Periodically we try to show you some of the more unusual things we receive, unsolicited, by our agency. These are by no means all of them (not exhaustive…just exhausting). Just a few to help those who read this blog avoid the same mistakes.
Disclaimer: We do not suggest that any of these writers are insincere. In fact it is evident they believe in what they are presenting. But at the same time it is instructive to get a peek at what an agent receives.
A letter addressed to The Steve White Agency. “Dear Mr. White”
An envelope with a handwritten note on one piece of paper with the words, “Is Donald Trump a Troll? The answer is in my book, a brief excerpt is enclosed.”
Nothing was enclosed.
An envelope with one thing in it. A business card that reads “Go to Amazon or Barnes & Noble and type in (last name). My book (title of book) will come up. Download for $0.99 or read a chapter for free.” Nothing else in the envelope.
I’m guessing that the author wants me to read the free chapter?
An email proposal with a cover note that reads, “I am sure you get a lot of proposals, but this one is worth your time to read.”
But the author claims they looked at what we agents want and then sent us something we specifically say we do not represent. Then says they followed our guidelines for submission but didn’t follow one of them. And then claims the Holy Spirit told them to write it and gave them the words. They must not have read what I wrote a while back “God Gave Me This Blog Post.”
A “Complete Tattooing Handbook”
No indication if there is a chapter in the handbook for the Christian person who wants a tattoo… In other words, the author didn’t even try to match their pitch to the agencies they contacted.
A query email where the writer did not want to share the book’s premise. But instead provided a web address to a blog where we were supposed to examine the content and decide if we were interested.
No thank you. I don’t know if yours is a “safe” site to visit.
A query letter with a first paragraph that says in part: “Please, give me a chance, I promise my book will not disappoint you, but this is all I have in life, my family is struggling, I am their only hope, I can’t let them down, I have failed them before, but promised them now, to never again.”
Oh my. This appeal is over-the-top emotional. Unfortunately the book wasn’t very well written.
A pitch for a novel that “gives a deep look into the mind of a serial philanderer, showing the human side of the man willing to help women cheat on their spouse.”
Not sure how deep I want to look into that mind.
A proposal for a novel. Length? 498,000 words.
That is longer than the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy, combined.
Author explains they have tried to shop the manuscript before but “interest in the manuscript was often undermined by one of the main characters who is childish, churlish, anti-well, everything, homosexual, and ephebophile.”
Unfortunately I had to look up the word. It made me shudder.
At the end of the email query a note to “publishing agents; I am sending you the first page of my latest book. If you would like to read the rest of it, please respond to this email with your contact information. I will send you the finished book. Then we can schedule a meeting.”
One page is not enough. And without a proposal we know nothing about the book itself.
A proposal with a pseudonym – Justas Iam
Clever. But too clever.
A sentence in the last paragraph of a two page email submission (by the way, the email was also cc’d to Barack Obama): “If you throw this in the trash, that will probably be the end of a book that could of been.”
A full manuscript attached to a query email. The manuscript was formatted in an 18 point bold Ariel font. If printed it would have chewed up 1,450 pages.
To be fair, the author may be visually impaired and has Word set up with a default giant print font. But the mistake is not to format the proposal for the rest of the world to read. The standard is 12pt Times Roman. So glad we didn’t click “print.” Another plus is that the author did not paste the entire book into the body of the email. (This has happened twice in the past month.)
A query letter claiming that their book was “expired to help believers understand…”
Not inspired. Expired.
In an attempt to show how the author’s book is better than others already published on a theological topic, the writer exclaimed, “Christian authors respond either with dull tomes that put readers to sleep or with mind-numbing platitudes for the choir.”
Unfortunately one of the authors referred to is a client of mine.
A non-fiction book claiming that Abraham Lincoln was assassinated by Jesuits.
And Steve Jobs was poisoned by the F.B.I. But you knew that already…
There you have it.
You get the picture? Take the time to research the agent you are going to contact. Try, and I mean really try, to ascertain who is the best fit for your work.
Typos are a thorn we all endure. Just read some of my blog posts! But when approaching an agency at least spell the company name correctly.
There is never a need to invoke the Holy Spirit or God as if it makes your proposal somehow better. We assume you have been led to write your book.
Be respectful of those already in the market. Yours may be better. But denigrating another is not the way to gain ascendancy.
If there is ever a new paraphrase of Ecclesiastes 12:12 it might warrant an additional sentence, “Of the making of queries there is no end.”
I smiled some, heaved some, and learned a lot. Thank you, sir, for the exposition.
Excellent and insightful. By the way, ignore my email about my blog posts ?.
Laugh for the morning. I am feeling bad for the poor fellow with all of his hopes pinned on you representing his novel, but now I’m wishing I’D thought of using “Justas Iam” for a pen name…….
I. Noah Tall is a good one too. I use that pen name in sample contracts for classes I teach.
Lori Stanley Roeleveld
Once again, deeply relieved not to find any of my query lines here. I live in fear of appearing on an agent’s “what not to write” post. It’s a healthy fear now injected with new life and a little laughter. But, perhaps you simply haven’t reached the chartreuse, bedazzled legal size envelope containing my eye-witness, first-person, non-fiction account of the apocalypse that I, alone, was privileged to notice while others were distracted by network television.
LOL. That was hysterical, Lori!
I think I saw that bedazzled envelope in your bag at the last conference we attended.
Was the title of your apocalypse story called “You First” ?
I question how many aspiring writers who don’t follow guidelines give a moment’s thought to how this hurts others who ARE following the rules and trying to break through in this business.
Then we sit with wonderment in why it’s so hard to get an agent to notice us. Well, I don’t wonder really but… just saying. 🙂
I was thinking the same thing, Jon. But then again, perhaps if my semi-normal, halfway decent query shows up just after one of these, it will look pretty darn good!
I use that when I teach classes on book proposals and rejection letters. If you can be at least semi-professional it is easy to separate from those who aren’t.
It reminds me of an philosophy exam question, “if this is a question answer it” that was reciprocated with “if this is an answer mark it”. Such flippancy is beyond comprehension and rarely works anywhere in life. Tough lesson.
Thank you for this clarifying post, Steve. I now know my 938K-word dramatization of the confessional experiences of successive Archbishops of Canterbury from Henry VIII to Elizabeth II typeset in Old English Script might not be your cup of tea. Or is it?
I don’t drink coffee so it might be “my cup of tea.”
That’s only 37 of the 105 Archbishops of Canterbury. What about all the rest?
Maybe adding an additional 1,500,000 words would make the book more acceptable.
I can manage that, but it might take me a few more months. I’ll probably send the more complete tome to you in August. Did you want the full manuscript in hardcopy or electronic version?
Oh my goodness!!! 🙂
Shortly after 9-11, I received a submission that included a small, handmade envelope filled with a white powder. The author said it was bath salt and that I would benefit from a relaxing bath while considering her manuscript. Too many ways to interpret that statement. I didn’t use the “salts” and didn’t proceed with the manuscript.
That would have cleared any building back then.
On a more humorous note I once received an envelope with a query letter that when opened scattered glitter all over myself and my desk. I think the book was about celebrating life or something. I was not a happy agent that day. The glitter clashed with my outfit.
Probably not that day and many days to come. Glitter sure can hang around.
Sounds like they utilized “shotgun marketing” but somehow missed one of the prime directives, point the shotgun AWAY from yourself before pulling the trigger.
Or at least point it away from your foot.
Sheri Dean Parmelee
Mr. White, thanks for the laugh. Oh, wait a minute, that’s not your name. It’s Lobby, isn’t it? Nope, that ‘s not quite right either. Give me a little more time……Hey, Steve, this would be a great entry for Fun Fridays (which are always a highlight of my week).
It’s okay Cherry … Cheri … Sherry … Sheri.
I’ll answer as long as you call me “for dinner.”
I own stevelobby.com for this very reason. If they know how to say my name phonetically but can’t spell it, they can still end up at our web site.
I’m very sorry that you’ve received queries like that, but I’m also glad that you share them with us so we can laugh, shudder, and learn from them!
This silly stuff makes me think of a book I have. I think it’s called What’s the Number for 9-1-1? It features weird calls people made to 9-1-1, such as someone saying that there was a frog on their porch and it might get them if they tried to sweep it off the porch. Also someone thought it was an emergency when they needed clean towels in a hotel.
A link to the book you are thinking about:
Janet Ann Collins
LOL!!! No wonder you have such a great sense of humor. You’d probably have been driven to insanity if you didn’t.
Great post and laugh out loud funny. What I am wondering is what if a wannabe author queries your firm, has followed all your specifications to the letter and sill does not receive a response. Are we relegated to ranks of those being laughed at without knowing the reason why?
I had to laugh out loud at a few of these, but I also feel sorry for you all having to waste your time. I dwell and pray over the proposals and queries I’m sending out. In fact, I get anxiety even thinking about it! But it seems some do not take it so seriously. At least most of them probably don’t stress over theirs, lol. Thanks for sharing!
Very entertaining. I hope I’ve never been so flippant when submitting a proposal. Your master class on Jerry Jenkins guild site was informative and enjoyable. Your wit and humor helps lessen the anxiety of the submission process.
Have to say, felt a bit nauseous until I read the entire post and found that nothing I wrote was included. I suppose it’s a bit like when you go to the airport and they’re bringing the dogs around to sniff packages. “Did I accidentally pack a pipe bomb?”
Thanks for the laugh and the lesson. I must admit, though, there are times I feel more expired than inspired.
Steve, thank you for this post. I am currently working on my proposal package for your firm. Thankfully, I haven’t included any of the errors listed here! I couldn’t help but laugh out loud when I read some of the bloopers.
Whew! I’m so glad I haven’t sent in my submission yet. My heart’s pounding at the near miss. I still have time to learn from others’ mistakes. Be honest, does the pen name Eli E. Frie make me sound dishonest? (Oh no, that’s repetitive, edit, edit edit!)