Writing Nowadays: Bad Queries

Er, sorry.

Last time we talked about good query letters (https://bookviewcafe.com/blog/2010/03/08/writing-nowadays-querying-and-submitting/) and were going to talk about bad query letters next time. But I attended a writers retreat the weekend before, and rather ironically, the writers blog slipped my mind.

Ahem. My apologies. But I’m now qualified to do a post on My First Writers Retreat later.

Moving on then.

Today we have Five Things To Avoid in Query Letters.

1. The wrong name. Last time, I mentioned how query letters should be personalized to the agent or editor, even when you’re mass-blasting them out by email. It’s really, really easy to put the wrong name into a query letter when you rev up the ol’ cut and paste. Triple check. The fastest route to rejection by Ms. Smith is to send her a query addressed to Mr. Brown.

2. Biographical information. At the query stage, the agent only cares about your writing. Once she agrees to take you on as a client, she’ll be fascinated to know that you grew up in Borneo or that you have forty-six cats. Until then, keep your mouth shut about anything that doesn’t involve the book.

3. How much research you did. No one–and I mean NO ONE–cares about this. Agents and editors assume you’ve done proper research or you wouldn’t have written the book. Telling them you did research is like telling them you learned to type.

4. What rights you want to sell. The query letter stage–or any part of the submission stage–is not the negotiation stage. Once the agent calls to say she wants to represent you or the editor calls to say he wants to buy the book, you can talk numbers and percentages. Any earlier than that sounds pretentious.

5. How cool a movie this would make. Sure, it’s fun to create the movie in your head. I do it all the time. But it’s not a selling point for a book. Movies aren’t books. Once the book is published, you can talk to Hollywood (or, more realistically, hope that Hollywood talks to you).

Internet searches are de rigueur these days. Any editor or agent who thinks your book is worth checking out will turn to the Internet and run your name through Google before asking to see your book. If you’re shopping a book around, check your Facebook page, your blog, your LiveJournal, your Twitter feed, and whatever other web presence you have. Are your posts something you’d want an agent or editor to see?

“Okay, sent out fifty-five query letters this week after getting twenty-six rejections last week. Stupid agents wouldn’t know a good book if it leaped off the shelf and sank its fangs into their ugly throats.”


“I hate my life. Everything is horrible for me all the time. All I see is darkness and despair closing in on me like a lobster trap of doom. Sigh.”

Stuff like the first entry tells the agent you can’t act professionally in public. Stuff like the second entry tells the agent you won’t be any fun to work with. Rejection!

A number of editor types read this blog and/or are members of Book View Cafe, so feel free to add to the list.  What goes into a bad query?

–Steven Harper Piziks


Books available at Book View Cafe:

Full selection available at http://www.bookviewcafe.com/index.php/Steven-Piziks/Steven-Piziks-Novels/



Writing Nowadays: Bad Queries — 12 Comments

  1. So how seriously does one need to worry about the Internet search thing? I share my name with: a Californian shoe fetishist and perfume expert, a crazy person in NJ who writes entertainingly nuts letters to the papers demanding the death penalty for purse snatchers, several Australians with various professions, a woman whose husband killed their kids by accident, and one of the world’s leading experts on Educational theory. I’d often half-wondered if that was a problem, but not really. Lately, though, I found out that a distant acquaintance thought I was the crazy letter writer.

    I can’t be the only person out there with a common name, so how does that work? Should I include a link to my blog or Twitter page? That feels dangerous too…

  2. I think that everybody who rolls around on the internet must be aware that there are many, many Robert Joneses out there. That a few of them are chromium tooled nuts doesn’t affect all of the normal ones, we may hope. If it really is a concern for you, you could use a pen name, or add a middle or nickname. A sufficiently original nickname would make you quite unique.

  3. Yeah, I chose my pen name before Stephen Harper was elected Prime Minister of Canada, and even though I’m Steven Harper, he shows up on Google searches.

    Brenda has the right of it–if your name is common enough that multiple results come up with your name, don’t worry about it. But if your blog mentions your writing, make sure it’s someting you want an editor to read.

  4. Steve, these are great tips. I’d add another: Resist the impulse to tell the prospective agent how much your friends/relatives/parents/critique group adored your book.

    I’ve also heard editors on panels tell newbies not to mention winning the Podunk Junior League Writer’s Contest of 1997 with the book, or other super minor contests. The idea being that the only contests that mean anything are those run by actual publishing houses. I wonder if that’s still good advice, or if it’s changed.

  5. Great points, all of them. I’d also add that it’s vital to spellcheck and use a normal font. I see agents pointing this out on Twitter all the time. Sometimes it is the simplest things. 🙂

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  7. Don’t send bribes, funny hats, or other unrelated effluvia. Once you have a working relationship with an agent or editor and know what their sense of humor is, then, maybe. Probably not, but maybe.

  8. Great tips! Luckily, I don’t do those things, LOL! One question: What’s your opinion on leaving your blog or website address under your name in the “contact info” section? It would perhaps reduce risk of someone finding the “wrong you.” 😉

  9. You should always be findable. Suppose Steven Spielberg, inspired by your anecdote, wants to make a movie? What if George Lucas thinks your page is kind of funny, looks up your novel, and sees potential for a screenplay there? (George, Steve! I’m here — Google me, I’m the first 300 hits!!)

  10. Oh, definitely! My own URL is in the signature of every email and paper letter I send to anyone in publishing for any reason to ensure the right Steven Harper is easy to find.

  11. I always heard that biological info should only be included if it is directly relevant to the query, and then only briefly. For example, if I was writing hard SF, especially, say, if it was set on a colony on Titan (or a murder mystery set at an astronomy conference), I might (briefly) mention ‘Oh, yeah, I’m working on a Ph.D. in astronomy from Cornell, and my dissertation is on the Saturnian system’. OTOH, if I’m sending out an urban fantasy novel, the agent doesn’t care that I’m a grad student.

  12. Yes, this is quite correct. It also does no harm to mention awards or prizes, if they are within the industry ( “… First Fandom winner in 1985…”). You may only mention awards that have nothing to do with your ms if they are extremely prestigious. (” … Nobel Prize in Physics.”) This also applies to mentions of your relatives: either in field (” … my uncle, the late Isaac Asimov…”) or excessively prestigious (” … my aunt Oprah…”).