Saturday, November 25, 2017

Why you heard no

1. Query talks about what happens but doesn't give me a sense of what the story is
(9 queries in this category)

How you will avoid this: Make sure you've given me a sense of how the character must change, or what's at stake, or what's at risk for the character. Telling me what happens is just a series of events. Why it will change the character is what I'm interested in.


2. Outside the categories I take on
(4 queries in this category)

How you will avoid this: you can't. Query me for anything even if I don't rep it. I'd rather see something outside my area of interest than miss something fabulous. Of course you have to BE fabulous.


3. Overdone topic
(3 queries here)

How you will avoid this: know what's been done before. Make sure you're not writing a new version of Starksy and Hutch. If you love Starsky and Hutch tell it in new way, don't just make the characters female, or green, or on pogo sticks instead of cars.


4. A book I know I can't sell
(3 queries here)
Categories go in and out of fashion just like hem lengths. It's hard to write vampires right now. Also, medical and academic mysteries.

How you will avoid this: Know your category. If you're going to write a medical mystery it needs a fresh spin.


5. short story collection
(2 queries here)
Some agents will take on a collection as an initial project. I generally do not. I start with a novel. If I can sell that, then we talk about a collection.


6. The opioid epidemic.
(2 queries here)

Like domestic violence or sexual abuse, this is a topic I just don't want to read about for entertainment. There's almost no nuance to these topics; they're just plain sorrow on a stick.

7. cliche ridden query means a cliche ridden novel
(2 of these)

How you will avoid this: know what cliches are. Avoid them.


8. the category so gummed up it's clear the writer doesn't have a clue

How you will avoid this: pick one category. Stick to it.

There is no such thing as an fictional biographical memoir.


9. query written in character's voice
This is so confusing you have no idea. Everyone who does this should be sentenced to reading my incoming queries for a week. You'd never do it again.

How to avoid this: DO NOT DO THIS. And remember: plain and simple is best. I'm not sitting down with tea and a ruler and a notepad and pen (pens!!) to parse your query letter. I'm reading it right now at 7:11pm on a weekday evening while I wait for everyone to log on to a conference phone call. Plain. Simple. Elegant.


10. physicist by day/stripper by night-I'm REALLY over this trope
If your female characters are caricatures, I'm done. Really really done.


11. boring villain
If your villains are just plain evil for no apparent reason, we're done.


12. the query letter so clueless I just can't even
How you will avoid this: Don't worry, you're not at risk. If you're reading industry blogs and paying even a modicum of attention you'll be fine.



13. Query letter attached to the email
How you will avoid this: Don't do it.


14. If you write what you know, you're writing non-fiction.
Novels need imagination. The opposite of that is science fiction that defies science. If you're going to defy earth's science, set your book on Pluto

How you will avoid this: Accuracy is vastly over rated as a story telling technique BUT you gotta have it for things like gravity. If people can fly, aerodynamics is in play. If gravity doesn't factor into your story, set it on Pluto. I hear it's nice and light out there.



15. impossible to read 1600 word query, single space, one block of text.

How you will avoid this: don't do it. A query is 250 words. There's a compelling reason you should follow that rule: it forces you to be concise. And a big block of text is impossible to read. Make SURE you have white space.



16. No clue what writer is querying for
How you will avoid this: See #12


17. So overwritten I went to adjective/adverb detox after reading
Not every noun needs an adjective, especially rain, sky, hair, and gait. Unless of course it's raining cats and dogs from an purple sky and your hair is green and you're pulling me in a sedan chair toward the bar. In other words, use an adjective or adverb if you need to distinguish your noun. Undistinguished nouns are not lesser nouns.


18. Not enough story /word count too light for category

This is tricky because not enough story is often measured by low word count, but not always. Not enough story means the stakes are too low to carry a novel, or not enough happens. Editors often say the book isn't "big enough." And any novel under 60K with some few category exceptions is too short. Anything that requires real world building should START at 100K.


As always, remember I keep these stats from queries I saw a while back. If you heard from me recently, this isn't about you.

On the other hand, these kinds of problems pop up over and over again....

22 comments:

Craig F said...

I have not yet heard an overt NO. There are implied NO's under a few levels of lawyer speak. I know that, but no overt NO's.

Then again, there have not yet been any YES's either. The day is still young though.

I would love this post but I have already committed myself to the query I am sending. Maybe I'll come back to it in a week or two and look harder to see if I fit one of these categories or if it is something harder to define.

french sojourn said...



Craig F; Good luck with your query.

Loved todays post. In so many ways.

Cheers!

Kathy Joyce said...

A definite way to get a query "no" is don't send it. But, then there's no chance for a yes. Be not afraid!

Timothy Lowe said...

That's an impressive list. I find #1 to be the most tricky, yet essential. A character needs an inner and outer arc. Not easy to pull off.

Kerry Bernard said...

Thanks for this.

Good luck Craig.

I think I'm going to actually send a few queries this week, despite a fanged villain. Kathy has a good point.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

I love these why you heard no so much. It helps with the most obvious mistakes. All of which I make all the time. I have a serious query letter disorder- so much I have torn up my query entirely and will revisit in new year. Maybe.

I HATE my query and love my book. However, my query is so bad I might have to abandon this book I love for something easier to query, you know a lazy commercial Succubus Who Dunnit sort of thing. I feel utterly defeated right now.

Tomorrow I am going to tacke a 2 page synopsis, something I omce feared more than my query. But not anymore. I am so screwed. It’s like I am getting worse at writing as time goes on. I love my book. 2 out of 3 beta readers loved the book. But they all agreed it was quite bizarre. Oh well.

Sharyn Ekbergh said...

I highly recommend a little book called How Not to Write a Novel by Howard Mittelmark and Sandra Newman.
There's also a chapter on How Not to Sell Your Book.

It made me rethink a few things in my first chapter.
Someone else here wrote about it so I bought a copy. One of the best books on writing I have found.

Kathy Joyce said...

EM, sounds like you need a little encouragement today. Email me if you'd like a second set of eyes on your query (kathyjoyce.writer@gmail.com). Don't give up the book because of the query! I want to read it! (And I know others do too!)

Joseph Snoe said...


Bingo, Timothy Lowe. Succinct and accurate.

I feel your pain, E.M.Goldsmith, but writing a query for a lazy commercial Succubus Who Dunnit sort of thing is also depressingly difficult.

Sherry Howard said...

If you skimmed over #17, go back and read it!

I'm in the query trenches, and I hate them! I've avoided them by writing. I consider that I've built a portfolio, and now I have to get serious about getting them out there. Can you hear me talking myself into querying?

Colin Smith said...

Elise: Right now, I have no idea how I will begin to try selling this NaNo novel to an agent, so I understand your dilemma. But to write off a perfectly good novel in favor of something that's easier to query? C'mon! Let me ask you this: Which novel best defines you as a writer? The novel you are struggling to query, or a lazy commercial Succubus Who Dunnit sort of thing? If you love your novel, and you believe it has an audience, then it's worth the struggle. Querying is SOLELY about getting an agent to read your pages. Once the agent is sucked into your world, the query is gone. Forgotten. Until the publisher's asking for jacket copy, anyway... :) Yes, the query is an important hill to climb. But don't make the hill into Everest. Because it isn't.

You can do this!! :D

Melanie Sue Bowles said...

I love these why you heard no posts. The "how you will avoid this" in number one is pure gold. They all are.

Now I'm inspired to write a story entitled: Why Your Herd Neighs.

Elise, Don't let the query make you crazy. We're here for you. Send it on to a few of us. I wrote a successful one back in the day (for my first three books). proudspirit@juno.com

That offer goes out to anyone here who wants another set of eyes.

BJ Muntain said...

Oh, EM. Don't give up. Like Kathy-of-the-Joyce, I'll help all I can. My e-mail is bjmuntain at sasktel dot net. If you want to send me your query and maybe what you're having the most trouble with, I'll help. Then you'll have at least two of us helping you. Probably more.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

You guys! The best you all are. I have had my query poked and prodded every which way and by a couple of amazing Reefers. I need to let it sit a while.

My book is just back from beta readers so I have some percision revision to do and I will need a synopsis before I enter the trenches. So I am going to concentrate on writing the synopsis.

Perhaps, I will get over my query mental block by the new year. My book has two weighty MCs, really three, and all are both hero and villian so it’s not a typical here’s the bad one and here’s the good one type thing. It’s bizarre.

I will figure it out. These kind of posts really do help. At least I know what not to do. I think I need to step back a little. I almost wish I didn’t love this book so much. It would make this a less frightening process.

Beth Carpenter said...

E.M. Goldsmith - Writing the synopsis (assuming the process doesn't convince you to give up writing in favor of something easier like sword-swallowing) will help you focus in on the essence of the book, which will help with the query. You've got this.

Craig F said...

Elise: R-E-L-A-X

That is the only way to make a query roll off the tongue. Sometimes a synopsis helps, sometimes a place like the query tracker forum helps,sometimes stepping back from your book is the only way you can use a wide brush to paint it, sometimes friends help and sometimes a nice fat hangover helps.

Just make sure you have a pad and crayon by your bed. For me the best ideas for queries come at the least opportune times. Then I just have to clean the blood stains off and iron it forty six times to get the wrinkles out.

I think a neat idea of a way to query what you said is if the inciting incident changes the MC into the antag and the antag into the MC.

Best of luck to you.

kdjames.com said...

I love these posts. So educational.

This part just totally cracks me up: "How you will avoid this: Don't do it."

Melanie, your riff on the post title -- Why Your Herd Neighs -- is absolutely hilarious. I literally laughed out loud.

Lennon Faris said...

Love these posts.

"Why you herd neigh" - Melanie - Ha!

Good luck, Craig and EM!

Hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving!

John Davis Frain said...

Word of advice:

If Martian women on pogo sticks isn't a new enough way to deliver the Starsky & Hutch story, just stay away from that show completely. Zombie vampires must be easier to sell.

Starsky & Hutch. smh.

AJ Blythe said...

Melanie, I know you are on a fiction writing hiatus now, but if you don't pick up a pen and tackle "Why You Herd Neighs" I'm going to be totally bummed. Like KD, I laughed out loud at that.

Julie Weathers said...

Melanie Ha, you should write it.

I absolutely could not stand The Horse Whisperer. Detested it and had to force myself to finish it because everyone was raving about it so. Every time the trainer came out with some tired horse cliche or saying I could see the author talking to a horse trader or trainer for research and going, "Oh, that's great!" and busily jotting it down in a notebook.

You would write something fresh.

Craig Good luck. I am dreading the flurry of no's I will get with Rain Crow. Tis a river that must be crossed.

Elise Good luck. Stick with it. It's worth it.

mythical one-eyed peace officer said...

"There is no such thing as an fictional biographical memoir."

I wonder how you would classify "Reminiscences of a Stock Operator". A fictionalized account of the life of Jesse Livermore. There is an actual biography, "Jesse Livermore - Boy Plunger"