Miss Snark in her slush pile

Here's what you did today that made it easy to say no:

1. "This book has been printed not published" but of course it has an ISBN number on it.
Clue! Clue!

2. "I'm a nationally known X"...and Google has never heard of you. Well, you'd better tell me why in the first paragraph.

3. "I've just finished the first draft" of A for Anything.

4. Describing your main character as "female protagonist". This is not the Army despite the close order drill by Grandmother Snark's Ladies Sewing Circle. Nor is it the Police academy. Nor is it an autopsy.

5. "I'm looking for help marketing my novel". No you're not. You're looking for an agent.
Clue! Clue!

6. "Querry letter" is an auto-reject. If you sent it, I didn't read it. Try again.

7. "My historical novel is set along the Oregon Trail" -then proceeds to describe North Dakota. Get your facts right. Nothing makes me reject (even good) writing faster than getting basic facts wrong. It's stupid and sloppy and insulting to the reader. I know better. You should too. It's not that hard to google things. If you need a picture of the Oregon Trail it's here

8. "My books were published to regional acclaim" but you list no publisher and I can't find you on Amazon. Maybe the region was Rabbitania. Assume I'm going to fact check your query letter. Make sure everything you tell me will survive a google search.

9. 8pt Times Roman; marbelized puce-colored stationery; right justified margins. I read 100 queries a week. I'm reading them NOW, at 9:19pm. I'm tired, it's been a long (but good) day and when your query letter is physically hard to read, I'd rather reject it than make the effort.

10. Including the table of contents, the dedication page, a title page or anything else between the cover letter and the page with "it was a dark and stormy night".

Here's the tally for just TODAY:

20 queries opened and stacked
Autorejects: 10
Query by referral from an Always Read Old Friend-top of the pile for tomorrow when I'm not tired: 1

That leaves 9 I'll put my eyes on for about five seconds right now.

1. Stupid cover letter, skim the writing, ick, no.
2. Good cover letter, good premise, writing isn't obviously crap-hold on to.
3. Not bad cover letter, good premise, killers on page one-hold on to
4. Query from published author with a website that shows me he's got some muscle-hold for reading.

5. Not bad query letter but the novel's premise is utterly boring and so last century-yuck-no.

6. GREAT query letter, premise about something I usually hate, but this one might over come that-hold for reading.

7. Query letter with all the right stuff, but a topic I don't ever do-no

8. Boring ass query letter about "colorful characters coming of age". Yuck. no.

9. Sucky query letter, and just to make sure, yes, the writing sucks too. Try to keep all your verbs in one tense in the first paragraph unless you are Thomas Pynchon. Not Pynchon-esque. The actual Pynchon.

Final tally:
5 no
4 to be read. That's not partials. That's the number of queries I'll actually read with the idea of asking for more. 25% of the day's take (when you factor in the one from the referral).

Don't make it easy to say no to you.


Elektra said...

Wasn't North Dakota in the Oregon Trail game?

Jean said...

Wow! How very interesting. I think I need to find my chocolate and go work on my query letter some more.

word ver: dsxpnt = disappoint...which is what some writers are going to be when they get those rejections.

Anonymous said...

This is a delightful entry-- I really enjoyed having a little glimpse of MS's day.

I have to confess that this point confuses me:

"5. "I'm looking for help marketing my novel". No you're not. You're looking for an agent."

I'm awfully wet behind the ears and I know it-- but can a snarkling direct me to the difference between agent representation and marketing? Is it because agent representation of the ms comes before marketing the printed book, if you're lucky?

Forgive my ignorance-- I'm tryin'!

word ver: tufjv = tough jive... which is what those guilty of point #8 have laid down...

Anonymous said...

I dunno, it sounds like a pretty good average to me.

Anonymous said...

the kind of information is golden. thanks again, miss snark!

MaNiC MoMMy™ said...

Ooh, I like posts like this. It's like a mini-crapometer.

Thanks for sharing. And now I know where the Oregon Trail is!

The Troubleshooter said...

I'm fairly sure #1 is a PA author. In fact, I think I saw someone on the Absolute Write boards recently mention they planned to query an agent and use that exact phrase.

Anonymous said...


Representation gets you a pub deal (hopefully), then comes the marketing. Agents deal with editors, not with B&N. The Pub's have their own crew of gurus for that stuff.

Unknown said...

I love these entries -- it is such an educational insight! Thank you, MS.

Anonymous said...

No matter what, the bottom line is agents (including MS) take on materiall THAT THEY CAN SELL. Like the query that was so last century, what was the writing like? Did it have a bloody corpse on page one, was the heroine wearing stilettoes, did obscenities replace good old-fashioned verbs and nouns? If not your out of here, querier.

Anonymous said...

Try to keep all your verbs in one tense in the first paragraph

"Pardon me, I was using the subjunctive instead of the past tense. Yes, we're way past tents. We're living in bungalows now."

-- Groucho Marx, Animal Crackers by George S. Kaufman & Morrie Ryskind

Anonymous said...

This is my favorite kind of post, too. Except for when the nitwits get blasted. So, second favorite kind of post.

Anonymous said...

These make sense to me, and I'm happy to say that I may have been guilty of one only, the 'female protag'. I honestly don't see why that is an auto-reject.

Also, a right-justified query letter is an auto reject? Or simply right-justified manuscript pages, which I understand because most guidelines say left just-ed only.


Sha'el, Princess of Pixies said...

Dear Elektra,

Yes, at the extreme north end of the first map in the original version, but the trail didn't run through it.

Discounting the feeder trails, the Oregon Trail began at St. Louis. It ran through Nebraska and Wyoming. The trail forks in Wyoming. There was a treacherous shortcut. At Fort Bridger the trail divides into the Mormon and Oregon Trails. The Oregon Trail cuts through Idaho and Oregon. It branches again with a fork leading into the Walla Walla Valley and the main trail down the Columbia into the Willamette Valley.

There are places where one can still see wagon ruts, particularly in Nebraska, Wyoming and Oregon. Once, in another life, I examined some aerial photographs taken in 1940 and many portions of the trail in the Walla Walla area were still visible. Alas, it is so no more.

Fort Bridger is a Museum. There is a museum at Waillatpu (Whitman Mission). There are other museums with trail related material. There is the very interesting End of Trail Interpretive Center near Portland, Oregon.

Ok, I did this from memory and some Oregon Trail expert is going to scold me, but I think that's pretty much it.

Sha'el, Princess of Pixies said...

I am guilty of "querry" and I know better. ...

Alas, I cannot type. I cannot spell.

I make wonderful buttermilk pancakes though ....

My kids (both kinds) are cute ...

I have pretty wings ...

But I type their for they're or there. I often double letters where it simply isn't done by propper ladies.

I know I'm a lady though. My mother spent most of my growing years prefacing her words to me with "young lady ..."

Anonymous said...

Typing "female protagonist" into Google gets plenty of reputable results as far as I can see.

Anonymous said...

Anon X - about "female protagonist"

I think what Miss Snark is referring to is that the writer querying actually REFERRED to their character as, literally, "female protagonist" instead of by the character's name.

If I'm correct, uh, what a way to deflate your query...why not say "character #1" or "woman in donut shop".