Friday, October 22, 2010

How Not To Write A Query Letter by Smoky Trudeau

Check out the various writing blogs and magazines like Writers Digest and you’ll find plenty of advice on how to write a query letter. What you won’t find is advice on how not to write one.

And, sometimes, knowing how not to do something is as important as knowing how to do it. Here are a few tips on how not to present your work to a publisher.

1. Don’t compare your book to other books.

My second novel, The Cabin, involves time travel. So do Diana Gabaldon’s fabulous Outlander books. Her books have made her practically a household name; her books have sold millions of copies. Now, I believe The Cabin is every bit as good as the Outlander books. But to say that in a query letter would have been arrogant and presumptuous. It is not for the author to compare her books to best sellers. That’s the job of literary critics.

2. Don’t tell the publisher your book is guaranteed to be a best seller.

You don’t know this. You cannot guarantee this. Once again, to write such a thing in a query is arrogant and presumptuous, and will get your query tossed faster than a burning Frisbee. Along the same lines, don’t tell the publisher they’ll regret it if they don’t publish your book. That sounds like a thinly veiled threat. Again, you’ve doomed any chance you had of the publisher even reading the next sentence of your query.

3. Don’t assume a publisher’s submission guidelines don’t apply to you.

They do. Not reading and following a publisher’s submission guidelines to the letter shows the publisher you cannot follow directions, and if you can’t follow simple directions, how is the publisher to know if you can follow an editor’s directions? Don’t send your science fiction novel to a publisher who publishes only romance. Don’t send your literary novel to a publisher who publishes only inspirational non-fiction. Don’t send an entire manuscript if the publisher asks for only a chapter. I cannot stress this enough: follow the submission guidelines to the letter.

4. Don’t admit you’re clueless.

I have seen query letters where the authors admit they’ve never published so much as a Facebook comment. Never, ever admit you are clueless! If you’ve written a good book, if you’ve had it professionally edited, let the book talk for you. If it is good, it doesn’t matter if you’ve never published before. If it isn’t any good, well, it still doesn’t matter.

Be professional. Be courteous. Be humble. Follow the guidelines. Writing a good query letter is really as simple as that.

Smoky Trudeau is the author of two novels, Redeeming Grace and The Cabin, and two nonfiction books especially for writers: Front-Word, Back-Word, Insight Out: Lessons on Writing the Novel Lurking Inside You From Start to Finish; and Left Brained, Write Brained: 366 Writing Prompts and Exercises to Free Your Creative Spirit, Awaken Your Muse, And Challenge Your Skills Every Day of the Year, all from Vanilla Heart Publishing. She has published short stories and poetry in literary journals such as CALYX and online e-zines such as Smashed Ink, and was a 2003 Pushcart Prize nominee.

An ardent outdoorswoman with a deep reverence for nature, Smoky’s newly released book, Observations of an Earth Mage, is a collection of prose, poetry, and photography celebrating the fragile beauty of our planet. She is currently writing her third novel.

Finally succumbing to her bohemian spirit and need to live near the mountains and the ocean, Smoky moved to Southern California in 2008, where she lives with her husband and daughter in a ramshackle cottage in the woods overlooking the San Gabriel Valley and the San Gabriel Mountains beyond. When she isn’t writing, she spends her time hiking in the mountains, camping in the Sierras, splashing in tidepools, and fighting the urge to speak in haiku.


  1. Smoky, I have been thinking about writing a book - all the clueless query letters and demands VHP publishes their books, or folks who refuse to even read the submission guidelines and expect us to publish them just because their mommy tells them it is the best book ever... I would probably have to do a bunch of redacting of names and titles (to protect the guilty, of course)...naw, I will just laugh about them in my sleep...

  2. That's a book I'd love to read, though, Kimberlee!

  3. Every once in a while, an agent does come out with such examples, Kimberlee. Invariably, the denizens who wrote them did everything on Smoky's list.


  4. FYI, Thought you might like to know there is another Blog Jog Day scheduled for Nov 21st. If you're interested, go to to learn more.
    Have a great day!!!

  5. I'd read the book, Kimberlee! These tips are so important. Simple, yet weighty. Writers need to understand the importance of their query letter, and also that publishers don't like to be threatened! :)


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