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Anne R. Allen's Blog


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Anne writes funny mysteries and how-to-books for writers. She also writes poetry and short stories on occasion. Oh, yes, and she blogs. She's a contributor to Writer's Digest and the Novel and Short Story Writer's Market for 2016. 

Her bestselling Camilla Randall Mystery Series features perennially down-on-her-luck former socialite Camilla Randall—who is a magnet for murder, mayhem and Mr. Wrong, but always solves the mystery in her quirky, but oh-so-polite way.

Anne lives on the Central Coast of California, near San Luis Obispo, the town Oprah called "The Happiest City in America."

Anne blogs at Anne R. Allen's Blog...with Ruth Harris 
and at Anne R. Allen's Books

Saturday, August 22, 2009


The biggest mistake beginning novelists make is writing queries that sound as if they were written by—um—beginning novelists. I was cleaning out my files recently and found some seriously cringe-making queries I sent out a decade ago. I didn’t make all of the following mistakes, but I have to admit to several.

Here are some surefire rejection-getters:

1) WHINING and/or PARANOIA: It’s not a good idea to mention you’ve had over a thousand rejections and you’re thinking of taking the Sylvia Plath way out. Writers tend to be suicidal. This is not news. And don’t blabber about copyrights and pilfer-proofing your intellectual property. There are no new ideas; just new ways of writing them.

2) GETTING CHUMMY. It’s a business letter. Don’t cozy up with personal asides about the unfairness of the publishing industry, the health care debate, or the coming Rapture.

3) VERBOSITY: A query should be one page—under 500 words.

4) TOO MUCH INFORMATION: No matter what you’ve heard about “platforms,” most agents say they don’t care about a novelist’s hobbies or what we do for bucks—except stuff specifically related to the book. If your heroine works at a magazine edited by Beelzebub in Italian shoes, yes, do mention you’ve done time at Vogue, but keep to yourself how many years you’ve been a greeter at WalMart.

5) IRRELEVANT PUBLISHING CREDITS: I see this complaint on lots of agent blogs. They don’t want to know about your PhD dissertation on Quattrocento Tuscan pottery, or your Hint from Heloise on uses for dryer lint. When giving “publishing credits,” cite only fiction or creative nonfiction, plus articles specifically related to the novel’s subject matter—e.g. if your novel is about death by snack cake overdose, do mention your paper for The Lancet on the toxic properties of Twinkies.

6) EXTRANEOUS KUDOS: It’s OK to say you were second runner-up for the “Best Paranormal-Chick Lit-Police Procedural” award at the RWA conference, but don’t mention that a judge told you later over martinis that if they’d given an award for “best vampire-werewolf sex scene,” you would have won.

7) OMIT VITAL INFORMATION: Your first paragraph should give the book’s title, genre and word count. A great hook helps, but it’s gotta be attached to something.

8) GIMMICKS: No matter what your marketing friends tell you, don’t make your query into a jigsaw puzzle; include a pair of Barbie shoes with your SASE; or send the query by registered mail. Ditto printing your query with pink ink in the Curlz font or sending it in a black envelope shaped like a bat. This WILL get you noticed, but not in a good way.

9) CALL YOURSELF A NOVELIST IF YOU HAVEN’T PUBLISHED A NOVEL WITH A LEGITIMATE PRESS. Self-publishing isn’t considered publishing unless you’ve sold thousands of copies. Remember: pretentiousness invites ridicule.

10) CALL IT A “FICTION NOVEL.” This sets off immediate nitwit-detector alarms. All novels are fiction.

11) QUERY AN UNFINISHED PROJECT. If you don’t have an ending yet, you’re probably a year away from thinking about representation. Don’t send a query on a novel that isn’t finished, critiqued, polished, edited, and proofread.

12) MASS QUERY EVERY AGENT IN THE BUSINESS. Nobody will read past a generic “dear agent,” even if you’ve been smart enough to blind copy your mass mailing. Address each agent personally, and indicate why you’ve chosen her.

13) QUERY MORE THAN ONE BOOK AT ONCE. So you’ve got inventory. Most of us do. But don’t present all twelve unpublished novels and ask an agent to choose. Pick one. It’s OK to mention other titles in the final paragraph, especially if they’re part of a series, but hold to one pitch.

The ideal query letter contains four paragraphs: 1) Title, genre, and word count, plus a logline with an irresistible hook. 2) A brilliant, heart-stopping, three-sentence synopsis. 3) A one sentence bio with relevant awards and credits. 4) A nice thank you, mentioning why you chose to contact this particular agent.



Blogger ~Aimee States said...

That about sums it up. Nice blog.

August 22, 2009 at 10:47 AM  
Blogger PV Lundqvist said...

All good advice. I have to admit I've omitted genre in my letters.

Do you think word count, or page count, is a better tidbit to include?

August 22, 2009 at 10:57 AM  
Anonymous Kristine said...

I'm a non-fiction writer but the advice here still stands--this is an excellent post! Good work and thanks!

August 23, 2009 at 11:47 AM  
Blogger Catherine Ryan Hyde said...

Excellent post, as always, Anne.

I agree about pretentiousness, and might even take it one step further. You have no idea how many queries I've seen that label the work, "exciting," "beautifully written," "impossible to put down," or, my personal favorite, "a sure-fire bestseller." (Right, that exists. That's why editors never make mistakes.)

My rule of thumb: Avoid any statement that would invite the agent/editor to think, "I'll be the judge of that."

August 23, 2009 at 5:36 PM  
Blogger christineA said...

So, letters to the editor don't count? Darn, got lots of those. Thanks for the great advice, as usual!

August 24, 2009 at 12:46 PM  
Anonymous Rrrandy Wurst said...

Dear AnneAllen,
As helpful as your 13 Query letter "don'ts" post is, I must take issue with #2. Why shouldn't I get chummy and personal in letters to agents? They are either going to accept or reject me and my heartfelt works, which will feel very personal. I have written thousands of chummy query letters and have thousands of rejections to prove it.
Yours very personally,
Rrrandy Wurst

August 24, 2009 at 5:37 PM  
Blogger Chester said...

Well said, Miss Allen.
At this very moment the editors of the world are all praying that authors read this post & follow it to the letter.

August 24, 2009 at 6:15 PM  
Blogger Dorothy Ann Segovia said...

Hey! Some of these tips are great for resumes....#5. Great advice & great read. Thanks.

August 26, 2009 at 7:41 AM  
Blogger Laura Martone said...

Thanks, Anne. This is a wonderfully helpful list of query no-nos. Although I'm not ready to query in earnest yet, I will definitely return to this post when I am!

August 29, 2009 at 11:53 PM  
Anonymous Terry Heath said...

Thank you. There was enough info here to sufficiently make me neurotic when I do get around to finishing my novel and writing a query. Thanks to you, I now know not to reverse that order (sans getting neurotic about such things).

August 30, 2009 at 9:36 AM  
Anonymous Minka Gantenbein said...

These guidelines you have written are genuinely helpful. Thank you for sharing them. I am in the process of preparing to submit my first novel to a literary agency, and these details are important to know. Your ending statement regarding the key aspects of an ideal query letter are especially valuable to those of us who are new to the industry. I plan to follow these guidelines closely when I'm ready to write my first query.

September 3, 2009 at 9:44 AM  

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