Monday, June 05, 2006

Bad Query Example

This query contains a host of problems that appear in queries we see daily. We think you can pick out the major ones. What do you see wrong with this query--please share your ideas with us and others by commenting.

If you cross- check your query with this one and it matches up pretty closely, it's probably a good idea to revise your query. By the way, people always ask us this, and, yes, we have gotten queries almost exactly like thism which has made us very selective about the medical practicioners we visit. :)

Dear Agent:

Although I realize that publishers only seek to maintain the literary status quo with the junk they produce, I am sending my 2nd 200,000-word fantasy novel for your perusal in case you have chosen to buck the system. The first book in the series has been published by SomePOD, Inc., and it is selling like crazy—one book a week.

I am a surgeon by trade, but, while operating, I constantly make up stories in my head. During one particularly rough operation wherein the patient almost died twice on the table—we are not sure why—I got an idea for a story and just had to write it down. Two months later, I DON’T WANNA DIE was complete. Now I have finished the sequel, OOPS! A NEW BEGINNING, in which the same 12 characters continue where the last story left off. I believe both novels have movie potential, and friends that have read my work encouraged me to get it published. Even one of the editors I sent OOPS! A NEW BEGINNING to on my own said he had never seen anything quite like it, so I am sure that it will change the industry.

As for my publishing credits, in addition to my first novel, I have published several articles in the Journal of Medicine and Mad Magazine, and I write the newsletter for my daughter’s Girl Scout troop. I know that if I can get the right agent, I will make him a lot of money, because I am very prolific and have lots of ideas for the next two sequels. Also, I possess great personal charm that will serve me well on the talk show circuit.

Thank you for reading my entire manuscript. I know you won’t reject it, but if you need to send it back to me for any other reason, like to change a couple of words, you can send it in the envelope I have provided. I can’t wait to start our working relationship!


Dr. G. Ima Writer


DanStrohschein said...

Wow, there is a lot here to address. First, the salutation was generic - I don't know of anyone who goes by the name of Agent... It should be addressed to the particular agent you are seeking, not to the great unknown generic "Agent".

The first sentence is not a good start. Don't attack the people you wish to attract. There is much I can say about that sentence, and the attitude of the author that it portrays, but I that's a matter for my blog.

200,000 words, holy cow! That's quite a length, and for someone with no real publishing credentials, it's not likely to get that snag. Shorter works are better to start out with. Speaking of publishing credentials - technically, it's already been published once - by the POD. Wylie-Merrick, and most agents for that matter, don't sell JUST secondary rights on a work. Also, the author mentions how it would be a great movie - but Wylie-Merrick is a literary agent, not a film agent, or script agent, and so once again, those are the wrong rights.

Speaking about your friends, family, church, or writing group's appreciation of your work isn't going to impress an agent. This is useless information. The entire third paragraph grants no real information about the author's ability to write a novel, and then degrades into unprofessional comments.

By this point, I really wanted to know: What's the story about? It's 200,000 words and I haven't got a clue about it.

So he sent in an unrequested manuscript, which is a no-no. Usually that's an automatic dump. Agent's only read what they ask for. Pay attention to the submission guidelines. He says he enclosed an envelope - but for a manuscript that size it would need to be walked to the post office. Too much time consuming work, not to mention that Wylie-Merrick takes E-Queries.

The major problems I see are: No research on the agent, he doesn't show what the story is about, and is largely inexperienced with the industry.

NL Gassert said...

>The first book in the series … is selling like crazy—one book a week.<

That made me laugh and cringe at the same time. Good lord, the book is practically flying off the shelves.

>Thank you for reading my entire manuscript. I know you won’t reject it, but if you need to send it back to me for any other reason, like to change a couple of words, you can send it in the envelope I have provided. I can’t wait to start our working relationship!<

I don’t think I have to explain what’s wrong here [Dan did a good job of picking the query apart], but I do wonder what it would feel like to have that much confidence in one’s work.

DanStrohschein said...

If you ask me Nadja, it's over-compensation for a lack of true confidence in their work. True confidence doesn't boast, but understands the reality of many rejections, and submits anyway.

Bernita said...


Cheryl Kaye Tardif, bestselling author said...

Oh my gosh...I think I know who sent this! lol

And it wasn't me!

Although I was laughing from the first sentense on, I am sure that you have received similar queries.

I often get asked to review or critique books/manuscripts and some queries are like this one.

Cheryl Kaye Tardif

Anonymous said...

What's funny though is how agents always trot out the statistics on how many queries they reject, but a goodly percentage of them are like this, so it's not as impossible to get published as poeple make it out to be.

What, like 50% of all queries you receive are in the same league as this example? Maybe 25%? Most of it is what could be classified as "non-serious" attempts (as I would classify this one), I'm sure.

Wylie Merrick Literary said...

Anonymous: The odd are worse than playing the lottery and not getting any better. There are many reasons for this, but two are a glut of writers and a shrinking readership.

No, Actually about 90% of queries are rejected. Possibly not all for the query alone. A small percentage of those rejected do write a good query, but they didn't do their research and wrote the wrong agent.

I don't know what you mean by non-serious. I'm sure that every writers who queries an agent is dead serious or they wouldn't be sending out queries. And yes, this query example was written to try to inject a little humor, however, the message is that all we have is a query. It's the only thing we have to make a serious decision with--whether to devote uncompensated time to reading more or not. This agency is a business, after all, and in a business, wasted time is wasted money. Whether to request and read some of the book or not is a business decision and not anything but that.

Dotty said...

Well, I just sent out my proposal,(requested) and after reading that nonesense, I feel much better about the whole process.
I was shocked when I sent out 2 queries and one came back as a yes. I was then shocked to learn how difficult a proposal was. I have learned so much about the publishing field and this query example is embarrassing.

daxalaska said...

Awww.. Sometimes we on this side, the writers, get all wrapped up in the pain in the ass submission process. Even feeling sorry for ourselves because all you agents are such picky bastards (ettes?). Then we see what you have to deal with, as in the crappy query you post. I hate to chuckle while I'm writing, but just knowing that your end of the query wars isn't always a bed of roses either nmakes the whole thing feel right. Bless you, you ornery monster!

Joyce said...

Oh, my. Egotistical much?

Anonymous said...

The BAD query letter was greatly appreciated. Not only did I laugh through the entire letter, I felt much more confident about my own letters I had been sending out, they are, thankfully, nothing like the latter.

I appreciate your blog site and all the useful info. I don't write in the genre you accept, so I you won't see me in your inbox.

I appreciate the time you took to post these examples.

Thank you!

Patty K