Thursday, January 2, 2014

Why We Pass On Projects Without Reading The Whole Story

It is pretty common for me to receive a letter from an author after I passed on their story with the comment, "But if you had read the story, you would have wanted to have this book." Now, besides the fact that this person was probably a bit pushy and probably someone with an "I am better than everyone else attitude" and therefore not someone to work with, I do think the writer probably made one of many numerous errors with the query/submission.

Before going any further, I do need to stress something I have said over and over again here on the blog. There is no right or wrong way of doing something in publishing. Along the same lines, there are certainly wrong approaches and your job, if you are trying to get the attention of an agent, editor, or even a bookseller if you are doing this on your, is to minimize those potential pitfalls.

I did do some digging across the Internet to see what I could find on errors in query letters and there are a ton of sites that will back this up. Just do a quick search and see! Still, I did want to take some time to really explore some of the problems.

1. "Me thinks she doth protest too much." - Good old Bill! He so nails it every time. The query letter cannot just go on and on about how amazing you are. Yes, it is important to showcase your strengths, but if you force the issue, you become unbelievable. Don't force it! Remember that the query is there to get our attention and we want the story to shine on its own. Telling us of all the agents and editors who loved your story, of how Oprah is just wishing she could get her hand on the book is far too much.
2. K.I.S.S. - We've all seen this phrase before. Keep It Simple Stupid! The same goes for the query letter. Yes, I know this is what makes writing a query letter tough, but it is key. Agents and editors are busy. They aren't spending a ton of time kicking back reading and re-reading your query letter. They want to save that experience for your book. The mistake is that you make things so complicated that we have to spend far too much time trying to figure out what you want. We know it is a query, but we don't want to have to dig for it. I often tell people to focus on the three B's (The Basics - title, genre and word count; The Book - what is the central story arc; and The Bio - Who are you and why are you someone we would want to work with). More on these later.
3. Grammar, typos and stupid mistakes - I Tweeted this a while ago. I run the Greyhaus Literary Agency, but I am not Mr. Greyhaus. Along the same line, Dawn Fredreick of the Red Sofa Literary Agency is not Ms. Red Sofa, and Jessica Faust is not Ms. Bookend. Seeing mistakes like this, grammar mistakes and spelling errors simply tells us you didn't take your time. If we see mistakes here, what will your book really look like?
4. You don't tell us anything - Save the secretive book cover blurb for your advertising. Yes, we don't want to give everything away to our readers, but you are trying to market your book to someone who DOES need to know this information. We need to know the beginning, middle and end of your book. We need to know the title, genre and word count. For me, I even have a pet peeve of authors who refer to themselves with initials. How do I respond? Dear M? 
5. You don't tell us why you are special? And why are you coming to me? Telling me you have written a "coming of age story about a teenager" is nothing special. There are a ton of books out there. We get it. What is it that makes your story stand out among all of the other stories out there? Why you? This idea relates back to that idea of a high concept. It is that one marketing sentence that makes us stand up and take notice.
Along the same lines, I need to know why, out of all the agents out there, I am the right person for the job? What was it from my submission guidelines or bio that made you feel this story fits with what I am looking for. I do have to say, just because I acquire a genre is not enough. Just because I have a certain author is not enough. Why is this story a perfect match for me (or the person you are pitching it to).
6. OMG, TMI!  Don't scare us off by telling us how freaky you are. The odds are we will find out later but hopefully, by that point, we think your story is sooo amazing that we are willing to over-look it. Hey, I have a turtle, but telling me you named your son Yertle is not going to hook me. Include only the necessary information. I would also add here that telling me of all the other people who passed on your story is going to make me question A) why are you coming to me? and B) why would I think differently?
7. You don't know your genre - This is one of those basic elements. If you tell me your story is a historical romance, and then, as I read through your query that it is the history of you and your infatuation with your teddy bear, it becomes clear that you don't know this business. Look, agents are willing to work with new authors, but at least know what genre your story is. Do you research!

This is just a basic list but certainly some things to consider. If you are unclear if your query is making one of these fatal flaws, try this...

Write the query to yourself and then email it to yourself. Would you sign this person simply based on the query? If this is the first impression of you, are you scaring the person off or coming across as someone who isn't professional? If so, don't hit send to that dream agent or editor. The odds are they will think the same thing.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for a great informative post. I love the idea of sending the query letter to myself.