Sunday, December 06, 2009

Bad Query! No Contract!

or, Tales from the Slush Pile

"The Rejectionist," a pseudonym for a literary agent's assistant who would rather remain namless, recently contributed an Op-Ed piece on the horrors of the slush pile to The Stranger.

If you're even remotely considering sending out a query letter in the near future, the post is worth a read -- not only because it comes from someone whom you are hoping to impress with your storytelling talent, but also because it drives home the fact that reading anything from the slush pile would make most mortals slit their wrists as a viable option to making the pain just... go away.

The assistant's job, as anyone even remotely associated with the publishing industry can tell you, is akin to trying to find a ready-to-eat gourmet meal somewhere within a full-to-overflowing dumpster.

Sure, it's possible. But it ain't probable. It ain't pretty. And sometimes it kinda just makes you want to retch...

The Rejectionist details the all-too-familiar elements of bad query letters. Of course, these include the de rigueur uninspired and unimaginative writing (conspiracy theories, cardboard caricatures instead of characters, aliens, graphic and mechanical sex) of talentless hacks who refuse to take their craft or their career seriously.

However, bad query letters can also afflict those who have a great story to tell. Sometimes, it's not the concept that's at fault. All too often, it's the execution.

The Rejectionist laments:

The bad query's sentence sometimes resembles a battlefield wherein subjects hack it out desperately with adjectives, perennially besieged by legions of unwieldy adverbs. Apostrophes go on suicide missions and commas appear at random.

It goes on from there. Read the whole post of "A Good Author is Hard to Find." Seriously. Then edit your current manuscript or, better yet, find someone you trust to give you an honest opinion about its "publishability."

(A note: the opinions of friends, family, and spouses do not count here. These fine folk serve the excellent and necessary purpose of reading what you write, loving it, loving you, and thinking you are brilliant. They are not the best selections for objective "would you buy this?" critiques and edits.)

Do yourself and your project a favor. Raise the bar -- because the publishing world is hungry for the next great writer. It's up to us to give those poor starving assistants something they can sink their teeth into.

1 comment:

Loreen Niewenhuis said...

The agent Noah Lukeman has made his ebook, HOW TO WRITE A GREAT QUERY LETTER, available for free download at:

Writers need to educate themselves as much as possible, and there's no better way to learn about what agents want to see than from an agent.

Happy Holidays everyone,
-Loreen Niewenhuis