Aspiring book-deal-seekers are aggressively refining their query letters, and I don’t mean that in a good way. Here are two recent email queries that I received that demonstrate the energy with which people seek agents and want book deals. Notice: I didn’t say they were authors. What is becoming evident, is how focused and minimalist queries have become.
The first sender opened with this line: “Fiction books in general have always been and will continue to be a favorite in the world of books and reading.” That’s an exact quote. I replied that “fiction books are called novels,” and declined to pursue the query. I quickly got a snarky reply: “Didn’t ask for your critique on it – FICTION books in general are not necessarily NOVELS!”
This illustrates two key aspects of publishing today. First, people yearning for book-deals, presume that the act of submission is a demand for acceptance, not an invitation to critique. I guess I didn’t get the memo. Second, while not all fiction is of novel length, authors are generally picky about words, and always say what they mean. Book-deal-seekers really don’t know what books are or take the time to use the appropriate word for the idea they think they have.
My second example of the new minimalist query, is actually a composite one, inspired by this morning’s query for a collection of short biographies. The query sender was actually quite literate and sensible and proposed a not bad idea. But the query was formed of three parts:
1.) A pretty catchy title, 2.) a brief author bio and 3.) the request to “imagine a bestselling book here.” No hint of an approach to the topic or content was included.
This got me recalling an increasing number of novel queries I’ve seen in the past few months. These unhappy queries exhibit this pattern:
1.) A brief selection of familiar scenarios from the genre, or “important” themes, like isolation, grief or love, if the novel is literary.
2.) Micro character bios of the major characters and sometimes a list of the cities in which the action takes place.
3.) The exhortation to “imagine a great story here,” but no actual hint of a story or plot.
I decline this sort of query, because I don’t have time to look for unexpressed virtue in prose. Nor do I enquire at a Sushi Resturant if they serve fish. I expect the author and chef to know what they are about.
Sad to say, I’m also seeing this trend appear in published novels. Usually hot-genre, trendy novels, bought for marketing purposes by Publishers so they can have a certain kind of book on their lists. In the novel form, the appeal to the reader becomes: “imagine some great dialog here.”
I’m tempted to respond with: “Imagine wild-eyed appreciation for your work, which alas, we cannot take on for reasons totally unrelated to the words you wrote.”