Oct 26, 2011

10 Things That Shouldn’t Be In Your Query


Rhetorical Questions – Have you ever wondered why queries shouldn’t be printed on blue cardstock? Probably not. The problem with rhetorical questions is that the answer is usually no. Why do you want an agent to have the word “No” in her mind before she gets through your query?  A rhetorical Q as a first sentence is effectively cutting your head off. If you’ve got a rhetorical question, cut it out and find a better way to approach that. Rhetoricals are lazy.
Rachelle Gardener from WordServe Literary Group: Your query begins with a rhetorical question. The problem with this is that usually my answer to your question is “no” so you’ve already lost me. Especially the “Have you ever wondered…?” questions. (Rachelle’s Blog)
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Clichés or TropesThe point of a query is to illustrate the Uniqueness of your novel to an agent or publisher. Clichés and Tropes are not unique. Chances are, if you’re using one, an agent (or their assistant) has already read three blogs that morning with the same string of words or the same basic plot device. Give them a reason to ask for more! Make your query a shiny gem poking out of a mound of sand – make it irresistible!

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Vagueness – This thing happened and it was bad, but then it was okay because the MC turned it around. I don’t honestly expect anyone to have a sentence like that in their query… but I have seen more verbose sentences that tell me just about the same thing.  Be specific. I know you only have a limited amount of space, but make it count! Don’t leave us asking a dozen who, what, and whys.
Dan Lazar from Writer’s House: Saying “my novel is about a mom going through some life challenges” is vague, and remember: Vague = boring. (Writer’s Digest Editor Blog)

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No HookA hook does exactly what it says on the tin – it’s meant to hook an agent. Without one, there’s nothing in your query that will catch an agent’s interest. It doesn’t have to be the first sentence. It’s a unique concept delivered in a well written and well thought out way. Show the agent why they should pick you, don’t expect them to though, unless you’ve got a good reason.

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Lack of Confidence/apologizing – Rule of thumb: never apologize for taking up an agent’s time. You’re not. And never assure them that you know they have better things to do. They don’t. If you are and if they do… you’re query is in the hands of their assistant – or it’s waiting in their inbox until they have the time. By giving of an air of lacked confidence, you make yourself sound like a risk. If you don’t have any faith in your query – or the fact that it’s worth their time – why should they? Why should an editor? Why should a reader? If you don’t feel confident. Fake it.
Jessica Faust from BookEnds,LLC: frequently authors start queries by saying things like, “the last thing you probably need is another query . . .” You’re right. It is the last thing I need, and since even you don’t think yours is important enough to stand out from the rest, I think I’ll reject (BookEnd’s Blog)
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A Recent News Headline as your main PlotIf it was a major news headline in the last decade or two, chances are its too fresh in our minds to need a plot centered on it. Your main character can have a back story that involves the incident, but it shouldn’t be the thing that everything else hinges on.  Fact of the matter is: the news is competing with you for a market and when people can get the run down in a few snippets on TV, why are they going to want to read a novel, that probably isn’t going to tell them much more?

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Author Bios that don’t matter – I have an adorable dog – a rescue from South Korea – and I wrote my first “novel” when I was in the seventh grade, but none of that matters to an agent looking at the ms you’re pitching in your query.  They don’t care that you’ve loved writing all your life – so have most of the other people who’s letters fall across their desk. If you’ve got relevant bio information, put that in. If not, don’t put anything in. Relevant in this case includes degrees (in the writing field or a field that holds relevance to your novel – and that the agent can see are relevant based on the query) previous publishing credits (not self published – we’ll talk about that in a minute).  They don’t need to know how many kids you have, or that you enjoy LARPing.
Maya Rock, Prev with Writer’s House: The focus of the letter should be on getting the agent to fall in love with your book, not you. (Maya Rock’s Blog)
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Comparisons to best sellersHere’s the thing about best sellers. No one can predict them – not accurately anyway. An agent could pick up your book and think “This is going to be a best seller, I just know it!” and then never find an editor for it. Or an editor might think the same thing… and then when it’s published, it flops. In some cases, everyone knows the book is going to sell and it does. But chances are, those books are not comparable to other best sellers. Why does someone want to read another Twilight? Why does someone want to read another Davinci Code? Readers don’t want a copy. They want something fresh and stimulating. You may have written a book about vampires and a clandestine catholic underground… but if you compare it to those two best sellers, it’s going to leave a sour taste in an agent’s mouth as (s)he’s reading it.  (on a side note, don’t bother with Vampires at all for a while – that market is saturated, so unless you’ve got something that is so unique it doesn’t even resemble vampire novels, you can try, otherwise, don’t bother.)
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Themes – If you wrote your book with a specific theme in mind, or found that you had a theme when you were going through on edits, that’s great. But Agent’s don’t want to hear about it.
Rebecca Sherman from Writers House: Provide a list of issues that your novel will cover instead of an overview of your story. (Ingrid’s Notes)
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Your self-published bookIf you’ve self published a book, don’t bring it up in your query. It’s not that agents frown upon self publishing as a whole; it’s simply that no traditional publisher is going to care unless you’ve sold gobs of books. It’s not a device an agent can use to market this novel. So it does absolutely zilch for you in a query.  Also, if you’re querying a novel you’ve already self published and are looking for a way to expand your sales by taking it to a traditional publisher, stop right now. Unless you’ve sold a ridiculous amount of copies, no one wants sloppy seconds.
Lauren MacLeod from the Strothman Agency:  If your self pub book has sold under 500 copies at a $.99 price point, I don't want to hear about it. 5,000? Maybe. (Twitter)

6 comments:

  1. Great helps. BTW, do I even want to know what Larping is? :)

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  2. LARP stands for Live Action Role Play
    :)

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  3. Janet Reid said that rhetorical questions are a no-no but admits that they may have their place. I think it's kind of a toss-up on whether to use them or not.

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  4. Rhetorical questions can, too often, carry the tone that the speaker or writer knows more than you and wants to prove it. I think, in a query situation where one wants to convey respect, one would be careful of tone and implication.

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  5. Great list. I personally hate 'vagueness'. I read one query this week that was just paragraph after paragraph about the writer's motivation for the most awesome story ever...but they never got around to actually pitching the story.

    www.hollowayliteraryagency.com
    @hollowaylit

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  6. I agree about the comparison to best sellers.

    I also don't like the rhetorical question, and I think it's just because they often come off as patronizing (not always, but they can). This is coming from a reader, but I don't like reading rhetorical questions on the back of books because I feel like that will be the pace inside of the cover (a lot of, "did you think this? well, you're wrong.").

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