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When Queries Attack September 2, 2009

Posted by techtigger in Queries.

The amount of information on the web about writing is amazing, there are sites that cover just about everything you would ever need to know.  Do a search on google and you’ll have more writing advice than you can shake a stick at.  You’ve learned all the tricks, how to hook, how to plot, but what they seldom talk about in those writers workshops is that you will also have to wear a sales hat along with the writers cap. You don’t even own a sales hat!

The muse is running out right now to buy a new hat.  Trust your muse, she knows hats.  But while she’s out shopping, let’s take a look at two of the most common sales/query faux-pas.

The Telemarketer

dinner2It’s dinner time. You have a nice, hot meal in front of you, your favorite show is on TV, and the *%#$#! phone rings.  “Am I speaking to the man or woman of the house?”  NO. Click. Stomp-back-to-cold-dinner. 

What went wrong here?  Cold calls have been around for as long as there have been phones, right?  Yes, but nothing says ‘I’m going through the whole phonebook’  like an un-personalized sales pitch.  Queries are a sales pitch. Any experienced sales rep will tell you that calls to large, random lists are a waste of time, with little or no return for your effort.   Let’s try that again.

“Hello Mrs. Smith, I’d like to talk to you about ways to save money on your home insurance.”

Okay, mildly creepy that they know so much about you.  But literary agents are odd ducks – they like to know you took the time to research them.  Finding out who they are, what type of book they’re looking for and the guidelines for submission shows professionalism.  And keep in mind, they want you to send queries.   So, once more, with feeling.

“Dear Mr. A. Gent, I saw from your website that you are accepting queries for Genre X, and I have enclosed the first five pages of ….”

See?  Professional, non-stalker-ish and you can follow instructions.  I’m not saying you should use these exact words, but proper personalization can help avoid the dreaded form rejection letter.   In sales, getting the foot in the door is everything.

But wait! You say, as you glare accusingly at me.  Why do they get to use form letters when I have to go through the trouble of personalizing?  This brings me to sales faux-pas number two, shifting from personalizing to getting personal.

The Guilt Trip

puppyEvery time an Agent sends a form rejection letter, a puppy dies.  Look at that puppy, how could you be so cruel? Have you no heart, sir? Shame! SHAME ON YOU!

And you know what, it’s true.  Agents do … get letters like this from writers.  (you thought I was going to say kill puppies, didn’t you.  Shame on you! ) 

Okay, maybe the puppy thing was a bit over the top.  But people actually write back to scold agents for sending a rejection letter.   I’ll admit to being baffled by this sales strategy.  What if every telemarketer you have ever hung up on called you back, just to tell you what a terrible person you were for not buying the Acme Fish-O-Matic Cod Blender?   Can you imagine that?

Here’s a little bit of sales wisdom – The customer is in no way obligated, what-so-ever, to buy anything from you.  Ever.   Agents, editors, and publishers are all customers.

That being said, here’s another bit of sales advice – The customer that turns you down today, may well buy something else from you tomorrow.   But only if you make a good first impression.  So don’t blow it by going online and ranting about the Evil A. Gent, Destroyer of Writers’ Dreams.  Build relationships by being polite and professional. Chat with them on twitter, comment (nicely) on their blogs.  And maybe next time, the magic will happen.

loveYou see, what you missed in all this do/don’t discussion was this one simple, yet oh-so important phrase:  Agents want queries.  They want your queries, because they love books.  They have a passion for books, god knows they aren’t doing their jobs for the money.  They want that magic moment, when eyes meet words across a crowded desk, and its love at first sight. 

It’s up to you, dear writer, to give them that moment by sending out those queries.   So sit down with your muse, put on that fabby hat she just bought for you and start planning your sales campaign. 


PS – no puppies were harmed in the making of this blog post.

PPS – my friend gave me the adorable puppy photo, along with a warning.  Swissys grow up to be huge dogs, so buyer beware.



1. Claudia Jackson - September 2, 2009

Well written blog. May I add my sales advice?

People buy from people, based on people related issues.

Keep up the good work!

techtigger - September 2, 2009

You certainly may share advice, that’s what this blog is for 🙂 And you’re right, sales is all about networking with people. It’s all too easy to forget, as the rejection letters pile up, that agents are people too.

Glad you liked the post!

2. Lori Zwermann - September 2, 2009

“Agents, editors, and publishers are all customers.”

That’s common sense, really, but wording that way reminds me that I’m selling my idea not adopting out my baby. Thank you!

techtigger - September 3, 2009

Hi Lori! It does help to switch gears when you start sending queries, and treat that part of the process as a business move. Makes it easier to let your ‘baby’ go, and grow up to be a full fledged book 🙂

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