Analysis of a Really Bad Book Query Letter (With Lessons for Non-Authors, Too)

Ever dream of getting a big New York publisher for your future best seller? Don’t do it like this—in fact, don’t esend any kind of pitch letter that makes these mistakes:

M husband has a finished book and he is looking for a Book Agent or Book Publisher. His book is geared for young adults. He is a Highschool teacher and his students are chomping at the bit to read his book. We are sitting on a gold-mine! If you are interested, please leave your information so we can send you more information on the book! Thank you so much.

This was an actual query, submitted through a media query submission service. Let’s play a little game with this, just for fun. How many things can you find wrong with this post? Use the comment form to respond, and then scroll down to see my list (don’t cheat!)

Publishers are deluged with queries and are actively looking for reasons to say no. Any of the eight points below will probably trigger rejection. All of them together? This proposal is going nowhere, fast. Similarly, executives look for reasons to brush off sales pitches…customers of any kind want to be romanced, but this letter is more like the equivalent of a wolf-whistle on the street corner.

  1. Spelling, grammar, and punctuation count. I notice two typos (dropping the y in My and running high and school together into one non-existent word), one inappropriate hyphenation, and four inappropriate capitalizations.
  2. Writing style counts. This limp and wooden paragraph gives me no confidence in the author’s ability.
  3. I don’t even know if this is fiction or nonfiction, let alone the subject and genre. Tell me what the book is about, tell me your working title, get me interested.
  4. Young Adult, in the children’s book market, is a much younger reader than high school. She doesn’t know her terms and her audience, which means she doesn’t know the industry, which means the product is not likely to be salable.
  5. Don’t give me hype (gold-mine). Give me facts.
  6. What a great market analysis—NOT! His students are eager for the book. OK, let’s say he teaches five classes of 30 kids each, which would be a pretty big load but not out of the question. OK, so that’s a universe of 150 students per semester. If even 25 percent of the market actually buys (and that’s about 5 to 10x more than I’d guess), you’ve just sold a whopping six books. That won’t even pay for the cover design. I think this particular gold mine may be all played out. And no other markets are mentioned.
  7. What’s his name, what are his credentials, and why isn’t he writing his own letter?
  8. Finally, why submit this to a media pitch service that goes to experts across all genres, seeking publicity by answering reporters’ queries? The targeting is very poor. It would make a lot more sense to pitch a list of actual publishers, don’t you think?

And by the way, if you’re thinking of submitting a book proposal or query letter to an agent or publisher, a bit of expert help can make a huge difference. I offer critique services, rewriting, or writing from scratch. And I’ve sold to Wiley, Simon & Schuster,and Chelsea Green, as well as gotten nibbles for my clients from many other fine houses. For those authors better suited to self-publishing, I walk you through every step of the process and we come out the other end with something as good as books coming from major publishers.

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