Five Rules on How Not to Query

Posted by on Oct 22, 2014 in Writing | 0 comments

I’m somewhat surprised that I haven’t talked about this particular subject before.Writing the query letter is one of the most difficult jobs a writer has to do, and one of the most important tasks as well. We have to try to sound interesting as well as professional, humble as well as confident, ambitious as well as nonchalant. There is a delicate balance that can be easily upset when we are attempting to write a query letter. So, let’s start with what not to do:

1. Don’t tell me how much your friends like your book. 

This is probably my biggest pet peeve. Telling a publisher how much your friends love your book, is like telling your friends how much your mother likes your books. Friends and family are supposed to love your book. They’re supposed to encourage you and tell you that you need to send it to a publisher, just like they’re supposed to tell you that you need to write a book in the first place. Don’t tell me how much complete strangers loved it either. Unless those complete strangers are reviewers or critics, it’s not relevant to put into a query.

2. Don’t ignore instructions.

This one should be simple. If you go to the publisher’s website and they don’t take mystery novels, don’t submit your mystery novel to them. Find another company. If they ask for ten pages, don’t give them twenty. Please don’t ever start your query with “I know you don’t accept mystery novels, but you’ll change your mind after this…” If you know that a publishing company doesn’t want something, don’t try to tell them that they’re going to want it. If they ask for 10 pages, don’t send them the first hundred. Read the instructions and follow them.

3. Don’t beg!

Nothing spells amateur more than a query begging the publisher to pick up their novel. Now, don’t get me wrong, a well placed “please” or “thank you” is welcome, but if you put more than one “please” in a sentence, you may want to reconsider. Desperation isn’t pretty on anybody. You want your book and your talent to shine, not how desperate you are to get it published. Please don’t tell the publisher that you will do anything to get it published, that usually only leads to trouble.

4. Don’t tell me how much I need you.

Authors are the backbone of any publishing house. Publishers know that. If there were no authors, there would be no publishing houses. However, and I don’t mean to be mean or rude here, there are A LOT of people trying to get their works published. You won’t be the first to try, and you certainly won’t be the last. That being said, publishers want to know where you would fit in their company, but don’t need to be told that they can’t live without you. Demanding to be published will get your query round filed faster than walking up to a publisher, dropping your book on their desk, and saying “Publish this, now!” We know we need authors, but telling us that we need you and would be (insert adjective here, i.e. stupid…) if we didn’t pick up your novel, makes a publisher think that you would be difficult to work with, no matter how good the book is, and it isn’t worth the time and effort.

5. Don’t make it boring.

Okay, so on top of avoiding friend input and begging and being overly confident, publishers also want something that’s not boring? How is that supposed to work? What are we supposed to put in a query letter then? Well, that’s next week’s post. In the meantime, the final thing I want to talk about today is making your query lively. Please do not make your query dry or drab. Don’t put a bunch of extraneous information into your query. It’s perfectly fine that you have seventeen male cats and each one does his own magic trick, but if that’s not something that has to do with your book, we don’t need to know it. If you grew up among wolves, that’s a great thing to put on a bio somewhere, but it’s not needed in the query unless you’re writing a book about growing up among wolves. Do not make your synopsis read like a substitute teacher at the front of the class when he or she is reading off names. You know the one I’m talking about, the person who doesn’t look up when reading the list, but continues in a monotone until everyone is accounted for. That’s not your book, your book is alive and interesting and ready to face the world, let your publisher know that with paragraphs about the book, where it will fit, marketing plans, etc. Let your excitement shine through your writing, or I guarantee most publishers won’t read past the query.

I know, I know. This is a long list of don’t, and it’s daunting and frustrating to say the least to have all these rules when it comes to doing something you loathe in the first place. However, query letters are a necessary evil. This is your book’s resume, and if you don’t put your book’s best forward, it won’t make you any money. I hope you learned something here today. Next week, I’ll be writing about what to do with your query letter, so stay tuned!


Download mp3