Queries: Common Mistakes

Writing a successful query is different--and, I'd argue, harder--than writing a book. It requires a certain distance. Over the course of my ten years in the publishing industry I've read thousands of queries, and nearly all of the queries I rejected suffered from one or more of the following:

Not Enough Information
These queries are too short, too vague, too abstract. Queries need to deliver concrete information about characters, stakes, and plot. Be specific. Writers often mistakenly believe that going broad in a query letter is the best way to attract interest; it isn't. 

Too Much Information
I see this a lot (though not exclusively) with genre fiction, particularly Science-Fiction and Fantasy, when writers try to cram in too much unique vocabulary or vernacular. The world-building in your query should be limited to what is easily identifiable and understood in context, otherwise it quickly becomes word salad. Dropping too many character names is another way writers give too much information. It's difficult to track more than three characters in a query letter without getting overwhelmed. Limit your query to the characters and story lines that are essential. 

Everything But The Story
A query letter has a very specific purpose, which is to tell your story as succinctly and engagingly as possible. A query letter is not the place to discuss the larger themes of your work, the applications of your work, the special snowflake-ness of your work. Often times queries tell me everything except the story, and the story is the only thing I care about. Don't waste time telling me what your story is about when you should just get right to it and tell me the actual story.
 


If you're looking for more resources on how to craft a successful query, recently on the Pub(lishing) Crawl podcast,  JJ and I discussed the Anatomy of a Query Letter and did a live Query Critique.