Sunday, September 20, 2009


Dear Query Shark:

Here is a story about aging people in the country.

(pages redacted)

This is an automatic form rejection. I used to offer up what I thought was practical, easy to follow advice: you have to write an actual query letter here.

Sadly, I'd get pretty much everything but an actual query in reply.

And I'm seeing more of this kind of query.

It doesn't work. You have to write a query. I'm not going to just read your first five pages. It's not an efficient use of a scarce resource in high demand: my reading time.

Just so you know: a query MUST contain:
1. Who is the protagonist?
2. What choice does s/he face?
3. What are the consequences of the choice?

Without that information you cannot convey what is enticing about reading the book.
The goal of a query is to entice your reader, me, to read the pages.

And if I miss the next Great American Novel by rejecting this unread, I'm ok with that.

Form rejection.


Ali Trotta said...

Wow. I almost don't even have any words. I've recently realized that my query letter might be my problem (and I've written a wildly different one, after reading this blog and your other one). However, it would've never occurred to me not to write a query letter. Thanks for sharing this and for tweeting it.

Ieva Melgalve said...

*Scare* resource :)))))

Janet Reid said...

ha! fixed THAT little typo!

Anonymous said...

Interesting. Choice and consequences puts a different slant on things than problem and (attempted) solutions. They're both valid, but trying to write a query for one with the structure of the other is probably awkward at best.

The only real choice in, say, a Hero's Journey tale is whether or not he answers the call to adventure. If there's a story at all, sooner or later he will. It's the problems he encounters thereafter that make it engaging--or not.

none said...

Any particular country?

Anonymous said...

What is it with human being and following instructions?

Anna Claire said...

Is this story about old people who live in the countryside, or a guide to making people older in the countryside...or in a specific country?

Anonymous said...

@Anna - Perhaps a story about shipping people to the countryside to age them like wine or cheese. So your second option with a horror or dark-fantasy twist.

Anonymous said...


Where has respect gone?

1. Respect for QS's time, and
2. respect to other writers.

Clare K. R. Miller said...

@alastairmayer: I would totally read that.

wendy said...

You know, for a baby boomer who has lived in a tiny country town for twenty years, this is a concept that would intrigue as long as the characters are representative of the older popular today and not stereotypical.

Mimzy said...

@Anna and alastairmayer: It's obviously about old people who are murdering the young in order to steal their youth and live forever. It's the horror story Stephen King wouldn't dare to write! (Unless he's written it already... Which he probably has, knowing him.)

Pull: The Story of a Mysterious Man said...

It's really confusing to me how someone could do this. Even at 15 when I *attempted* to write a book and get it published, I knew the importance and necessity of a query letter... sigh, there is A LOT of research to be done though, to figure everything out.

Anonymous said...

I am now prepared to be enthralled by tales of well-made casseroles and the struggles of amateur woodcarvers.

...perhaps not.

_*rachel*_ said...

Form rejection? I'm not sure I'd even bother with that. You're so nice, QueryShark!

I'd add: besides the plot (QueryShark has already told you what you need for that), you should have a rounded wordcount, genre, title, any truly applicable publishing credits.

Though I do have to compliment the author for being concise!

Anonymous said...

Shoot. What was this story about, author? The sentence isn't clear, but if it's about nothing more than people growing old in the country, it's probably as interesting as watching paint dry. Although I can't tell from the "query," there's "just something" that makes me feel this might be worth a second try. Don't be intimidated; just tell us what it's about in simple, country-folk voice.

ver: qinet--not quite a query

Unknown said...

@alastairmayer @anna

Send that to me, with a well-written query letter, and it's guaranteed a read!

Laina said...

Here's a story, about a man named Brady...