Thursday, February 14, 2013

A Tale of Two Queries

Ah, the dreaded query letter!

So much is made of this all-important, life-changing, career-determining page pleading to have work read and considered for publication. Blogs are devoted to the “right” way to write one. I've known authors to spend six months or more just to get a first draft. Seriously? Do you really think acquisition editors are really monsters sitting behind a desk ready to jump on one typo so they can gleefully send out a rejection letter?

Maybe I'm too laid back, but all I'm looking for is a pleasant salutation, the title of the novel, word count and genre. I'd like to know a bit about your writing background, although I'm going to google you anyway. Let me know what the plot is about, but don't try and tease my curiosity.

For the most part, the query letters that come across my desk are pretty good. Some make me grin because a sense of humor comes through; some make me smile because I can sense the author quaking behind the earnest words.

But, every now and then, I get one that just makes me scratch my head. Like this one. Please, if somebody can interpret it, let me know because I'm clueless.

“My graciousness by upon you.
Please, lavish me with your interpretation. I am inspired by the eternal void. I am listening for the Grate Abyss.
Thank you for your consideration.”

Alrighty, then. If your query letter is WORSE than this one, yes, you have something to worry about!

The next one simply demonstrated to me that the writer was a victim of bad advice. But, perhaps without realizing it, he also managed to insult me. Those of you who know me know that I'm not going to give a letter like this a pass without striving to educate the author.

“Dear folks at Oak Tree Press,

This book has the potential to be as successful as Blow or Ballad of the Whisky Robber. It is not difficult to imagine it being made into a movie.  The books has a myriad of adventures in it, at times it can be humorous, at other times it is absolutely devastating.

I was invited to submit a "treatment" to an executive producer in California. They suggested I finish it as a full length novel to gauge public interest. This is why I write to you.

I am also seeking an agent and other publishers for their feedback and/or interest. I am including a brief introduction to the story for your review. I have also put a brief biographical about myself at the end. While I have set the stage for the story, the ending must remain proprietary for now. Enjoy and let me know if interested and to what extent.”

Just for fun, can you pick out the 5 really irritating parts to this query? Let me help you. I'm suppose to be impressed because it's movie material. With the quality of most movies these days, I'd put a hold on that thought. Oh, and I'm asked to give my opinion to reassure the Hollywood types that they are right.

If Oak Tree publishes the novel, then surely an agent will snap it up for a more important house. We're just suppose to be a stepping stone to bigger things. Let me inform Billie Johnson, the publisher. And, because the book is THAT GOOD, I won't be told the ending.

Finally, I'm now downgraded to his private critique group. And, I'm suppose to let the author know how much I enjoyed it.

In my response, I “gently” pointed out all the errors in this author's thinking. He came back humbled and ready to learn. The Hollywood stuff was bunk. He admits he's got a long way to go. Maybe I'll take the time and put him in the Posse. Somebody has to.

Still worried about writing a query letter? Trust me, there are many out there who never worry. I've just given you two examples. You know you can do better.


William Doonan said...

That is a riot! Love the letter. I think a lot of people lose sight of the fact that when they write a query, it's going to re read by an actual person. And persons (people) deserve a little respect. If you can't put in the effort to be nice, then don't bother writing the letter.

Anonymous said...

Good grief, your bad example sounds like the anonymous spam I get on my blogs. Maybe Anon was the ghost writer?

Thanks for the good advice. If/when I get to that point, I will hope for an acquisitions editor as gentle as you and remember your advice.

Charles Gramlich said...

there is this thing called "Schizophrenia!" :) Wow, that quote was pretty amazing.

Anonymous said...

I remember how frightened I was to send out my first query letter. It became easier after the 50th, then a breeze by the 100th. Since this is the author's first query, she has time to hone her craft.

Anonymous said...

I thought I'd seen some doozies but these take the cake and pie too! Thanks for a huge belly laugh!! Thelma in Manhattan

rob akers said...

Ms. Sunny,

What do you think of my query letter?

To my sister from another mister,

What’s shakin bacon? My story is real good and would make a great movie. If you publish me, I promise you will not be sorry. Unfortunately, I can’t share what I am writing about because it is all in my brain. There is nothing like it at Barnes and Noble. Give me a shout out if you want to know more and I will hit you back.

Your brother from another mother says peace out!

Do you think there is anything I should try to keep?

I think the writer of the first query letter has spent too much time in a thesaurus and not enough time living life. That was fun, keep smiling!

jrlindermuth said...

If either of those two ever find a publisher they won't be the only ones surprised.

Holli Castillo said...

You would think writers would do a little research and read a book on query writing so they would know NOT to do those things. There are whole lot of books out there with tips on query writing and examples of queries.

While writers may want to find a way to make their query stand out, including definite no-nos is not the way.

Anonymous said...

A couple of those "OMG" moments, to be sure. But at least they make one laugh.9742 said...

OMG, Sunny. I'm up to my neck in alligators as the saying goes, but took a few minutes to read your post. Unfortunately both of these writers do need to learn grammar and what NOT to put in a query letter. Good for you for sending the second writer a response. All I could do was shake my head and hope a lesson was learned.

Now about that Bridge in Brooklyn that's for sale.....

James R. (Jim) Callan said...

Geez, I can see why you weren't happy, Sunny. He didn't even offer you a cut if it went into movie production. I suppose he didn't send any chocolate either. I'd never leave that out.

Still amazing, after all that it out there that you would still get queries like that.

Sunny Frazier said...

Folks, I had to decide which ones were the best to reprint. Should have called it A Tale of Twenty Queries.

Rob, you had me at "Ms. Sunny." I have a Southern man who calls me "Miss Sunny." I have to say, the belle in me does love the sound. My grandmother was referred to as "Miss Virgie" when my grandfather was courting her. Not sure if I could have handled that handle!

Sally Carpenter said...

I'd be curious to see what kind of book the Grate Abyss wrote. Maybe she was picking up an alien transmission from outer space. Seriously, if a person can't write a good query letter, how can he expect to penn a good book? Thanks for sharing these doozies.

Theresa Varela said...

I can shake my head today but I was oh so serious when I created my first query letters. Listening to agents and editors at some writers conferences had me trembling in my boots. A few years and many queries later, I can laugh along with everyone. I don't think any of my queries were like these but it's nice to look back and see I survived my first years as a writer! Woo hoo!

Anne R. Allen said...

ROTFL! Grate Abyss has obviously gone to the same Spam College as a lot of my blogspammers. The other one--oh dear. There's some really bad advice out there, I guess. But with 1000s of professional blogs out there that all teach how to write a query, it's kind of amazing anybody can stay that ignorant.

Patricia Gligor's Writers Forum said...

Too funny! I feel much better now about the query letters I've written. :)

Leanne Stowers said...

Couldn't respond until today. Wow, I'm pretty sure I wouldn't send those letters. I agee with Ann Allen.

Jewel Amethyst said...

Funniest post I've read in a long while. These are the best "how not to write a query" examples.

As for that first query, my hypothesis is that he wrote it in another language and used an online translator to translate it to English. That's the only explanation I can possibly come up with.

G. B. Miller said...

I should link this post with a post I wrote a few months ago called "How not to promo a book". It definitely would make an excellent companion piece.

In all seriousness though, I equate writing a query letter with interviewing for a job. If you can't toot your own horn w/o sounding pushy, then you need serious help.

Preferably from people who know what makes a good query letter.

But once you can get that good query letter written, then you got the perfect template to use in the future.

Radine Trees Nehring said...

First query is from someone not a native English speaker and not yet familiar with the language.

Second is from someone not a professional writer and not yet familiar with the business of writing and publishing.

Jane Turley said...

I suggest framing them both and putting them in your toilet:)If you ever have constipation and need a belly laugh they should prove useful!