Query Wars (Brace Yourself for the Honesty)

On a message board at a writing sight, I offered some advice for a writer who was asking for help with her query. I pointed out some common errors:

1. Don't tell me your book is the next Twilight. (really, it's probably not)

2. Don't kiss up to me by telling me all the fabulous and wonderful things you heard about me and how much you love me. (just not necessary)

3. Don't go on and on and on about all of your writing credits and previous writing experience if you really don't have any. (I honestly don't care if you've spent every waking second writing since you turned 14, that doesn't mean you're any good.)

4. Do tell me what the book is about so that I can understand it and I'm enticed to read it.

Now, I think I've given good advice. I think I've read enough queries, read enough agent blogs, and talked to enough agents to be qualified in helping a writer with her query. (honesty, folks)

Well, after I post this, another writer posts her own comments and basically says the writer should scrap the previous query and start over. Then the "modified" version is below:

Dear agent:

I am writing to you as the premier agent in the genre of _. When you represented _’s _, I knew that I could help you repeat that success.

The books you like, which have been profitable, have shown _. My heroine _is like this, _.

(2 more sentences of book description here)

My writing credentials include the following reviews:

Review 1

Review 2

Review 3

I would like to call you on Tuesday___. If that time is inconvenient, please let me know.

I won’t take too much of your time as I know it is valuable, but I would appreciate your advice as to how to pick a literary agent.

I read this and thought what!?!?!? And I couldn't just keep quiet. This is some of the worst advice I've ever seen on query writing. If this is what someone actually thinks, I needed to step up and say something.

First, while it's nice to do the research and know what the agent represents, kissing up to them is just not really important. What's important is what your book is about.

Next, these "reviews" - unless they're from an NYT best selling author who's also happy to do a cover blurb for you, no one cares. Every writer has someone who's read their stuff and loved it, but think of it like American Idol. How many people say "but my best friend said I'm a great singer" and obviously they lied or didn't know anything. Your story has to speak for itself - reviews are not going to matter, just take up space.

And the worst piece of advice here? The writer wants to call!?!?!? It is the cardinal rule of agents that there is NO CALLING! NEVER call. EVER. The only people agents want calling them are editors with offers. If a client is having a crisis, they can call, but a writer who's just querying? No, they should not call.

So on the site, I spoke up and said don't do this and explained why (in a much more polite manner than I am currently), but I'm pretty sure I offended the other commenter. And I want to not care - since the person was wrong in their advice - but I still feel a little bad.

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Sara said...

Don't feel bad! The other commentor didn't know what they were talking about, it is better that you helped those who would have gotten that bad advice!

Wendy said...

Like Sara said, don't feel bad. Your heart was in the right place and you were honest! :)

CKHB said...

Do NOT feel bad. That's like feeling bad because you had to tell someone that their fly was unzipped. Sure, it's embarrassing for everyone at the moment, but YOU HAVE TO FIX THESE THINGS before they go too far!

suzie townsend said...

I know...I don't feel bad about correcting the person, but I felt bad that I had to make the other person feel like they didn't know anything.

I like the comparison to the fly being down...hahaha

Susan Adrian said...

No feeling bad allowed on this point!! You've got to step in when someone is giving awful advice on a public board. Who knows how many poor writers may have followed it?

Good on ya. :)

Anonymous said...

Don't feel bad. It was terrible advice. On a blog post on Authonomy I pointed out the bad advice given be the Featured Author on the site's main blog, like, you don't have to have your MS polished or FINISHED before querying, you don't need to take formatting rules seriously, consider spell check your friend. All junk.

Joanna said...

DO NOT feel bad. DO NOT. DON'T!

But we discussed this already--that person is out of their mind with bad advice!

Rabid Fox said...

Always good to read these kinds of things about queries. I walk on eggshells when it comes to creating query letters, so as I don't end up in a "queryfail" list. :)

Masonian said...

O my! You did the right thing by stamping that little brushfire of insanity into the dirt.
Can you imagine adding to the (already dubious) internet the advice of telling an agent, "I'm going to call you about my query."
Either this was the ubiquitous internet phenomena of amateur-opinion-as-fact or a deviant author trying to destroy aspiring authors and therefore "the competition".
Notice too that it was a sly "I'm going to call you for advice on how to pick an agent."
That is called "fishing", and it is certainly not ok.
You hopefully not only saved many wide-eyed and gullible new writers, but you probably saved many agents from a fate worse than death.