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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

Sunday, April 19, 2015

How to Guarantee Rejection: Top 10 Ways Writers Self-Reject when Querying Bloggers, Editors, and Agents

by Anne R. Allen

Having a popular blog has helped me feel a lot of empathy with agents and publishers. That's because Ruth and I get a ton of queries, too.

Most of ours are from authors or publicists who want a blog tour promotion, guest blog spot, or a book review. Some want us to give critiques or edit their work. We also hear from people who want us to advertise products, websites and software or display their infographics.

And there's that guy from Grammarly who writes to me regularly to tell me I could be a successful writer if I just learned a little grammar. And the blog "gurus" who want us to pay money to get readers for our pathetic little blog.

Thing is: we don't do blog tours or book reviews or editing. We also don't provide advertising, free or otherwise. And strangely enough, we're not eager to do business with people who insult us.

These are what I call self-rejecting queries.

It does no good to ask somebody for something they do not provide.

It's like going to a pet store when you want to buy a computer mouse: you're setting yourself up for disappointment.

And making yourself look pretty silly.

Here's the most important thing to remember: publishing is a business. As is all Internet commerce.

A query is a job interview. Give it 100% or don't do it. Picture the real person behind the company, blog, or agency you're querying, and talk about what's of interest to them.

Whoever is reading the query is looking for a reason to reject you so they can move quickly through the inbox. Don't give them one.

Do a little homework, be respectful, and you can avoid most of these pitfalls. We were all newbies once, and some of these are typical newbie mistakes. But if you educate yourself and practice empathy, you can avoid them.

Top Ten Ways to Write Self-Rejecting Queries

10) Send a query via anything but email (or snail, in some more conservative pockets of the world.)

Do not send a Twitter or FB DM or @message pitching your book to agents, editors, bloggers or readers. Unless it's in a specific Twitter challenge set up by an agency or blog.

Twitter events like March 11th's #Pitmad Twitter query session are an exception, but make sure you stay within the time period and follow the rules to the letter. And don't send the Tweet via Direct Message. Send it in a regular Tweet.

DMs are intimate and come across as disrespectful if you don't have a prior relationship. I talked about that last month in my post on How NOT to Sell Books.

Book bloggers are especially annoyed by tweeted queries. Book review blogs are hard work, and the reviewers deserve the respect due to any other professional.

Disrespectful queries self-reject.

9) Skip the Proofreading

The e-query is a great boon to authors. No more double envelopes and return postage and trips to the Post Office with those expensive manuscript boxes.

But the e-age can lull us into a false sense of informality. An e-query is just as formal and official as a paper query and needs to be composed with just as much care.

Remember to watch out for your headers. I remember working for weeks on a query and then sending it off to my potential dream agent with a whopping typo in the header (misspelling my own title.)

Rejection came within minutes. Yup. I'd self-rejected.

8) Advertise your failures

Agent Alex Glass reminds authors to "Avoid a sentence such as 'This is my third (or fourth, or fifth, or sixth) unpublished novel, so I am clearly very dedicated and hardworking'…"

No: you've clearly failed a lot.

Everybody fails—that's how we learn. But we need to keep the failures quiet in a query.

I feel the same if somebody queries me saying: "Nobody is buying my books so you have to help me by giving me a guest spot."

My first thought is going to be that maybe your books aren't selling because they're as unprofessional as your query. If so, you will lose us subscribers and reduce our stats.

We always get fewer hits on guest blogposts. I don't know why, but I think it's like the substitute teacher syndrome. People come here expecting stuff from Ruth and me and when they get a substitute, no matter how great, they seem to feel disappointed. So a guest spot is something of a gift. We have to choose guests very carefully. Regular commenters on the blog get priority.

Writers who tell us they are no good at drawing an audience are rejecting themselves.

7) Verbosity

A query should be one page. At most. Anything more is a glaring advertisement of your lack of self-editing skills.

The query is your vehicle. Make sure it's streamlined and modern looking. This means it's short, hooky, and has lots of white space. Would you hire a car mechanic who showed up in a clunker bellowing smoke?

Most agents these days want a synopsis that is one page as well. They want it to read like book jacket copy—only with the ending included. Anything else is old fashioned and gets skipped. Don't write a long synopsis unless it's specifically requested. Here's my post on how to write a synopsis. And here's a great one from Jane Friedman.

Yes, I know you've taken all those creative writing classes that tell you it's all about your talent and passion and descriptive writing ability.

But a query uses a different kind of writing skills—skills you're going to need whether you publish traditionally or not. Every author needs to know how to write good blurbs, hooks, and product descriptions these days.

Learn those skills before you query.

And if you want a guest blogspot, show you have the writing chops to carry it off. If you write one big hunk of text in your query, you show you don't get 21st century writing.

Thus auto-rejecting yourself.

6) Forget the hook

It doesn't matter if you're querying a newbie blogger asking for a review or pitching your screenplay to Steven Spielberg, you always need a HOOK. Make what you have on offer enticing.

A simple formula for a novel hook is "When X happens, X must do X to X/otherwise X happens". It's a one or two sentence overview of the plot that needs to be dynamic and show what's at stake. For a more literary work, you might want to state the theme or setting and whatever makes it unique.

For a blogpost or nonfiction book, the hook only needs to answer the questions: why this book/post? Why now? Why you?

I wish I'd kept the query the Canadian "queen of comedy" Melodie Campbell sent asking to guest post two years ago. It had me laughing out loud. She pitched a post on how to write humor with humor. She had me hooked in two lines.

Yes, I know it's hard. But we all need to work on our skills as "hookers".  Here's a good simple piece on writing a hook from agent Natalie Lakosil of the Bradford Literary Agency.

5) Lie 

Don't tell me you read my blog regularly and then say you know how much I like to review Bigfoot erotica. It's an auto-delete.

Agents feel the same way. Don't say "I met you at the Southeast Montana Paranormal Romance Writers Conference-and-Gun Show" if you weren't there.  Maybe the agent was scheduled but cancelled at the last minute. Maybe there were only four people in her workshop.

And if you say "I love your client's work," at least read the "look inside" of a few of the titles.  If you say "I see you rep Zorian Q. Weatherbottom, so I know you'll love my work" make sure you know what Zorian Q. Weatherbottom writes.

If it turns out  Mr. Weatherbottom writes Christian end-times thrillers, you've just self-rejected your steamy vampire/werewolf M/M romance.

4) Act arrogant

You want to sell your story or blogpost, not brag about yourself.

I don't get very far into a query that starts with "I'm a bigshot. Here are all the fabulous things I've done…" and then goes on for paragraph after paragraph of "I'm so special".  I don't care if you're Shonda Rhimes. If you don't tell me why you've contacted me and what you have on offer, I'm going to delete.

And here's a secret: people who really are bigshots do not have to tell people who they are.  When Anne Rice contacted me to talk about cyberbullying, her name in the address was more than enough to make me ignore everything else in the inbox and jump to open it.

And even if you're not that famous, just one or two major achievements are much more impressive than three pages listing every prize you've won since you got the trophy for good penmanship in third grade. That "lady doth protest too much" thing kicks in sooner than you think.

Here's how agent Shira Hoffman put it:

"I dislike it when a query letter focuses too much on the author’s bio and doesn’t tell me what the book is about. Make sure you include essential story details."

3) Don't bother to do your research

Agents say the number one reason for rejections is that most writers query them with books in genres they do not represent.

Reviewers say the number one reason for rejections is that most authors query them with books in genres they don't review.

Our number one reason for rejections is that most writers query us with posts on non-writing-related subjects.

See a pattern here?

I realize everybody starts as a beginner. I don't mean to make fun of novices.

But anybody can visit a website or blog. And read it. It's not hard. It just means taking the time to be polite.

And not look like a doofus.

You'll also want to learn about the industry you want to join. The best way to get general info about publishing is is read a few current books on the industry, like, ahem, HOW TO BE A WRITER IN THE E-AGE (get it cheap below.)

If you want an agent, then read agent blogs, especially in your genre. The #AskAgent hashtag on Twitter is also a great resource for up-to-date agent info.

There are three fantastic websites for agent-seekers that are must-reads: AgentQuery.com, QueryTracker.net, and QueryShark. If you write YA, check Literary Rambles, too.

AgentQuery.com has a searchable database. You can go there and put in the genre you write and choose the agents who are open to queries.

But don't stop there. Visit the agent's website. If the agent says "I don't rep paranormal romance or Young Adult," believe her.  Even though she may have sold the genre three years ago and several of her clients write in that genre, it's counterproductive to send her your teen vampire romance now. She is not going to be so blown away by your brilliance that she's going to "make an exception."

If she says she doesn't rep that genre, she means she doesn't know any editors who are buying that genre right now. She probably can't even sell the books of her existing clients who write in that genre. Genres have fashions, and what's hot one month can be untouchable the next.  Even if you have the storytelling skills of J.K. Rowling, that agent will not be able to sell your book..

People who query asking me to review a book—no matter the genre—are just wasting their time and mine. This is not a book review blog. It's not what we do. A quick glance around tells you that and it's clearly stated on our CONTACT US page.

These things happen because the queryiers think their time is more valuable than the person they are querying, so they don't bother to research. Not a good way to start a business relationship.

2) Ignore guidelines

NEVER ever query an agent or publisher or blogger without reading the guidelines—the ones on their actual current website, not in a library copy of some book on agents from 10 years ago.

Oh yeah, and then you have to FOLLOW the guidelines. I don't know how many times I have heard authors say "this agent says she wants a one-page synopsis, double spaced, but I have a book (published in 1987) that says a synopsis should be at least 7 pages, so that's what I sent."

You just self-rejected.

I don't care if the agent says she wants the synopsis written in Sanskrit. Just go to Google Translate and do it.

If you don't like her guidelines, don't query her. But otherwise, you're only wasting electrons.

1) Amateurish antics

If you query in the voice of your character, write a synopsis from the point of view of her cat, or handwrite your query on a heart-shaped piece of pink watered silk, you will get noticed, but not in a good way.

Even if your antics are wildly clever, this is like wearing an evening gown to a job interview. You are advertising yourself as an amateur who doesn't know how things are done in the business.

Listen to the agents:

"Queries are business letters. Agenting is business. Publishing is business. I try to be nice and friendly and funny and all, but the bottom line is that I expect those with whom I work to be professional and take what they’re doing seriously.
—Linda Epstein (Jennifer De Chiara Literary)"

"Treat [a] query as a job interview. Be professional. Be concise.
—Nicole Resciniti (The Seymour Agency)

Most writers (and a lot of Internet marketers) overestimate the value of raw "talent". If you're a clueless amateur, an egotist, or a pain in the patoot, nobody will want to work with you even if you have the talent of Shakespeare, Dickens, and Jane Austen all rolled into one.

So don't reject yourself before you even hit "send." Learn to write a professional query, whether it's to an agent, an editor, or a lowly blogger like me. Show respect. It opens an amazing number of doors.

For more great quotes from agents about queries, check out Chuck Sambuchino's blogpost Literary Agents Sound Off.

And for a comprehensive survey of what agents don't want to see in queries, read J.M. Tohline's 2010 blogpost The Biggest Mistakes Authors Make in Querying Agents.

For more on queries, here's Nathan Bransford's classic post on how to write a query.

How about you, Scriveners? What mistakes did you make when you were first querying? As bloggers, do you get outrageously inappropriate queries? What's the worst query you ever saw?


It goes up to $3.99 on April 23rd
It's only on sale in the US and the UK, alas. 
(The Zon's policy, not ours.) 

by Anne R. Allen and #1 bestseller Catherine Ryan Hyde

Not just for indies, and not just for authors going the traditional route. This is the book that helps you choose what path is right for YOU.

Plus there's lots of insider information on using social media and dealing with critiques, bullies, trolls, and rejection.


Golden Quill Awards Writing Contest: Flash, Poetry, and Short fiction categories. Entry fee $20 for stories and poetry, $15 for flash fiction. The theme is TRANSFORMATION. Deadline July 15.

MARK TWAIN HUMOR CONTEST  Entry fees: $12 Young Author or $22 Adult. 7,000 words (or fewer) of any original work of humor writing. Submissions must be in English. Submissions are not required to be in the style of Mark Twain or about Mark Twain. 1st Prize: $1,000 (Adult), $600 (Young Author). Other cash prizes! Deadline July 10, 2015

Saturday Evening Post Great American Fiction Contest. Entry fee $10. Your story should in some way touch upon the publication’s mission: Celebrating America — past, present, and future. Think Norman Rockwell. No profanity or graphic sex. Any genre. No previously published stories, but they can have appeared on your blog. Between 1,500 and 5,000 words. Deadline July 1, 2015

Writer's Village International Short Fiction Contest Prizes totalling $3200! And every entrant gets a critique. (which makes this a great deal.) Any genre of fiction up to 3000 words. Entry fee $24. Deadline June 30th.

PULP LITERATURE'S The Hummingbird Prize for Flash Fiction $10-$15 ENTRY FEE. Winner published in Winter 2016. First Prize: $300 (Runner up: $75). For unpublished short fiction up to 1,000 words in length. Contest Opens May 1, 2015 and closes June 15, 2015.

Ink & Insights 2015
 is a writing contest that comes with a detailed critique. Send the first 10,000-words of your book. The entry fee is $35: pricey for a contest, but a fantastic deal for a critique. Each submission is read by four judges who score 18 areas of your novel. This looks like a great opportunity! Over $5,000 cash and prizesDeadline May 31.

WOW Spring Flash Fiction Contest: Fee $10, or $20 with critique. The critique is a fantastic deal. These quarterly contests are judged by an agent. 750 words.  First prize is $350 plus a $500 publishing package, publication and an interview. 20 prizes in all. Enter early. They only take the first 300 entries. Deadline May 31.

Writer's Digest Writing Compeition. This is their biggie. First prize is $5000 plus your photo on the cover of Writer's Digest. Entry fees are a little pricey at $25 for a story, $15 for a poem but there are lots of big prizes. Categories for many genres of fiction, Creative nonfic, essays, screenplays, and poetry. Early Bird deadline May 4th.

The Vestal Review is looking for FLASH FICTION. Submissions are accepted February-May for the Vestal Review, the oldest journal devoted exclusively to flash fiction. 500 words or less. Humor is a plus. Pays $$ plus copies.

WE NEED DIVERSE BOOKS SHORT STORY CONTEST NO FEE! Open to emerging diverse writers from all diverse backgrounds (including, but not limited to, LGBT, people of color, people with disabilities, and ethnic, cultural and religious minorities) who have not been published in BOOK format in any genre. The winner receives US $1,000 and publication in the “Stories For All Of Us” anthology to be published by Random House. Opens April 27--Deadline May 8.

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Blogger Carol Hedges said...

really good blog!

April 19, 2015 at 10:07 AM  
Blogger Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

You mean you don't review Bigfoot erotica? Bummer.
I get requests for guest posts and ads as well, so I can only imagine how much more you and Ruth receive. (And thank you so much that you've allowed me to guest on your blog before.)
I learned most of the rules before I started querying, but I probably didn't make my story sound exciting enough. I hadn't mastered the synopsis. Sometimes I still don't think I know how to write one.
Excellent checklist of what not to do!

April 19, 2015 at 10:18 AM  
Blogger Charley Robson said...

Going to print this and stick it on my wall (with your permission, of course). You make everything so simple and concise, I really don't know how you do it, but it's awesome, please never stop.

April 19, 2015 at 10:27 AM  
Blogger BooksAndPals said...

I wholeheartedly agree with every word in this post, Anne, and have refined my process to weed out those who are self-rejecting as quickly as possible. It still takes up way too much of my time. :)

April 19, 2015 at 10:50 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Carol--Thanks! And hey, you beat Alex as our first commenter of the week!

April 19, 2015 at 10:50 AM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Rejection is a tough business but someone's gotta do it. Just shouldn't be YOU. ;-)

Thanks, Anne, for a super post!

April 19, 2015 at 10:52 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Alex--You're always welcome on our blog. You are an uber-blogger! I imagine you probably get the same doofusi querying you as we do.

Synopses are the toughest thing for any writer. And we have to write them all the time--for "product descriptions" and blurbs and promos. All of different lengths. And these days, we have to remember keywords, too.

April 19, 2015 at 10:54 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Charley--Great to see you here! Absolutely. Print it out and spread the word!

April 19, 2015 at 10:55 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Big Al--So great to hear from a major book blog reviewer! It's the time-wasting that gets to me too. Sometimes my whole morning is spent wading through emails from people who want stuff from me, but can't be bothered to read the blog. Thanks for stopping by.

April 19, 2015 at 10:58 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Ruth--That's the thing isn't it? Nobody wants to write rejections. It makes us feel awful. So if people would just do their homework...

April 19, 2015 at 10:59 AM  
Blogger Linda Maye Adams said...

One that didn't get mentioned, specifically for agents, is have your book finished. I ran pitch sessions at about 7 writer's conferences, and we'd always get one writer who had three chapters of a novel completed and would try to pitch it.

Also don't live in fear of typos. There's a difference between a manuscript riddled with grammatical and spelling errors versus a missing word on page 5. Writers tend to think that it's the typo that got them rejected, NOT the story. One editor said that while judging a contest, he rejected based on the first sentences he could read as he pulled it out of the envelope. It's just like when any of us go to the bookstore, open up a book, and glance at the opening.

April 19, 2015 at 11:36 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Linda--This is about queries in general, but yes, for querying agents there are lots of important rules . Finish the book is probably #1 for novels and memoirs. I think people get confused about the rules for nonfic and fiction.

A minor typo won't get you rejected, but if somebody queries me with a blogpost proposal and the've wildly misplaced apostrophes, misspelled words or misused them--I see "amateur" and delete. One or two typos aren't the end of the world, but basic proofreading shows you're not just dashing this off like it doesn't matter.

April 19, 2015 at 12:06 PM  
OpenID writerchick said...

I think a lot of these mistakes come from a fundamental misunderstanding of promotion/marketing in general. You're totally right, this is a business and people who don't conduct themselves professionally will never get anywhere. That whole shotgun approach without any strategy ends up being a lot of wasted energy on both sides. I try not to make these types of mistakes - but I'm sure I have anyway.

My biggest problem is getting the hook right. Still working on that.

And btw Anne, lowly blogger? Puleez you are a blogging goddess. :)

April 19, 2015 at 12:23 PM  
Blogger Wm. L. Hahn said...

Another great post Anne; you set a high bar for the guests you do invite, always between the uprights. {ALEX- she DOES review Bigfoot erotica, but just privately, she never publishes it. So yeah, bummer.}.

I kick of course at not including humor,but fine line is fair enough. I have a high tolerance for sulk, so I can take rejections better than some (the hissy fit I throw in itself is exercise, more than I usually get). One question: it's just come up in my writer's circle that "the latest thing" in queries is actually to give the story in character, in PoV. Still a summary, still short, but to actually show the style instead of the drier description. What say you, is this over the line with your #1?

April 19, 2015 at 12:28 PM  
Blogger Phyllis Humphrey said...

Great advice, Anne, as always. This is another post I'll suggest the newbies in our club don't miss.

April 19, 2015 at 12:32 PM  
Blogger Linda Maye Adams said...

Unfortunately, writers tend to focus on a lone typo as being the cause of the rejection and not a bigger issue like spending three pages of a query to describe the story.

April 19, 2015 at 12:34 PM  
Blogger Maria D'Marco said...

Anne, this is the 3rd blog post on queries I've forwarded to some of my authors in as many months. I know they are read (I get the 'oh this is great' feedback), but...

As an editor, I cringe when query time comes -- and my authors, these folks who have just slashed and slogged through their novel successfully, suddenly freak out.

Your advice is excellent (as always) and to the point. And finally, I can point and shout to my authors: See that? Yes! The synopsis should be ONE page!
[forehead vein throbs]

The only advice I can give to those who squirm against the 1-page 'rule' is to try this:
Instead of writing out your synopsis, tell people about your story. Then, tell more people. Eventually, (usually about at your 3rd cousin once removed) you'll reach a point where you can succinctly relate your story, yet get people to smile and maybe even say they'd like to read it!

Thank you for again reminding writers that being professional is not in the eye of that person in the mirror, but in everyone else's eyes. Plus: Business isn't a bad word and doesn't represent the antithesis of being a creative type.

Grateful for your wisdom - and Ruth's too of course! :D

April 19, 2015 at 1:00 PM  
Blogger CS Perryess said...

Hey Anne,
As usual, great stuff, PLUS I learned that for my next job interview I shouldn't wear my favorite evening gown!

April 19, 2015 at 1:09 PM  
Blogger Eileen Goudge said...

Anne, you've done it again. You had me laughing and cringing at the same time. Oh, boy, did you hit the nail on the head. Funnily enough, I know, from my own experience as a writer, and from two marriages, how right-on this post is. My last husband is a literary agent who gets gazillions of submissions. Per day. If a query was more than one page, it went onto the towering to-be-read-someday-in-a-distant millennium pile. Pitch letters with misspellings and/or bribes (I'll give you my firstborn in you'll represent me) went into the trash. My favorite was the wannabee author who enclosed a diamond pinkie ring with his unpublished, and unpublishable, manuscript. Sorry, dude, it doesn't work that way. Also, hello, a pinkie ring?

My current husband, a TV reporter who covers entertainment, is constantly pitched by book publicists who want him to look at their fiction or non-fiction title, never mind he's stated repeatedly he only does news stories on celebrity bios, as anyone who knows what he does for a living could have guessed.

Me? I once got an ARC with a letter from an editor asking would I be so kind as to read and possibly provide a blurb for said ARC. It wasn't a bad letter, as I recall. Problem was, it was addressed to Anne River Siddons. Enough said.

April 19, 2015 at 1:11 PM  
Blogger Melodie Campbell said...

Anne, so honoured for the mention in this post! Dammit, where is that 'first contact' email I wrote you? Would like to see it myself now, years later .

Such a timely topic. Last week, I got a request from a newby author to guest on my comedy blog, suggesting why it would be a good thing for me, as his violent and grim dystopian YA fantasy was sure to be a hit. I asked if he'd ever been to my blog, or read any of my books. You can imagine the answer to both. Then I kindly suggested that he might be better served by approaching authors who had books like his, of which he actually liked reading. He enthusiastically traipsed off to greener pastures. Hope those 'greener pastures' don't come after me with a pitchfork.

April 19, 2015 at 1:54 PM  
Blogger Jeff Bushman said...

Great post. One day I hope to write a query. I figured I'd start learning now.

April 19, 2015 at 3:40 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Very true Linda. A lone typo is very minor compared with some of these other problems.

April 19, 2015 at 3:43 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Writerchick--I think you're right. People think of mass-marketing instead of hand-selling. Doesn't work for books.

I think we're always working on our hooks. I'm about to redo the product descriptions on a couple of my books. Thanks much! :-)

April 19, 2015 at 3:45 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Wm--I can't speak for newer agents, but traditionally, querying in the voice of a character has been frowned upon. I'd be very careful who I queried with that kind of approach. Maybe it works for YA, where voice can be the #1 thing. Thanks for the heads-up. I'll have to ask around.

April 19, 2015 at 3:49 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Phyllis--Thanks! Do spread the word.

April 19, 2015 at 3:49 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Maria--Those people with a 1986 copy of Writer's Market who say a synopsis should be 10 pages drive me nuts. This is a fast-changing industry.

And anybody who doesn't get that it is, yes, an industry should not be gumming up the works. The great creatives are also creative about business.

Great advice to try your synopsis aloud. When you see your cousin's eyes glaze over, it gives a good indication of how the agent will react.

April 19, 2015 at 3:57 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Charlie--ROTFL!! On the other hand, it would get you noticed!

April 19, 2015 at 3:58 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Eileen--Those are some fantastic examples of self-rejecting queries! I forgot to add "send a bribe" to the list. I've heard that agencies get bribes of chocolate and cupcakes fairly regularly. But a pinkie ring! That might get a prize.

And I've heard of lots of agents who have "Anne Rivers Siddons" stories. Some assistant really screwed up there. Nathan Bransford talks about the query he got that started "Dear Vicky". Not the best way to begin a business relationship. :-).

April 19, 2015 at 4:09 PM  
Blogger Kristiana Gregory said...

Anne, thanks for another great post. The worst "query" I received, a request actually, was from a junior high school student asking me to summarize one of my books for his report, then included his address so I would send him a signed edition. He assumed I even had copies, plus the time, money, and desire to hike to the post office. The reason I didn't delete him right away was because he was 13 years old, but I did suggest he go to the library, read the book then write his own summary.

April 19, 2015 at 4:11 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Melodie--Your guy is probably one of the ones who queries me too. Only you were much nicer than me. I just delete them now. I used to send a form rejection that said: "We advise guest bloggers to read the blog before querying." Then I got the response from one guy who said he was totally offended that I suggested he hadn't read the blog. He reads all my book reviews, he said.

I guess he wasn't exactly lying, since I have no book reviews for him to read. Not on the blog anyway. :-)

April 19, 2015 at 4:15 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Jeff--This is a great place to start. Then follow the link to Nathan Bransford's post on querying. It's full of great info. Good luck with the writing!

April 19, 2015 at 4:16 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Kristi--That's kind of incredible. But I know other children's authors who have has similar experiences. At 13 this kid should really have learned that you need to do the work yourself, but I suppose he thought he was being clever. I think your response was the polite one.

April 19, 2015 at 4:19 PM  
Blogger Eileen Goudge said...

Sadly, my ex was forced to take possession of the pinkie ring because the ms. had been returned by the time he realized he still had it. He thought it was fake. I said not. We took it to a diamond merchant, who declared the diamonds to be real though not valuable. The best thing about it? It made for a good cautionary tale.

Another instant-no from an agent? Emoticons. Ditch the smiley faces when submitting a query.

April 19, 2015 at 4:21 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Eileen--Emoticons! I forgot to mention them. BIG NO-NO. I guess that falls under "amateurish antics" but they're so ubiquitous, people may not realize they do not fly in business correspondence. Thanks for the reminder.

So they were real diamonds? Did he have an address to send it back to? What happened to the ring?

April 19, 2015 at 4:39 PM  
Blogger Sugarbeat said...

Bang on again this week!!! Just had to say that I'm enjoying your latest posts.

I have a GREAT example for several of your points. Without a word of a lie, I had an author try to submit to my book blog by putting the title of their book in the subject line of the email and in the body of the email was the phrase: "SIGN ME UP DUDE!" All in caps. No signature

I had no words......

April 19, 2015 at 6:05 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Sugarbeat--Unfortunately, a lot of people out there listen to those salesperson motivational speakers, who teach nothing about empathy or diplomacy, but teach people to go out there and KILL! They act accordingly and make complete fools of themselves. Treating one's fellow humans as prey does not work all that well...Thanks for the example.

April 19, 2015 at 6:57 PM  
Blogger Cassie said...

Hi Anne! I'm in the beginning research phase and have really enjoyed what I've read so far from your posts and a few others. I greatly appreciate the time and energy you obviously put forth in the craft and in guiding us newbies down this adventurous path. I am currently in "planning and development" as I research the business aspects of writing, begin finding a writing routine, and consider what my writing goals might be (currently considering whether/how to begin a blog of my own). Thanks again for your help and insight. I look forward to reading more!

April 19, 2015 at 7:41 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Cassie--Welcome! I'll be putting out an ebook for new bloggers later this year. Meanwhile, I have my best blogging posts archived in the sidebar. Best of luck with your writing career.

April 19, 2015 at 8:06 PM  
Blogger Maggie Best said...

Hi Anne,
Thanks for posting this and for all those useful links.
I am currently researching querying and self-promotion. Your suggestion to look at querying as a job interview or application struck a chord. Suddenly this process has gone from scary unfamiliar territory to - still scary, but - familiar territory. Thank you!

April 19, 2015 at 10:08 PM  
Blogger Eileen Goudge said...

He was unable to return the ring. The SASE had been mailed back to the sender before the ring turned up on Al's desk. Apparently his assistant neglected to stick it in the envelope. And the sender never contacted him. Far as I know, Al still has the ring. Probably in a drawer with the paperclips.

April 20, 2015 at 4:55 AM  
Blogger Florence Cronin said...

Anne, even though we might think we know all the ways to mess up ... this list reminds us of how each one is so important. These are lessons all aspiring writers need to learn ... thanks :)

April 20, 2015 at 5:57 AM  
Blogger Florence Cronin said...

Anne, even though we might think we know all the ways to mess up ... this list reminds us of how each one is so important. These are lessons all aspiring writers need to learn ... thanks :)

April 20, 2015 at 5:58 AM  
Blogger Patricia said...

What I love about your blog, though I never leave a comment, is that I know what I'm going to get is true, experienced advice that cuts through the cr*p and gets to the core of what needs to be understood or done. Thank you for that. There are very few blogs that I follow because I have to trust what they're saying. Thank you for that too.

April 20, 2015 at 8:04 AM  
Blogger Southpaw HR Sinclair said...

For number one, I thought what other way is there to send a querey other than email or snail mail.HA! I'm glad you elborated. I didn't know about the Twtter events either - but then I'm not querying.

"we all need to work on our skills as "hookers". - that need to be on all our t-shirts!

April 20, 2015 at 8:10 AM  
Blogger mindprinter said...

Wonderful, Anne, as usual. Something every writer, beginning or experienced, should pay attention to. Not reading guidelines or being familiar with what an online site reviews is deadly. I once sent in an LGBT gay paranormal with a sweet male romance at the center. If I'd only checked out the reviewer's guidelines I would have known immediately that my sweet little thing wasn't in a league with the more erotic work he reviewed. Live and learn. A great column to bookmark for future. Loved it. P.

April 20, 2015 at 8:47 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Maggie--I'm so glad the suggestion helped! Best of luck with your querying.

April 20, 2015 at 9:31 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Florence--It's not just new writers who need to learn this stuff. Publicists and established writers can be some of the worst offenders when it comes to approaching book reviewers. All queries need to be personal and professional. .

April 20, 2015 at 9:33 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Patricia--Thanks! Ruth and I tell it like it is even if it isn't always what people want to hear. We sometimes get flak for it, but we think that's what people come here for. We both have a lot of experience and we want to share it to help newer writers avoid the dangers we know are out there.

April 20, 2015 at 9:36 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Southpaw--Hookers of the Word, Unite? LOL.

You'd be amazed at how many queries I get via Twitter or FB Direct messages. Not a professional way to approach a stranger!

April 20, 2015 at 9:38 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Mindprinter--The trouble is that all the advice books on marketing tell you to query dozens of reviewers, but they don't tell you to read the blog carefully. Sometimes they give a list of broad categories like LGBT or Mystery, but if you don't read a number of reviews on the site, you won't figure out that the reviewer only likes a certain subcategory.

It's the same with querying a mystery reviewer who only likes gritty Nordic serial killer tales, and you have a crafting cozy with a little old lady sleuth. If you do get a review, it will not be a good one.

April 20, 2015 at 9:43 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

I apologize to all the out of the US readers who have been unable to comment today! Something is up with Google.

Here's one from Israel:

"When I entered my ID (and I tried both Google and wordpress) it insisted on changing what I typed to Hebrew, despite my accounts being in English. One of the problems of being located in a non-English speaking part of the world, I guess.

What I wanted to say was that the best part of the blog was in the Introduction. "A query is a job interview" very succinctly (and memorably) summarizes the rest of the post.

Yehudit Reishtein

April 20, 2015 at 9:59 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Judith--Thanks for letting me know! I apologize for the Blogger glitch. I hope they get it fixed soon. That's a new one!

I'm glad the "job interview" analogy worked for you!

April 20, 2015 at 10:01 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Another comment blocked--this time from Ireland. Blogger, what's up?

"Blogger just won't let me comment on your blog! However I sign in! Bah humbug. Just to say superb, helpful post yesterday again - thank you." Tara Sparling

April 20, 2015 at 10:05 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Tara--Thanks for letting me know via Twitter that Blogger is being weird. Anybody else who's having trouble commenting out there, sent me an email or other message. We really value your comments!

April 20, 2015 at 10:08 AM  
Blogger Mathew Paust said...

Here's a link to a comment I tried to post here but learned it was too long. Note from the wilderness

April 20, 2015 at 10:25 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Mathew--That's not a comment, it's a blogpost--and a good one!

Literary writers--especially those nurtured in MFA and Creative writing programs--often get fed a lot of misinformation about the value of raw talent in the marketplace.

They often aren't told that publishing is a business and most literary writers make their livings teaching in academia rather than writing full time.

Even the full-time literary novelists usually make much of their money writing nonfiction and reviews for prestigious magazines, not from their novels.

Yes, the industry might miss out on the next Herman Melville or Marcel Proust, now that we use the query system, but these days, a Melville or Proust who prefers not to "jump through hoops" can publish himself. No Times New Roman required. :-)

But I think any writer who wants to enter the marketplace needs to think of the reader's needs as much as those of his muse..

April 20, 2015 at 10:58 AM  
Blogger Mathew Paust said...

Thanks for the compliment, Anne. Perhaps there's a niche opening for literary entrepreneurs to--on a commission basis--screen submissions for marketability and then write the queries and blurbs to agents and/or publishers. Burned out ad copywriters might find such a field more spiritually rewarding than hawking cigarettes and colas. Might fit as an adjunct to lit agencies on a contractual basis, with guaranteed salary plus a piece of the commissions for sales.

There has to be a better way.

April 20, 2015 at 11:58 AM  
Blogger mindprinter said...

Exactly. I learned a good hard lesson from that one. The reviewer gave me a three out of a five star review and I appreciated it. Could have been much worse. Thanks, Anne.

April 20, 2015 at 12:10 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Mathew--Actually, there are query services, for both books and screenplays. But mostly they're a waste of time and money because agents can spot one of their queries and will automatically reject. It's like sending somebody to your job interview. Agents want to meet the "real you."

Learning to write queries is hard, and most of us hate it, but it's a writing muscle that we can train and tone. Blogging is actually good practice for short, snappy nonfic writing.

April 20, 2015 at 12:28 PM  
Blogger Mathew Paust said...

Good points, Anne. Here are two of mine: One: Query services that charge the writer are no better, in my opinion, that agents who charge reading fees. What I'm suggesting is for readers who work either independently, which would require a start-up investment of time and effort, or work with agents, doing the initial screening for the agents. Two: Agents who think blurbs, pitches and queries represent the "real me" are looking for pitch-writers, not authors. I'm not talking "raw talent." What I'm saying is the narrative craft involved in creating a novel is so far from the tricks involved in blurbing and pitching as to be virtually indescribable. Put another way, it's the difference between calmly explaining a project and shouting it out a la Billy Mays on midnight TV. Most assuredly I can learn to write the queries that might work for a particular professional personality interested only in expediency, which evidently most of them are. And I will learn these tricks if I must. What I'm saying is, in the interest of both authors and legacy publishing, there must be a better way.

April 20, 2015 at 12:58 PM  
Blogger Mathew Paust said...

I should have clicked "preview" on that last comment, and done some proofing. Mea culpa.

April 20, 2015 at 1:01 PM  
OpenID thasandwichyears.com said...

Thanks Anne - Just starting my query lettering life so this is really helpful... and amusing!

April 20, 2015 at 1:18 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

If you find a better way, let us know. You might have a fantastic business idea there!

April 20, 2015 at 1:28 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

thesandwich--I'm glad it helps. Do click through to Nathan Bransford's post on query writing. He has links to several others. I took his course in query writing a few years ago at the Central Coast Writer's Conference. It really helped!

April 20, 2015 at 1:29 PM  
Blogger Mathew Paust said...

You will be the first to know, Anne. ;-)

April 20, 2015 at 1:57 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Here's an emailed question from Irish writer Tara Sparling:

"Hi, Anne - Your post as always got me thinking (ouch) and I was wondering about your point # 8. Could mentioning previous novels we've written could be a positive thing instead? For instance, having other work in the pipeline can mean we're more ready to capitalise on any readers who decide they might like our stuff. Today's readers tend to go looking for more, immediately -and if it's not there, they forget all about you.

Is there a way of talking about previous unpublished work which makes a selling point of it? It can be an indication of a writer honing and improving their craft, and they may not even have gone through a submission process yet, let alone had them all rejected. Perhaps it's all down to how we phrase it?"

April 20, 2015 at 3:37 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Tara--I know it seems counterintuitive, but agents are always vehement about how they don't want to get a query that pitches more than one book. (I made that mistake and I know why you have the urge to do it, but don't. You're pitching a book, not your career at this point.)

The truth is that almost everybody they hear from will have a couple of novels in the archives.

BUT if you're pitching the first book in a series or trilogy, you can mention--in your final paragraph--that you have the other books in the pipeline. If 2 and 3 are in rough draft and will be soon ready to go, do say that..

But avoid mentioning any other books until you are invited to have more dialogue with the agent. If you get "that call" one of the first questions the agent will ask is what else you have. Save your pitches for that phone call. (You might even want to rehearse them.)

April 20, 2015 at 3:49 PM  
Blogger Christine Ahern said...

Great post. Great advice. I chose to not submit queries twice because I thought the agent wanted too much from me. Right or wrong, it felt like the beginning of a demanding relationship. At least I didn't submit a query that didn't follow the rules. I can't imagine doing that and thinking it would fly.

April 20, 2015 at 7:23 PM  
Blogger Mathew Paust said...

Christine, sometimes a cleverly split infinitive can work wonders, I've been told.If everything else follows the rules to a T, a single, simple, calculated infinitive-splitting can tease the prospective professional into wondering if it was done deliberately to test him/her, and he/she will not be able to stop him/herself from wanting more. That is if the professional is an inherently curious person. Should you sense he/she is not an inherently curious person--no matter how professional he/she purports to be, turn on your heel and run. Run as fast as you can!

April 21, 2015 at 3:11 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Christine--It's very wise to pay attention to your intuition when querying. The author-agent relationship can last a lifetime. You don't want to "settle" for somebody who won't treat you with respect. Some agents, like any other group of humans, can be a**hats. You do not want to go there!

I wouldn't follow Mathew's LOL advice, though. "Testing" an agent with deliberate mistakes would only let the agent know that you are the one who is an a**hat. The intuition thing goes both ways. :-)

So much of what's involved in good business manners and professionalism is simple respect. Respect goes a long way. For agents and for authors.

April 21, 2015 at 10:13 AM  
Blogger Mathew Paust said...

Sorry, I should have inserted a *just kidding* in my comment to Christine. I was having fun with her for saying she followed the rules in her query, then split an infinitive in her comment. However, I do believe (and have read this from others--authors and agents..)--that it is advisable for authors to question prospective agents, politely of course, in a way that will tell them you are not a pushover. The relationship should be a partnership, and, as Anne pointed out, a good one can last a lifetime.

April 21, 2015 at 12:04 PM  
Blogger John Wiswell said...

Has anyone ever had publishing success by shotgunning their manuscript to every agent, regardless of what agents represent? I can see why an ignorant author wouldn't research (a shame that it happens), but I wonder if it's ever actually hit. I guess you wouldn't admit that after landing the agent...?

April 26, 2015 at 12:03 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

John--I suppose given the law of averages, somebody might get a request that way, but they'd also be alienating every other agent on the list. It's the same technique as cold-calling everybody in the phone book. Eventually you get somebody who's lonely or has Alzheimer's or whatever so you can con them, but you've spread a lot of ill will. And yes, I think if anybody landed an agent that way, they'd want to keep it a secret...at least from the agent. :-)

April 26, 2015 at 2:20 PM  
Blogger Veronica Sicoe said...

Great points, Anne!

I can't imagine just sending out queries blindly (and ignorantly). I'm usually tripple-checking my information, mortified that I'll look like a douche if I send anything out by mistake. :D

My blog is comparatively obscure, but even I received emails from people asking to guest post. People who had no idea what my blog is about. Granted, at first neither did I, but I certainly never blogged about gay erotica or quilting. How these people found my blog (and took the time to phish out my email adress yet magically not notice that I blog about writing science-fiction) remains a complete mystery.

April 27, 2015 at 6:54 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Veronica--It's a mystery to me too! How do these people know about our blogs when they've so obviously never read them? Somebody must make lists of blogs and sell them to clueless people who don't understand how Google works.

April 27, 2015 at 9:48 AM  
Blogger Veronica Sicoe said...

Yeah, that's probably what happens. Or they just pick blogs out of some pageview ranking lists...

April 28, 2015 at 10:55 PM  
Blogger Sue Coletta said...

When I first was querying I wrote "Dear Ms. (agent's last name)" and sent it to a male agent. Thankfully, he had a great sense of humor, wrote back, "By the way, I'm a man, not a Ms." In my case, and I do NOT recommend this, it worked in my favor because we got chatting, which led to him requesting the full manuscript. But, as you know, this is not the norm.

May 2, 2015 at 1:28 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Sue--LOL! I've heard that happening a lot, especially when the first name is something unisex like "Parker" or "Blair". How fantastic it worked in your favor!! Great story.

May 2, 2015 at 1:37 PM  
Blogger John Komm said...

When I first was querying I wrote "Dear Ms. (agent's last name)" and sent it to a male agent. Thankfully, he had a great sense of humor, wrote backDouglass Amerio

August 1, 2015 at 7:39 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

John--I made some howler mistakes like that when I was querying too. If an agent has a sense of humor about it, you know that's an agent you might be comfortable working with!

August 1, 2015 at 1:57 PM  

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