Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Q is for (how not to) Query

[note: I have spent a LOT of time lately researching how to write an outstanding query letter... you know, the kind that will rise to the top of the slush pile. In particular, I have relied heavily on the extremely informative and always reliable Querypolitan for advice. So here is my carefully crafted query letter with first page of MS...]*

Dear Editor Mr. A ent,

Did you ever wish you could wake up to find yourself on another celestial body? To meet creatures you never dreamed existed? To ma ically understand every word of their bizarre lan ua e? And to join forces with them to figh the dark forces of the universe? Cissi the elephant does all of this in Moons of Shambala, my 80,000 word debut middle  rade novel.

I am thrilled to submit "Moons of Shambala" for your perusal. It has the amazing potential to be the next Harry Potter, and I'm sure that Matt Damon Ben Affleck will jump at the chance to play the role of Cissi the Shambala leader.

I have taken the liberty of translating the story into Shambalian (a lan ua e I have created over the past ei ht years), and I have included the first few pa es for your deli ht and entertainment. (Please excuse the missin  --letter between f and h--my keyboard is missin  that key.)

I look forward to hearin  your enthusiastic response.
A. Stevens

Moons of Shambala

Cissi rolled over. She couldn't  et comfortable. The cushion felt lumpy and she squirmed. Then she si hed and opened her eyes. No way to sleep, she thought  rumpily, as she rolled to her side and lumbered to her feet.

Cissi rubbed her eyes with her trunk and looked around. She  asped. Nothing looked right. Her cushion was a rock!  Cissi swung her  reat head from side to side and spotted a blue and white orb in the sky. She  asped again. It was Earth!

Wait, she thought. Am I on the moon? Is this a dream? She rubbed her eyes a ain and blinked furiously. She pinched her ear with the end of her trunk.

"Ow!" Nope, I  uess I'm not dreamin . Now what?

As Cissi stood helplessly in the  reat crater, she heard a sound. She turned to see some purple creatures with antennae and five le s walking toward her. Their  iant compound eyes reflected the li ht of the earth,  litterin  as they came nearer.

"¤Þξ æ Ч¤ω," the leader said as they drew near.

Cissi was amazed that she understood. "ζÝ," she replied. The leader  lanced at a slightly taller individual to his left and they nodded.

"ζÝ ξÐæ," he said, and the Shambalans turned to leave. Cissi followed behind, curious to know how they thou ht she could help.

* This post is from the archives.

In your opinion, what's the biggest mistake an author could make when writing a query?


  1. Hi,

    I've heard it said and seen it on UK lit Agent sites: never compare your novel to a hot best-seller. We'll decide if its comparible to a best-seller and has similar sales potential. If it has the chances are we will sign you up pronto!

    To be fair I've always written formal business lik queries, with a taste of the novel and one potent piece of dialogue. Such usually reciprocated with good response! Fingers crossed I have a sub out at present. So far so good. ;)


  2. I reckon the biggest mistakes would be bragging and bad spelling.

    The bragging will probably annoy the recipient of the query and bad spelling - well if your query is spelt incorrectly what hope does your manuscript have?

  3. The biggest mistake is to relate it to another best selling novel. I the agent represents it, they don't want to invest in a rival; if they don't, they don't want to compete. Or be embarrassed.

    Just tell the agent what you wrote. The novel in front of them is all that is important. When I'm coaching employees in my agency who want to promote, the first thing I tell them is not to say what that "don't" do (the same as comparng to another author) but rather to embellish on what they DO. Let the industry profesionals (in my day job the hiring panel) be the judge of what works and what doesn't on a case by case basis.

    If it has the writing feel of _blank_ author, they'll recognize it and decide later if they want to pu blish it.

    I say just write your novel/short story, polish it, and submit on its own merits. If it resembles a style the publishers are willing to back - great. But always always believe in your own writing ability to capture the agent/editor/publishiner.


  4. Love it! Thanks for the laugh! I'd like to see Matt Damon or Ben Affleck play an elephant :)

  5. Francine: Professional is always best. Good luck!!

    Chippy: Bad spelling might get the query tossed before the reader even got to the bragging!

    Donna: Couldn't agree more. :)

    Susanna: Thanks!

  6. Ha! Thanks for the laugh. I especially love the missing G.

  7. Query letters are a challenge. It takes a lot of talent to write a good one.

  8. Hilarious. I have to say, I'm really enjoying what everyone is coming up with for the A to Z challenge!

  9. You had me worried there ... :-)

  10. Ah, too funny. :) Let's see? Query no-nos? Well, never start with "To whom it may concern". Should be a no-brainer! No rhetorical questions. Don't synop-size it. Don't compare to best sellers. Don't tell the agent what they are looking for, they already know. The list goes on...

    Writing a good query letter is an art form, indeed!

  11. You mean I should spell check? Drat. *mumbles and adds it to list* I think I'd watch Ben Affleck or Matt Damon play like a rock but an elephant would be intersting.

  12. Brooke: It is incredibly hard to write with a missing letter! :)

    Luana: Yes it does. Still learning that skill (but mine are better than what I posted here).

    DU: Glad you enjoyed it.

    K.C.: No worries, this was my attempt to do everything wrong.

    Donea: Right. Back to the agent stalker spreadsheet...

    Kari: 'fraid so. :)

  13. Here's another one: Never start a query with "I'm a mom..."

    If you can't write "To Whom It May Concern" and I'm writing to a publisher, can you say "Dear Editor"? Or is it really that important to go the extra mile and discover a name. All the websites I ever go to never list an editor's name. Any suggestions?

  14. Christie: Aren't we all? ;)

    Good question. I have used "Dear Acquisitions Editor" when I just haven't been able to find the editor's name. I supposed you could probably find out if you subscribe to Publisher's Marketplace, but since I only subscribe to (the free) Publisher's Lunch, I can't say for sure.

  15. Thanks for the laugh! My keyboard is missing that key...hilarious! Except you did miss some of the g's (figh and amazing)...sorry to point that out. They'd know you were lying. :0)

  16. This is a good "bad" query letter! But I think the most impressive part is all the weird characters in the dialogue!

    The biggest mistake is one that's not even in the writing--that is, sending the letter to the wrong agent, one who doesn't represent your genre. Waste of time for both sides!