Friday, February 29, 2008

More things to think about before sending me your query:
Keep the blurbs out, please!

My colleague Janet Reid has a good post up at her blog today about a couple of things that annoy her (and probably every other agent in the world): mass emailed queries and adding quotes and blurbs about your book into the query letter itself.

While I have (so far, knock on wood) not encountered the former, I am seeing a great deal of the latter. A query letter that reads something like this:
"My friend, Bob Head Up My Ass, the New York Times bestselling author of Your Advances Aren't Enough to Cover My Scotch Bills, had this to say about my new book "The Best Things Since Sliced Bread"...
And then the writer proceeds to go on at length about what everyone else in the world may think of him, his writing or possibly even his essay writing in high school. Sometimes they even quote a relative or family member. I will point out that so far, the biggest offenders here are - once again - writers with MFAs. (Now, I am not knocking MFA programs. I know several great folks who have graduated from or who are currently attending excellent MFA programs as we speak [I'm pointing at you, Gwenda Bond, my bookish superhero!] But for some reason, the ratio of pomposity to query-writing increases when some MFA graduates write query letters. Need I point out that getting an MFA doesn't necessarily imbue one with common sense?)

Let me be very clear: I do not care what your friends think about your writing. I do not care what your professor thinks about your writing. I do not care what your grandmother thinks about your writing. I do not care what your fellow writers may think of your writing. Not unless one of those writers is a friend of mine, and someone whose opinion I trust implicitly. And in that case? I want to hear it directly from my writer friend, not from you. It's called a referral. And you'd better believe that I will stand up and take notice if I get one from a writer or an editor friend of mine. But otherwise? Keep the blurbs out of your query. There will be a time and a place for your professional writer friends to help you out: AFTER you've found an agent, when he or she is trying to put together a pitch to a publishing house.

But until that point? The only opinion I care about when I'm reading your writing is my own.

20 comments:

Joya said...

Oh, crap. >_< I totally did the NY Times blurb on my query letter. I have Michael Larsen's 'How to Get a Literary Agent,' and in his book, he says it's supposed to be a good way to start a query letter (second bullet point on page 36 of the paperback edition). Apparently, it impresses a potential agent to see some NY Times bestseller who writes books similar to yours praising your work?

Apparently not, it seems. :x

I'm sorry! =/ Thanks for informing us, though. At least I know now.

La Gringa said...

Hey, maybe some agents like it. I find it irritating as hell.

need-to-read said...

At least you're not taking picture book queries. From the first conference you go to, they try to knock the idea of blurbs out of your head because for some reason, newbie children's writers all love to start their queries with, "My grandchildren/kids at the library/son's first grade class/neighborhood hooligans love when I read them my 20K word rhyming picture book story, Mr. Bunny Snorts Soda Out Of His Nose When He Laughs! and so now I have written a twelve book series!"

Joelle
http://www.joelleanthony.com

La Gringa said...

::: facepalm :::

Spectre-7 said...

My perfect query letter is very nearly complete.

Dear Prospective Agent,

I've written a mind-altering novel which is causing quite a stir in literary circles. Blogs all across the internet are aflame with reviews of this masterpiece, and (no offense, but...) you would be a damned fool to pass it up. Here are a few stand-out quotes:

"Awful, stinking, and foetid beyond all reason. Rubbish. Rubbish!" -- Harry Baldman, PhantasyReview.com

"Utter and abject failure in all conceivable ways. One thousand times fail, and one thousand times more." -- Mr. Willows, my 5th grade teacher.

"Oh dear, no..." -- My mother.

Aren't you burning to share what these reviewers have already experienced? Aren't you absolutely quaking with desire?

I am, but that's a matter for another time.

You would be interested to know that I received my doctorate in English Literature from Harvard in 1984, and have since published numerous fictional works in such prestigious zines as Vamp-O-Rama and Fangs Quarterly. I've been nominated for several dozen fan-fiction awards, and recently placed fifth in the Hamptom County Pie Eating Contest.

My novel, The Weeping of the Pustules is the harrowing tale of an effete transvestite vampire unliving during the black plague. A shortage of victims and skilled tailors leads this downtrodden anti-hero on a globe-trotting adventure, at the conclusion of which he finally learns the true meaning of love.

I thank you in advance for your prompt reply, and look forward to doing swift business with you.

Literarily yours,
Dr. Alfred Preston Wigginstaff III PhD

PS: Please accept the $10 you find in this envelope as my personal gift and thank you. Ten smackaroos... Not bad, eh?

I'm suffering through a particularly boring Friday. Does it show?

La Gringa said...

OMG, that was hilarious!

need-to-read said...

Spectre wrote: My perfect query letter is very nearly complete.

Dear Prospective Agent,

AND it was probably at least two pages, which makes it twice as good as a regular boring query!

Spectre-7 said...

Only two pages? Blast! Everyone knows a query letter doesn't hit its stride until the fifth page. But what in blue blazes could I pad it out with? Hmmm... Perhaps a dry and long-winded anecdote about my trip to Nevada for a regional spelling-bee, and how it turned me into the man I am today.

Yesssss... that might just do it.

Silver Spider said...

Would it be worth mentioning winning this competition in a query letter?

http://www.youwriteon.com/

Thanks!

La Gringa said...

Mentioning winning a writing competition of some sort in a short bio of yourself at the end of the query letter is very different than opening the query letter with fifty stunning reviews that your competition entry received from all the folks who judged the competition.

Do you see what I mean?

Silver Spider said...

So I can't say my cat loved it then?!

I suppose I was wondering how much store agents put in competitions 'cause, as you say, it's whether the individual agent likes a story which is the crucial thing.

I think one of the winners of the YWO competition is now repped by FinePrint. Patti De Lois. She's a fabulous writer.

Susan said...

What I always find awful, for myself, no one else, is that faced with the blank page of a query letter, I always go to pieces. I tell myself this is totally ridiculous, that I am a 'writer', that the concept of selling myself is all part of the package. Then what comes out is this boring, drivel that sounds like a begging letter, which immediately gets struck through.

In one query I did mention a short story that although wasn't accepted by one of the big mags, the editor enthused lots over my writing, and that did get me a read from one agent - she still has it, so...

But, I think, like with writing, there are no real 'rules' to writing a query other than the basics of what one should include. I've always felt it's the voice, which was proved a couple of times on Kristin Nelson's blog when she showed some query letters and had all the commenters going But, but, splutter that 'breaks' all the rules you told us about.

It worked, and that's what matters.

Susan said...

Er, what is it about blogging that when you post you immediately see 21 errors?

Bad comma day - sorry.

Nathan said...

Dear Agenty Person,

My Person Nathan has written a fantastical 1/2 of a book that u must reed. Every chaptur has werds in it. Lots of werds. The werds are artfully grooped into parugrafs. They look very tidy.

I expeshully liked chaptur 20. I claweded it up and peed on it. Very absorbint!

-Ollie the Cat

Amie Stuart said...

>>The Weeping of the Pustules

LMAO! OMG and NAthan...the cat! the Cat! I think cats should get bonus points!

Susan I'm a confirmed rule breaker and all for doing what works!!!! Look at writing query letters as a challenge, not a hurdle. They're actually a lot of fun *ducks*

Seriously, I had the same hangup about synopsis' (?) but to sell on synopsis you've got to know how to write one sooooo you master it. *g*

Susan said...

Oh, it's certainly a 'challenge' amie. *G*. As for synopses, I always ask the folk who have beta read to write down the things which stood out for them, or what struck them about the characters. That way I can get a hook and a synopsis down. (Hopefully)

Kimber An said...

This is why we must obey the Divine Miss Snark and research individual agents' preferences.
;)

S. E. Ward said...

The world will weep the day my cats learn to write query letters--never mind books.

Dear Person With Food,

GOODBOOK! You will read. Give me wet food. Fill tummy!

GOODWRITERCAT!

Aldous L. Huxley, Esq.

(Yes, I named my cat after Aldous Huxley. One of his brothers, long since re-named, was Thomas Henry. My house is a very, very weird place sometimes.)

Susan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Shruti Chandra Gupta said...

Thanks for informing us about blurbs. It sure is tempting to use them, but now we know better.