Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Query Letters: What You Absitively, Posolutely Should NEVER Do

                                  Naked pictures are a definite NO.
Some of you have always wanted to be writers, others figure out their passion later in life. Whatever the case is, if you want to have a book published you’re most likely going to have to write the dreaded query letter. *Cue scary music here.
I say “most likely” because once in awhile you may stumble across a writer that got his or her agent through a writer’s conference. Still, if you ask, I’ll bet my left shoe (or my favorite feather pen) they’ve written their share of letters.

I’m always stumbling across questions on the internet about how to write a query letter. That’s not something I’m going to go into depth about, because there are a million websites out there that will tell you a million helpful things. I highly recommend “Query Shark”, but warn you she may bite if you stick your finger in the tank.

To date, I have written…well, LOADS of query letters to loads of different agents. On my first book I sent out sixty-one query letters. I got varied responses, a few requests and tons of polite form rejections. I finally clued in on number sixty one. I was querying the WRONG BOOK. I urge you to pay attention when an agent takes the time to comment. They are busy people, consider it an honor. Not to mention, they are SMART. Listen to what they tell you! I finally figured it out when I had three or four agents telling me the same thing. My story was good, but it wasn’t going to sell in today’s market. Instead of crying and stomping about (well alright, there may have been some of that at first) I sat down and started scratching away at book number two.

Book number two was a different experience all together. Instead of sending off one or two query letters a week, I sent three or four a day. I bombarded the literary world, sending queries flying out like a hail of bullets…ahem, that is to say, I sent a LOT. Then I sat back and began work on the rough draft of my third book. Several weeks later, I was surprised and delighted to get an email back requesting the full manuscript! Hoorah! I clapped my hands gleefully and set about sending it off. Then, lo and behold, I got another request….and another! All together over a period of several weeks I got FOURTEEN requests. I was flabbergasted, floored, and a few other fancy words that mean “really really surprised”.

What did I do differently? First off, I now had the “right” book, one that got some attention, since it was in a popular genre (check out agents “wish lists” for what they’re looking for and see if your book fits it). I kept the letter plain and simple: For my first book I tried fancy “hooks” to try to make the query letter interesting. My second round of query letters held only a sample of writing, an exciting “quote” from the book. Really though, I’m afraid there’s no magical query formula. Your book will either grab a few people’s attention, a lot of people’s attention, or maybe none at all. But there ARE things you can do to make sure you have NO chance (I look up these things on the internet because they amuse me endlessly). SO, here’s what you do if you want to strike out, and never get a single request:

1)      -Send pictures. You may be saying, “People do that? Really?” Really. If you go read a couple of agent blogs you’ll be shocked to hear what they receive. Pictures of you in the buff, your dog (also in the buff of course), your beautiful veggie garden. One agent writes about an author who sent her a picture of said agent walking up the front steps of her office building, and one of her walking in the door of her house! (Oh yeah, don’t stalk them either).

2)      -Make your letter “pretty”. They’ll love that. Glitter, sequins, paper mache….you could even put on lip stick and make big lip prints all over it! Yay!

3)      -Say things like “I am God”, “God told me to write this”, “I’ll make you a million dollars” or, “I have written a manuscript that surpasses the Bible and Shakespeare”. (If you want to read some crazy stuff writers say in query letters, go over to the website “Slushpile Hell”, written by an irate (and very funny) literary agent.

4)    - Go into a long and rambling description of how you were published in your high school newspaper, you wrote poems about the girl you dated in collage (she said they were really good), oh and when you were five you wrote a short story and your mom stuck it on the fridge.

5)     -Say that your book is like Harry Potter meets Twilight meets the Hunger Games, but it’s better and more original then all of them.

6)    -  Spell things however you like. Screw the dictionary! You write things YOUR way!

I could go on, but I won’t (you’re welcome). If you want a laugh, go look up outrageous things authors write in their query letters. You’ll be amazed and astonished, and incredibly thankful you aren’t a literary agent. Oh, and at some point I might write a post about how to write an actual query letter. But this was WAY more fun. Happy writing!


  1. Awesome advice, Erin!

    I tagged you in a game on my blog. Check it out! I think it'll be fun.

  2. Gosh I'm a bad reader sometimes, when I was reading things not to put on a query letter I thought it was things TO DO.

    What I was thinking while reading:
    At Tip 1. Okay I'll send pictures of myself that seems... um logical and sensible I guess.
    2. I would of gone for the more formal approach but I guess you get get to know each other more personally this way... maybe.
    3.That sounds a bit arrogant, I don't think I would do that. Is this sarcastic?
    4. Okay, did I misread something?
    4. 1/2 Yup, I definitely misread something, this make more sense now.

    That teaches me! Thanks for the tips though.