I made a call out to authors to share with me the worst query advice they’ve ever received. I’m not posting this to simply laugh at people, but to show some of you how ahead of the game you really are and to hopefully teach a few that there’s no cheating the system. All it takes is a great blurb, let’s stick with that.
I’ve included my Top Ten here and want to thank you to all who shared.
1) Recently a writer confessed that she had spent a great deal of money booking a flight and hotel room so she could crash the Frankfurt Book Fair. A few of us tried to explain why this was not a very good idea, but she was adamant. Her reasoning: she hadn’t had much luck with pitch appointments in writers’ conferences, so she figured with so many agents and so few writers in attendance, she would have the advantage.
Jessica says: I’d have to agree with you. I’m not sure the amount spent is going to pay off for this writer. One thing to consider, is that a lot of the agents attending an event like Frankfurt are foreign rights agents and not all of them are necessarily building a list or looking for manuscripts. A lot of them work with manuscripts someone else has already bought (a publisher) or another agent is representing. Probably not enough bang for the buck on this one.
2) A surprising number of writers think the slush pile is where queries go to die, unless you can be original and unconventional enough to grab an agent’s attention. Suggested ways to stand out: be overly familiar so that the agent thinks she knows you; lie–mark unsolicited materials “requested” or give notice of an offer you haven’t received; if an agent only accepts email queries, send a snail mail query, and vice versa; hire someone to create a book trailer/book cover/postcard/app and send it to every agent you can find; self-publish your book so you can provide sales numbers; add glitter; send a pizza.
Jessica says: I’ll admit. I’m not a fan of the term “slush pile” since I do think it sounds like a place where manuscripts go to die. I also tend to think of it in terms of a publishing house and not an agency since most material sent to an agency is originally unsolicited (queries). The best way to stand out is to write a great blurb. While we can be a little forgetful, most agents know when they know someone. You know what I mean? That being said, I do love pizza 😉
3) Stalking. I kid you not, it is creepy how often I see this as a query recommendation on Facebook. And to make it worse, I know of at least two people who have gotten their agents this way. And not benign follow-you-on-Facebook stalking, either, but legit scary-type stalking. An acquaintance of mine is a literary agent, and more than once he’s had to take the long way from the office because some stalkery author person has tried to follow him home.
Jessica says: Yeah, just don’t do this. I would however love to know more about people who stalked their agents into representation. Did the agent even know she was being stalked?
4) Write the query from your character’s point of view.
Jessica says: I see this once in while and the problem is that its hard to get out of without sounding awkward. It also becomes confusing for the agent. Is this fiction? Nonfiction? Who is the author really? Sometimes it works, but I would say that’s rare.
5) Find the best paragraph of your entire manuscript and copy and paste it into your query as the opening paragraph, then go into your blurb.
Jessica says: This must be the newest trend in query advice because I’m seeing more and more of this. I’m not liking it. It always throws me off, especially since I want some sort of foundation for what I’m reading before I start reading. It’s like handing someone a book without any jacket blurb, telling her to read, and explaining later what the book is about. It’s hard to get into something without any context. Especially if your job is to make a judgement.
6) Format your query letter in html so it’ll hold the formatting.
Jessica says: Is this why I keep getting queries that don’t fit into the frame of my email and I have to scroll up and down and right and left just to read a sentence? If that’s the case, don’t do this. Otherwise, frankly, I don’t know the difference.
7) Put something in your bio that makes you sound like you connect to the current youth-based culture, even if the fact has nothing to do with writing or with your story.
Jessica says: You mean something like, “I am an avid Grand Theft Auto fan?” That’s ridiculous. It just sounds random and unfocused. I mean, if you’re a fan that’s fine, but I don’t need to know that.
8) Ignore requests for a synopsis.
Jessica says: Funny you should say that. I just finished reading a submission that didn’t include a synopsis and I probably stopped reading earlier because of it. Sometimes the synopsis refocuses me and allows me to see that the book seems to be going in the right direction so I’ll keep reading. It also makes an agent’s job easier.
9) Don’t bother with rockstar agents, go with hungrier, newer and needier people.
Jessica says: What the heck is a rockstar agent? Do pop stars count?
You never know when someone is hungrier so go wide. New agents are fantastic and are often really hungry, but if you really want to send to a rockstar, go ahead and hit her up too.
10) Lots of advice on how to gloss over book flaws you should know better about (200K MG? Don’t mention word count! etc.)
Jessica says: Believe it or not, agents are not idiots. We’ll figure it out. Remember, just because we request the book doesn’t mean we really have to read it, especially if we feel we were sold a lemon.
Bonus: Include a tea bag, so the agent can sit back, relax & have a cup of tea while they read.
Jessica says: This one was too good to skip, so you get a bonus bit of advice. I’m not a huge tea drinker and I’m really unlikely to drink tea that comes from a stranger, but if you can find a way to email over a tea bag I’ll be impressed.