I've been interning for The Agency for four weeks now, and I've noticed certain qualities in query letters that range from laugh out loud ridiculous to blatant disrespect.
So I present to you the 7 Unforgivable Query Letter Sins. Should you commit these, it is very likely your query will be rejected without remorse.
1. I just finished my novel...
So many query letters start out with the author telling me she just finished her novel. You JUST finished it? When, yesterday? Is this a first draft? If it is, we don't want it. No agent wants to get the impression that you just typed the final words of your manuscript and sent it off to her. And you don't want to give off that impression, either. You don't even want to say "I just finished the fourth draft of my novel" because that sense of immediacy is never going to do you any favors.
2. Flagging Your Query as Urgent
I don't know how to describe the amount of rage I feel when I see a query marked as urgent other than RAWR!! Don't be so presumptive as to think your query letter is more important than someone else's. Marking your query letter as urgent will not get your query answered any faster.
But, you say, I need an answer speedy quick because it is a simultaneous submission and one of the other agents might accept me, but I want to know if the agent I like more than the other wants to represent me.
This brings me to item #3...
3. Dear 10 Million Agents!
Several times a week I receive queries from Author X who has sent the same, impersonal query letter to more than one agent. One person even sent it to 28 agents at once! 20 frakking 8! Look, the first rule of query letters is to get the agent's/editor's name and title correct. Each email you sent should have one and only one recipient. Doing anything else is disrespectful.
Also, don't send out 28 queries simultaneously. Twenty-eight is my lucky number (my birthday!), not yours.
4. A Line by Line Summary of Your Book
Sasha meets Kirk, the hottest guy at her new school. Kirk tells Sasha she is beautiful, and Sasha thanks him, but Kirk starts to laugh and tells her he said it on a dare. Sasha runs to the bathroom to call her best friend back home. Sasha's friend tells her it will be okay, and Sasha goes back to class. Later that afternoon...
You want your query letter to pitch your story in a paragraph or two at most. If you're worried you'll be rejected because the beginning is slow and the real action doesn't start until page 35, you probably haven't opened your story in the right spot.
5. Your Life Story
I'm a 40 year old teacher living in Portland, OR with my wife and our 3 teenagers. My hobbies are spending time with my family, collecting stamps, working out, and motorcycle racing.
Your bio should be pertinent to what you are submitting. If you are submitting a YA dystopian, let us know you are a member of the SCBWI. Agents don't care how many kids you have, who you're married to, etc. They want to see good writing and professionalism.
6. I'm looking for an agent who will make me a lot of money/ I suggest you become my agent
Do I need to say anything about these? Apparently I do because it happens all the time. These are the opening lines in many query letters, and all of them have been rejected because the writing is always terrible.
If you're in writing for the money, then 1. HAHAHAHA and 2. No one wants to represent you or publish your work. Agents and editors are looking for works of literary merit with a marketable potential. Marketability doesn't mean "I'm looking for an agent who will make me a lot of money for my new thriller that will make me the next James Patterson."
As for the second part, you aren't doing agents a favor when you send in your query letter. Your query letter is the suggestion to represent you. They get it. Telling them to become your agent for whatever reason is rude and amateurish. Get over yourself.
You know how bargaining is a stage of grief? I guess it is also a stage of trying to get your book published. If you receive a rejection notice, don't email the agent back with a list of reasons why he/she should represent your book. It isn't going to work, and it will stain you as a crazy person.
An aspiring author emailed us this month to say we should rep his book because "women love it."
Wow, women love your book? That's funny because I'm a woman and I think your book sucks. :)
Saturday, January 29, 2011
Sunday, January 9, 2011
In My Mailbox is a weekly meme hosted by The Story Siren in which we explore what books we bought/received/borrowed this week. All of these are for review. Thank you Simon & Schuster for the ARCs.
Ari can’t help feeling lost and alone. With teal eyes and freakish silver hair that can’t be changed or destroyed, Ari has always stood out. And after growing up in foster care, she longs for some understanding of where she came from and who she is.
Her search for answers uncovers just one message from her long dead mother: Run. Ari can sense that someone, or something, is getting closer than they should. But it’s impossible to protect herself when she doesn’t know what she’s running from or why she is being pursued.
She knows only one thing: she must return to her birthplace of New 2, the lush rebuilt city of New Orleans. Upon arriving, she discovers that New 2 is very...different. Here, Ari is seemingly normal. But every creature she encounters, no matter how deadly or horrifying, is afraid of her.
Ari won’t stop until she knows why. But some truths are too haunting, too terrifying, to ever be revealed.
I think most people know about the tie this has to Greek mythology, but I won't reveal it here just in case. I'll just say I'm excited to read Darkness Becomes Her because it involves a mythological twist I have not encountered yet.
Resentful of her stepmother, her secretive older sisters, and the whole code of ladylike conduct in early-19th-century England, 12-year-old Kat Stephenson takes action. She chops off her hair, learns to use her mother's magical mirror, and fends off both well-meaning and threatening adults.
This sounds so cute and fun. I love reading Stephanie's and I can't wait to read about Kat!
I haven't finished White Cat yet so I'm not even looking at the description for Red Glove for fear of spoilers.
What if you knew exactly when you would die?
Thanks to modern science, every human being has become a ticking genetic time bomb—males only live to age twenty-five, and females only live to age twenty. In this bleak landscape, young girls are kidnapped and forced into polygamous marriages to keep the population from dying out.
When sixteen-year-old Rhine Ellery is taken by the Gatherers to become a bride, she enters a world of wealth and privilege. Despite her husband Linden's genuine love for her, and a tenuous trust among her sister wives, Rhine has one purpose: to escape—to find her twin brother and go home.
But Rhine has more to contend with than losing her freedom. Linden's eccentric father is bent on finding an antidote to the genetic virus that is getting closer to taking his son, even if it means collecting corpses in order to test his experiments. With the help of Gabriel, a servant Rhine is growing dangerously attracted to, Rhine attempts to break free, in the limted time she has left.
This one is receiving lots of hype. I hope it doesn't let me down.
What is in your mailbox this week?
Saturday, January 8, 2011
I've been interning with The Agency (which is to remain anonymous) for a week now. My job is to read about 30 queries a day, and reject them or place them in a Possible Queries folder for The Agent.
One thing I learned as soon as I answered the first email is that rejection isn't easy even when you're the rejecter. I don't remember what the first query was about. I just remember it was nowhere near publishable. A fugue came down on me, typing that first rejection notice. Seriously, who was I, being upset about rejecting someone's poorly crafted fiction? I thought it would feel the same as when I write critiques for workshop.
But it didn't.
Sending a rejection came with it the knowledge that a person who feels their work is ready is going to be told they're wrong. All week I've been thinking about writers having good days and writers having bad days, and about how it will feel when they get the rejection I send them. I'm sorry fellow aspiring authors. I've been there, and I'll be there again. Good luck with improving and finding the right home for your craft.
Except for all of you who begin your letters "I'm looking for an agent who can make me money."
You all suck. Go work in retail for the rest of your lives.
On that note, rejecting became much easier as the days went on, and more pompous, poorly written queries and pages came in.
And now for the trends:
3 half-demon, demon hunting teenagers (2 girls, 1 boy)
2 fire starters
2 colonial South stories
2 reincarnation stories (1 in the colonial South, 1 in Egypt and USA)
1 fantasy demon huntress
1 demon vs angels YA
1 merman YA
1 Hades and Persephone retelling
A couple of those demon stories made the PQ folder, but The Agent passed. Still, I think demons are where it is at right now for the angst crowd. Personally, I most enjoyed the fire starter stories because that power makes for both some comedic and dramatic fiction. The Hades and Persephone piece wasn't so much a retelling of the myth as it was a story in modern times that referenced descendants of Hades and Persephone in a way that is quite separate from Greek mythology. Seeing mention of Persephone was exciting, though, after the post about the Persephone trend at Editorial Anonymous.
Why is it that so many reincarnation stories begin with an exotic life, such as one in Egypt, and person with said exotic end up being reincarnated into a white person in the States? What is up with that?
Anyway, this was a slice of my first week at The Agency. Much more on the way.
Saturday, January 1, 2011
The Dark Divine came to a conclusion (for the first book, that is) that saved my interest in the series. But uncertainty grabbed me along the way. Grace is the narrator, but the boys are always saving the day. I almost stopped reading when the Almost Rape Scene showed up in the third act. Authors of YA novels, can you please stop using the ARS to get the guys who save the day to look good? Have some respect for the gravity of the situation instead of brushing it off with someone stepping in to save the day every single time.
Despain's writing style is simple. Her prose moves quickly, and she sustains the plot throughout the novel without giving away the secrets among the characters until after halfway through. However, the supernatural element was too light. It came to life for a brief few pages in the end, but until then it was a shadow in the background. There is only so much teenage relationship angst one can take before one needs a dose of supernatural fight scenes and mythology.
Certain parts of this book, though, gave me great pause.
"The tight, sculpted bodice actually made it look like I had breasts, but my favorite part was the pop of color in the red sash around the middle that made my waist appear impossibly small."
A young woman who has been concerned with art, forgiveness, and truth throughout the novel takes a look at her self in the mirror for a chance to point out her "flaws." These flaws being breasts that aren't up to society's standards as actually having breasts, and appearing to have a waist that can't be achieved in reality. This part was out of character, and I found it a disservice to Grace's strength as a person with her priorities in the right places.
I liked Daniel before he became Grace's boyfriend. They were equals until then--until Daniel started bossing her around as soon as they started dating. After a few chapters, Grace tells him to stop telling her what to do, but I question why the change happened in Daniel. He demands she stay inside for her own safety because now that they're dating he has the right to make such demands?
Then there is Grace's brother Jude. If you're Christian or you know anything about a man named Judas, you know right away something isn't right with Jude. I thought Jude would turn out to be a rather flat character, but a decision he makes at the end of the novel sparked my interest in him, and I'm looking forward to where his story goes in The Lost Saint. The former friendship between Daniel and Jude is my favorite relationship in the book. The guilt, betrayal, and pain felt by both of them over past actions breaks through the page, begging you to sympathize. I certainly could, but when Jude declared that Grace's supposed sexual relationship with Daniel was tearing the family apart, and that he had to save her from being defiled...not so much sympathy there, no. I'm not sure if that aspect of Jude was a result of a conservative Christian upbringing or hysteria. Either way, his line of thinking is seen all too often in the real world, and I wish Grace had a chance to set him straight.
I didn't think The Dark Divine was fantastic, but I imagine the second novel will be stronger (a hard thing to achieve).