Anatomy of a Bad Query Letter: When a Good Idea Gets Buried and Good Intentions Go Wrong

Agent Nathan Bransford has his “Anatomy of a Great Query Letter” posts.  So, on my blog, for educational purposes only, I present “Anatomy of a Bad Query Letter” (Part 1).

Obviously, I’ve changed names and places to protect this writer.

Check out the original letter and then I’ll dissect it below…

—————–

Awesome Writer
123 Main St.
Address

Date, Year

Dear Agent,

I am seeking representation to market a collection of my original short stories, entitled XXXX. My goal is publication to a mass audience, not only to English-speaking readers, but globally, to have translations of my work available in several languages.

I hold a Bachelor of Arts degree in Environmental Studies from the University of XXXX. I wrote my first story in January 2006, and I have since begun to also write a body of poetry. My short stories are science-fiction adventures with an ecological angle.  Teenagers and young adults comprise my target audience. In a perfect world, I feel I could best get my message across in a television series adapted from the stories. That would be my long-range goal. However, unlike current popular TV programs and films of intergalactic warfare, my work stresses the interconnectedness of all life and the sacredness of Earth’s wilderness.

Publication in New Age and ecological magazines would be a logical first step for me. With the collection of I am submitting here, I welcome your input. What follows here is what I could see as possible back cover endorsements/promotions of the collection:

– “Awesome Writer’s collection of stories has a more than sufficient number of surprises and compelling plot twists to engage the 12-25 set, with a skillful juxtaposition of science- fiction and spirituality.”

– “XXXX demonstrates the discerning and thoughtful intelligence of an author who personally survived a traumatic childhood event, and then spent nearly ten years as a teen and young adult on a spiritual healing quest. Write rshares this learning and experience in an authentic way, through his delightful characters, both human and alien.”

– “XXXX crosses a frontier familiar to many teen and young adults in the science- fiction/magic adventure genre, but differentiates itself in a message of hope for humanity and the planet, without preaching. The stories evoke the Arthurian legends in their mysticism and magic, but instead of knights, wizards and kings, benevolent aliens team up with humans. These stories could possibly become as loved by the new generation of youth as the film E.T. was thirty years ago.”

Thanks in advance for your time and consideration.

Sincerely yours,

Awesome Writer
E-mail:
awesomewriter@yahoo.net

—————-

OK, here we go…

I am seeking representation to market a collection of my original short stories, entitled XXXXI like the straightforward approach to begin, but note how your collection is “titled,” not “entitled.” My goal is publication to a mass audience, not only to English-speaking readers, but globally, to have translations of my work available in several languages. This is what another blogged called “Thinking Too Far Ahead Syndrome” (TTFAS).  Stick to pitching your work.

I hold a Bachelor of Arts degree in Environmental Studies from the University of XXXX. I wrote my first story in January 2006, and I have since begun to also write a body of poetry.  Awesome!!  Wait – why does this matter?  My short stories are science-fiction adventures with an ecological angle.  Teenagers and young adults comprise my target audience. Kind of cool.  Will voracious YA readers gobble up a short story collection?  They just might, but this cool note is not expounded and buried in mistakes.  Pity.  In a perfect world, I feel I could best get my message across in a television series adapted from the stories. That would be my long-range goal. Way too much TTFAS!  However, unlike current popular TV programs and films of intergalactic warfare, my work stresses the interconnectedness of all life and the sacredness of Earth’s wilderness.

Publication in New Age and ecological magazines would be a logical first step for me. Probably – so go do it!  With the collection of I am submitting here, I welcome your input. Input as to what?  How to begin?  An agent wants to sell your work and make money, not give you career advice for free.  What follows here is what I could see as possible back cover endorsements/promotions of the collection:  This doesn’t bode well…

– “Awesome Writer’s collection of stories has a more than sufficient number of surprises and compelling plot twists to engage the 12-25 set, with a skillful juxtaposition of science- fiction and spirituality.”

– “XXXX demonstrates the discerning and thoughtful intelligence of an author who personally survived a traumatic childhood event, and then spent nearly ten years as a teen and young adult on a spiritual healing quest. Writer shares this learning and experience in an authentic way, through his delightful characters, both human and alien.”

– “XXXX crosses a frontier familiar to many teen and young adults in the science- fiction/magic adventure genre, but differentiates itself in a message of hope for humanity and the planet, without preaching. The stories evoke the Arthurian legends in their mysticism and magic, but instead of knights, wizards and kings, benevolent aliens team up with humans. These stories could possibly become as loved by the new generation of youth as the film E.T. was thirty years ago.”

Ohhh-kay.  I get the gist.  Maybe this is a unique take on the pitch, as you want to “pitch through blurbs,” but it doesn’t work.  Conjuring up fake praise comes off as not only amateurish, but a bit egotistical.  Meanwhile, the cool idea of sci-fi short stories for teenagers is never explained well, even to the point where the interconnecting themes are not identified.

Furthermore, agents will usually not pick up a short story collection from a new writer.  The best way to get such a collection published is to write novels, gather a readership, and then publish it.  If you are an amateur and want to get them sold, I highly suggest getting some awards and honors for a few of them.

Thanks in advance for your time and consideration.

Sincerely yours,

What about just “sincerely”?  Isn’t that good enough anymore?  I’ve seen “sincerely yours” a lot recently.  This sounds kinda flirty … maybe it’s just me.

 

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7 thoughts on “Anatomy of a Bad Query Letter: When a Good Idea Gets Buried and Good Intentions Go Wrong

  1. Kathryn Lang

    If the salutation included a winking emoticon THEN it would be flirting. 😉

    Thanks for reminding me that I have to know the focus of my writing to be able to pitch the focus that that I should focus on that focus!

  2. Mr. Ignatius Morales

    Chuck (if I may),

    Thank you for the reply. Like I said, I’ve been a lawyer for over 25 years, so that means I’m advanced in age. I have trouble seeing at times. While my eyes might be going out on me, I still can make good arguments. (I just settled my seventh case for this year, so that ain’t half bad, right?)

    Hope you see my point.

    Perhaps you’re a young whipper snapper?

    Respectfully yours,
    Mr. Ignatius Morales

  3. Mr. Ignatius Morales

    I don’t really understand why N. Bransford made a point to criticize the "sincerely yours." That’s ridiculous. I get the other points he made about the inherent problems in the above pitch, but I am surprised that Mr. Bransford doesn’t realize that "sincerely yours" is a formal way of signing off, particularly if you’ve never met the person. I have been an attorney for nearly 25 years and have always, always used "sincerely yours" on formal letters to clients, judges, and other attorneys. Maybe Mr. Brandsford is just a young whipper-snapper and doesn’t know that "sincerely yours" is anything BUT new.

    -Ignatius Morales, Attorney at Law
    New Orleans, AL

  4. :Donna

    …I found this query obnoxious and virtually useless. As an agent or editor, there’s no way I’d be interested in this author. And — you didn’t even mention all the typos! Sloppy work. Excellent example of what NOT to do! Thanks 🙂

  5. Beth Fehlbaum

    What a cool site you have! If it was around when I was submitting query letters, I’m sorry I missed it. "How to write a query letter" is the #1 question I am asked by people wanting to know how to break into the publishing business. I look forward to referring those inquiring minds to your site, in the future.
    Beth Fehlbaum, author
    Courage in Patience, a story of hope for those who have endured abuse
    http://courageinpatience.blogspot.com
    Chapter One is online!

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