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I’ve Read Thousands of Queries — Here is Why You’re Rejected

I am convinced in my publishing career, both as an editor and an agent, I have read thousands upon thousands of query letters. I’ve read snail mail, email, and query forms. I’ve read enough to know which queries get an instant rejection and which will take a little more consideration. I’ve also read enough to be able to spot huge problems with your manuscript based on a few paragraphs in your query.

Now of course we’re always going to hear from the exception, the author who did everything wrong and still found herself an agent. That being said, she likely made all of the mistakes because she didn’t know any better, because she wasn’t reading this or other blogs or tapped into a writers group or other source. You on the other hand are reading this so you know better. You better get this right.

1. Do Your Research
There is a distinct difference between a query from an author who has done her research and understands what agents expect and need and authors who don’t. Addressing your query to Dear Madam (or worse) Sir, sending me something that I clearly don’t represent, or trying to convince me I should represent it (categorizing your book as women’s fiction when it says clearly in your query that its high fantasy) simply because you like me will never work.

2. Voice
Your voice needs to come through in your query. If you’re writing a thriller, the query shouldn’t sound like chick lit.

Also, your professional voice needs to come through. I really have no desire to work with an author who sounds desperate and will do anything to become my client. I want a client who is confident about he work and seeking a business partner. I want us to start this relationship on equal standing, which is why I hate the queries that start by effusively thanking me for taking the time to read the query, telling me how busy I am and how its so nice I took time out of my valuable day. You aren’t that desperate. You have a product I want. Show that to me. A thank you never hurts, but keep it to the end of your letter. After you’ve impressed me.

3. Open with a Bang
I’ll admit this is something I’m guilty of. If every query starts off with, “Thank you for your time. I’m getting in touch to query you about MY Book…” Every query sounds the same. Instead hit me with something that grabs me. Shelley Coriell has always been one of my favorites so I knew after reading her that I would need to get in touch with her agent. My voice, like hers….

or

When I read that you too had a passion for dark and suspenseful historical mysteries…

or

I first read David Bell back in college and I knew with that first book that he was the type of writer I wanted to be…

Those are the kind of openings that make me want to settle in and read more.

4. The Blurb
The most important part of your letter and often the part I read first, before the opening line, before the referral, and before your bio. This is where I immediately go. Make sure your blurb tells me about your book. Like the cover copy of a book tells it’s readers what to expect. Avoid starting out with a rhetorical question. If you ask me if I’ve ever considered what it would be like if my dog turned into a goat and my answer is no you’ve lost me. I don’t want to read more.

Show me your book. The blurb, like the writing in your book, should show me the story you have to tell. It shouldn’t tell me the story you want me to read.

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8 comments

  1. Research… check
    Voice… (I think so) check
    A bang… gulp
    Blurb… Phew! I’m hoping that means if I can’t think of a way to start ‘with a bang’ my blurb will hook an agent first and they’ll want to read more, regardless if my bang is more of a fizzle.

    Jessica, do you prefer queries to you to start with the housekeeping, or to launch straight into the blurb? Only asking because Janet’s Query Shark posts advise blurb first =)

  2. Cool post! Check on all points, I think the problem must’ve been in the blurb – or whatever problem shone through with the manuscript. Anyway, I revised the blurb immediately before sending it further. It seemed too general, my first try ever, however polished. Shelley Coriell is one of my favorites too, but I must say, I’m glad to read you skip over the introductions and the pleasantries, and maybe other agents do too. I’m very respectful but always keep the introduction short because I feel stupid otherwise. I also always felt that if I go too long it’s gonna kill my chances.

  3. Dear Youthful but Seasoned Jessica,

    Date: Sometime in the distant Future
    Author: XXX (Your unfound gem)

    I’m submitting for your ultimate treat, my wickedly twisted mystery, Vanished: My Mind. Also included, the blurb for book two, equally as thrilling, Vanished: Sanity Lost.

    Blurb:
    Deep in the humid, God forsaken southern region, Bobbi Sue seeks frantically for her mind. Overrun by the shriekers (candy sticky minions) she flees in terror, Windex in hand, wine in the other for the seclusion only found deep in the woods, or Walmart after midnight.

    Names become crossed, chores confused and dinner charred beyond recognition as she struggles with every breath she takes, to remember where the car keys went.

    Will she survive the night? Can she make it the store in time for ice-cream? Or will the lights go out before she makes it?

    Follow this epic tale of mind over matter as she braves the perils of the dreaded…TODDLER years!

    Coming Soon- The follow up story where Bobbi Sue crawls through the murky depths of, TEEN years. A true harrowing tale of Survival!

    Couldn’t resist. Thanks for the always great tips and have a great week and Halloween.
    🙂

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