Let’ s start with the BAD.
One night when I was watching television, I came up with a great idea for a novel. Over the past six years, I’ve written that novel and it’s as good as I thought it would be—maybe even better. The book is 1200 pages long and ends with a twist you’ll never see coming. I think it would make a great HBO movie since there’s probably too much sex and profanity for CBS to buy it. The point is this: the book is so good, I know someone will want to make the movie. It’s a sure thing.
I would love to tell you more about the novel, but until I have a signed contract in my hand, I’m afraid you’ll have to wait. My book is so stellar I’m not willing to take the chance that you might steal my idea. I will be more than happy to pay you $10,000 if you will sell this book to a publisher for me. I want it to be a big publisher though. This might be my first book, but I was born to be a writer. I need you to complete the sale and have a check in my hand by Christmas. I have bills to pay.
I’ve sent this letter to about 100 other agents, but I haven’t heard back from any of them yet. But, just so you know, if any of them are willing to sell my book for less than $10,000, I will be signing a contract with them—not you. If you’re willing to cut me a deal, let me know.
I know you’ll want this book as soon as you read my letter, so just give me a call and we can make arrangements. I will not mail my manuscript—I’m sure you understand idea theft better than most people—but I will be in New York next week. I’ll be happy to stop by your office and drop it off. Maybe we can go to lunch and get to know each other a little better since we’ll be in this together soon, huh? At that time we can also talk about some ideas I have for other major motion pictures. I’m sure you’ll be interested in those, too.
I’ll call you next week if I haven’t heard anything.
Where to start?
1. No address or contact information. How would the agent call this guy even if he was interested?
2. No date—How will the agent know which week he needs to hide under his desk in case this dude shows up on his doorstep?
3. “Dear Sir”—H. Maximus didn’t even take the time to find out who he was sending this to—what if it’s not a sir at all?
4. There is no “hook.” There’s nothing in this letter that tells the agent ANYTHING about the novel. No word count, genre. Not even a title. And 1200 pages? That’s an awfully long book.
5. Maximus is all about the cash. He’s talking movie deals and the agent doesn’t even know the title of the book. Putting the cart miles ahead of the horse. The mentions of money in this query letter make him look like a complete dodo. And how much does he think first novels are selling for these days? I’m sure all agents wish they netted ten grand for every first novel they sold.
6. All the references to “idea theft” make Maximus look paranoid. He also directly questions the agent’s integrity when he suggests the agent might steal his idea. This screams NUTTY CLIENT who WILL TAKE TOO MUCH WORK.
7. Maximus makes huge assumptions: the agent wants the book, he can just show up at the agent’s office, and that he sets the timeline for contact. All these are big mistakes. He comes off looking like a half-cracked rookie who might turn into a stalker.
I know the above FAKE query letter seems so wacky to most of you. You’re thinking NO ONE WOULD EVER, EVER actually mail this. Right? Wrong. Agents and editors see queries just like this one—and maybe even worse—every day of the week. Which, if you’re an aspiring author, works in your favor. You’d never send this. EVER. (If you do, I will know it and I’ll send a little known branch of the police after you: THE DREADFUL QUERY FORCE.
Email me if you have specific questions about this one. There are no dumb questions at this stage. I’d be happy to answer anything I can if it will prevent you from sending a query letter like Maximus’.
Tomorrow we’ll look at THE UGLY. As if it could get any worse. . .*evil laugh*