Bad Queries: a deconstruction

Aug 25th, 2009 | By | Category: CG Blog

Normally I wouldn’t ever do this, but we received a query today that was so abysmal I was shocked at how many mistakes were made in just 66 words. Seriously, I was honestly flabbergasted. So in the hope that some writers might find helpful hints of what not to do, I’m going to deconstruct it. The name and email of the submitter will be omitted.

Here is an unaltered cut-and-paste of the entire email:

Dear sirs I’m writing to inquire about your webcomic books I have a little problem I can’t draw a combic book if I had to but I can write them I was working on one that has been sitting around my room I was wondering if I can send it too you if not then I’ll send you my adventure books thank you for your time

I know this isn’t a typical query in that it’s not seeking specific representation or publication, but some basic rules always apply: most significantly, a query isn’t just a request for information – it’s your first and therefore most significant opportunity to make an impression. You should be trying your hardest to have that impression be a good one. With that in mind, let’s start with the more broad things that are wrong with this:

Formatting
There is none. No separation of paragraphs, not even for the opening line. It’s just a single solid block of text.

Punctuation
Again, there is none. Not a single period, comma, question mark, exclamation point, semicolon, hyphen, ellipse. Nothing. If I received a submission like this I wouldn’t even bother to open the story itself. If this is the sort of care you take with your queries, why should I expect your writing to be any better?

No NAME
I didn’t remove it – the name wasn’t in the email, nor was any contact information. That solid block of text was the only thing in the body of the email. The writer’s name was next to the email address in the “From” line, but some email providers don’t enable that, so if I’d been using one of them I wouldn’t know who’d sent it (their name was not part of their email address either). An email query should always have your name and full contact information. Would you send a snailmail query letter without that information? Why would an email be different?

And now I’ll point out the many specific problems/mistakes:

Beginning with “Dear sirs”
I know this is a generic way to begin a letter. Guess what? It comes across as generic. Not to mention there’s only one “sir” involved in producing Crossed Genres – me, along with my wife Kay. Our names are on the website. It’s certainly not a requirement, but a personalization shows that you at least did enough research to know to whom your email is being sent. (Sometimes this info isn’t provided. If that’s the case, addressing the email to the editor, or fiction/nonfiction/art editor is usually best.)

Typos
“combic book…”, “send it too you…” This person did not bother to proofread. (Maybe then they’d have noticed the lack of punctuation…)

Nitpicking
“I can’t draw a combic book if I had to” should be “I couldn’t…” (Editors and agents will notice these things. If they’re in your queries they could be rampant in your writing.)

Nitpicking 2
“I was working on one that has been sitting around my room” …this fails to instill me with confidence and interest in your work.

Nitpicking 3
“I’m writing to inquire about your webcomic books”. The phrase “webcomic books” is unusual, especially when taken with the later comment ” I can’t draw a combic book”. It makes me wonder if this person knows that the webcomics we’re accepting submissions for are not the same thing as traditionally published comic books.

Nitpicking 4
“if not then I’ll send you my adventure books”. What? That has nothing to do with the rest of the query. Also, we accept multiple submissions, so it doesn’t have to be one or the other. Also also, are you aware that we’re a SF/F market? Also also also, please don’t send an entire book(s) – send the first 10 pages and a synopsis like it says in the guidelines (the fact we’re not confident they know this speaks volumes).

And possibly the biggest mistake of all:

It’s a question that didn’t have to be asked.
The answer to the writer’s question – can they write a webcomic, sell it to us and have us find someone to draw it – is answerable if you read the submission guidelines on the site. Therefore, we know that this person obviously didn’t, or at best skimmed them. Instead, they wasted our time and theirs with this query. I’ve said many times before: we will know if you haven’t read the guidelines. Those guidelines exist to make everyone’s lives easier. Read them.

Most of the above things, if we note one of them in a query, we’re not going to mind (too much). Mistakes happen, and even the best proofreaders miss things – editors and agents will understand this, although they still look for the flawless query. But each additional mistake exponentially increases the negative impression you create. And that increase is inversely proportional to the likelihood that you’ll ever get something published with that editor, agent or market.

(NOTE: I asked Kay to proofread this post for me, and she found a few small errors to correct. We’ve long since passed the point where we automatically get proofreading. See? Proofreading FTW!)

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