How many things are wrong with this query letter? Let us count the ways.

This query arrived in my inbox this morning. It is possibly a joke, but experience tells me it is not. I have pasted it verbatim. How many things about it can you count that would irritate a prospective literary agent? (Not including the fact that the author attached the manuscripts to the email.) I’ll wait for some comments before providing my own list.

Dear sir /madam,                                           9/11/15

As a literary agent i request your office to edit and assist on  selling my three short stories.I have given you undue authority to work on my behalf.You can deduct your professional fee from the sales proceeds.My payments can be send through either PAYPAL or WESTERN UNION money transfer.


[Name Withheld]


Update: 12/12/15

Okay, so here’s a very quick list of what ‘got my goat’ (as my mother would say) about the query above:

  • The author has taken no time to personalise his approach. I have no insight into why he decided to contact me – for example, if I had represented another writer whose work is in a similar genre to his – and therefore it feels anonymous and scattergun.
  • ‘As a literary agent i request’ – aside from the lack of punctuation, the lack of graciousness and understanding as to how agents operate is profound. Assuming that I’ll jump at the request is probably the worst part. Unfortunately the fact is that an unpublished author has little bargaining power on querying an agent, unless they have millions of fans on social media or are a celebrity.
  • Asking me to sell short stories – my Submissions page (at the time of this query) clearly stated that I do not represent fiction.
  • Asking me to sell THREE short stories – this person has no idea about the business of publishing, which is difficult to respect given the quantity of information available online. Submitting short stories to literary journals and magazines is the lonely work of the isolated writer who does the work in the hope of acceptance, and at a later time, of publication of a longer work. Perhaps a BOOK of short stories.
  • ‘I have given you undue authority to work on my behalf’. Well, thanks very much. Even if it was due.
  • ‘You can deduct your professional fee from the sales proceeds.’ Again, you’re too much. Thanks! I’ll be sure to spend the time and money to set up an account with Western Union in order to pay you your proceeds, which will come to exactly … nil. You must not be aware, sitting under a rock as you evidently do, that literary journals mostly pay nothing in cash. In any event, no one in their right mind mentions money in their initial piece of correspondence with anyone, on any topic … do they? Or have I missed some recent transformation in business etiquette?

This Post Has 6 Comments

  1. Where do you begin?
    I am certainly no expert in this field, but…
    The biggest shock, for me, is the overall commanding tone. This alone makes everything pale into insignificance. “You can deduct your professional fee…?” And ending with that wonderfully confident “Thanks”.
    Brilliant. I suppose ignorance is bliss.
    Then, no name when addressing you, spelling, punctuation, using the lowercase i, spacing between sentences and I am sure there’s more.
    Truth really is weirder than fiction.
    Based on the query letter, I can only imagine the superior quality of the work.
    Sergiu Pobereznic

  2. Oh surely this is a joke. But to play the game, I’d start with the opening “As a literary agent I”. Who’s the literary agent – and while I know minimalism in commas and punctuation seems to be the modern style, using them appropriately in a letter to an editor would probably be sensible. Then there’s misuse of words indicating a poor vocabulary in someone purporting to be a write – “undue authority”. Then there’s the assumption you’ll take the job …. need I go on?

    (PS I found your blog when doing a Google search on subtitles.)

  3. Virginia,
    Thanks for posting this and, even more so, for your assessment that it may actually be a serious request.
    It is examples like this – and the most recent Patterson and Grisham books (I know, I shouldn’t have done it to myself) – that renew my confidence in my own craft. I may only be starting and not published yet, but I know I’m already better than that!

    1. Hi Bill, thanks for your comment. I’m glad that you found inspiration out of the query – keep writing and more importantly, rewriting. And good luck. –Virginia

  4. If I received such an email I would immediately delete it. It has to be a hoax/spam. Consider the lower case, spelling, punctuation and asking for money: Paypal or Western Union. If you have replied, the next email would have asked for your banking details.

    1. Sadly Mary I doubt the sender is smart enough to be undertaking a hoax. This is probably the worst one I’ve received, but I do occasionally open an email of this level of ignorance/hubris, addressed to 24 agents/editors at once, and imagine the sender wondering why he (it’s always a he) never hears back from anyone. Rude publishing people! –Virginia

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