What Not To Say (part 87)

I was watching American Idol last night (duh) and the judges were bringing contestants in one after the other and telling them either “You made it through” or “You’re out.” That’s how it feels when I’m going through my query box, reading them one after the other. You’re in, you’re out.

Just like contestants on Idol… some people who query are serious about it: they’ve got talent, they’ve worked their craft, they know what to do, and they bring it. Many others are passionate and sincere, and usually very nice, but they just aren’t ready (or talented enough) for a moment in the spotlight.

So here we go (again), the American Idol of the publishing world…

Things Not to Say in a Query Letter—A Cautionary Tale
These are real examples, slightly edited to protect the innocent (?). Snarky responses are for humor only. No writers were harmed in the making of this blog post.

“This book may well win the Nobel prize.”
(This agent may well win the No Bull prize. I’ll pass.)

“If you represent this book, your company will be known as the ones who helped bring about peace to our nation and the world.”
(Quit teasing me, Bono.)

“It reveals the most accurate knowledge ever recorded in human history.”
(We already have that resource. It’s called Wikipedia.)

“This book contains scripture and nothing else.”
(Um, I think they call that The Bible.)

“The market for my book is Christians, which is about 2 billion people around the world.”
(Please query me again when your personal mailing list is about 2 billion people around the world.)

“My book is brimming with cross-market appeal and overflowing with brazen commerciality.”
(My response is brimming with sarcasm and overflowing with cynicism.)

“God May Want You to Be My Agent! Please Read!”
(I’ve read! God doesn’t want me to be your agent!)

“Have you ever wondered…?”
(No, I haven’t. Does that mean I can stop reading now?)

“My book has the potential to be a literary blockbuster of epic proportions.”
(My pass letter has the potential to be a reality check of epic proportions.)

“I am open to suggestions and edits.”
(Well, good, because if you’re not open to suggestions and edits you aren’t going to be published.)

“I realize you require information about my platform and credentials, but Jesus’ disciples did not have impressive resumes, degrees, or extensive evangelical experience… my credential is that I am a disciple of Christ.”
(True, but the disciples could get an endorsement from Jesus…in his own handwriting. Bring me one of those and we’ll talk.)

“Here is my query. How soon can we schedule a meeting?”
(Um… I’ll have my people call your people.)

“I’ve recently completed my 195,000 word novel.”
(I’ve recently completed an anger management course because of my response to the last query for a 195,000 word novel. I really don’t want to go back there again.)

“Chip MacGregor referred me to you.”
(This would be fantastic… if it were true. I just got off the phone with Chip, who definitely didn’t refer you to me. Quickest way to a rejection is to fudge the truth in a query.)

That’s it for today. I wonder what tomorrow’s queries will bring?
Rachelle Gardner, Christian literary agent, WordServe Literary Group, Colorado.

Rachelle Gardner

Literary agent at Gardner Literary. Coffee & wine enthusiast (not at the same time) and dark chocolate connoisseur. I've worked in publishing since 1995 and I love talking about books!


  1. Anonymous on February 24, 2009 at 12:03 PM

    >Hi Rachelle,

    This is hysterical and I’m so glad my guery wasn’t posted. Guess it was okay since you represent me and I am sooooooo blessed.

    Jackie Lee Miles

  2. Janny on February 16, 2009 at 2:39 PM

    >Anon Feb. 13…

    Okay, which of those letters did you write?

    (sorry…couldn’t resist.)

  3. fayeruz on February 16, 2009 at 6:24 AM

    >Oh my gosh, I was giggling so hard, the bed rattled and woke up my husband! This post was delicious!

  4. Anonymous on February 15, 2009 at 10:39 PM

    >Hi Rachelle,

    At the risk of being a pain can I ask what date you are at with your query queue?

    I sent you one early December and knowing how backed up you are, don’t want to compund it with ANOTHER email, but am also a bit paranoid it may not made it through the electronic gauntlet to you (or worse back to me)!

    Thanks 🙂

  5. Anonymous on February 13, 2009 at 11:26 AM

    >This is how Colleen Lindsay, another literary agent, is sending people to view your blog:

    Seems I’m not the only agent who gets crazy pitches in query letters. My colleague Rachelle Gardner just posted a hilarious list of things not to say in your query letter. Unless, ya know, you’d like to be MOCKED OPENLY on her blog.

  6. Sharon A. Lavy on February 13, 2009 at 10:42 AM

    >Rachelle, I really think you need to switch your comments to moderation.

    The post by annon is so unnecessary and unkind and gives me a stomach ache.

    We who enjoy your blog need you to be yourself.

  7. Anonymous on February 13, 2009 at 10:00 AM

    >Your blog says you’re a follower of Christ, and I ask you, would a true follower of Christ post these types of comments? Do you really believe Christ would be a lover of American Idol? Look: you are NOT a follower of Christ. Say, I’m trying to be a follower of Christ, whatever. But don’t say you ARE a Christian (say I’m AM a follower of Christ) and then do just the very opposite of what Christ would do, because, that, is following someone else. Please don’t misunderstand me, none of us are perfect, but you really should examine yourself when you declare on a blog that you ARE a follower of Christ and then do the work of the evil one on that very blog. Because a true follower of Christ would NEVER do something like this.

  8. Rachelle on February 13, 2009 at 9:30 AM

    >Share away, Janny.

  9. Janny on February 13, 2009 at 9:21 AM


    May I puh-leeze share these with my fellow editors at my day gig? I’ll give you full credit, I promise…but I have a feeling they’ll snort their coffee just as much as I did, and that kind of humiliation deserves company. 🙂

    (Next time, just preface these with BEVERAGE ALERT…)


  10. Gwen Stewart on February 13, 2009 at 6:10 AM

    >Rachelle, this post gave me chuckles from beginning to end, from Bono to anger management.

    I sing “Skip To My Lou” for a living. So that explains the rainbows in my happy little world. LOL

    May I apologize on behalf of my profession for the recorder? I used to be pleased when parents told me their daughters were up all night at sleepovers playing recorder tunes. I wasn’t a parent then, so I missed the glint of accusation in their eyes. LOL. Now that my own kids have recorders, I get it.

    (But maybe if I play you “Amazing Grace” on my recorder someday you’ll feel better about the whole thing. Nothing stirs a soul more than “Amazing Grace” on a five dollar plastic instrument. ROFL)

  11. raballard on February 12, 2009 at 11:00 PM

    >I cross referenced my rejected Queries after reading your “things not to say” some of them looked familiar. I was able to breath a tiny breath of relief. I have not quried you.

    However, I think I might have come up with a way to change my storyline into a Pultizer Prize, help mankind, full history of history, christian book.

    Wait, here me out. I have changed my 13 year old female protaganist into a 13 year old female Pope (ya gotta like the pope) Our protaganist is transported into a magical, mystical realm. She must stop Tom Hanks from dicovering the holy grail (or something like it, I haven’t worked out the details.
    Can I get back to you? I am unsure if God wants you to become my agent, I do know my accountant would like some help.

    Comew to think of it, I guess I will leave my book alone. I hope I am still welcome to comment on your blog. Don’t be too mad, there are other ways to win the Nobel Prize. I think they give one out for the Recorder Bashing. (Loved that twiitty)
    PS you may comment on my Blog anytime.

  12. christa on February 12, 2009 at 9:47 PM

    >These queries are the Tatianas of agent world.

    Well, maybe not. She could give Tylenol a headache, but she can sing.

    Maybe if you set these to music. . .

  13. Joanne@ Blessed... on February 12, 2009 at 9:41 PM

    >Perfect timing…I am going to be writing query letters tomorrow.

    Though I must admit that it would be a cold day in you know where before I ever expressed any of those sentiments listed.

    No matter how many times I am published, I find that the tail between the legs approach works wonders ;O)

  14. Lynne Jamneck on February 12, 2009 at 9:39 PM

    >Now THAT was a fun read.

  15. Cheri Gregory on February 12, 2009 at 8:47 PM

    >Rachelle —

    Thank you for some fabulous banish-the-Monday-morning-blahs material for my AP Lit & Comp class!

    I always tell my seniors that they don't want me laughing (or crying) at their writing unless they're actually funny (or sad), which is rarely the case!

    If they can laugh at someone else's mistakes, perhaps they'll be a bit more coachable . . . or not.

    (And am I being cynical or realistic?)

  16. Deborah Blake on February 12, 2009 at 8:32 PM

    >Okay–just double-checked my query…none of the above. Phew! And for the record, God didn’t tell me to query you. The goddess, however… well, no–not her either. Never mind.
    Very funny post. 🙂

  17. AC on February 12, 2009 at 8:05 PM

    >These were hilarious!

    I had that EXACT same reaction during Idol last night. I was thinking about how, now that I’m querying, for once I knew exactly how those contestants felt. Waiting to be told yes or no. It’s every bit as nerve-wracking, but more drawn-out and luckily I get to suffer any rejections in private!

  18. Rachelle on February 12, 2009 at 7:39 PM

    >Gwen, you crack me up. That’s definitely a question from a true, unabashed, over-the-rainbow optimist.

    My answer: If only!

  19. Gwen Stewart on February 12, 2009 at 7:27 PM

    >Hi Rachelle,

    I’m late to posting but very curious about this. If you read past the adjective-laden queries to the sample pages, how far from accurate are the big claims, generally? Do the writers show some natural talent that’s perhaps a bit oversold? Or…not?

    Great peek into your inbox today. Just…wow. 🙂

  20. T. Anne on February 12, 2009 at 5:47 PM

    >My first query (when I was a mere teen) had a lot of those elements in it. I still laugh and cringe when I think of what I put out there.

    Rachelle, sounds like you have the makings of a book yourself.

  21. The Beaver Bunch on February 12, 2009 at 5:15 PM

    >I haven’t even went to your link on “How to Write A Query Letter” because I know it may NEVER come to pass that I should need that knowledge. I need to preserve what limited brain capacity I have left for stuff I’ll actually use in the next 24 hours.

    At any rate, this post was hysterical, even with my limited knowledge of query letters.

  22. crt on February 12, 2009 at 2:49 PM

    >You know I think literary agents ought to be banned from watching American Idol, Simon Cowel is a bad influence. (Who cares if he is right most of the time)

  23. Julie Gillies on February 12, 2009 at 2:31 PM

    >Hilarious, Rachelle! If laughter is good medicine, you are one healthy agent. Thanks for keepin’ it real.

  24. Sarah Salter on February 12, 2009 at 2:30 PM

    >Now, wouldn’t your job be boring if you didn’t get the occasional quirky query? 🙂

    Thanks for the laugh– AND for the lesson!

  25. Basil Sands on February 12, 2009 at 2:13 PM

    >Hi I’d like to introduce my new novel “Spelunking the Hoover: Beyond the Bristles: A Journey through the Vacuum and Back”

    The closet monster said you’d want to represent it. He also said that I didn’t need to send the manuscript in but that you just could download it telepathically and would call me when you reached chapter 37.

    When I awoke from the acid trip I still remembered his recommendation and figured it must’ve been real…so I’m just sending this note to remind you to call after Ch.37. Thanks.

    this note has been a parody…the closet monster didn’t really say that bit about the telepathy

  26. Rachelle on February 12, 2009 at 1:59 PM

    >Just to be clear… I don’t mind if someone says they’re open to edits, maybe as an aside toward the end of the query letter. But it feels a little presumptious when it’s one of the first things in the letter.

    You’re right, I suppose it’s helpful to know a writer is open to edits. But honestly, from my perspective, it’s SUCH a given that you’ll be edited that it seems totally unnecessary to say it.

  27. Chatty Kelly on February 12, 2009 at 1:38 PM

    >I was laughing my head off until I got to “I am open to suggestions and edits” because I put some form of that in my letters to editors. I’m thinking I should kill that line. Whoops.

    Thanks, dawg. 🙂

  28. Anonymous on February 12, 2009 at 1:27 PM

    >I agree with Anon 11:18–as a former editor, I know a lot of writers are prima donnas who refuse to change one word of their baby. But I think including a line about your willingness to revise shows that you’re a serious writer who wants to work hard on your craft, and polish the ms. What’s wrong with that?

  29. Anonymous on February 12, 2009 at 1:23 PM

    >Re: American Idol. I questioned a lot of the judges’ picks too, esp after the sing-offs. Shows how precarious and close the final decisions can be…
    But I think they kept a lot of the “characters” mainly cuz they’re different and emotional and bottom line is, they’re entertaining and make for “good TV.”

  30. Heidi on February 12, 2009 at 1:18 PM

    >I’m not sure if this is hilarious or just plain scary!

    The interesting thing about the being open to editing one is that I received a response to a partial that said they would want some changes, so if in the future I would be interested in talking about revising, they’d love to chat. For now, it’s a pass.

    I wrote a thank you note for their very kind comments on my writing and that I understood revising is certainly part of the process and was open to any suggestions.

    She wrote back with a “really?? Well, then, send on the full and let’s talk!”

    I assume when I send out my work, agents know I am willing to revise, but there are plenty of writers who don’t want to change a word. Maybe your querier knows some of those people and is trying to make sure you know she or he isn’t one of them.

  31. Krista Phillips on February 12, 2009 at 1:16 PM

    >Dear God,

    Please let the first agent I ever queried NOT start a blog and use my HORRIBLE letter as an example of what not to do. Please, Please, Please!


    Krista – who hopes she’s learned to write better query letters since then!

    LOL, seriously, this all brought back horrible memories of my first query letter. It was bad. Very bad. So, I think it would be fun for us all to share our OWN ‘before we knew better’ query letter quotes that we sent… come on! Let’s embarrass ourselves!

    But, uh, you all start… *grin*

  32. Turtle-Dove on February 12, 2009 at 1:14 PM

    >Writers oft times have a difficult time in marketing themselves. These examples are both funny and sad. Having had to hire and fire people, it’s rather the same: but I’m perfect for this job. Uh–no, the facial piercings just don’t cut it in a professional environment. Then the blank look. The look that tells you they totally believe there’s nothing wrong with their appearance. I’ve had to tell writers that their work needs…work…again…I can’t possible know what I’m talking about… Well, yes I can. What I tell writers, or job applicants: do some homework. It’s our ego driven, self absorbed world that defuses objectivity.

  33. heather on February 12, 2009 at 12:52 PM

    >I’ve been doing some critiquing and editing work, and one guy wrote in his introductory letter about his book, “I’m writing an up and coming bestselling book.”
    Apparently he has the gift of prophecy.

  34. Karen Barnett on February 12, 2009 at 12:48 PM

    >Wow, you can’t believe how tempting it is to make up a truly over the top query just to make you laugh! We owe you one! Thanks for the posts!

  35. Michelle LaRowe on February 12, 2009 at 12:15 PM

    >I soo needed a few moments of laughing out loud. You provided it!

  36. Lea Ann McCombs on February 12, 2009 at 11:58 AM

    >Toooo funny! What makes it so over-the-top is the fact they are REAL! I’ll bet most of them were the first set of queries those authors ever wrote and had no IDEA what to say or how to say it. They’ll learn–we hope!

    So the REAL question of the day: What in the world are the Idol judges thinking to keep that irritating Tatiana in the competition? GAG! She’s not that good and her personality makes me want to throw the remote at the TV.

    Oh well, I hope someone doesn’t think that about my novel some day!

  37. DCS on February 12, 2009 at 11:23 AM

    >A sigh of relief that my query was not included.

  38. Jessica on February 12, 2009 at 10:46 AM

    >You know, I actually liked the line “brazen commerciality”. Interesting play on words.

    I’m glad you post these. Some people are just unbearably arrogant, but I bet some of the others were just ignorant of what to put in a query. It’s nice of you to help us know what agents DON’T want to see.

    And you do it in such a snarky way. LOL

  39. Angela on February 12, 2009 at 10:36 AM

    >I think you have to have a great sense of humor to get through the Agent’s query box, because when you see over and over HOW MANY PEOPLE JUST DON’T LISTEN, it’s either laugh or cry, I imagine.

  40. Tracy on February 12, 2009 at 10:29 AM

    >Too funny! I’ll keep these in mind when my day comes to send out a query! Thanks for sharing and for the big, broad smile on my face!

  41. Dara on February 12, 2009 at 10:26 AM

    >I found this to be quite encouraging and funny. Perhaps these writers need to do a bit more research on you and constructing a query letter in general, especially the ones claiming their work is so great 😛

  42. Sharon A. Lavy on February 12, 2009 at 10:00 AM

    >The one: Have you ever wondered . . . I read in a book about writing query letters as a good hook.

    Thanks for the warning. Times have changed even in the query writing world. 😉

  43. Josephine Damian on February 12, 2009 at 9:58 AM

    >Luv the humor, especially the line about Bono.

    BRW, I think Danny Gokey’s BFF was robbed on IDOL last nite – thought he was better than some who got in, but of course he was gracious about it (whereas I threw a shoe at my TV).

  44. Rachelle on February 12, 2009 at 9:20 AM

    >Anon 7:10,
    Yes, this is sort of a lighthearted post, but in some ways it’s really serious, as you’ve discovered by your own reaction. It’s not about being cynical, it’s about how obvious it is when a person either hasn’t done their homework on the publishing industry, hasn’t done their homework on ME, has unrealistic expectations about the publishing process, or is simply not good enough at writing to be published yet. I used the words “cautionary tale” in my post on purpose… I don’t want you to be scared off, but I DO want you to learn.

    Everyone who reads my blog knows I’m a huge American Idol fan, and the reason I love the show is because it’s such a compelling illustration of what I deal with every single day. Lots of people with big dreams (whether it be singing or writing)… some have what it takes, and some don’t. When you watch Idol it becomes glaringly obvious that this is simply the way it is, you can’t sugar coat the fact that someone’s performance simply isn’t cutting it.

    I mean for posts like this to be funny, yes, and to give you a glimpse of what I see every day. But I also want it to inspire you to properly prepare before querying, so that you don’t end up with a query letter that I simply can’t take seriously.

  45. Daniel F. Case on February 12, 2009 at 9:18 AM

    >Dear Agent:

    God told me to leave this comment.

    You had better respond the way he said you should, or you may get leprosy.


    God’s Chosen Author

  46. Short Stop on February 12, 2009 at 9:12 AM

    >Laughing so hard I snorted my mornin’ tea.

  47. Faith on February 12, 2009 at 9:11 AM

    >You’re a Twitter pal, so I followed your link over.

    I’m an editor who has seen many of these claims in queries. I usually snort in disgust or crack up laughing. (Even received a query in crayon once, and no, it wasn’t from a child.)

    I’m with my second agent now, so a great query does, indeed, work wonders. It’s just too bad that more writers don’t take the time to research who they query, how to do so, and draft a fantastic letter.

    Nice blog–and what a pretty layout!

  48. Anonymous on February 12, 2009 at 9:10 AM

    >I understand that this was meant in a lighthearted way, but as an aspiring writer, I must say I found it a little discouraging. Sure, a lot of those claims were over the top, but folks are just trying to sell their ideas. Is the publishing industry really this cynical? If so, how does anything get published?

    (No offense meant to anyone – this just hit me hard.)

  49. Irene J Harvey on February 12, 2009 at 9:10 AM

    >Hi, Just read your ‘Query Letters’ for the first time. They are great, sure you must see a lot of junk, and what a ‘nice’ way of telling it. Keep it up, I will be back to see some more.
    My query: Do you ever like anything? Do I dare tell you about my book for kids (under 8).
    Irene J Harvey

  50. Daniel Florien on February 12, 2009 at 9:08 AM

    >That’s hilarious! It’s funny people actually say things like that — and worse, they think it will be effective.

    But at least they are trying to WIN your affection. My emails from Christians usually consist of threats and long-winded rants on how I’m headed to hell.

  51. Rachelle on February 12, 2009 at 9:01 AM

    >Timothy, thanks for making ME laugh this morning.

    John Upchurch, yes, these definitely tell me a lot about people’s personalities and how they deal with life. I’m sure we could all write up somewhat accurate personality profiles based on these sentences alone. I guess that’s part of my point… your query letters tell me a LOT about you, for better or worse.

  52. Writing Chick on February 12, 2009 at 8:54 AM

    >LOL I love this:

    “God May Want You to Be My Agent! Please Read!”
    (I’ve read! God doesn’t want me to be your agent!)

    I’m sure you get some incredibly interesting letters…thanks for the advice on what NOT to say in mine!

  53. Timothy Fish on February 12, 2009 at 8:54 AM

    >I only have one question. Why did you have to pull so many of them from my query letter?

  54. Rachel on February 12, 2009 at 8:52 AM

    >”We have that already. It’s called Wikipedia.”


  55. John UpChurch on February 12, 2009 at 8:51 AM

    >While I agree that many of these display some lack of thought, I wonder if others are simply reflections of how these people deal with other situations. For example, the one about scheduling an interview is often recommended when seeking a job (here are my credentials; when can we talk?). I’m not saying that’s appropriate, but, hey, you’ve got to give the person credit for derringdo.

    Now, as soon as I finish my 200,000-word book, you’ll be the first to know . . . that I wouldn’t write something I wouldn’t read myself (it’s like the Golden Rule of book writing).

  56. Robin ~ PENSIEVE on February 12, 2009 at 8:43 AM

    >Okay, if you hadn’t said they were real I would have presumed you were just having a little fun.


    Of course, it makes me wonder what MY query letter would say, lol.

    And, hey…it’s an easy post, right?

    Bless their hearts…;)

  57. Katy McKenna on February 12, 2009 at 8:38 AM

    >Never have I laughed so hard so early!!!! Thanks, Rachelle.

  58. Sharon A. Lavy on February 12, 2009 at 8:37 AM

    >You crack me up. Keep em coming.

  59. Rachelle on February 12, 2009 at 8:34 AM

    >Just so you know… YES, every one of these is completely real. AND they were just from the last few days.

  60. Marla Taviano on February 12, 2009 at 8:32 AM

    >These are awesome!!

  61. Richard Mabry on February 12, 2009 at 7:49 AM

    >You have undoubtedly given us the William Hung Commemorative Collection of queries. Thanks, Simon–I mean, Rachelle.

  62. Karen on February 12, 2009 at 6:56 AM

    >Every time you do a post like this, I remember my first writers conference. I rode from the airport to the campus with a lady who had written all her poems on napkins because that was how God inspired her. She had them all in her purse to present to editors.

  63. lynnrush on February 12, 2009 at 6:53 AM

    >ROTFL! What a great way to wake up before my run this morning. Now I’m going to have some funny thoughts to fuel my energy levels.

    Seriously, you really get these in your inbox?

  64. Pheebles on February 12, 2009 at 4:51 AM

    >I love it when you do these posts. Your responses are a hoot!

  65. JKB on February 12, 2009 at 4:15 AM

    >Man, you really get this in your query letters?

    I spit cola over my keyboard.

  66. clindsay on February 12, 2009 at 2:36 AM

    >I think I just choked up a lung laughing at this!