Denise wrote to ask me, “What’s the worst query you ever received?”
This one is easy. Every agent has had bad queries — I’ve seen them written in crayon, printed in block letters on the back of an old envelope, and created by people who barely spoke English. I’ve had queries arrive that rhymed, that threatened, and that were wrapped in women’s underwear. (All true stories.) And all of us have pet peeves — I happen to hate it when an author uses a query letter to sing his or her own praises: “This life-changing book will make you laugh, make you cry, make you quit your job and move to Toledo so you worship at my feet.” Fer crine out loud — let somebody else sing your praises.
The same holds true for competitive analyses in which the author basically bashes everybody else’s book on the topic. Nothing will make you look more like a self-absorbed jerk than to suggest “John Grisham got it wrong but I’m doing it right.” I once had a guy send me a proposal for his fantasy novel, and his two comparable titles were the works of C.S. Lewis and JRR Tolkein. When I suggested to him that he may want to dial back those references a bit, he wrote back to say, “Actually, my work is better than either of them, but they were the only authors who came close.” I think I pulled a muscle with the eye roll after reading that one.
However, the worst query letter I ever received was from some prophecy nutjob in the Midwest. He claimed (and I swear I’m not making this up) that he and his son were “the two prophets foretold in the Book of Revelation.” He called himself “the tool of the Almighty,” and informed me that I needed to send him “a contract and a sizable check.” The best part: he warned that if I did not do so, I was incurring God’s wrath, and went on to say I could expect “severe weather patterns” and that God was “going to kick [my] ass.” Really.
Needless to say, I immediately leaped into action by telling him what a fabulous idea he had, and suggesting he write to fellow agent Steve Laube.