by Anne R. Allen
Bloggers sometimes feel like Rodney Dangerfield. We get no respect.
This week, we heard how Amazon is banning 100s of book review bloggers and removing their reviews. Some of the bloggers may be violating “affiliate” rules, but others have no affiliation with Amazon and are having all their reviews removed anyway.
Of course this is devastating to authors as well as book bloggers, and no explanation has been given
Amazon, like much of the rest of the world, doesn’t seem to get how important bloggers are to contemporary commerce. These days, a great review on a major book blog can do as much for your sales as an ad in the New York Times.
The banned bloggers are talking about posting their reviews to Kobo, B & N and iTunes, which I think is wise. If they do it in large numbers they can balance out the power Amazon reviews have in the marketplace, and healthy competition is always a good thing. I urge everybody to spread their reviews around.
Amazon may learn that disrespecting bloggers is not a smart thing to do, whether you’re an author, publicist or even a giant retailer.
Unfortunately a lot of people who query us don’t seem to get that. They don’t realize that querying a blogger isn’t any different from querying an agent or publisher.
They pop us a DM on Twitter or FB or a leave a comment on a Google Plus post, offering us “free content on the subject of your choice,” ask for a review, or otherwise show they’ve never looked at the blog.
Most of our queries come from authors or publicists who want a blog tour promotion, interview, or a book review (none of which we do.) Some people want us to give free critiques or edit their work (sorry: we don’t edit or have time to offer free work beyond all we do for the blog.) And we often hear from people who want us to advertise products, websites and software or display their infographics. (We don’t do that either.)
We also get lots of queries from newbie writers who hope to collect some writing credits by guest blogging. That’s actually a smart thing to do. But you need to visit the blog first. Most of our queriers make it obvious they haven’t read the blog—or they’d know we usually have high-profile guests and only take 12 guest posts a year.
I’ll be writing more next month on guest blogging for visibility and building platform.
Writing a good query isn’t rocket science. But you do have to learn the rules. Here’s the most important thing to remember: publishing is a business and a query is a job interview. Give it 100% or don’t do it. Picture the real person behind the company, blog, or agency you’re querying, and talk about what you have to offer them.
Whoever is reading the query is looking for a reason to reject you so they can move quickly through the inbox. Don’t give them one.
Do a little homework and you can avoid most of these pitfalls. We were all newbies once, and some of these are just typical newbie mistakes. But if you educate yourself and learn to be respectful, you can avoid them.
Top Ten Ways to Write Self-Rejecting Queries
10) Send a query via anything but email (or snail, in some more conservative pockets of the world.)
Do not send a Twitter or Facebook DM or @message pitching your book to agents, editors, bloggers or readers—unless it’s in a specific Twitter challenge set up by an agency or blog.
Direct Messages are intimate and come across as disrespectful if you don’t have a prior relationship. I talked about that in my post on How NOT to Sell Books. I know there must be some “gurus” out there telling people to send an auto DM in response to a follow, demanding that people like your FB page and buy your book. Do. Not. Do. This. Please! Never send a DM in response to a follow. It’s rude.
Just this morning I got a DM in response to a follow that said “I know you hate DMs. I do too. Now follow me on Instagram.” Seriously. What was this person thinking?
If you feel you must thank somebody for a follow–which comes across as overkill on Twitter, and is certainly not required–at least make sure your “thanks” doesn’t come with spam or demands, and send it in a regular Tweet.
Book review bloggers are especially annoyed by tweeted queries. Review blogs are hard work, and the reviewers deserve the respect due to any other professional.
9) Skip the Proofreading
The e-query is a great boon to authors. No more double envelopes and return postage and trips to the Post Office with those expensive manuscript boxes.
But the e-age can lull us into a false sense of informality. An e-query is just as formal and official as a paper query and needs to be composed with just as much care.
This is true whether you’re querying a top agent or a lowly blogger. If you want to guest post, you’re not going to get a spot if you look as if you don’t know how to spell, and no reviewer is going to take on your book if you apparently use apostrophes as random word-decorations.
Remember to watch out for your headers, too. I remember working for weeks on a query and then sending it off to my potential dream agent with a whopping typo in the header (misspelling my own title.)
Rejection came within minutes. Yup. I’d self-rejected.
8) Advertise your failures
Agent Alex Glass reminds authors to “Avoid a sentence such as ‘This is my third (or fourth, or fifth, or sixth) unpublished novel, so I am clearly very dedicated and hardworking’…”
No: you’ve clearly failed a lot.
Everybody fails—that’s how we learn. But we need to keep the failures quiet in a query.
I feel the same if somebody queries me saying: “Nobody is buying my books so you have to help me by giving me a guest spot.”
My first thought is going to be that maybe your books aren’t selling because they’re as unprofessional as your query. If so, you will lose us subscribers and reduce our stats.
Writers who tell us they are no good at drawing an audience are rejecting themselves.
A query should be one page. Preferably less than 200 words. Anything more is just an advertisement of your lack of self-editing skills.
The query is your vehicle. Make sure it’s streamlined and modern looking. This means it’s short, hooky, and has lots of white space.
Most agents these days want a synopsis that is one page as well. They want it to read like book jacket copy—only with the ending included. Anything else is old fashioned and gets skipped. Don’t write a long synopsis unless it’s specifically requested. Here’s my post on how to write a synopsis. And here’s a great one from Jane Friedman.
Yes, I know you’ve taken all those creative writing classes that tell you it’s all about your talent and passion and descriptive writing ability.
But a query uses a different kind of writing skills—skills you’re going to need whether you publish traditionally or not. Every author needs to know how to write good blurbs, hooks, and product descriptions these days.
Learn those skills before you query.
And if you want a guest blogspot, show you have the writing chops to carry it off. If you write one big hunk of text in your query, you show you don’t get 21st century writing.
Thus auto-rejecting yourself.
6) Forget the hook
It doesn’t matter if you’re querying a newbie blogger asking for a review or pitching your screenplay to Steven Spielberg, you always need a HOOK. Make what you have on offer enticing.
A simple formula for a novel hook is “When X happens, Y must do Z, otherwise LMNOP happens.” It’s a one or two sentence overview of the plot that needs to be dynamic and show what’s at stake. For a more literary work, you might want to state the theme or setting and whatever makes it unique.
For a blogpost or nonfiction book, the hook only needs to answer the questions: why this book/post? Why now? Why you?
Or make people laugh. Humor is a great hook for selling a blogpost.
Yes, I know it’s hard. But we all need to work on our skills as “hookers”. Here’s a good simple piece on writing a hook from agent Natalie Lakosil of the Bradford Literary Agency. And here’s my post on Hooks, Loglines and Pitches.
Don’t tell me you read my blog regularly and then say you know how much I like to review Bigfoot erotica. All you’re telling me is that you’re a liar.
Agents feel the same way. Don’t say “I met you at the Southeast Montana Paranormal Romance Writers Conference-and-Gun Show” if you weren’t there. Maybe the agent was scheduled but cancelled at the last minute. Maybe there were only four people in her workshop.
And if you say “I love your client’s work,” at least read the “look inside” of a few of the titles. If you say “I see you rep Zorian Q. Weatherbottom, so I know you’ll love my work” make sure you know what Zorian Q. Weatherbottom writes.
If it turns out Mr. Weatherbottom writes Christian end-times thrillers, you’ve just self-rejected your steamy vampire/werewolf M/M romance.
4) Act arrogant
You want to sell your story or blogpost, not convince people you’re an asshat.
I don’t get very far into a query that starts with “I’m a bigshot. Here are all the fabulous things I’ve done…” and then goes on for paragraph after paragraph of “I’m so special”. I don’t care if you’re Shonda Rhimes. If you don’t tell me why you’ve contacted me and what you have on offer, I’m going to delete.
And here’s a secret: people who really are bigshots don’t have to tell people who they are. When Anne Rice contacted me to talk about cyberbullying, her name in the address was more than enough to make me ignore everything else in the inbox and jump to open it.
And even if you’re not that famous, just one or two major achievements are much more impressive than three pages listing every prize you’ve won since you got the trophy for good penmanship in third grade.
Here’s how agent Shira Hoffman put it:
“I dislike it when a query letter focuses too much on the author’s bio and doesn’t tell me what the book is about. Make sure you include essential story details.”
3) Don’t bother to do your research
- Agents say the number one reason for rejections is that most writers query them with books in genres they do not represent.
- Reviewers say the number one reason for rejections is that most authors query them with books in genres they don’t review.
- Our number one reason for rejections is that most writers query us with posts on non-writing-related subjects.
See a pattern here?
I realize everybody starts as a beginner. I don’t mean to make fun of novices.
But anybody can visit a website or blog. And read it. It’s not hard. It just means taking the time to be respectful.
And not look like a doofus.
You need to learn about the industry you want to join. The best way to get general info about publishing is is read a few current books on the industry, like, ahem, HOW TO BE A WRITER IN THE E-AGE.
If you want an agent, then read agent blogs, especially in your genre. The #AskAgent hashtag on Twitter is also a great resource for up-to-date agent info.
There are some fantastic websites for agent-seekers that are must-reads: Chuck Sambuchino’s Guide to Literary Agents, AgentQuery.com, QueryTracker.net, and QueryShark. If you write YA, check Literary Rambles, too.
AgentQuery has a searchable database. You can go there and put in the genre you write and choose the agents who are open to queries.
But don’t stop there. Visit the agent’s website. If the agent says, “I don’t rep paranormal romance or Young Adult,” believe her. Even though she may have sold the genre three years ago and several of her clients write in that genre, it’s counterproductive to send her your teen vampire romance now. She is not going to be so blown away by your brilliance that she’s going to “make an exception.”
If she says she doesn’t rep that genre, she means she doesn’t know any editors who are buying that genre right now. She probably can’t even sell the books of her existing clients who write in that genre. Genres have fashions, and what’s hot one month can be untouchable the next. Even if you have the storytelling skills of J.K. Rowling, that agent will not be able to sell your book..
People who query asking me to review a book—no matter the genre—are just wasting their time and mine. This is not a book review blog. It’s not what we do. A quick glance around tells you that and it’s clearly stated on our CONTACT US page.
These things happen because the queryiers think their time is more valuable than the time of the people they are querying, so they don’t bother to research. Not a good way to start a business relationship.
2) Ignore guidelines
NEVER ever query an agent or publisher or blogger without reading the guidelines—the ones on their actual current website, not in a library copy of some book on agents from 10 years ago.
Oh yeah, and then you have to FOLLOW the guidelines. I don’t know how many times I have heard authors say “this agent says she wants a one-page synopsis, double spaced, but I have a book (published in 1987) that says a synopsis should be at least 7 pages, so that’s what I sent.”
You just self-rejected.
I don’t care if the agent says she wants the synopsis written in Sanskrit. Just go to Google Translate and do it.
If you don’t like her guidelines, don’t query her. But otherwise, you’re only wasting electrons.
We state in our guidelines: “Pieces must be informational rather than promotional, and we prefer a light-hearted tone. Your piece should present a fresh take on writing craft or a current publishing industry issue. 1500-2500 words.” When people send me a heavy-handed, 300 word promotional piece about their latest book, all they’re telling me is they didn’t bother to read the guidelines.
1) Amateurish antics
If you query in the voice of your character, write a synopsis from the point of view of her cat, or write your query in glitter on a pair of hot pink panties, you will get noticed, but not in a good way.
Even if your antics are wildly clever, this is like wearing an evening gown to a job interview. You are advertising yourself as an amateur who doesn’t know how things are done in the business.
Listen to the agents:
“Queries are business letters. Agenting is business. Publishing is business. I try to be nice and friendly and funny and all, but the bottom line is that I expect those with whom I work to be professional and take what they’re doing seriously.
—Linda Epstein (Jennifer De Chiara Literary)”
“Treat [a] query as a job interview. Be professional. Be concise.”
—Nicole Resciniti (The Seymour Agency)
A lot of people overestimate the value of raw “talent”. If you’re a clueless amateur, an egotist, or a pain in the patoot, nobody will want to work with you even if you have the talent of Shakespeare, Dickens, and Jane Austen all rolled into one.
So don’t reject yourself before you even hit “send.” Learn to write a professional query, whether it’s to an agent, an editor, or blogger. Show respect. It opens an amazing number of doors.
For more great quotes from agents about queries, check out Chuck Sambuchino’s blogpost Literary Agents Sound Off.
And for a comprehensive survey of what agents don’t want to see in queries, read J.M. Tohline’s 2010 blogpost The Biggest Mistakes Authors Make in Querying Agents.
For more on queries, here’s Nathan Bransford’s classic post on how to write a query.
by Anne R. Allen @annerallen April 10, 2016
How about you, Scriveners? What mistakes did you make when you were first querying? As bloggers, do you get outrageously inappropriate queries? What’s the worst query you ever saw?
Yes, we’re still here on WordPress. My tech person has evaporated. Next week we’ll have a great guest post from Cat Michaels on building online community (essential for sales these days.) But whether the post will be here or on Blogger is still up in the air.
If you want to make sure you don’t lose track of us, you might want to subscribe to my book blog, annerallensbooks.blogspot.com. You’ll only get a notice if there’s a new post. This week I’ve got a post on 10 Reasons Why Short Fiction is Hot at the book blog.
BOOK OF THE WEEK
…Mary J. Caffrey
Narrated by C.S. Perryess and Claire Vogel
Literary Death Match 250 word Bookmark Contest. Judged by Daniel Handler (a.k.a. Lemony Snicket). Must be under 250 words. $1000 first prize. All finalists will be invited to read at LDM events near where they live. $15 for one entry $20 for two. Enter via submittable. Deadline May 16th, 2016
Writer’s Digest Annual Writing Contest. First prize: $5000. Entry fee $15 poetry $25 prose (Early bird prices) Enter your poem, story, essay, magazine article, play, TV or film script. Lots of prizes. Early Bird Deadline May 6, 2016
Strangelet is a paying journal of speculative fiction that is looking for flash fiction, short stories and comics for their September issue, edited by Bill Campbell of Rosarium Publishing. They pay .01c a word, with a minimum of $5. Deadline for the September issue is April 30th
Sequestrum Reprint Awards. Finally a contest that actually wants previously published short stories and creative nonfiction! Entry fee $15. Prize is $200 and publication in the Fall-Winter issue of Sequestrum. The runner-up will receive $25 and publication. Finalists listed on the site. Deadline April 30th, 2016.
Platypus Press. A new UK small press is looking for literary novels and poetry collections. No agent required. Though your manuscript must be complete, the first three chapters of a novel will suffice when submitting. It must be previously unpublished, but work posted on a blog or personal website is acceptable. Accepts simultaneous submissions.