All this month I'm posting letters to Book Biz Santa from readers of this blog. If you have one, please email it to MJRoseAuthor@aol.com
Dear Book Biz Santa,
Um -- I'm technically Jewish, but am also a materialistic glutton, and as such always willing to log an interfaith request when free gifts are involved.
So what do I want this holiday season? Well, as a young agent and an assistant at a literary agency, I would love a great query letter and a blow-me-away fabulous manuscript to back that up. I know you're busy, Book Biz Santa, so I won't dictate what that letter should look like. But I also don't want query letters that undermine a fabulous manuscript, so here are a few hints what it should not look like:
No emailing me and copying every other agent in the industry.
No emailing me and copying every other agent at my agency.
No addressing me as Sir/Madam. To my mind, there are only several agents who can pull this one off, and it's usually after hours.
No calling me Miss or by the wrong name. So far as I know, I'm a mister, and my name is not David.
No pretentious sign offs, like: Sincerely yours / Author's Name. (all on one line.) Or: Sincerely, P.M.L Smith. Question: What the hell are these? Answer: A bad way to make a first impression. If a comma and a new line are good enough for every one else, they're good enough for you too, Shakespeare. And when your friends call you on the phone, do they say, "Hey, PML, wanna grab a beer," or do they call you by your proper name? How am I supposed to know what that name is -- or for that matter, if you're a Mr. or a Ms.?
No telling me how bad you are at writing query letters. 'Cus I'm pretty great at rejecting them.
No telling me how one letter can't possibly encapsulate your magnum opus. 'Cus guess what, Hemingway? Yes it can.
No calling your book a "fictional novel." Or, a "non-fictional novel." One of these is redundant, and the other makes no sense. And both will paint you as an amateur.
No telling me how your book will become an instant bestseller and will translate perfectly into film. Because that's naive and shows no appreciation for the dozens and dozens of people other than your fine writing self it requires to accomplish both of these tasks.
No telling me how other readers just adored -- LOVED! -- your work. Unless their names are Oprah or Stephen King. 'Cus otherwise, guess what, Faulkner? I don't know your mom.
No queries on pink paper. No scented queries. Or if by email -- no sending bright orange emails with large attachments of you, your dog, you and your dog, or your chia dog.
No manuscripts wrapped in popping paper. It actually means hours of fun for me, but my boss will fire me if I spend one more afternoon popping. Besides, as another brilliant agent has noted, it's paper, not anthrax.
No HTML emails. I actually have no idea what this means, but I'm told these emails get nabbed by Spam zappers.
No calling. Ever. (Once again, the exceptions to this rule are Oprah and Stephen King.)
No calling. "But I" - No. Don't call. "No, you don't understand, in my case -- " A, bah- No. If - No. For me- Absolutely not. Zip it. Don't call.
Sigh... You're calling. Ok. What did I say about that? No calling... and if you're calling, don't be rude to me and insist on speaking only to my boss. Then, kissing up to aforementioned boss. Here's why: guess who might be vetting your contracts, sending out your checks and processing your royalty payments one day, hmmmmmm....? Yes, that's right, Fitzgerald. Moi.
No emailing my boss to reconsider after I've rejected you already on his behalf. Consider this, Dickens -- does he pay my salary or do you?
No telling me I have an exclusive and then -- oh yea -- oops. Lying about it.
No sending money. I'm probably underpaid and I'll accept it as a tip, but the Thought Police at the AAR tend to frown on this practice and I'll have to reject you on principle.
If you're writing me from prison, I will take your query seriously (really, I will) but no memoirs about a) your innocence b) your divinity or c) your lack thereof (of either a or b).
No queries that begin like this: "Daer Agent. My book, is grate." There are several things wrong with this sentence, not the least of which is the subtle reference to actions-that-cut-cheese. Check your spelling and grammar. Then check it again -- and again.
No queries that compare your book to a) The Da Vinci Code, b) The Lovely Bones, c) The Five People You Meet In Heaven or d) The Purpose Driven Life. These are heinous, atrocious and unforgivable comparisons. If you must do this, please save us both the time and postage, cut up your query letter into bite size pieces and eat it.
No queries that mention your first novel, "published by PublishAmerica, iUniverse or Xlibris" -- UNLESS you have a) sold more than 5,000 copies and b) sold this number of copies to readers other than those that share your last name, maiden name or zip code. There is no sin in self-publishing your book, none whatsoever, and I know fantastic success stories to prove that. But there is something absurd in your assuming that I, as an agent, can't tell the difference between a book published by Random House, and a book published by, uh, oh yeah, yourself.
No emails that ask me if I accept emails. Please. This kind of nonsense makes me want to gouge my eyes out with a letter opener, and methinks it would be very hard to read your manuscript after that scene, no?
No queries that come in the cutesy form of brochures, holiday cards or Goodyear blimps. I'm not a pigeon and am not generally distracted by shiny objects.
No handwritten queries. Unprofessionalism of this order makes me wonder why we ever outlawed spanking in public schools and universities.
No queries that imply your protagonist will harm me if I reject you. Color me neurotic, but personal threats that come from strangers are... eh, not so funny. Especially if the culprit is, oh right, a fictional character.
And finally, no queries that enclose 500 pages. This is the literary equivalent of handing your date a swimming pool full of vodka when they've asked only for a can of diet soda.
Thank you, Book Biz Santa. Here's to great books finding great homes, and best wishes for a happy holiday season!
An Associate Agent at a major literary agency with what appears to be too much time on his hands.
P.S. No cold calling.