Friday, July 4, 2008

When Queries don't match stories

I have a real pet peeve here. It all has to do with query letters that say one thing and then stories that go a different direction.

I have seen this a lot lately and figured it was time to address the issue soon.

Here is what I've been seeing. Writers will send me a query letter (usually e-queries) that give me the impression of a story being one thing. When the story shows up, mysteriously the story has: increased or decreased in length, changed genres, goes a different direction... the list goes on and on.

There are times when I get a submission and really start to question why I would have ever asked to see the story. The opening pages are simply not something I would have ever wanted to see. Why did this happen? It was the query.

Now, I am not sure if it is due to writers not having a clue what their story really is about, or if it is an attempt to impress the heck out of us [the agents] and then suprise us with another story. Frankly, it just doesn't work.

So, with that said, here are the things that HAVE TO BE ACCURATE!

- Word count - Just click on the computer word count and tell us what it is. Quit trying to do all of the extra math, or estimating. I have actually seen people tell me in the query that the story is roughly 100 K and then I find it is really 120-150 K. That is just too much of a difference. Along the same lines, telling me the pages doesn't help either. You don't know how many times someone tells me the story is 350 pages and then I find it is single spaced. Wow! that is roughly 2 books.

- Genre - If you really don't know what it is, then figure it out. Don't tell me it's a romantic comedy when it really is a chick lit that you've dusted off. And by the way, just because there is not romance, or the main character is a female it doesn't make it women's fiction!

- The plot - If there are key things that are crucial to the story, make sure you tell us. I get stories that tell about this great romance between two characters and then I find out that both are married. Nope, adultry doesn't work. I have also seen the same thing with: characters underaged, characters that are criminals... get the idea.

- Publishing credits - I have writers that forget to tell me that the story is already published. I have writers that tell me they are published all over the place and then I find out it is only magazine articles or self-published. If you are, that's fine, but don't leave that off. I should also note I even had one person say they were published by this small press, and the editor was raving about the work. I later found out they were the owner of the company and they edited their own book.

The key is honesty here.


  1. That's great info! I was at a writer's meeting this week, and the subject of queries and word count actually came up.

    I was under the impression that it was okay to use that nifty word count tool in Word (no matter that it may be off a tad).

    One of the writer's in the group was told that you should take the number of pages and multiply that by 250.

    Maybe it is the different info out there causing the word discrepancy, or perhaps it could be an "original" word count and they revised, who knows...I do know that I will continue to use the word count, and thanks for the info!

    :) Terri

  2. The computer word count thing is really not off. Just state that it is a computer word count!

  3. I wish it was okay to just stick a one page, "this is a sample of my writing (hopefully the first page)" in with a query--most of the time you can tell right off if it's something you'd be interested in, and it'd save time.

  4. Was of the impression that the font used in Word could also jiggle the word count - TNR vs. Courier for example.
    One of the problems is plain interpretation. If one writes urban fantasy, many automatically conclude the story involves vamps or weres and that the story is highly erotic.

  5. Bernita,

    Yes, there is some difference in the word count. I have actually taken the time to verify the differences. My biggest concern is getting a query that says one number and then when the submission shows up, the cover letter (or more likely the manuscript cover information) states something that is far off that count!

    As far as the urban fantasy goes, if you take the time to make sure your query clearly states what is going on in the story, then you are fine. For example:
    I have written a 92,000 word Urban Fantasy that is based around a real estate millionare who is being chased by a vampire alien bunny. The result is a highly sexual encounter of the third kind.
    The deal is, we want to see what you have and to make it clear.

    Another example I have seen is someone telling me they have a paranormal romance that is, in reality, a fantasy. There is a big difference between those two.