Query Quagmire

We regret to inform you that your book does not meet our current editorial needs or direction... bitch

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Dear Executive,

My name is [name] I am the marketing manager for [author name] and I am seeking a literacy agent and publisher to represent her, the spiritual inspirational self-help author who wrote [book title]. The author comes from the school of hard knocks, the streets. She has the Zeal, Zest and Zealous attitude of making it as a writer. She experience things she believed before her time. She can relate to the pain and hurt you may have gone through in your life wanting to be loved by someone. Now she’s writing about relationships adding a little lemony twist to it. You can call her by her short name [nickname] whose coming right back at cha with “[book title]”. She (the author) still keeps it real, simple and plan not sugar coating her words but writing with a sincere heart to help you to know how to value a relationship, when to get out of one, how to save the relationship you’re into if that’s what you desire and how to walk away or work at the relationship you’re in. This book is going to give you the direction to get to where you want to be in a relationship.

It’s a sign I’m getting old that a query letter just makes me feel too sorry for the author to muster up any snark.

Filed under query letter slush pile publishing

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tropesarenotbad asked: I'm backreading your blog and am going to add yet another praise message for writing about gender neutral pronouns. I'm writing a novel where the MC is non binary, and a friend of mine made up a set of pronouns for xyr character. Both of us have gotten a ton of flack for "making things too complicated" and it's so, so reassuring to hear somebody in the industry say "we need more of this". I hope my (future) editor is as nice as you are.

Here is the post tropesarenotbad​ is referring to.

First of all, this might be the first time someone has referred to me as a “nice” editor in comparison to my peers. Stop that right now.

Second of all, I’m honored by your note. What was said to you and your friend was very hurtful and rude and I’m sorry that happened to you. I hope you were able to at least impart a little knowledge to those ignorant people. 

I consider educating myself about the trans community and the issues they face to be part of my membership dues for the Society of Decent Human Beings. Whenever possible, I try to reflect this knowledge in my work, but I’ll be the first to admit that the publishing industry has a long way to go where LGBT diversity is concerned.


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Printed on the back of a homemade, stamped postcard:

My website is [author website] and it can be googled at “[author name, job title]”. I am looking for a long term writing relationship with your firm. I can write about anything, and have experience in true-crime and non-fiction. Please fill out and mail this postcard. I will contact you so we may discuss a possible mutually beneficial writing relationship. Thank you. 

[fields for name and contact information]

Ah yes. The ole’ “mail them a postcard they have to fill out and return to me” query letter! This is a new and exciting twist, though. Because now I’m honestly curious as to why he needs my name and contact information if he already had it and used it to send this to me in the first place.

Filed under query letter slush pile

9 notes

Well, heck, I thought the [topic of book] thing would have been a good fit, especially for [publishing house]. I’ll try it somewhere else. BUT, now that I have you, let me pitch another ms, one you might find more appropriate (?) [proceeds to pitch a book even less appropriate for my list]

You don’t get to respond to my rejection letter with another query letter. That’s not how this works.

Filed under slush pile query letter

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"The book looks absolutely terrific—you guys have done a fabulous job on it and I’m in your debt. Please thank everyone for me. Now we await the mad scramble for movie rights!"

My authors are so funny. Movie rights. Hah!

He sent this note after receiving the first copy of his new book, hot off the press.

Filed under authors queryquagmire

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I hate to break it to you, but including nine “alternate title possibilities” in your query letter is the opposite of helpful. Now I have to pick which one to include in your rejection letter… which I’m sending to you because you are clearly indecisive and desperate. Just so we’re clear.

Filed under query letter slush pile

15 notes

My summation of this work is that it is a discussion of religion, an examination of Christianity in all forms, and a consideration of the various aspects of prayer, faith, miracles, faith healing, morality, heaven, hell, monotheism, henotheism, Biblical immoralities, Biblical impossibilities, man-made aspects of religion, Biblical history, prophecy, science and religion, faith and reality, etc. 

I can’t even fathom what that “etc.” could possibly stand for at this point.

Filed under slush pile query letter

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Anonymous asked: I'm not sure if you can answer this, I check your archives and there isn't anything about children's publishing, but I thought I'd ask... I've sent out queries (with attached manuscripts because they're picture books) and gotten inconsistent responses. Some are personalized answers, which are great, and some are form, but they never give the same criticism. Is there a formula I'm missing? Or am I just that off the mark with what I'm trying to put out there?

Thanks for checking the archives before asking. Indeed, I’m not a children’s book editor so this is not my area of expertise. But I can give you my general impression with this kind of inconsistency in rejection letters.

Sometimes a project is just on the cusp of what I’m looking for. It’s pretty good, but I can’t quite put my Cheez-It dusted finger on what it is about it that isn’t working for me. So I use intentionally vague language to both encourage the author and make it clear that the project needs to be improved. Sorry authors, but it’s the truth. Sometimes I just don’t have time to meditate on what’s exactly wrong with a manuscript. So I have to come up with something that sounds plausible and move on.

I’m now predicting hate mail for this answer (BRING IT, FUCKERS), but I’ve always had a policy of brutal, unpleasant honesty here at Query Quagmire and I’m not about to stop now. So there it is: sometimes editors and agents come up with vague or inconsistent reasons for rejecting you because we can’t think of a better way to say your manuscript needs work. 


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Anonymous asked: Oh, great QQ, I leave a box (warehouse club sized!) of Cheez-It's by your door in the hope that you will answer my question. I'm about to start querying my novel and the only (fiction) writing credit I have is a win in a local short story contest sponsored by the county library system. Now, this system is in a large metro area so not rural or tiny, but still the "notoriety" is very small when compared to lit mags, etc. Is such a win even worth mentioning in a query, or should I leave it out?

Say it with me now:

Any publishing or writing credit counts in your query letter.

And don’t get so down on your short story contest win! Be proud of your bad self!


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Anonymous asked: If an agent is kind enough to send to a very sweet personalized rejection letter--one which holds within it the tiniest, meagerest little line which might possibly be construed as concrit, or at least a hint as to why you're not quite there yet--is it horribly rude and/or uncouth to ask them if it's at all possible that they might be able to elaborate a little? It would be wonderful to know a true professional's thoughts on my flaws, but I understand that they just Don't Have Time (Or Drive).



You’ve got two forces working against you here:

  1. They Just Don’t Have Time
  2. They have already given you more feedback and consideration than they give 98% of writers who query them. 

So don’t push your luck/look a gift horse in the mouth/take advantage of their kindness. If it were me, and someone responded (even very sweetly) to my Helpful Personalized Rejection Letter with a request for more feedback, it would make me less likely to write Helpful Personalized Rejection Letters from then on. Because while I have time for the very occasional HPRL, I definitely do not have time to elaborate upon them, and by the time an author is reading my HPRL, I’ve already cleared mental space for the next manuscript I need to evaluate.

So thank them for their consideration and look elsewhere for further constructive criticism. If they had the time to elaborate, they would’ve done so in your rejection letter.


Chiming in as an agent to say that QQ is absolutely correct. Whenever I get emails like that (which does not happen too often but is still frequent enough to be an annoyance), I just delete them.

See? The last thing you want to do is annoy an agent to the point where they just delete your email. Take what feedback you’ve been given so far and move on.

13 notes

jackierandall asked: I'm just playing with an idea with historical fiction. Is it ok if the protagonist dies at the end of the book? She does in real life.

If one were writing historical fiction based on the life and times of Joan of Arc, it would be a little silly if she lived a long and happy post-war life, surrounded by fat grandbabies and enjoying the comforts of her dotage rather than getting burned at the stake, wouldn’t it?

It’s always ok for your protagonist to die, especially if they’re a historical figure and you’re sticking to historical fact. Any editor/agent who bans the deaths of protagonists is probably just a recovering Joss Whedon fan and should be ignored.