Tuesday, January 24, 2012

January Query Time: What not to include

I'll try to keep on topic and off of rants and fun stories about horrible queries I've seen. Like this one time...

We've discussed why a query is important, what it is, what it's not. Here's a handy list of what not to include. Thursday will be what to include, how to format, etc.
  • Apologies. Nothing turns me off more than a writer apologizing for taking up my time. Or telling me how swamped I am. Or being humble, or anything like that. In this regard, keep it impersonal. Formal.
  • Aggression. Don't blame me for you being rejected. Don't blame readers or publishers or the state of the economy. Besides distracting me from the important stuff--the query--it makes me not want to work with you.
  • Excuses. If you make an excuse for why your word count is too long, just don't query. If you find yourself needing to explain the first few pages or why you need to get past the first fifty to really get into the story, you shouldn't be querying. You know deep, deep, deep down that there's something wrong. We want a close-to-finished-you-slaved-over-it-went-to-classes-and-had-beta-readers-read-it query/ms.
  • Don't tell me it's been professionally edited or that your friend who's an English major has edited it. And especially don't tell me that you'll have it edited if I think that's best. (you should be getting the gist--get to the query)
  • You don't need a hook. My preference is getting straight to the query. And don't introduce it with, "Thanks for your time. Here's my query..." or "Now, on to the query!" 
  • If you use a hook, please, please, please, keep it to one line. Two at most. If the sentence is overly wrought or too long, I get bored. It's TELLING not SHOWING. Your query SHOWS, you TELL.
  • To introduce your author bio just say, "I've been published by (specific publisher, name of book, year of publication)" or "I'm a member of (specific organizations)." Etc. Don't say, "Now, a little about me." Again, it's distracting (you won't get automatically rejected if you break this rule--my rule--but do keep it in mind).
  • Don't say you've been writing for years, since you were a little kid, just quit your job to write full time, your mother loves your stories, etc. It looks amateurish. If you have nothing in your bio, thank the agent for his/her time and close.
  • Don't offer an exclusive. Don't say who it's currently out with.
  • I don't care if you tell me it's a simultaneous submission. I assume it is--it's a smart practice. I hate finally getting to a query after a month only to find out I was the only one it was submitted to. I made you wait a month before you could get to anyone else! Remember my job-application metaphor? Would you put in an application for only one job at a time and wait until they got back to you?
Get to the query. Have you ever called someone up or visited someone and you just need one bit of information from them? You make a little polite chitchat and suddenly you can't get away from the person. And before you know it, you know all their woes and the name of their first dog--fluffy-kins. It was a rottweiler. Agents are looking for that one bit of information--not the extras. That can come later with the phone call.

Last week, I said that the query is not a business letter. Particularly, I was thinking about the header you include on business letters--your address, my address, etc. Maybe in the days of old, when people still used snail mail, that was common practice for queries. But you don't need it (also, it's a telltale if you didn't do your research; for example, our agency has moved its main offices from CA to WA, so if you use the old address, I know you're not doing your research). It's distracting. You won't get rejected over it, but most of my advice this month tends to be towards the "cleaner and tighter, the better". (I'm going to talk more about this business letter thing next week--it deserves the attention.)

More on Thursday.

Happy writing!


Anonymous said...

As someone who is about to query (with a friend who is currently querying) this series is very helpful. Keep it coming!

1000th.monkey said...

How about links to a youtube video of your query told entirely through interpretive dance? 'Cause I'm a little confused if that would be considered showing or telling...

Just kidding ;)

Out of curiosity though, do you advocate including links to the writers blog/website/etc?

Sarah said...

Fair assumption: The messier the query the messier the novel.

Now to go tighten that thing up.

Anonymous said...

I seriously love you Vickie! You gave me some of the best advice on improving my query and novel especially (drastically cutting the length) back in November and since then I've followed your personal feedback/guidelines and am confident enough to begin my querying process again today! Your twitter and blog rock! Definitely keep the wise tips coming our way!

Anonymous said...

Thanks as these are great points.

Kelley Lynn said...

Thanks for just laying it out there. Most of these I knew but reminders are NEVER a bad thing.

Mart Ramirez said...

Great tips! Thanks for sharing, Vickie!

Sher A. Hart said...

I liked your advice well enough to follow your blog. I tried to follow on twitter too, but the button doesn't link to your twitter account. I did guess your handle and it turns out I'm already following, but I wanted to tell you about the broken button. Better than a broken zipper! Juvenile humor from a middle grade writer.

Rigzy said...

I wish I had found your blog BEFORE I started sending out query letters, but it's pretty encouraging that my letter follows the majority of you guidelines/suggestions.

Now I know what parts I've done well and what I should tweek.