Saturday, October 28, 2006

How NOT To Query

I always enjoy reading Rachel Vater's blog over at Lit Agent X. Like Miss Snark, she is blunt but extremely informative about publishing from the point-of-view of an agent.

This morning's blog, titled "e-Query Cringes" was, by turns, amusing and depressing. Rachel gave examples of e-queries that contained "red flags."

I'm going to copy three of the examples Rachel gives. You can see them climb the register on the scale of ego gone bad.

Sometimes I wonder if people realize how they sound when they say things like:

“I assure you this much--if you start reading, you'll keep reading. The writing is simply too compelling to dismiss.”

This writer is committing the cardinal sin of "telling." Every newbie writer knows that you must "show, not tell." If the writing is compelling, the agent will be able to see it. The writer doesn't need to tell her. He only raises the bar for himself, and he will end up looking like an idiot if the writing is not compelling. Write well. That's enough.

And then there's:

“Nothing like [x] has surfaced in over a generation, and even then as compared to the more effective works of Hunter S Thompson and William S Burroughs, as two prime examples, [x] alone stands out as singular and unqualified.”

Oh. My. God. First, this is a bad sentence from a structural view. Then, not only does this writer have the nerve to compare himself to Thompson and Burroughs, he's claiming to be better. Not a good plan. Who wants to work with an egotistical moron? I found myself wondering if someone had recommended that he say something like "My book will appeal to readers who enjoy the work of [x]." There's a world of difference between saying that you're writing in a similar genre to saying that you're better than a well-known writer.

Finally, we have this:

“For nothing, that's zero dollars no cents, I'd waive any claim to the 1st edition proceeds of [x] in order that the work come to print with its vision wholly intact. I need an editor not a censor.”

This guy moves from egotistical to delusional. He flat out states that his "vision" is such that it cannot be improved upon.

I run into these types all the time during critiques and on reader loops. They've written a 250K-word manuscript, but refuse to consider slashing anything. Invariably, the manuscript drones on and on in long soliloquys that I don't even want to read to critique. But they will not hear any suggestion that the dialogue doesn't sound natural.

Rachel points out that this guy is, in effect, offering her 15% of nothing. Not a good way to start a business negotiation.

Let's see. Lessons learned. Describe your manuscript's subject and genre. Do not try to describe the quality of your writing. Do not compare yourself to well-known writers. And, finally, do not make demands in your query letter--especially demands that mark you as a pain-in-the-ass to work with.

And then people wonder why they don't get requests for their manuscript. [shakes head sadly]


Susan said...

Whew. Just got rejected by her and at first, I was afraid she was going to pick on my first sentence.

Maya said...

Susan: Yeah, imagine reading your query on her website as an example of what she rejected.

It would be similar to the old joke about a bad day being when you hear 60 Minutes is in your office lobby, waiting to talk to you.

I do have friends represented by her, and they really like her.