Friday, September 24, 2010

Bad bad bad query

A few days ago, I reported my rejection rate in a blog post, as well as a few reasons why queries get rejected straight off the bat.  One reason being the "bad bad bad query."

What makes a "bad bad bad query"? one reader wanted to know.  I'll share my super scientific, exact measuring and weighing system.  Okay, I don't have an exact measuring system for bad bad bad queries.  What I do have is the "ick factor."  Also known as the "Vickie's brain just got utterly scrambled by your query, therefore, after a brief therapy of carbs and Gilmore Girls, she will reject you factor."

A bad bad bad query has most of the following elements (add or subtract a few):
  • does not include a proper greeting
  • it's obviously a mass email because the sender neglected to hide the bccs
  • over or under stretches on the hook
  • does not properly describe the characters and plot
  • does not explain the conflict in the novel
  • does not include contact information or even the sender's name
  • I am left not knowing what they are pitching (new ms, self published, what?)
  • I have read it five times and still don't know what it's about
Basically, a bad bad bad query defies every query writing rule known to man.  A huge step of the writing process is research.  If it's a memoir, you spent your entire life (literally) researching the material for your book.  Historical fiction, you probably spent a good deal of time in libraries, getting a master's degree, surfing Wikipedia.  Mystery novel, you at least found out the best way to kill someone with a cocktail olive.

All that research, and you neglect to research how to write a query letter?  Your researching job is not finished.  Keep going.  And once you hook that agent, she is going to send you after more research (comparables ring a bell?).  So your job as the researcher is never finished.  You get to prove your competence as a writer through the query letter.  First impressions and all that.  Don't screw it up.

Happy (query) writing!


Rebecca Gillan said...

What is an over or under stretch on a hook? I'm picturing worms on a fishing line here. In my creative writing classes, I was always told to make a 20-25 word tag line for the hook.

Angela McCallister said...

It's crazy that even with the internet so darn accessible, the uber-bad queries abound anyway. I've found posts that echo this from several years ago, but it still needs to be said. I guess getting rid of bad queries is as easy as getting rid of the troll who steals single socks from the dryer.

On the other hand, bad queries are good news for me (less competition), but bad news for you :)

Perri said...

Thanks for the post-- I know there are some clearly-bad ones out there, but then it's hard to tell whether one is over or under stretching a hook or adequately describing characters.

Do you have any examples of these things?

Vickie Motter said...

Wow, you guys ask some great questions! You are making me THINK about things. Who knew? Stay tuned, I'll answer the hook question and character question in future posts. Angela, I love your sock stealing troll metaphor, alas, I have been locked in battle with him for several months now.