I understand the appeal of putting up the best of the worst queries that land in an agent’s inbox, of letting off a little steam of frustration and giving everyone a laugh in the process, I really do. There is no end, after all, to the pipeline of awful query letters. After reading through agent blogs, Twitter links, fan pages and the occasional Writer’s Digest article, I can even scratch out some categories of Terrible Queries:
1. The Delusional Query Letter—This is the best book evar!!! Nobody has my lyrical, lyrical, lyrical prose, and you, dear agent, whoever you are, will love it and love it and die happy for the reading of it. Pay no attention to the fact that it gives the same tired storyline, be it Eat, Pray, Love, or boy meets girl, or a hero’s journey. At least this writer is no stranger to fiction.
2. The Pushy Query Letter—If we lived in the world of Harry Potter, an arm would protrude from the screen displaying this letter, and an insistent finger would poke the agent’s solar plexus for the duration of the prose, which would read itself aloud in a nasal, self-congratulatory tone. This letter is generally followed up with more letters, even a forbidden phone call to the agent’s office. These may not make up the majority of Terrible Query Letters, but they’re memorable, and cognitive psychology tells us that the memorable moments are the ones people will continue to respond to afterward. Hence, lots of agents post “do not call” notices on their blogs and submission guidelines.
3. The Depressing Query Letter—It’s a wonder this writer even got the query off her desktop computer, because well, she’s never published anything, and so far she’s racked up two dozen rejections. It could also be a story deficient in saleability, but for the sad, simpering writer, it’s all. About. Her. And failure. Her singular inability to be interesting. Sigh.
4. The Careless Query Letter—Dear Madam or Sir, I’ll written teh greatest novel you could ever read! It’s all true! I saw on your Website what you publish young adult fiction. This book could work for any audiense! This is my first book I every wrote. Please let me know where to sign.
5. The Angry Query Letter—Not hapless here, this writer has experience in all likelihood, but is somewhat worse for the wear. There’s an angry tone in the letter, even in the synopsis. Maybe the agent can’t put her finger on it, but she senses that working with this writer would be difficult. Maybe this is another query for a different book but from the same writer who has been rejected before. The writer probably won’t get anything but form rejections because he’s making agents scared.
I’m sure there are more categories out there, so feel free to fill them in. My point here is that we writer types need to remember that there are cascades of queries out there, and while we may think we’re diligently preparing ours, there are thousands of others in the world not giving them that preparation. And they’re in the same email folder to be read.
It can hurt a writer’s feelings when they think that an agent may be snarking about their letter, the one they carefully groomed and sent out as the goodwill ambassador or scout on their behalf. But agents don’t have much time to spend reading each query, so in all probability, if it wasn’t a Terrible Query Letter, the rejection wasn’t paired with a long guffaw at the writer’s expense. If agents really have to wade through a ship ton of awful, I’ll give them the snark. I made a few sarcastic comments just when I was a hiring supervisor for a management firm, which I’m sure entailed reading far fewer bad letters than an agent pores over in the course of half a year. So okay, snark away, agents.
I know you’re not laughing at me. At least I hope you’re not.