Monday, June 18, 2012

5 Shocking Things No Query Letter Needs

Literary agent Rachelle Gardner recently blogged advice about Two Things To Leave Out of Your Query: namely, any reference to how long you have been writing and whether or not God told you to write a book. Which got me thinking -- Really? People need to be told this?

Evidently the answer is "yes." You see, so much information abounds on the internet about what to put in one's query that people might (mistakenly) surmise that if they include something not mentioned in the list of things a query needs, they will be adding some super Sekrit Ingredient that will give them that all-important edge and propel them to stardom representation.

Sadly, this is not the case.

So, in the interests of overworked interns and longsuffering agents everywhere, I proffer the following list of Things No Query Needs. You know: in case you were wondering. Now you can't say no one ever told you...

Not even if you wrote a book about wiener dogs...
1. Naked Photos of You

While it's true that you want to craft your query in such a way as to stand out and get noticed, a query letter is not the literary equivalent of eHarmony. Stick with a well-written bio. Ixnay on the ong-thay.

Your query letter to a prospective agent or editor should include some short, relevant biographical information. It should not, however, include your picture. Especially if you are wearing only what God gave you.

2. References to How Much Your Family / Friends Love Your Work

You wouldn't say "my kids love the wagon I made for them, so I know I'd make a great engineer for your company" would you?

Let me give you the cheat-sheet answer: No. You wouldn't.

Now, I'm not knocking your family. Your family loves you. You have inflicted your work on them and no one has stood up and said "if I have to hear the story about the killer dust bunny one more time I will stab myself in the eye with a fork." Great! Maybe they really mean it when they say they love it. Maybe they really mean it when they say they love your Bean Curd Casserole too. But that doesn't mean you need to mention either their love for your work OR your cooking in a query.

Let your writing speak for itself. Leave your family and friends out of it.

3.  Snarky Comments About What Is Being Published

So you think "Twilight" sucks? Think the success of "50 Shades of Grey" is responsible for the horsemen of the Apocalypse saddling up to ride? Think the fact that Snooki is a published author (::snerk::) and you're not shows how truly screwed up the publishing industry is? Fine. Go ahead and think whatever you want.

But for God's sake, don't say it in your query.

Which ties directly to...

4.  Bragging

"Me! Me! Me! I am the greatest thing since... Me!"
If the agents on Twitter are to be believed (and why would they lie?), every so often a query will come into their inboxes that says something like "Attention Agent: I have written the best thing the universe has ever seen. I only hope that you are intelligent enough to recognize my talent when you see it."

For shame! 

By all means, if you've won major writing awards or been published in a significant way, mention it. But let's be clear: you haven't written the best thing the universe has ever seen. Whoever itemized the ingredients of a Snickers bar and committed the words to paper beat you to it. Sorry.

Even if you've written the second best thing in the universe, it's time to take a break from your ego trip and let someone new (not you) sing your praises.

5. Non-Sequiturs and Oxymorons

No, I did not just make a racial or religious slur. Nor did I call you an ox or a moron. (FYI: lest there be some confusion, slurs and insults of any kind also do not belong in a query letter. Just sayin'.) The point is: things that don't follow logic or reason, that highlight your n00b-ness -- and not in a good way -- should be scrubbed from your query before you hit "send."

For instance, you have NOT just written a non-fiction novel. Novels, by definition, are fiction. Sort of like English Sheepdogs are... you know... dogs. Suggesting that a novel can be non-fiction is like arguing that fluffy Fido might be a harp seal.

"The Drunken Kitten: A Bedtime Story."
It seemed like a good idea at the time...
In the same vein, you haven't written a middle-grade novel of 150,000 words with a drug addicted 23-year old protagonist.

You haven't written a children's book that consists entirely of a single word that is wildly inappropriate for young readers ("INFANTICIDE!") repeated 100 times.

You haven't written an autobiography of Hitler. Unless, of course, you are Hitler.

You haven't written a literary novel of 15,000 words.  You also haven't written a novella of 250,000 words.

No. Stop arguing. Just: no.

Now here's where people might suggest that I'm being unreasonable. "You can't limit art," they might say, before commenting that each of the aforementioned examples might make a darn good book.

But, see, they would be wrong. "Arty" or not, each of the examples has a serious logical or categorical flaw. Before you write your query, you need to know into what genre your book falls. You need to know who will read it. If you want to write a kick-butt book about a 23-year old drug addict, go right ahead. But don't peddle it to agents who only rep MG -- for many of the same reasons that you wouldn't buy a keg for your kid's eighth-grade graduation party.

You have a book you can't wait to query? Great! Spend some time -- some significant time -- studying the genre you write. Know who is currently writing the bestsellers in it. Study the authors and the agents who rep them. Familiarize yourself with what is being done. Know what the typical word count is. Know what you like. Know what you don't like. Then get online and study examples of query letters in your genre.

When you craft your query letter, be able to speak with confidence about your genre and where your book will fall within it. When it comes to writing your book, you might be able to get away with making it up as you go along. But when it comes to writing the query, the shocking truth is that only by studying what agents actually want will you find an agent who wants you.

Agree? Disagree? What did I miss in the List of Things No Query Letter Needs? Chime in below...


Rebecca Lane Beittel said...

Nope, I think you nailed it just about spot on there. Thanks. (Tomorrow I'll query you. Just got the best boudoir shot of me.... ;-)

Anonymous said...

Awesome post. Really enjoyed the pics, too! ;-)

Ami Hendrickson said...

Rebecca - LOL! Querying *me* would be a waste of time, since I am to agenting as boomerangs are to the Space Shuttle.

As I was researching agents recently, however, I realized that there is so much more I could have added to the list. Perhaps a follow-up post is in order, for though I don't claim to know all there is to know about "How To Get Published," there are some woefully uninformed writers out there who use tactics that would probably make those boudoir pics of yours a welcome change from their steady diet of wingnuts.

Marcy -- Thanks for commenting!

Good luck, both of you, in your querying. Onward and upward!