Pub Rants

Gimmicky Query Letters

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STATUS: What a great weekend. I read a full manuscript starting on Friday night. Finished Saturday morning. Called the author. Have a new client. Time frame from when sample pages were received to requesting and reading the full to offering representation: 4 weeks.

What song is playing on the iPod right now? THE WEAKNESS IN ME by Joan Armatrading

I belong to a writers’ discussion board called Backspace and since I’m not the only agent there, the administrator of the site decided to do a quick opinion poll. She asked us to weigh in on what we thought of query letters with a gimmick (and what I mean by gimmick is that the query letter had a strange format that mirrored the story line in some fashion—like the query was in the form of a legal brief for a legal thriller etc.)

I definitely want to give points to the writer for creativity. And I think the purpose was to make the query letter stand out from the hundreds received.

But basically, all of us pretty much agreed that the gimmicky format just distracted us from concentrating on the story summary itself (and might accidentally get mistaken for spam—at least in this case).

I was flexible if I thought the gimmick worked (I didn’t for this case) but all the other agents were adamant. They hated it and would have sent an instant NO.

So, my advice to you? No gimmicks in your query letters.

If you want to grab interest, be sure to incorporate the tone of your manuscript into the query letter blurb (as in if chick lit, use the chick lit tone, if thriller, your summary blurb had better be suspenseful, if literary, the writing should be gorgeous in your query as well).

Ultimately, we just want to focus on your story in the query letter. Hope that helps.

16 Responses

  1. Eileen said:

    So we shouldn’t send a high heeled shoe with the query saying “Now that I’ve got my foot in the door…” I got a resume like this at work when I did hiring. I thought it was an urban myth, but apparently there are people who thought it was clever. The last thing I want is a nasty used shoe.

  2. kis said:

    What if it was two shoes, brand new Manolos in your exact size? Or would that make you think you were being stalked?

  3. kathrynoh said:

    The worst gimmick I’ve heard of – it was a job application not a query letter – was written in white ink on a black background. It wouldn’t have been so bad if they hadn’t faxed it in!

  4. Manic Mom said:

    Your new client must be thrilled to have you rep him or her. Can you tell us what the next step is? How long does it take for the edit (is there much to be edited, revised, or do you leave that up to the editor at the publishing house after it’s purchased?)

    WHat’s the timeframe for most of the books you sell, from time of representation, to you querying editors, to you selling the book?

    WHen you find a new author to rep, what’s the average time you sell the book, and do you already know where/who you will submit to just by the book subject?

  5. Anonymous said:

    Congrats to the new client and to your agency. 🙂

    I hope my own work can be picked up that quickly. (keeps fingers crossed)

  6. Anonymous said:

    Congrats to the new client and to your agency. 🙂

    I hope my own work can be picked up that quickly. (keeps fingers crossed)

  7. the new client said:

    Cindy P-K,


    Manic Mom,

    Yes, I’m happy, esp. as Kristin is the only agent I queried on this novel.

    We spoke on Saturday. And yesterday(Monday) her detailed editorial letter arrived, along with a commented copy of my ms.

    So it was a manic mom kind of day around here as my kids are both home for the summer. We had burned cookies, a messed-up potty, and a little boy who had other assignments for me every time I sit down with the laptop.

    Since it’s Kristin’s policy that she doesn’t take on any project she wouldn’t send out as-is, most of the editorial suggestions she gave required only minor work. But there is one major item that would require some careful thinking.

    I’m more than happy to put in the work to make my ms stronger, and hope it would not take more than a week or two.

    I wish I could tell you exactly how long it takes her to sell my book (1 week!), but the historical romance market is tough. It will sell when it does.


  8. Cindy Procter-King said:


    You’ll do great! If the historical market is tough and Kristin took you on, then you must have one great book there. And she must really believe in you–which is what we all want in an agent, right?

    Thanks for outing yourself. Now I can visit your website. 🙂


  9. December Quinn said:

    Oh, but I have a GREAT query gimmick! The email itself is a portal, which takes you to the setting for my book, Kateland, and you-the agent-has to solve a series of puzzles in order to actually read my Epic Tome!

    Aren’t ya interested? Huh? Huh?


  10. joanr16 said:

    Sherry (the new client) wrote:

    We had burned cookies, a messed-up potty, and a little boy who had other assignments for me every time I sit down with the laptop.

    I will keep that in mind the next time I feel like whining about my relatively-easy day job cutting into my writing time. I have nothing but awe and admiration for literary moms!

    Best of luck to you, Sherry!

  11. Catja (green_knight) said:

    Kristen, I’m beginning to see more and more queries in a format you’ve posted earlier on this blog – ‘here are the characters. Will they manage to solve this problem? Will the world end? My novel xx is available blah, blah.’

    The format I’ve been told to use (by plenty of experienced writers, so not just the wannabes) is more formal, and includes the whole plot – ‘here are the characters, these are the challenges they face, this is how it ends’, with the explanation that a writer shouldn’t be coy with agents and editors.

    Do you have a preference? Is one more likely to catch your attention than the other? Have you ever requested more just to find out what happened in a story if the writer didn’t mention it in his query?