Monday, September 15, 2008


Dear Query Shark:

Having found writers like X and Y on your list of authors, I hope you'll consider the mystery I Don't Do Windows for representation.

Having found writers is a terrible start. Short, declarative sentences: I hope you'll consider (title) for representation. I'm querying because you represent X and Y.

While I've redacted the two names here, let me take this opportunity to stand on my soapbox about "because you represent so-and-so you'll be interested in me."

First, get the names right. I don't represent anyone named Y. I'm guessing it's a typing mistake but still, this is something to triple check.

I also don't represent X anymore, and X hasn't been on my list of clients for more than two years. That's sloppy research. It's a fact of agency life that clients come and go, but if I haven't sold anything for an author in two plus years, that person is NOT the best choice for a comparison. My recent sales are on my website; most are listed at Publishers Marketplace. THOSE are the ones to use for comparison.

None of that really matters though. I overlook all of it because I don't really give a rodent's rear end about why you query. Some agents do though, so don't mess this up by being careless.

I Don’t Do Windows continues the popular tradition of smart-mouthed female sleuths(period) , but Kay Brushett has no intention of spending nights eating in her car, checking out suspicious noises in dark basements, or peering through windows.

Topic sentences that run for three lines are too long. This is the place for punchy, attention getting concise prose. You'd do well to ditch this and start here:

Brushett inherited her agency and quickly discovered she was totally unsuited to traditional private investigations. Instead, this detective is a child of the digital age. Dragged into a murder investigation that started as a simple domestic surveillance of a cheating husband, Brushett faces increasingly immediate danger when she accidently records proof of earlier murders. Unfortunately for Brushett, not all of her digital tactics fit neatly within the law, alienating her from local law enforcement just when she could most use their co-operation. Her fears for her own safety will resonate with readers -- and send her back to the illegal, but, necessary tools that may keep her ahead of a smart killer.

This doesn't hold together logically. She doesn't want to peer into windows etc paired with accidentally records don't match. And what "digital tactics" do you mean? Recording? She could be carrying around a reel to reel tape recorder in her panties from that phrase. Be specific.

Her fears for her own safety will resonate with readers--what? That's called suspense, and it's part and parcel of any good crime novel. Saying your main character faces danger is like saying the words are written in English; obvious to the point that by mentioning it you beg for a sardonic and sarcastic response. This is NOT what you want here.

Not only a complete 95,000 word novel to appeal to fans of the cozy and lighter procedurals, I Don’t Do Windows is every woman’s DIY guide to finding out what her guy really does when he’s not with her!

This is meant to be funny I'm sure, but it misses the mark.

Procedurals usually mean police procedurals and a police officer is the main character. That's not what you described earlier.

While I Don't Do Windows is a first mystery, my published non-fiction includes pop culture titles (redacted but quite extensive). My day job is contributing writer / editor / publisher of (redacted) which was started from scratch in 2000 and enjoys a loyal readership.

Thank you for your time and consideration! (I see my campaign to make this the correct closing on all query letters is working. Excellent!)


The writing is enough to make me say no even if there was a more compelling description of the plot. Most agents see ONLY your query letter so you've GOT to make it energetic and enticing. No ass-backwards sentence constructions unless you really mean it (ie having found writers like X and Y on your list; not only a complete novel). Subject, verb, clause. There's a lot to be said for plain, simple, elegant writing.

Form rejection.


Sarah Laurenson said...

Trying hard to show that you have researched the agent/editor in question and know that your book is right for them can lead to these issues of having old information. I don't think there's an easy answer except doing even more research to make sure the facts are correct. Or just limiting the information to what can be found on their website, but that still may not show who is a current client.

Kathryn Hupp-Harris said...

I see you added an exclamation point to "Thank you for your time and consideration."

I've been told exclamation points were taboo. Unless! You! Really! Mean! It!

I'm probably being really picky, and I'm sure it wouldn't make a difference a request for a partial or a form rejection.

Any thoughts?

Teagen said...

When I first read the title, I thought it sounded kind of interesting, but reading the rest, I got the sense that this would be a total mess as a book. And the part about digital tactics lost me altogether because I have no idea what you mean (as Janet said). I don't know. This letter overall kind of confused me and I lost all interest.

Teagen said...

I didn't even notice the exclamation marks when I read through it the first time since I wasn't bored or annoyed enough to actually kick into edit mode, but I agree. I've been told exclamation points should only be used for 1) the most extreme cases or 2) when no matter what you say, it doesn't seem to cover the over-the-top-ness of the statement.

Anonymous said...

I liked the link to the panties. Although that looks a lot like Chairman Mao in the pocket rather than some old, low tech recorder. Somehow, I'm thinking good ol' Mao might get you a bit further in the new world than a big, whirling box.

ricgalbraith said...

i took the parts of the letter and put them into a notepad doc, just to see if it read well without your commentary, it didnt. i dont understand how someone can write 95k words and mess up the pitch so badly.

The Rejection Queen said...

It doesn't matter how much you tweek and perfect your query letter, you still have a 90 percent chance of being rejected. I must have changed my query letter to my first book 10 times...nothing worked.

Sabina E. said...

Janet, you scare and awe me. lol

Janet Reid said...

I like exclamation marks. Anyone who rejects someone for using an exclamation mark in a query letter is probably not going to like the same things I do though.

If you want a sober, stiffnecked punctuation puritan, you probably don't want me for an agent.

Wait, let me re-punctuate: If you want a sober, stiff-necked punctuation puritan, you probably don't want me for an agent!!!!

Gabe said...

I nominated your for an "I Love Your Blog" award ( I hope you don't mind.

ssas said...

subject, verb, clause. Thank you thank you thank you. I wish someone would scream this from the mountain tops!!

Polenth said...

I'm hoping the digital tactics involve robots!

Your day job is a bit hazy. It isn't clear if you helped found the thing in 2000, or whether you joined later. That's only one of the unclear things in the query, but I don't think anyone's mentioned that one yet.

Rick Daley said...

Just one point on technology - a reel to reel tape recorder is an analog recording device, not digital.

My plea to anyone using technology as a plot device is this: please do your research on the technologies used. There is nothing more frustrating to a technically adept reader than implausible placement of computers and gadgets.

I'm not asking to limit fiction to reality, per se. That would be boring. And perilous. Imagine if Scotty had never been able to beam Kirk up...

none said...

Tolkien uses exclamation marks in almost every line of dialogue. After a while you cease to notice.

Shona Snowden said...

I thought the title meant it was a story about a Mac user.

DCS said...

I guess I should feel good that my query letter hasn't been roasted on the site; yet I'm a bit blue because my real query letter didn't light your fire. Oh well, such is the life of the neophyte author. Got to keep trying all those agents then ,don't I?