Manuscript Monday: What NOT to say in your query!

What Not to write in your query letter (1)

Hey friends, readers, writers, authors, and anyone who stumbles over to this little blog for Pen Name Publishing and French Press Bookworks!

January turned out to be a little crazier for us than we thought and we had to weigh out what and where to put our time. Unfortunately, that means the blog was a little quiet and we weren’t as fun on social media as we usually are.

First up, we are releasing David O’Sullivan’s cover today. Eek! WE LOVE cover reveal’s! Are you ready? This one is so fun. The covers that weren’t and the cover that is, well, we think they are all pretty stellar! Hold tight, that comes at 12PM EST.

Secondly, the book club discussion questions for our January Book by Rabindranath Tagore will be posted today. We can’t wait to hear what you thought and we’re now diving in to book #2 – The Tale of Genji. Are you reading the classics and novels with impact with us? If not – join us on GoodReads by clicking here.

Thankfully, we have brought on three new Assistant Editors we will introduce to you this week – one being our very own, very lovely, very driven, Ana Franco.

Ana will be overseeing Sci-Fi, Fantasy and Paranormal submissions and I know she is probably jumping with joy right now that we’ve said this loud and clear. Ana is such a joy to work with as she is constantly looking for new ideas and almost every day I have an email saying, “Hey, I thought about this (xxx). What do you think?”

She might just be one of the hardest working book bloggers/indie authors we’ve ever met. She works hard to promote the team, is always laughing, and always full of inspiration. We are so happy to have her on board, both as an author, and now as an Assistant Editor for Paranormal, Fantasy, and SciFi.

Later, we’ll introduce you to Brianna VanGorder who will check out all you naughty little Romance writers, and Rachel Edgell who eagerly jumped in on Historical Fiction and Nonfiction.

While you’re waiting on these introductions, we’re going to kick 2015 off with the one piece that continues to throw everyone for a loop – the query letter.

We’ve given some suggestions on what to write in previous blogs, but it seems like the biggest help will come in what NOT to write.

Our inboxes were overflowing after the holidays and we had to wade through them quicky, making decisions based on the query letters.

With over 275 submissions, we only moved forward on full manuscript reviews for 50. From there, we have opened up the conversations and contract negotiations with 13 titles.

So what turned us off from 225 submissions?

  1. Lack of attention to detail. We’ve been queried by multiple authors who didn’t write our name properly. We’ve gotten No Name Publishing, Penned Publishing, Pen Name Publisher, French Books, The Press Bookworks, and Pen Name Bookworks. We even continued with one during our first few months because we thought it was an honest mistake. But, it really bit us the wrong way because it showed the author wasn’t committed to their outreach in any way, shape, or form.
  2. A brief synopsis that does not match the submitted chapters. If you’re telling me you have a nail biting, action packed, edge of your seat thriller – prove it. Don’t put me to sleep before you blow me up.
  3. A lack of understanding of genres. If your book is influenced on true events in your life but not factually following those events, it is not Nonfiction. I don’t mean the basic disclaimer to try and appease those you might upset when you write about your experience – I mean telling me your romance novel where one character is based off of your high school crush and the entire book is based on your fantasies, but all of the details are changed, is Nonfiction. (I know, you might be spinning on that one, we were as well.)
  4. Saying you are a well known independent author but you can’t back it up.  We hear it routinely – you are a Wattpad or Smashwords superstar and have built a strong following through years of hard work. When we check this, your social media following is next to nothing, we don’t see any comments or readers on your fanfiction or writings, and your blog hasn’t been touched in five years. If a Google search can’t find you, chances are we might not be able to if we really need you as well. Present yourself for exactly who you are. This will help the publisher work with you, create your plan, and anticipate exactly what they can do and offer for your contract.
  5. Bargaining in the opening statements. Leave the negotiations for the negotiations. Let us see if you’re even a fit or if we feel that we can support you and help you grow. Throwing out a hard sell of requesting a 6 figure advance and guaranteed movie rights from a small house like us is laughable. From a large house, it’s not laughable but it would be a closed door.
  6. Uncompleted manuscripts. Even though we require the manuscript to be completed to look at it, we still get many queries where the author says they will only finish the book if they get signed. That says to us that you just are not that passionate about your story and it doesn’t have an important place in your life.
  7. Jumbled words and stream of conscience styled approach. We love experimental writing styles the same as the next literary junkie who’s ever had to study authors in an academic setting. We had some beautiful submissions come our way in experimental fiction, but if we can’t make sense of your query letter then we know the communication process is going to be strained. That, my friends, is no fun.
  8. Ego. We had a handful of queries stating they are the best, new, undiscovered, unappreciated author in their genre and their work is going to blow us away. Our work is about collaboration and due to the small nature of our house, we don’t have the ability to manage people who start out with egos and then grow to Hulk sized mental monsters. This may work for a larger house but here’s our tip: do your research before being this bold. If this is you, you’re going to do best in a publishing house that probably doesn’t care about you and is just excited about the dollar signs flashing in their eyes.
  9. Begging. Yes, we got a query that said if we don’t publish a certain manuscript, a child would have a harder life due to their parent’s lack of income. We were then provided with a fundraising link to submit funds to if we declined their manuscript. We did neither. We got a really nasty follow up. We shared it with a few of our friends in the industry as well. Next.
  10. Negative information about previous experiences. We have met some potential authors that have worked with multiple publishers and seem to always have something negative to say about every one. We weren’t there, we don’t know for sure what happened, but a chain of consistent negative actions likely points to the only common denominator. Also, if you’re having consistently bad experiences, maybe you aren’t taking the time to understand your contract and what the publishing house is offering. You need to know that this could be considered slander and put you in to a precarious financial situation. It’s best to try and figure out what’s going wrong and find the right solution. And, as always, there are two sides to every story. If you’ve had a bad run with a publisher, they probably can list just as many things from their end. Don’t open that can of worms, keep your nose clean.
  11. Insane demands and refusal to meet the publisher’s need. In today’s day and age, books and authors are everywhere. We’ve had a few queries demanding mass support in custom made products in hopes of landing a movie deal, down to authors who straight tell us they won’t do any event under 100 people or work with any website/book blogger that is under a certain ranking. We love that you support your book, but other people need the chance to find it. Starting off right from the start and establishing that you feel you are too good for portions of your audience will not win us over. We firmly believe that an audience of 5 can be just as powerful as an audience of 100. As a matter of fact, the audience of 5 will likely be more invested in what you’re saying and the audience of 100 will likely be on Instagram showing anything but you. Some of our biggest fangirls and fanboys have come from tiny blogs and everyone grows from somewhere. Every relationship matters and a successful author will realize this.
  12. Being under contract with another publisher. This happens quite a bit. We find a submission we adore and have to ask the author if their previously published piece is under contract. If it is, do they have a noncompete or right to refusal clause? 99% of the time, they do. Authors, please understand your contracts and your legal obligations. If a publishing house signs you without requesting you to research your previous contracts, you could put yourself into a financial pickle and possibly blacklist yourself depending on who you’re involved with. Don’t ruin your future. If you have a right to refusal clause and you want a new publisher, send that publisher a manuscript of steaming dung that they won’t want to touch and let them refuse it.

On the short side of things, be direct and to the point but let your individuality come through. Don’t be demanding without experience as publishers might see you as a liability. Don’t send in a query you have not researched. Make sure you know your book and how to represent it. Make a plan for how you are going to build your book on your own time, show the publisher that you are invested in your success, that you can work well with others (maybe you occassionally run with scissors, okay, we can work with that) and they will likely invest in your success and help you get that little manuscript that could turned in to the manuscript that did.

And, if you don’t like these suggestions and want to be bossy, arrogant, demanding, egotistical, and feel like you’re on a pedestal of gold above your audience – take the plunge and try to knock the socks off of that iconic agent or publishing house.

Maybe you’ll get it. Maybe you won’t. Either way, your future is completely in your hands.

Do you feel like being funny? Leave an example of the worst query letter you could possible create this week in the comments below. The worst query letter will get an advanced eBook of every title we will be releasing this year as well as Peter Monn’s “The Before Now and After Then” and Leigh Rains’ “We’re All Mad Here”.



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