make EVERY agent love me... uhh I mean love my query? :) The fact is, rejections are dime-a-dozen. Common as dirt. Requests are gold dust. When you get them, cherish them. Celebrate them. Enjoy the moment.

B. DuBois said...

I had vipers at my bosom once. . .
I'll never forget it.

Bethany Elizabeth said...

I agree that #10Queries should become a thing! It's useful to see the common errors and how often they pop up.

On the subject of titles... my brother went to a university where all the professors insisted on being called Dr. So-and-So, and if you forgot and said 'Mr.' or 'Ms.' then you were in deep trouble. So my brother got used to it.

On the day that my brother earned his doctorate, one of his professors came to congratulate him. My brother thanked him, using the name Dr. Whatever. Then his professor said, "John, you have 24 hours to stop calling me by my title and start calling me Hank. If you do it after tomorrow, I'll retroactively fail you."

My brother is mostly sure he was joking. :)

julieweathers said...

The ten queries is always a helpful look behind the curtains. Ann Collette did a batch on twitter yesterday. A few different agents do #tenqueries fairly frequently, Eric Ruben, Jordy Albert, etc. Click live instead of top so you get the complete feed.

Janet's is better than the twitter feed as mentioned because it's not constrained to the character limit and it's Janet with Maximus. Which leaves us all still trying to squeeze in somehow.

Linda Strader said...

Thanks, Colin, you are SO right! :)

DeadSpiderEye said...

Interesting list, it leaves the impression most e-mails get a full read through. I'm kinda curious about the other cases, the ones that prompt the abort switch at whatever particular point: bio, first or second para, salutation, subject line, sender. I'm supposing those don't get a 'no' just that eerie vacuum that begs augur.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Hey ellipsis flood, I not only don't know how to underline with tags, I did'nt even know that I can't do what I thought I could do, if I knew how, but can't.

Colin Smith said...

2Ns: Rule of thumb: Assume you can do it until Blogger tells you you can't and wipes the comment you just spent the last 30 mins writing. :)

Colin Smith said...

Okay, this is waaaay off-topic, but I wanted to let you know since I know some of you are of like faith and I would covet your prayers.

This week, our landlord informed us that our house is a money pit and he wants to sell it. He's said we officially have 30 days, but he will be flexible with us, and I believe him. But that means we're now house-hunting. We don't want to rent again, so we're looking at trying to find some affordable digs for our tribe. Or small country--depending on how big a family of 8 is to you. :) The kids have seen a house they like, and, of course, it's more than twice what I can afford. But we'll look at it anyway because the fact that all six of them agree on something is a miracle worth savoring.

So if you think of it, pray for sanity as we hunt, merciful ears at the bank, and a whole heap of wisdom. :)

I'm hoping these kinds of things aren't an annual event for us. Some of you might recall our adventure with the car and my wife's heart last May (see the comments HERE for the full story). My wife's doing well, btw. And so's the car, with a new engine. :)

That's all. Back to the topic...

Lennon Faris said...

Thanks, Janet. Love seeing these bc it has a way of making me re-focus.

On a funny side note, so far I've gotten 30 rejections for my novel. I mention in the tiny blurb at the end of the query that I am a doctor (it is pertinent to the story), but I don't sign with my title bc it feels pretentious. Out of the thirty, only one agent wrote me back as 'Dr.' It made me feel good, not because I want the title, but bc it made me realize she actually read the thing and paid attention.

Colin - saying prayers for you & your family. Moving's hard, esp. under a deadline, but it can result in some really good changes.

John Davis Frain said...

This was terrific stuff, Janet. Thanks for taking the time to share.

Colin (never Colon I hope), from what little I know of you here and your blog, I think you're gonna do just fine. Remember to capture the stories, because your upcoming adventure will offer plenty.

Brigid said...

Oh jeez, Colin. Househunting is a combination of my favorite thing (playing imagination games) and my least favorite thing (worrying about money).

We had good luck with independent mortgage brokers and the local credit union. We tried to buy a place this March, the month that everything went wrong. That was also the month both jobs were in jeopardy and Orthodox Lent started. We're moving into our friends' garret next week, so we can keep house-hunting on a more flexible timeline. It is jubilantly stressful around here.

julieweathers said...


Psalm 5:12 and Isiah 43:19. I believe you're going to find the perfect home for your tribe.

Joseph S. said...

My stomach cramps and my shoulders shrivel every time I read a post about queries.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Good luck, Colin. I hope you and your tribe find the perfect home- a comfortable place that inspires you and yours.

Bethany Elizabeth said...

I'll be praying, Colin! House hunting is a crazy process, but hopefully it'll be a fun one, as well.

Also, I just bought one of Gary Corby's books to take on my vacation next week, and I don't know if I would've ever bought it without your gold-star recommendation. So thanks!

Colin Smith said...

Everyone: Thank you! You guys are OSSUM (as Diane would say)!! :D

Of course, I'm also secretly praying that Janet will call me to say a big-name publisher wants to publish my flash fiction and is offering a 7-figure advance. I think that might help with the financial aspect of this home-buying business. Under those circumstances, I might consider letting Janet be my agent... ;)

Bethany: Wonderful! Normally I might say, "Don't thank me until you've read it," but I have every confidence you will love Mr. Corby's marvelous work. :)

Craig F said...

Colin: If you get along with the landlord why not ask what he expects to get out of the house you are in. It might be considered a money pit but any house with eight people in it will be a money pit.

If you are a first time buyer there are a mess of incentives to help you buy.

On Topic:
My Queen is a wondrous Queen. She knew the answer when other agent were looking for it on MSWL. If you a writer to write shit you will get shit. Let a writer do it their way and you will be amazed by what you had no idea about before it smacked you.

I have a feeling that this spread will stay pretty consistent. Hopefully though there will be one or two that set her fins twitching. I wonder how often a request is made?

Colin Smith said...

Craig: Thanks for the suggestion. We wouldn't buy the house. It's old and needs a lot of work. I neither have the money nor the skill to take it on as a project. And that's sad because it's an old farmhouse, built in the 1920s. We like the location and the layout. If it wasn't in such disrepair, I would seriously consider taking it off his hands. As it is, we're shopping elsewhere. But we will be first time home-buyers, so hopefully we can leverage some deals. :)

Julie Weathers said...


Just because it's a bad idea doesn't mean it wouldn't be a good time. Who knows, you might grow to love carpentry.

Then again, the true test of a marriage is a remodel. Maybe you should just keep looking.

Timothy Lowe said...

"certainly not that you're the right person to write this book."

Good lord, Janet, thank you for those words. I've never even pretended to know what that one meant. Thanks for letting me know that I was right to ignore it.

Panda in Chief said...

Wildly off topic here, to cheer Colin on in his house hunting. Finding a house to buy is hard enough let alone on short notice. Perhaps if the landlord has delusions of what price his house can fetch, it will give you longer to find a house to buy. And if you have any rich friends who might be willing to hold your mortgage, don't rule it out.
Best of luck and start packing all those books.

BJ Muntain said...

Timothy Lowe: That question "Why are you the right person to write this book?" is for non-fiction. As in, what's your platform? Why should people read a book about staplers written by you and not by some stapler wizard? Or are you a stapler wizard? Prove it.

Colin Smith said...

I went on a staple diet once. My doctor said I needed more iron.


AJ Blythe said...

Fasscinating insight into queries. Seconding what everyone ese said (and also hoping this is a regular thing).

Colin, my prayers with you that you find exactly what you need. But when you go to the bank best not to wear the "I've been to Carkoon and survived" shirt.

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

I'd love to know if the queries for #4, 6 and 9 are good enough as queries, but simply not what Her Sharkness handles.

I twenty-second the 10 Queries idea.

I am happy to call anyone Dr. Whatever. If they spent that much time and money to earn a MD/PhD, they've got my respect (and maybe a touch of envy). I'm only half-way through my MS and am wondering what it's gonna take to finish.

Whaddya call a woman with a Master of Science degree? Ms.

Colin, good luck with your househunt.