Why I Passed on a Couple of This Week’s Queries

url-1I don’t know if I’ll be able to do this every week. I was very uncomfortable as I wrote the reasons why I passed, knowing I was putting them up on the blog. I don’t want folks to feel bad or embarrassed if they recognize their query. I know it’s supposed to be helpful to them and to others, but it feels kind of like airing dirty laundry, somehow. Let’s see how it goes. Perhaps I’ll switch to “Why I asked to see more.” You know, I always say I’m a ‘glass half full’ kind of girl. 

Antonio Prohías's Spy vs Spy

Antonio Prohías’s Spy vs Spy

Query 1: In the first paragraph, which should basically let me know what kind of manuscript is being pitched, the words, “espionage thriller” and “Gospel” keyed me in pretty quickly that this wasn’t for me. How many times do I need to re-state that I do NOT do thrillers and I do NOT do Christian fiction. I have nothing against these genres, I’m just the wrong agent to represent them. I’m sorry, but it didn’t make any difference that the querier stated, “The target audience is adult readers both Christian and non-Christian and Jewish.” Okaaaaay. Just for the record, isn’t Jewish “non-Christian”?

Did somebody say Elf?!Orlando Bloom as Legolas in LOTR

Did somebody say Elven?!
Orlando Bloom as Legolas in LOTR

Query 2: Fantasy, I guess, because the title of the manuscript had the word “Elf” in it. Might be YA, I couldn’t tell from the query, but the synopsis said the main character was 14, so I’m just guessing. The query itself wasn’t exactly a query. It was a paragraph that stated the author was including a 1-paragraph synopsis, a 1-paragraph bio, and the first 20 pages. Now, I know that’s what my submission guidelines say to include, but I just assume that those will be included in the query letter. That is to say, a query letter for a fiction manuscript should begin with a little intro paragraph, then move to telling a bit about the book (the synopsis I ask for) and then go on to tell a little bit about the author (the bio I ask for). Then, it usually has a closing paragraph. You know, it’s a regular old business letter. And then, of course,  I want the 20 pages. So, I was willing to overlook the weird, stilted way this first part was put together, but then the bio was strange, too. The author told me they had been writing since they were a child. Hmmm. Then it kind of listed stuff, in half sentences. And then they went on in half sentences about how they had published some articles that were specific to their particular field of study, which had nothing to do with writing fiction. When reading the synopsis, I knew it was definitely not for me. It just wasn’t original. How could I know for sure, just from reading a synopsis? Well, first of all there were a lot of cliche fantasy phrases, and if those phrases are in the synopsis, I’m almost certain the manuscript itself will be rife with cliches as well. So, even though I like fantasy, this was definitely a pass for me. I’m looking for truly original stories and absolutely excellent writing.

Ok. I really didn’t like doing this.  I’m not going to do it again. Please send me suggestions (via Twitter @LindaEpstein or Facebook) for another weekly column that might be helpful for writers. Don’t put the suggestions in the comments below. Thanks.

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6 Comments

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6 responses to “Why I Passed on a Couple of This Week’s Queries

  1. This was really helpful. I’m sorry you won’t be doing it again, but I do understand. Still, I think that if one of these were my query letters, I would welcome the feedback. I really agree with the comments above: so many writers read agents’ blogs because we really want to know what works and what doesn’t.

  2. I love your comments…please keep them coming. I’ve gotten a couple rejections this week (standard form letter) and wish they had told me they hated my story or my writing…..so at least I would know which to work on.

  3. Reblogged this on Cape Cod Scribe: A Literary Bite from the Beach and commented:
    This is just too good not to reblog 🙂 Hee hee

  4. Barbara Rebbeck

    Don’t stop. It’s so refreshing to have an agent speak to us lowly writers! The specifics are a great help.

  5. Seconding R. L.’s comments above. I deeply appreciated your comments on my query this week. I’m still not sure I understand (my son and his 11-and 12-year-old friends said they could see themselves in it), but you gave me something to sink my teeth into. I couldn’t have asked for a better rejection!! Incidentally, you probably know the Query Shark. Your readers (ME!) could use a kinder, gentler version (the Query Barracuda? Linda the Killer Whale?)

  6. Just emailed you, but in short, I found this kind of thing very helpful when I was querying. The specific information is good for the querier who sent it and the many others who are making similar mistakes. Writers, don’t we always want to know WHY WHY WHY? Even if it hurts? We want to write better queries and better stories. But that’s harder to do without industry professionals sharing good information about how to get it right.