Now, I don’t think anyone who has read Dee’s query letter can argue that it isn’t bad.  It’s pretty much makes everyone who sees it cringe.  So, what exactly about the letter makes it so gut-wrenchingly terrible?

Let’s examine it closely:

Deer Mr., Mrs., Ms., or Whatever M. Smoot: Ignoring the poor spelling found throughout the letter, there’s still problems with the address.  It would never be appropriate to title something to “Whatever.” Always try to find out about the person you are sending your submission to.  If the imaginary author had just google searched “m smoot cbay books” the first six entries clearly bring up me.

I bought the bright green sticker on the outside of the envelope on eBay so I don’t really know what gender you are since I didn’t actually attend the conference at witch you spoke. Sorry. I paid good money for the “M. Smoot” sticker to gain access to your closed publishing house, so I hope you appreciate it. I’m sure you did a wonderful, stupendous, fantastic job at the conference and gave a fabulous, mesmerizing, interesting speech. Thanks for being such a helpful, kind, grate editor. I found this paragraph particularly genius for a worst letter contest — it would never occur to me that someone could buy entry into a closed publishing house this way although the idea, now presented, doesn’t surprise me.  However, even if this is the way that you got the sticker, don’t admit it.  Don’t mention the conference at all.

Anyway, enough about you. (Just plain rude.) Now for my soon-to-be best seller… you’re gonna love it! I read variations of this sentence in cover letters all of the time. Taking pride in your work is great, but this sentence makes me roll my eyes and chalk the author up as a naive first-timer. Since it has an elephant AND a donkey in it, it will surpass sales of “Horton Hears a Who” and “Winnie the Pooh” (with Eeyore) combined. These are not good comparables for this imaginary title since the other books are long-selling classics and not picture books.  It would be impossible for me to guess sales ranges based on these two. I know it will be made into a poplar movie and will be translated into many languages. Unless you or your agent already have deals in the works, your opinion isn’t necessary.  That’s why I want to keep all foreign rites. I also want fool plush animal sales.  Save these demands for contract negotiations.

My book is called THE ELEPHANT AND THE DONKEY and it is completely in rhyme. Since it is about animals, I tested it out on my cat and dog and they absolutely loved it! Completely irrelevant, and it makes the author sound a little crazy. They showed their appreciation by marking the corners of this manuscript. You’ll probably be able to tell (or smell) witch corner is witch. That is so disgusting. Do I really have to remind you to reprint a sample that has urine on it?

I didn’t read my story to any pre-schools because I didn’t want the teachers to still the idea, but I know kids will love it!!! Even if the fake author had read it at preschools I wouldn’t want to know. Also, the fear that someone will steal your work (so rare I don’t know of any actual cases of unpublished author works being ripped off) sends up red flags of publishing ignorance.

Hear is more about it…

My 20,000-word picture book
For ages two to four,
Covers many topics
Other children’s books ignore.

Taxes, stocks, and politics
Are introduced in rhyme.
The story is sure to be a hit
At every child’s bedtime.

You’ll want to publish this right away.
It’s going to be a best seller,
More popular than “The Cat in the Hat,”
Or that tearjerker, “Old Yeller.”

The conflict is that an elephant
And donkey can’t agree.
They fight over just about everything,
Including cups of tea.

Will they ever learn to get along?
Can these protagonists save the world?
I’m writing a 1000-page sequel,
Where the answers will be unfurled. 
All right. That was just insane. Contrary to popular belief, editors don’t hate picture books in rhyme. Some of the best-selling books are written that way.  When rhyme is really well done, it is fun and great to read aloud. Unfortunately most rhyme submissions are not well done, cause the editor to cringe, and thus rhyme gets a bad rap.  However, unless you are excerpting a stanza of your manuscript, never, ever describe it in rhyme.

Believe me, this book will fly off the shelves and beat the ebook download record, so you’ll want to publish this by November so we can both become rich quick. That’s only about a month away, but if you overnight the contract to me, I’ll sign it write away and the illustrator can start immediately. Clearly has no idea how the publishing industry works. Oh, I really like the work of Tomie dePaola. Don’t we all.  I hope you can get him for this book. Does he even illustrate books he didn’t write? Do you have that kind of pool? Rude.

I know you only wanted a query and ten pages, but I am so confident you’ll like my work that I scent the hole book. Always, always follow the submission instructions.  I am offering this as an exclusive transmission does author mean submission? for one week, but after that I’ll really need to move on if I haven’t herd from you. I want to enjoy my millionaire status before the world ends or before the next election – whichever comes first. Who knows what the tax rate will be after that! Besides sounding crazy, this last bit again highlights the author’s inexperience and lack of research on publishing.

I should tell you that I’ve already been published in my third grade newspaper, not the kind of publishing credits to include so I’ll want the “royal treatment” when it comes to royalties. Oh good grief. We can go over all that when I meat you in person. At this point, I would be going: Wait! When (and why) would we meet? Is this person planning on stalking me down? Yule love how punny I am. I highly doubt that.

Dee Ranged

P.S. – I hope you like the red, white, and blue elephant and donkey sugar cookies I enclosed. They were only supposed to have white and blue icing on them, but my three-year old helped make them and she had an owie at the time, hence the red coloring. OMG, OMG, OMG. I knew the cookies weren’t real and I still started to gag the first time I read this.  On a less insane note, do not send extra goodies with your query.  They are not appreciated and mark you as an amateur. I was going to send a tea bag, too, so you could have tea and cookies, but Tea Party stuff seems to be getting a bad rap lately and I didn’t know your fillings on that, so I decided against it. Unless your book is literally about politics, don’t bring it up.  (The same goes for religion and any other traditionally controversial topics.  If you wouldn’t bring it up at a dinner party full of strangers, don’t put it in your query.)

Fortunately, I have never received a query or cover letter quite this extreme. After all, this was for a contest and therefore was supposed to be rather ridiculous. That being said, some of the errors made are common ones (if only in a less extreme version).  I’ll discuss some of the most common query/cover letter mistakes next week.

© Copyright 2006-2011 Madeline Smoot. All rights reserved.
May be excerpted and duplicated for educational purposes.
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