Thursday, January 9, 2014

How to Write a Bad Query: Part One

As an editor, I read a lot of queries. Some of them are knock your socks off fantastic and others leave me wondering, what were they thinking? So, I've decided to share my knowledge with you in a new blog post series entitled: How to write a bad query.

Yes, you read that correctly ;-)

Despite the hundreds and thousands of websites that "teach" you how to write a stellar query, there's no magic formula for writing a query letter, and the argument can be made that there really is no wrong way to write one....but let's face it, there is. You can go anywhere and learn how to do it right. Well, no worries! I'm going to teach you how to do it the wrong way. Why?  Because I hope that you won't make any of these mistakes.

(**Please note that although the situations are real, the examples are completely fictional and are a figment of my own imagination**)


The Fantastic Pitch & Nothing Else Query

Anyone who has ever researched or actually written a query letter knows that the book pitch is hands-down the most important part of the entire letter. If you can't pique an agent or editors interest then you have no hopes of getting them to read your book. However, giving said agent or editor some identifying information is equally important. Why? Because we like to know what genre the book is, how long it is, who you are, what credentials you have, how to contact you, etc.

Dear Editor,

     Tallulah would do anything to land her dream internship -- including playing babysitter to the boss's obnoxious tween son, Furbrow. But when Furbrow sneaks out of the house to go visit a girl who convinces him to sneak into a movie, Tallulah must figure out a way to get Furbrow home and tucked safely into bed before his parents return. That's a lot easier said than done though -- especially when Tallulah is faced with an impossible decision: tell the truth about Furbrow and possibly lose her internship or keep it a secret even though she knows that's not the right thing to do. Is she willing to risk her personal morals for a shot at a life-changing opportunity?
      Thank you for your consideration.
Sincerely,
Amy Author

As you can see, there is no information in this type of query. We have no idea what genre this book falls into -- YA? NA? MG? -- it's anyone's guess. Is it 50,000 words or 150,000 words? Has Amy Author ever been published before? If so, where? What type of book?

Please, please, I beg you, take the extra paragraph and give us some information! It really will help you in the end, I promise.


The TMI Query

On the flip side, I have read queries that told me the author's entire life story and absolutely nothing about the book. Granted, I like to get to know the authors I will be working with. It's good business to build rapport and develop a relationship. Your query letter is not the place to do that!

Dear Editor,
     When I lost my husband to cancer last year, I knew I had to find something to help me cope. I turned to the written word and have healed through my writing. If it weren't for the journey I took with the characters in this book, I would've been reunited with my husband in Heaven much sooner than I should've been.
     Upon deciding to write this book, I quit my job as a teacher and focused on this new, exciting career path. Prior to teaching, I was a marketing executive and before that a sales clerk at a major department store. As you can see, I bring a variety of life experience to the table and will use my knowledge to help sell my book.
     My children are grown and out of the house. Having not blessed me with grandchildren, I am fully devoted to working on this book and the sixteen other books I have planned and outlined. I at your complete disposal.
     Thank you for your consideration.
Sincerely,
Amy Author

Wow. Okay, well, I'm sorry for your loss and for your lack of grandchildren, but could you maybe tell me something about your book? The title, maybe? Please, give me something, anything!


The "I Can't Follow Rules" Query

Every single agent and publisher will outline their submission guidelines on their website or blog. Most of them are easy to find and even easier to follow. Before you send a query letter to anyone, be sure to find these guidelines and follow them!

Dear Editor,
     Brazen Blueblood is the last of her kind, and she's fighting to stay alive. The world wants her dead because she saw something she wasn't supposed to see. With the help of a kind, homeless stranger, a stray dog, and her trusty blue metal sword, Brazen will face her demons and hopefully she'll come out alive.
     BRAZEN BLEEDS is a young adult fantasy complete at 90,000 words.
     I currently haven't had anything published, but I'm a contributor to a successful young adult blog. I'm active on social media and have built a strong following on Twitter.
     Your guidelines ask for the first three chapters pasted into the email. I've taken the liberty of attaching my full manuscript because there is no way you can get a feel for my characters in three short chapters.
     Thank you for you consideration.
Sincerely,
Amy Author

Uh....can you say reject? Seriously folks, those guidelines are there for a reason. If you don't follow them, you're asking begging for a rejection. This type of query tells me two very important things: (1) you can't follow simple rules, and (2) you're going to do whatever you want and will probably be very difficult to work with. No thank you. Next!