Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Querytips: This is what a rejection looks like

Dear Author:

I very nearly sent you our standard form rejection letter in response to your query about your novel, RAINBOWS AT SUPPERTIME, an entirely odious work you have the temerity to describe as "literary."

The form letter would have said that I am extremely busy with current clients' manuscripts, and could not responsibly take on a new book. It would have said that my editorial contacts were less than ideal for this manuscript, and your work might better be handled by another agent. It would have said that our response indicated nothing negative about your work or its prospects in the marketplace. 

But that would have been a lie, and an irresponsible one. The fact is, even in a world where I had plenty of extra time, in a world where editors were far less selective in the works they were willing to publish, and where readers bought lousy books with indiscriminate abandon, I still would not represent RAINBOWS AT SUPPERTIME. You see, dear Author, I have standards.

In this business, where we must necessarily reject at least 99% of the manuscripts that come before us, it is sometimes difficult to explain exactly what it is we agents are in business to support. But it's not hard to explain what we are against. We are against RAINBOWS AT SUPPERTIME. It is offensive, both aesthetically and morally. The fact that it exists punctures my very faith in humanity.

Unpublished authors claim to like personalized responses to their submissions, and claim to desire helpful feedback. Here is some: stop submitting RAINBOWS AT SUPPERTIME. No honest or reputable agent will ever represent such a work. Offering this up to an editor would instantly destroy an agent's reputation in the publishing industry. Editors, you see, do not like to be insulted, and, frankly, neither do I. So stop wasting everybody's time.

Burn your book, Author. Destroy every copy. Erase it from your disk, format the drive, and smash your computer with a hammer.

And once that vital deed is done, in the name of all that is decent, stop writing. Stop writing at once. We in this profession hold sacred the power of the written word, and you befoul it. On some level, you have to know that RAINBOWS AT SUPPERTIME is awful. On some level, you must have been making some kind of sick joke when you submitted this. Really, Author, you should be ashamed of yourself. 

If this was the form letter, this is where I would invite you to query me with any future projects. But it is my sincere hope that you never write another word, and that I never hear your name again for the rest of my life.       

Best wishes,

Saturday, May 7, 2011

A #QueryTips Sample Query Letter

A lot of people have asked me for advice on how to structure and format a query.  For your edification, I provide this example.  But don't steal the book idea it describes or I will sue you so hard in the face that your butt will be sore for a week:

Dear Sir or Madam,

I know you agents love money, so I am going to tell you about my fiction-novel, which is a guaranteed bestseller.  I've taken the classic, time-tested text of Charles Dickens's "Great Expectations," and I have updated it for modern readers.

Specifically, I've used the find-and-replace feature in Microsoft Word to change every instance of the name "Pip" to "Barack Obama."  I've changed every occurrence of the name "Estella" to "America," and, finally, I've changed every instance of the name "Magwitch" to "Affirmative Action," and every instance of the word "cake" to "Constitution."

Additionally, I have written several entirely new chapters, in which Miss Havisham frets about Barack Obama's citizenship, searches for his birth certificate, and voices her concerns that he is a socialist and/or a Muslim.  I have also modified the ending so that Miss Havisham dies after being denied health care by Barack Obama's death panel, even though she is supposed to be covered by Medicare.

This publishing thing seems like the best scam ever, and it's totally legal, as long as we pay the taxes, which we won't.  All we need to do is get Glenn Beck to write a foreword for this thing, and we're ready to slap it on the shelves and start raking in that sweet, sweet cheddar.

I am a graduate of both the state penal farm and the federal penitentiary, where I obtained my high-school equivalency. I am also a state chairman of the Tea Party Patriots organization and a former Republican candidate for the United States Senate.  The manuscript is available on request.  If I don't hear from you by tomorrow, I'll go ahead and stop by your office, so we can discuss this in person.

God Bless;

And there you go.  That's a near perfect query.