#QueryFail: Over the Top

Wendy Lawton

Blogger:  Wendy Lawton

Location: Books & Such Central Valley Office

Weather: A sunny Friday

We’ve talked about avoiding the too-clever query and giving too much information. We’re going to wind up this week by talking about those queries that fail because they are filled with hyperbole and cringeworthy braggadocio.

Here are some quotes from actual queries I’ve received:

Over the past nine years, I’ve been working on a project to bring world peace.

Hmm. World peace. It would be wonderful if it were to happen but too often those things are out of our control as authors. My advice to this writer would be not to over-promise.

We’re talking about a literary masterpiece spanning over 1,000 pages.

Try to avoid using words like “masterpiece” when describing your own work. I won’t even go into the impossibility of the book length.

I can assure you, if you pass this opportunity by, you will grieve the loss of millions of dollars.  I must stress, however, that I must absolutely find the best book deal possible, and I will be contacting several literary agencies in order to find it.

I don’t even think I need comment on this one. Don’t dangle the commission you expect the agent to make from your work– it comes off as crass. The agent is the one who knows the business and has a good sense of the relative value of projects.

What must I do for you to take on my book and run with my idea?  (When you get the full scope of my idea, you will be amazed, I promise you!)

Rather than be “amazed” in the future, it would have been nice to have been given the scope of the book in the query letter. Too many query letters talk about the book in superlatives but neglect to ever say what it is about. If you are afraid someone will steal your idea you’re not going to be able to find an agent or sell your book.

I think Ralph Waldo Emerson summed it up best: “The mark of the man of the world is absence of pretension. He does not make a speech; he takes a low business-tone, avoids all brag, is nobody, dresses plainly, promises not at all, performs much. speaks in monosyllables, hugs his fact. He calls his employment by its lowest name and so takes from evil tongues their sharpest weapon. His conversation clings to the weather and news, yet he allows himself to be surprised into thought and the unlocking of his learning and philosophy.”

13 Responses

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  1. Wendy,

    Thank you for the tremendous insight in this past week’s blogs on some query dos and don’ts. It has been extremely helpful.

    I selected your web site from the list Mike Hyatt had complied of literary agencies representing Christian writers working with Thomas Nelson Publishers.

    The “Books & Such” website is a well designed concise “easy on the eye” representation of your agency, layered with personable yet professional tones on each virtual page.

    That path led me to your blog.

    Your perspective has enlightened mine, immensely.


  2. Another great series, Wendy. Thanks!

  3. Hm, judging by these examples the line between self-confidence and self-aggrandizement isn’t so fine. Sadly I’m sure each author is shocked. Shocked, when agents don’t ‘get’ their amazing contributions to the world.

    Oh and congrats to Michelle for her Genesis final! Well Done!!

  4. Fridays make for sad goobyes because it means we’ll have several more weeks before enjoying the “agent of the week’s” words of wisdom on the Books & Such BLOG. Great job once again during your turn on the press.

    Now back to work on my majestic masterpiece, the soon-to-be bestseller of all time, that instant classic, guaranteed to be top of the charts, number one in your hearts.

    I guess I’m a slow learner…

  5. Jill Kemerer says:

    I just read through all of the posts in this series. Thank you very much! I’m bookmarking these entertaining and informative query tips.

  6. patriciazell says:

    Query letters are meant to give direct pertinent information about the proposed book and to provide a glimpse of the author’s personality. Anything more than that may be overkill. Good summary?

  7. Bethany says:

    I am sure you did not write this quote so that we could just laugh ourselves to tears, but I for one enjoyed it. I’m not sure the intonation I used while reading it aloud would match your intention (which was probably not at all as snarky) but – again – …I enjoyed it.

  8. Eva Ulian says:

    Absolutely relished in that last comment of Ralph Waldo Emerson… there’s still a chance of survival for some of us yet!

  9. Cat Woods says:

    Thanks again for a great post. I love the quote and the reminder to be subtle, be truthful and pop the balloon that is our heads should we feel we are the next in line to receive our millions.


  10. Talei Loto says:

    Wow, I loved the Ralph Waldo Emerson quote too. Thanks for sharing these examples, I for one will admit that they did bring make me laugh, and that I was gobsmacked. I will remember these when I do come to the querying stage.

  11. Morgan Busse says:

    Yes, thank you for these great posts!

  12. Carla Gade says:

    This has been an excellent series of posts, and if I made add, sometimes humorous.

  13. I thank you for your help. It is so ironic to me, to feel so alive while writing, then so damaged in struggling to write a query. I am like a deer in the headlights of a fast approaching formatting error. Still, your website gives me hope. I hope to honor it.