August 13th, 2010

post image: wincingWith rare, rare exceptions, publishers do not deal directly with authors. It's simply not possible for them to do so, what with one hundred million prospective authors out there and only the teeniest fraction of them worth talking to. No, the job of wading through the masses falls on the literary agent: that tireless go-between responsible for bridging the gap between the writer and the publisher.

When a writer finishes his or her work, it is time to contact a literary agent. Now, if you've been through this before, just use the agent you used last time. That always works unless one of you did some serious bridge-burning during your last deal. But if you're brand new (or burned some bridges) then you need to find a new agent. And that's where the query letter comes in.

The purpose of the query letter is simple: you are asking an agent to look at your drivel masterpiece. The well-formed query letter tells the agent who you are, what credentials you have, why you believe the the book is good, and (most importantly) what the book is about. It's a sales pitch. In a nutshell, "Hey, look at me! I'm worth looking at! Here's why!" The well-formed query letter is professional, clear, concise, and doesn't cause the agent to post it on the web as a shining example of what NOT to do.

Because, believe it or not, they receive lots and lots of bad query letters. Fortunately, as a public service of sorts, some agents do post these examples online. It gives us, the good writers (ha ha) a reason to feel, "Hey, you know what? I'm really not that bad after all."

My newest favorite place to check out bad query letter excerpts is at Slush Pile Hell: One grumpy literary agent, a sea of query fails, and other publishing nonsense. Here are a few gems:

Please consider my memoir….I know that my family and friends will, without reservation, pay at least $19.95 to make sure they have not been unfairly exposed or defamed.

This raw piece of work needs polishing by agents, editors, etcetera.

I have attached a copy of a letter I recently sent to Oprah about my book. She ends her show in September 2011, which leaves little time to select an agent.

Greetings agent. I have written the most important book on earth.

Equally entertaining is the commentary accompanying each gem. For example:

Author: No one can put this manuscript down and not finish reading it.
Agent: Just did.

So for some Friday fun, head on over there and read through them all (it's hard to stop once you get going). I particularly enjoyed today's entry, although, oddly enough, it was originally posted on June 7 (and the original June 7 entry is now gone. Guess it was time for a re-run!)

Have fun!

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4 Responses to “Query Letter Fail”

  1. Texas Deb says:

    Total gold mine. Great share. May your personal success outweigh your generosity.

  2. SuziCate says:

    Charlies, Thanks for stopping by my blog via that Biz. You have an interesting site and I will be back! Got you bookmarked, but have lots to do today...did not know you have a food blog, too, will check that out ,too. Nothing better than salivating all over my laptop keys!!! Except actually eating said food!