Shining a bright light into the dark corners of the shadow-world of literary scams, schemes, and pitfalls. Also providing advice for writers, industry news, and commentary. Writer Beware® is sponsored by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, Inc.

December 16, 2010


Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware

Query Letter Mistakes

Following on the theme of my previous post, here's a fascinating survey on the common mistakes that writers make in their query letters.

Blogger JM contacted one hundred literary agents with the following question: What is the single biggest mistake writers make when querying you? More than 50 responded. Here are the problems mentioned most frequently:
- "Go to my website for a sample of my work…"
- "Find my query attached…"
- Querying before your manuscript is ready
- Writing a query that is overconfident or pompous
- Sending a query that has clearly not been proofread
- Queries addressed to "Dear Agent" (or anything similar!)
- Vague query letters!
- Queries with more than one agent listed in the "To" field
- Queries that have no clue what the agent represents
- Queries that have no clue what the agent's submission guidelines are
JM also includes a treasure trove of quotes from the responding agents about each of these problems, and exactly why they will torpedo a query.

Great information, direct from the source.

How Not to Use Social Media

"Get thee to social media." This is universal advice for new and newly-published authors looking to build their readership. But though it's easy to say, it's not so easy to do. For social media to work as a promotional tool, you have to know how to use it--and that does NOT mean begging people on Facebook to "like" your page, or blasting out 500 "check out my new book!" messages on Twitter. If you use social media solely for self-promotion, or if you're too obvious about the fact that you're promoting yourself, you will probably fail.

So how do you make social media work for you? Jane Friedman takes an illuminating look at this question in a blog post entitled When (or Why) Social Media Fails to Sell Books. The bottom line:
Your social media involvement and platform building won't work as a one-time effort (though, of course, you might have a specific campaign for a specific book that's very strategic, which is excellent).

You have to be consistent and focused over the course of your career.

Most importantly, it has to be about more than selling books—or whatever your goal might be. It has to be about what you stand for, and who you are.

You Can't Make This Stuff Up

If I told you that there was a literary agent who promoted his services via a series of videos featuring a sex doll, would you believe me?

Meet "Arielle," virtual hostess for Mocknick Productions Literary Agency.* Arielle's "job" is to "give you information on the agency and the literary business in general" (including why paying an upfront contract fee is a good idea), via "four informational slide shows." (The slide shows used to be available directly from Mocknick's website, but possibly due to the attention they've brought him recently, clicking on them now takes you to YouTube.)

But wait, there's more! Arielle the sex doll has HER VERY OWN STORY! She's a Doll Warrior, star of a screenplay written by Mocknick himself. That's right, folks, David Mocknick, fee-charging literary agent, is also an aspiring writer.

For much more ridicule, see P.N. Elrod's blog post.

* It probably will not surprise you to learn that David Mocknick charges a $500 contract fee, has never sold a book or a script that Writer Beware has been able to discover, and is included on Writer Beware's Thumbs Down Agency List.


Scooter Carlyle said...

The first two links answer a number of questions I've had. Thank you so much! I'm close to the query stage, and I've frequented blogs like Query Shark and such, but the first link compiled great advice nicely.

I'm also struggling with how best to use social media, so the second was quite helpful. My husband seems to have a knack with it and helps me, but I still have questions.

Mad Scientist Matt said...

Writing a screenplay starring your blow-up doll and posting details of it on the Internet would certainly qualify as "How not to use social media." Making your blow-up doll a character who you appear to have an emotional connection with may be the ultimate "How not to use social media."

Anonymous said...

In certain circles, the blow-up doll may be acceptable - but not for a serious literary agent. However, there is a certain element in the writing world that would find this approach novel and acceptable. (Said with the utmost respect, but from a questionable viewpoint)

The first set of links, what a great post! Yes, knowing the publisher's guidelines is a must! And who would send a SF/F/H to Harlequin, or a Romance to Tor?

Just know your audience. A basic and required step.

Raquel Byrnes said...

Wow...that is just over the top. Does this guy get clients? Real ones?

Great post, by the way. Learned a lot.
Edge of Your Seat Romance

Gutsy Living said...

What a detailed list blogger JM came up with. I copied and pasted the most useful tips into a document, since I'm at the query phase myself.

I heard Seth Godin mention the need to start your platform at least three years before your book comes out, so I've been learning about how to grow my audience. It helps a ton when you enjoy marketing and networking, and help others understand the technique.

Couldn't believe that video with Arielle, the doll. I definitely won't be querying that agent.

Harry Connolly said...


I can't believe this guy beat me to the lucrative "sex dolls battle terrorists" idea.

Anonymous said...

Not a good way to promote a literary agency.

But if the doll video goes viral, it may prove to be an effective way to sell a script.

firsttimeauthoress said...

I'm sick to the teeth of agents at the moment.

Mad Scientist Matt said...

There's a few people who I could see enhancing their career with the blow up doll videos, but most of them are the sort whose books or movies revolve around shock or a warped sense of humor. Unless your name is David Lynch or Tom Green - or you want your name to be the next on that list - it doesn't seem like the best career move to me.

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