How to Write a Perfect(ly Dreadful) Query Letter

Posted: December 14, 2009 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , ,

I’ve added footnotes to this sterling query letter. Enjoy.

(1)Dear Agent:

(2) Are you terrified of death? (3) Imagine a world where sparkling, flesh eating zombies roam freely across the countryside. (4) By reading my novel, you will experience the terror of an undead apocalypse. (5) TWILIGHT HUNGER is wholly original; you’ve never met anyone like Hunter Steele. (6) Hunter’s zombie killing escapades are just the tip of the iceberg. (7) Can he save the voluptuous raven haired Desiree  D’Uathata (a fiery tempered fae) from an Islamic terrorist plot?

(8) By now, you must realize you’ve never seen the likes of TWILIGHT HUNGER before. My novel will appeal to anyone who loves good literature, especially men. (9) With over 144 million men in the United States alone, my 287, 000 word epic saga is destined for the bestseller list.

(10) I’ve had my fiction novel professionally edited by my aunt, who proofs the classified ads for our local Penny Saver. (11) My family and friends characterize my story as “unforgettably horrifying” and “strangely amusing.” (12) Although I know you’ll fall in love with my manuscript, I need assurances you will not plagiarize my ideas. (13) To this end, I’ve contacted the copyright office to secure the rights to the novel.

(14) Each chapter of my manuscript is attached to this e-mail as a separate word document. I quit my job this week in order to write a sequel, and I’ll be on vacation until next Thursday. I’ll await your call next Friday at 5:00 p.m. sharp. (15) Let’s make some money together!

(16) Hugs and Kisses,

Scarlet Whisper

(1)   Agents appreciate efficiency. Research is tedious and time consuming. Instead of selecting individual agents who might be the best fit, go ahead and toilet paper Manhattan with your query. Don’t personalize queries; everyone knows it’s a waste of time. If “Dear Agent” feels too impersonal, use “To Whom it May Concern” instead.

(2)   Always begin your query with a question. Agents love rhetorical hooks, especially ones which raise one’s blood pressure; it builds tension

(3)   Show how attuned you are to pop culture by adopting movie trailer narration in your query.

(4)   You know how fabulous your novel is; be confident and tell the agent how much they’ll enjoy your story!

(5)   You want to entice the agent without giving too much of the plot away. Don’t forget to mention your hard-bodied protagonist!

(6)   The use of metaphor marks you as a sophisticated writer. Pepper your query with bold clichés.

(7)   Only give the agent a taste of the action in your story; use adjectives and adverbs freely to highlight your plot. Keep the agent guessing what your book is about.

(8)   Confidence, confidence. Who wants a milquetoast as a client? Tell the agent how unique and profound your novel is; spare no descriptor!

(9)   It’s important to show you’ve done your market research; calculate how many people will buy your masterpiece. By sharing this information up front, you’ve told agent you’re a savvy business person. Include your initial word count, even if you think 287,000 is a little low.

(10)                       Of course, don’t forget to include the manuscript’s history. The agent will appreciate the expertise of a fellow professional. Also, be sure to clarify that your novel is “fiction.”

(11)                       Blurbs are a powerful selling point; quote your blood relatives. The agent enjoys reading these objective reviews.

(12)                       Be careful. Publishing is a cutthroat business. You know your novel is the next Pulitzer. Let the agent see you’re streetwise and prepared for a lawsuit.

(13)                       I’m sure you’ve heard your novel is granted copyright protection from the moment you wrote it, but it never hurts to go the extra mile. While you’re at it, secure the copyright for the cover artwork your daughter painted. Original black velvet canvases of sparkling zombies are hard to come by.

(14)                       Attach the full manuscript, regardless of the agent’s submission guidelines. They’ll thank you later. Attaching each chapter separately will make it easier on the agent when you send revisions two days after your original query.

(15)                       Let your enthusiasm and financial prowess shine through your query letter. In fact, send a box of cigars or a bottle of aftershave along with your submission.

(16)                       This is the clincher. You’ve been the consummate professional throughout your query. Seal the deal with an intimate greeting. The agent will develop distinct feelings toward you.

Still hungry?

After you’ve sent your query, wait for the stacks of manuscript requests to pile up in your mailbox or e-mail folder. Until then, build a bonfire with the mountain of rejections you’ve accrued. The crackling flames are the perfect compliment to my Indoor Smores.

Indoor Smores


4 cups Gold Grahams cereal

3 tablespoons butter

6 cups mini marshmallows

1/4 cup light corn syrup

1 1/2 cups milk chocolate chips

Spray or butter a 9 by 13 pan. Set aside cereal in a large bowl. In a medium saucepan over low heat, melt butter. Add marshmallows and corn syrup and stir until melted. Stir in chocolate chips until ingredients melt together smoothly. Remove from heat and pour over cereal; stir well to coat. Press into pan. Cool completely before cutting into squares.


  1. Jemi Fraser says:

    LOL 🙂 I laughed the whole way through that! I wonder how many of those mistakes I would have caught a year ago. I was still a total rookie then 🙂

  2. That was very funny and I absolutely loved your footnotes. Thanks for sharing.

  3. J. Martin says:

    Jemi: Anything to make you laugh. I’ve committed a few doozies myself.

    Cassandra: Glad you enjoyed my totally *serious* clarification notes. 😉

  4. Rhiannon says:

    Ha! Sterling advice.

    • jmartinlibrarian says:

      Thanks, Rhiannon. I’m tickled you like it. Can’t wait to dig a little deeper into your dystopian lovin’ blog. Looks neat-orama.

  5. Loved it!! So funny. You just know there are people out there that have sent similar queries. lol.

  6. Hilarious and spot on! Glad to know I’ve been doing it right all along. But I’m still waiting for those requests for fulls to roll in. I probably forgot to add the deadline for a response to my query. Shucks! I was so close. 😀

    Great post! Had me laughing all the way through.

    • jmartinlibrarian says:

      Hang in there, keep moving forward. Someday, you’ll be sharing good news with us all. And we’ll be cheering you on…

  7. Gabe says:

    Hey! I write hard-boiled protagonists! :p

  8. catwoods says:

    Loved it with a capital L–and not just cuz it started my sentence!

    Makes me wonder how many of those mistakes I still make…

  9. John Gilmore says:

    funny funny

  10. Jean says:

    That’s too funny. You have got it nailed. The Penny Saver is a nice touch. Send this puppy out! You’ll be cooking s’mores in no time. 😉

  11. Jemi Fraser says:

    Hi Jenny! I “tagged” you over at my blog. If you don’t have time, don’t worry, it’s just for fun 🙂

  12. I read this howling and blushing in equal measure! Thanks for a great post!

  13. Barb says:

    I’ve written my fair share of query letters (albeit for screenplays, not novels)… this was hilarious, thanks for posting it!
    It’s in the veins of How NOT to write a novel by Howard Newman & Sandra Mittelmark…
    Great job! 😀
    Happy holiday season

  14. Barb, how could I forget?! I should have mentioned my correspondence school course in Zombie Slaying. Darn.

    • Barb says:

      now we’re talking! 😀
      oh, and did you mention all of the local contests nobody ever heard of that you won? I know you have many of those under your belt… 😉

  15. […] quite interesting as well. I mean it DOES teach you how NOT to write a query letter! Please go to this blog. Enjoy! Leave a […]

  16. Fiona Skye says:

    Wow. I think I’ll have to print this bad boy out, make a few changes to fit my manuscript, and send it out to agents far and near! I just know I’ll get a five-book deal and film producers will be knocking my door down to buy the rights! Thanks!

    (Great recipe, too. I’ll have to try it out one week-end and see if it receives my kids’ stamp of approval.)

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