Category Archives: Query Letters

Queries: The Best Of The Worst

Some people scribble a few lines down on paper and are convinced they’ve written something worthy of publication, admiration, and instant fame and wealth. Most of the time, this is so not the case. That’s when we get really bad query letters and all those books that give self-publishing a bad name. Every once in a while, though, someone good takes the time to do something so bad, it becomes awesome. I stumbled across one of those instances on Query Shark recently. So, now, for your edification and entertainment, I give you what Janet Reid called the ∑ of All Queries:

Dear Most Exalted Shark of Snark:

JOHN SMITH (who’s a girl, but her parents wanted a boy so they named her John, even though it’s totally misleading because she’s gorgeous with fiery red and orange tresses the color of autumn leaves, and sparkling forest green eyes that glisten with secrets) is the best friend of Aphrodite Pantaloonacy, who is actually our protagonist.
In a blinding fit of rage, John Smith (whom Aphro has nicknamed Elvis) runs off to Iceland, to better escape the ghosts of her past and the pitfalls of her own artistic temperament. While there, she plays ice hockey. They’re’s*** also an Amusing Scene with a Turkish ghost on holiday taking a bath (Turkish baths, etc.). But one day, when the sky churns with storms and across the see Aphrodite has a terribly chilling feeling of icy foreboding, Elvis falls down a rabbit weasel hole, killing her instantly.

In order to deal with her crushing grief, Aphro and the tortured-soulled boyfriend of Elvis, Maisie (who is actually a boy but his parents wanted a girl so they named him Maisie, go figure right?) flee to the mystical land of Genovia Canada Barbecuasia. It is a place where dragons roam free and the cursed are damned. Where blood can flow quick and fast or slow and at a snail’s pace. It is here that Maisie and Aphro can find their dreams. It is here that Aphro can finally confront her destiny.

Since birth Aphro has had a birthmark in the shape of a question mark right in the middle of her snowy forehead. It is a gift from the Barbecuasian gods signifying that she is her mother’s daughter. What this means, only Maisie can discover, because of the key his grandfather gave him that he’s always carried around his neck that opens the chest where the true powers of Lord Carbunkle dwell.

Aphro, Maisie, the ghost of Elvis, Dandelion, Alkaline, Mjehrithuuqreaei, a baby, a snaggle-toothed troll, a shark with a devastating scents of humor, all these characters and more go on a piercing and heart/gut-wrenching journey of self-discovery and what it means to be a human. Also tacos.

As your eyes pour over each and every carefully selected word (you tell us to edit a lot so boy did I!) I know you will guffaw with laughter (The book is funny). You may even maybe snicker and chortle and giggle and titter and then maybe cackle a bit but only at the funny parts. The serious parts are the parts where I am fully and fervently convinced you will boohoo. I tested this out on test readers (ages 7-84) and there was so much boohooing that I “drifted away on a sea of beautiful tears” (Rosemary, age 67, Tulsa, Oklahoma).

I would be so honored if you would consider reading my 350,842 1/2 (people get interrupted mid-word sometimes) word gritty crime novel work of fiction, the first in a series of seventeen tomes sure to rival the epic sagas of Larry McMurtry, William Shakespeare, Homer [Simpson] and Barbara Walters. It is a compelling work of staggeringly-employed metafores in the timely and bestselling genre of young adult thriller hipster communist manifesto. It is rated X for explicit sex scenes.

I sent a joke once to a joke magazine and they printed my joke (I have included the magazine and highlighted the page for your convenience). Literature is my passion and I have named all my cats after literary characters. Please do not tell me that you do not have the time to read my manuscript, since I know where you live and I see that you stay up very very late at night reading, and there really isn’t any reason you couldn’t be up reading my stuff too.

Ever faithfully yours,

(name redacted) aka (pen name redacted)

Am I the only one who kinda wants to read a book written by the character who wrote this query? Love it!

BUT, at the same times, don’t do this. It won’t get you far. 😉

Life: Never Stop Learning

One of the many reasons I’m crazy busy right now is I’ve signed up for a Writer’s Digest online class called Fiction Pitch Slam where my query letter and pitch gets critiqued by working agents and editors. Between today and Monday I will be listening to lectures by industry experts and submitting my query letter for revisions.

The man giving the first lecture is Chuck Sambuchino, an author and expert who works with Writer’s Digest. His blog is a wealth of information on and interviews with agents and I’m hoping this weekend will help me work out the kinks in my pitch which I’m having a hard time simplifying to less than ten sentences. The point? Even though I’ve been doing this for years now and I’ve written more than a few query letters already, I never feel as though I know everything. In fact, I still feel like what I know is only a drop on the bucket.

Never think you’ve learned it all. If you have, what else is there to live for? If you keep learning and discovering, you’ll keep finding stories to tell, and that is exactly what I want to do for the rest of my life.

Publication: Advice On How To Get There

There is no easy answer to this question and no road map for you to follow.

Just so we’re clear.

There are, however, steps you can take and things you can try that might get you one step closer to publication. Agent Rachelle Gardner offers some tips, but no one can make you promises. Other agents and bloggers have as well and, in a nutshell, their combined advice is as follows.

One, improve your writing. In fact, this is kind of a must. If your book is not absolutely the best you can make it, don’t even think about submitting it and please, please step away from thoughts about self-publishing. For advice on how to improve without spending a lot of money, check out Elizabeth Spann’s post or my version of the same.

Two, enter contests. I mentioned this in my post on improving, but it’s a subject that is worth repeating. Romance Writers of America has a list of contests for 2012 here (chapter hosted contests) including a few for unpublished manuscripts. Many others exist for both published and unpublished authors and a Google search can help you turn up ones relevant to your genre.

Three, fine-tune your query letter, but stay away from query-letter services. I’ve read from multiple reliable sources that most agents can instantly spot a pre-fab query letter and using one of these will not get you on their good side. Free services for query letter critiques include sites like Critique Circle and Query Shark that can provide edits once you have a letter written, but if you’re struggling to get a solid letter on paper (or on computer) try one (or a few) of these resources:

  1. Agent Query – How to Write a Query Letter
  2. Query Shark – just reading through the posts can be enormously helpful
  3. Writer Beware Blogs – How to Write a Query Letter
  4. Nathan Bransford – How to Write a Query Letter

These are just a few of the thousands of sites available, but they are sites I know are reputable and thorough. The advice they offer is more valuable than gold and you should treat it as such.

Four, find an agent to query. Do your research and don’t bother querying agents who A) aren’t accepting submissions, B) don’t represent your genre, C) show up on Writer’s Beware, D) ask for money before reading your query, E) don’t follow the guidelines of the Association of Authors’ Representatives (AAR). They don’t have to actually be a member of the AAR, but even those who aren’t should follow the ethical guidelines established by this organization. To find an agent you should do some Google searches or search through the databases of Agent Query (free) or Writer’s Market (subscription required). These sources include most of the agents currently working in the industry and will be invaluable in your search.

Five, attend conferences and pitch sessions. You can do a Google search for conferences in your area, but unless you live in New York or California, you will probably have to travel for most of the major events. Personally, I hope to attend the RWA conference, the New York Book Expo, and the NYC Pitch and Shop Conference in 2012. These types of conferences are a fantastic way to meet other writer and industry professionals and maybe start forming a network. Often, skill alone isn’t enough. A single recommendation can go a long, long way.

Six, think positive. This may seem silly, but it’s important. Crucial, even. Getting published can be a long, winding, uphill road and letting yourself feel negative is one step closer to letting yourself quit. If you want it bad enough, you’ll get there come hell or high water. Just remember that each rejection you get is one closer to an acceptance and each bad review is one more way you can make your work better.

This probably seems like a lot of work. That’s because it is. There is another route to publication, the DIY path, but since the weight of every single decision rests on your shoulders, you have to make sure you do your research before committing to this. J.A. Konrath has a lot of information on his blog about self-publishing even if he sometimes phrases his opinions in ways that tend to offend. Not me, but I’ve seen it happen. New sites with advice or offers of publishing services are popping up every day, but do your research before signing with a company. It’s free to load your ebook onto Amazon or Barnes & Noble, so don’t pay for anything you don’t have to. This is a very valid option, but not one I’ve done a ton of research on, so I can’t offer much more advice on the subject. Not anything that I’ve personally tested, anyway.

So, here it is. Hopefully, it helps someone. Satisfaction is in no way guaranteed, but it’s a possibility.

Writing: Messy First Drafts

Perfectionism has no place in the early stages of creativity. Mistakes are gold mines and should be treated as such, and first drafts are the best place to make those mistakes. But who am I to tell you this? Luckily, I’m not the only person who thinks so. Go read this article featured in Writer’s Digest:

Get Messy With Your First Draft

And, for those interested in my own writing progress, here’s an update. I’m currently working on my ninth (I think…) revision of Fallen. Once this is complete, I will send the story out to a new batch of agents and hope for a bite. There’s a connection my mom has that might turn into something useful, but I’ve learned enough by now to not put all my hopes in on basket. 🙂

Query Letters: Paperback Writer

I was listening to the radio the other day and a Beatles song called Paperback Writer came on. As I was listening to this song, a song I have heard at least a hundred times before, it struck me that this is a perfect bad query letter example! I mean, seriously! So, to prove my point, I put the lyrics in this post. To make it easier to see as a letter, I put it into paragraph form, but the only other change I made was taking out the repetitions of the phrase ‘paperback writer.’

Dear Sir or Madam, will you read my book? It took me
years to write, will you take a look? It’s based on a novel
by a man named Lear and I need a job, so I want to be a
paperback writer.

It’s the dirty story of a dirty man and his clinging wife
doesn’t understand. His son is working for the Daily
Mail, it’s a steady job but he wants to be a paperback

It’s a thousand pages, give or take a few, and I’ll be
writing more in a week or two. I can make it longer if
you like the style, I can change it round but I want to be
a paperback writer.

If you really like it you can have the rights, it could make
a million for you overnight. If you must return it, you can
send it here but I need a break and I want to be a
paperback writer.

Paperback writer.

So, am I right or am I right? 😉

Update: Looking back on 2008

Last December, I posted this list of goals:

  1. Sign a contract with an agent.
  2. Go to the gym three times a week.
  3. Sell a short story to a magazine.
  4. Complete rough drafts of books two, three, and four of the Fallen series.
  5. Begin work on a new book project.
  6. Sell Fallen to an American publishing house.
  7. Completely reorganize my house.
  8. Start printing pictures and putting them into albums.
  9. Develop a writing schedule.
  10. Post in Incandescent at least twice a month.
  11. Buy a good laser printer.

In that post I also promised that I would come back around the same time this year and go over how well I did. Accountability and all that. So, here it goes.

I have been working on several stories outside of the Fallen series, so number 5 has been taken care of. The first draft of Guardian is complete, which means 1/3 of number 4 can be checked off. Every month has a post in it, so number 10 is partially complete. And I did manage to reorganize my house (mainly in the last month), so number 7 was knocked out just in time. Unfortunately, that’s where my successes end.

Although I came close to a contract with an agent, I am not yet represented. I definitely didn’t make it to the gym, like, at all. My short stories have been sadly neglected and haven’t made it into any printed media. And the rest of these goals… well, weren’t even thought about, honestly.

You know, looking at it like this is almost depressing.

But, on the bright side, a lot of good things have happened this year, too.

So the purpose behind this post, to completely redo my goals for the next year. Here it goes:

  1. Complete rough first drafts of the final two books in the Fallen series.
  2. Sign with an agent in January or revise and resubmit Fallen.
  3. Continue working on various side projects.
  4. Develop my editing services.
  5. Continue with at least one post per month on Incandescent.
  6. Diet.

So there it is. It’s a lot less ambitious than last years, but I think there’s a chance of actually completing all or most of these. Wish me luck. I’ll check back with this list same time next year!
Oh, and, by the way. Merry Christmas! 😀

Query Letters: What NOT to do

While reading Nathan Bransford’s latest blog, Things I don’t need to know in a query letter, I came across a comment. This comment held a query written by Ulysses (yeah, I was impressed a Greek hero came back from the dead to write a query, too ;)). With all due respect to dead heroes, this query is a perfect example of everything you should leave out of a query. Many thanks to Ulysses for allowing me to re-post this.

Dear Nate-Dog:

I’ve taken sixteen years to write my fictional magnum opus: “Sixteen Years of Writing,” in addition to a good fifteen minutes researching the material on Wikipedia. I love it. My mother loves it too. My Dad hates it, but he suffers from papyrophobia and so this is to be expected. “Sixteen Years” is my fourth fiction novel. The other three are currently in the smallest room in my house, where their pages are occasionally read before being recycled. Amazon’s Breakthrough PW review said, “This is probably a book.” Stephen King’s publicist’s secretary’s assistant said something about “restraining order violation,” but I know he liked it. Although Agent X rejected this work, she said, “The words, taken individually, are not bad,” so you know I’ve got some talent.

The book explores themes of loneliness, heartbreak and misanthropy through the revealing lens of a man whose allergy to wood keeps him isolated from his forest community. In addition to being didactic, pedantic and preachy, the novel teaches the reader the value of cheese (particularly gouda) as an alternative building material, and how true love can reduce household expenses.

I think this book would be a great fit for the publisher of “Thirty Days in New Jersey,” and “Starting Religions for Fun and Profit.” They could do it up with a cover featuring a Martin Short look-alike and a Chihuahua. In red, because that stands out on the shelf. A homeless guy near my house thinks the local bookstore would make a killing stocking only this book and selling coffee. It has “New York Times Bestseller” written all over it. In crayon, for now, but we can change that. Take this on, and we’ll make enough money to visibly embarrass Oprah when she has me on her show. You’ll have to swing that, though, because her producer’s assistant’s nephew’s lawyer mentioned the same restraining order Mr. King’s publicist’s secretary’s assistant did.

I don’t have any psychological issues, as the attached court documents prove. My age is irrelevant, since my Mom and Dad can’t agree on that anyway.

I am willing to provide a short synopsis of the book. Also, a summary. Or an outline. I’ve got an abstract as well. I can also send pictures of me and my shoes. And short videos of a play I did in second grade. And, well, any of my possessions, actually, although you’ll have to give me an itemized list if you want someone else’s possessions.

Obviously, “Sixteen Years of Writing” is completely different from everything else out there. For one thing, all those other books have already been published. For another, none of them have been dictated to me by the monster under my bed.

Sorry for wasting your time, but I don’t have any of my own to waste.

Ann Arthur