Everybody Starts Out Writing Bad Queries (I)

Everybody writes bad queries, at least at first. There’s no set way to create one, advice conflicts on what to put in one, and frankly, it’s a skill like any other- you must practice it to excel at it.

In light of #queryfail #queryslam and SlushPileHell, I’d like to take another approach. Most people don’t have their learning curve slapped up on the Internet and soundly mocked, and I don’t think writers should, either. But people are going to do what they’re going to do– what’s important is how we respond to them.

So I’d like to share with y’all my first query, for my very first novel. It’s NOT a good query. I’m not proud of it. But I want you to know that I learned from this lousy query. And I learned from my naively crafted* first book. And eventually, I got competent enough that my query sold my book, I got manuscript requests, and I signed with an agent.

So here it is, in all its awful glory, so you can learn from it too!

Dear Ms. Agent:

Short skirts, cheap gin, and jazz reigned in 1928, but they never made it past the front gates of Weston Prep. More gothic than ivy, Weston tried to make gentlemen of near-society boys, but when JT Keller, a sheltered Catholic boy from Baltimore, and Jesse Stein, a townie who preferred playing Juliet to Romeo, accepted places in the class of 1932, Weston pretty much failed.

Initially homesick and baffled by strange customs, JT slowly absorbs some of the best, and the worst, traits from his new friends in their quest to run the school, scheme a way for Jesse to move in, and at the same time, oust the roommate they never wanted. In “Weston Boys,” JT discovers his father isn’t perfect, friends keep secrets together and from each other, and that an entire world can end in a single, black Monday.

{TOO LONG! What’s the book about? Who the heck are all these random people?! And why should we care about JT and his daddy issues??}

My name is Saundra Mitchell, and I have been a working writer for twelve years. For the last four years (and currently,) I’ve been the head writer for Dreaming Tree Films’ short film series, “Book of Stories,” with over forty short film productions, and next year, principal photography will begin on my first feature, “A Rain of Blood.” I have also published fiction with ATM Magazine and Smokelong Quarterly, poetry with Poems Niederngasse, Doll World Magazine, and Parnassus, non-fiction with @Internet Magazine and The Familiar Magazine, among others.

{This is all completely random. Writing scripts is interesting, but has nothing to do with writing novels, or my ability to do so. Neither does writing essays or poems– and the one thing that really matters, the fiction publications, are smooshed in with everything else.}

“Weston Boys” is my first novel, a literary piece in the vein of O’Neill’s “At Swim, Two Boys,” and Wolff’s “Old School.” I would like to submit it for your consideration; it’s complete at 75,511 words, and a full or partial manuscript is available on request. Thank you in advance for your time, and I look forward to hearing from you.

{This is also a mess. First of all, one does not call oneself literary- and I should have used the full name of the authors I’m namechecking. Second of all, I haven’t told this poor agent whether this is a picture book, YA fiction or adult mainstream fiction. Third of all, saying it’s complete is all the agent needs to know- they’ll ask for a full or partial based on their needs.}


Saundra Mitchell

{I got that part right, at least!}