Tag Archives: query tips

Here’s the thing about… Pseudonyms, Dedications, and Queries

Let’s talk about writing under a pseudonym, ok? There are many reasons one might do that. For example, I used to have a client who had the same name as a really famous author. In a situation like that it makes perfect sense to choose a different name. My client went with using his initials and his last name. Some authors write for both adults and children and perhaps their adult work is very adult, if you know what I mean? (nudge nudge wink wink) So it might make sense to want to differentiate, so one’s middle grade readers don’t go looking up all your books and checking out the racey romance series you’re making money with. Or perhaps you’ve never liked your name. You always dreamt of being a published author and you made up an authorial sounding name that you love. That’s just as valid as any other reason. There are quite a few very famous writers who have used pen names or pseudonyms—Dr. Seuss, George Eliot, Anne Rice, Mark Twain, and of course JK Rowling. But here’s the thing… (you knew that was coming, right?!)

When I get a query signed something like “Jane Smith writing as Jeanette Affascinante” I…  roll my eyes. Sorry, but I do. If you’re an unpublished author, sending an agent a query, and you’ve got no platform (i.e. you’re not famous or well-known in any big way), in my opinion you’re putting the cart before the horse by including a pseudonym. If after I offer you representation, and I’ve sold your manuscript, you want to use a pseudonym, fine. But signing your query letter with a “writing as,” is akin to putting a dedication and acknowledgments into your unsold manuscript when querying. To me that’s just… kind of silly.

That you’re “kind of silly”(in a bad way) is not one of the first things you want me, or another agent, to be thinking upon first reading your query, is it?  You want us to read your query, and besides falling in love with your story, you want us to come away with the feeling that you’re a professional, someone who understands the business, someone who will be easy to work with.

I’m sure there are other agents out there who might disagree or just not care about this issue. And that’s fine. I’m not committed to being right about this. But again, here’s the thing… when you query you want to potentially offend the least number of people. Your query letter is often the first introduction an agent or editor has with you and your work. So cutting down on the potential faux pas in your letter should be one of your top priorities, after including all the necessary information and writing an interest-piquing query.

So I’m not saying you should put aside your intention to write using a pseudonym, for whatever reason you might have (or for no reason at all). And I’m not saying don’t fantasize about a dedication page or who you’d like to eventually acknowledge, if your manuscript gets published. But I am saying that when you’re introducing yourself, via query letter, that’s not the time to do it.

That’s all. Any questions?

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Three Reasons I Reject Queries

detective21. Submissions for genres I don’t represent

I know you think I’m cool (I’m really not). Or you read something about me that makes you think I’d be the perfect person to have as an agent. But the truth is that if I don’t read and represent the kind of book that you wrote, I’m just going to reject your query. I’m not really sorry about that either. You see, when you have an agent you want them to totally love your work, to get it, to be able to make editorial suggestions to you because you’re on the same page and to go to the ends of the earth to sell it. When someone sends me a thriller, a horror story, paranormal romance, a mystery, I just want to get on a bus, go to their house and shake them! Look on my agency website or this blog to see what I’m looking for! Why can’t you do that? Ok, so I said I might like a cozy mystery, if it was really quirky. Glomming onto the word mystery and sending me your mystery manuscript, when it’s neither quirky nor cozy is just being a dumb-ass.

2. Not knowing who I am

I know I’m not famous. I know I’m new to this agent game. I know it’s scary to send your work out into the world to be read by someone you don’t know. But you need to at least know my friggin’ name. If you send me a query letter that starts out, “Dear Agent,” “To whom it may concern,” or even worse, just begins by blabbering at me with no salutation at all, I just don’t start out inclined to read whatever’s coming next. Of course the worst thing you can do is open your query letter with, “Dear Michelle.” Or anyone else’s name that isn’t mine. Seriously, people.

3. Being too weird or too familiar

A query letter is a business letter. I’m kind of weird myself, so I have a little bit of room for weirdness. You can be creative in a business letter. But when I get weird queries or ones that I have to take a deep breath and focus focus focus on to understand what they are even saying, I invariably just reject them. I don’t have time for this! I have a gazillion other queries to read! And you know what? I’m not your friend. You don’t know me, no matter what you might have read about me. We might get to be friendly, if I represent you. But for now, just write your query like you’re writing to an insurance company trying to get them to cover something they don’t usually cover. You wouldn’t be cutesy. You wouldn’t start rambling about unrelated things. If you were smart, you wouldn’t try to bully them or threaten them either, because that never works. (You’d be surprised at some of the nasty follow-up e-mails I’ve gotten after I’ve politely rejected someone’s manuscript. And then the writer still thinks I might represent them!)

I’m in this business because I love books and reading, writing and working with writers… I’m not your friend or the enemy and I’m also not a plumber you’re trying to hire. Writers, please do your homework before sending out queries and then be professional and polite.

(This blog post was originally posted here in 2011, but is still absolutely relevant and true.)

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Five Things You Can Do To Improve Your Query Letter

photo 1Make sure you’ve sent your query to someone who wants to read it. Does the agent to whom you’re submitting represent the genre that you write? You’re wasting your time (and the agent’s) if you write YA fiction and they don’t represent kidlit. Just because you’ve “done your research” and you think Perfect Agent For You is really cool, they like the same things you like, they have a neato online presence that you love to follow, they say funny things on Twitter, does not mean they are going to throw their stated preferences of what they’re looking for out the window and offer you representation on your vegan, gluten free, Wiccan cookbook for healing cancer, when they only represent fiction. Really. You’re not the exception to the rule.

photo 2Start with a strong hook or log line. Nothing makes me want to continue reading a query and take my finger off the delete button more than a great first sentence or paragraph. Your query letter is a sales tool. Think of it as an infomercial to sell your manuscript. If you start out boring, you’re setting up whoever’s reading the query to be bored (and to move on to something more interesting). If you start out fascinating, riveting, unique, or even funny, you’re inviting whoever’s reading your query to read the rest of it in that mindset. And the name of the game is getting that someone to read the whole query letter and be interested enough to read the manuscript.

photo 3When giving a short synopsis or recap, don’t go into too much detail. Don’t give away the baby with the bathwater. You don’t need to name every character and every situation, and you don’t need to retell the whole storyline. Tell enough about your story to pique the interest of the reader. Is your story about identical twins named Romulus and Remus, left on the abandoned Mars colony to die, who are raised by a Mars native that the Terrans don’t know exist? Excellent! Please don’t tell me how it all pans out. It’s enough to say that some of your story follows the Roman foundation myth, but that it’s just the starting point for your 95,463 word YA space opera. You can mention the key plot lines and themes, but please don’t tell all. Part of enticing someone to read your manuscript is leaving some questions unanswered.

photo 4Only put relevant information in your bio. If you are an award winning microbiologist who has spent the last 10 years in Borneo doing research to find a cure for a rare disease, don’t include that information if you’re submitting a picture book about an aardvark who prefers bananas to raisins in her morning breakfast cereal. Even if you’ve found the cure to the rare disease. Why? Because it just doesn’t matter. It’s not relevant to your task at hand. And that task is to convey information about who you are as a writer. Are you a stay at home mother of three children, who likes to knit, volunteers 20 hours a week for your church, and has an awesome organic garden? Cool! If you’re submitting a legal thriller set in New Orleans in the 1920’s your kids, knitting, church and garden just aren’t relevant. Leave it out. It’s enough to say that you’re a graduate of UCLA, a member of Mystery Writers of America, have attended writing conferences for many years, and that this is your first novel.

photo 5Make sure you’re findable and that what’s found doesn’t scare people away. That is to say, include your contact information at the bottom of your query letter (email, mailing address, phone number) with links to your online presence. Agents and editors will click the links you include and/or Google you if they’re interested in your work. Make no mistake, if you’re someone who’s bashing agents and whining and complaining online, we will see it. We really will pass on a manuscript if you seem like a nutjob on Twitter or elsewhere.

Bonus advice: Don’t use as many italics as I did in this blog post and keep the number of exclamation points to a minimum!!!!

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