Chip MacGregor

June 29, 2012

What’s the worst query you ever received?


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. 

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  • Sharyn says:

    Well, at least he got “the tool” part right. . . .

  • Karenwatson says:

    Smiling and nodding in “been there” shared pain.

    • Chip says:

      But… I heard you and Stephanie were, in fact, the two witnesses of Revelation, Karen!

  • Alycia Morales says:

    Have I mentioned that I’m the next African American, platform shoes and polyester pant-wearing, flash fiction winner who’s written the next one hit wonder? You should sign me… 😉 JK Thanks for the gutt chuckle this morning, Chip! I hope I never write a query claiming to be THE prophet of God. May He strike me down with lightening if the thought ever crossed my mind…

  • Tiffany Amber Stockton says:

    LOL! Sending me over to good friend, Steve Laube. Now THAT is classic. 🙂 Smart move. Thanks for the laugh this morning. Makes me want to ask Sandra about *her* worst stories….but after she recovers and is back in the game again.

  • Ane Mulligan says:

    Thanks, Chip! You started my morning off with a good laugh. You really test the boundaries of friendship with that. LOL Loved it!!

  • Josh Kelley says:

    Has Steve forgiven you?

  • Iola Goulton says:

    I absolutely agree with you on the “This life-changing book will make you laugh, make you cry…” line. There are a lot of those Amazon, usually (but not always) for self-published books.

    My reaction is to immediately move on to the next book. I don’t allow friends or family to tell me what I am going to think or feel – why would I allow a complete stranger?

    (And I love the Steve Laube line.)

  • Rajdeep Paulus says:

    Thanks for the laughs! 🙂 Good medicine. 

  • Stephen M. Miller says:

    Given the fact that I live in the Midwest, I’d like to go on record saying it wasn’t me.

    • Chip says:

      No, but a great story about you, Steve. I once got a call from Steve Miller, who wanted to meet and have lunch. I was glad to hear from you, happily showed up, and discovered… it was some unknown guy named “Steve Miller,” who just wanted to pitch me on his bad book idea. Ack! Turns out there are more of you Steve Millers out there. In fact, didn’t you have a band back in the 80’s? Didn’t you sing “really love your peaches want to shake your tree…”? 

    • Stephen M. Miller says:

      “Love your peaches want to shake your tree.”

      I didn’t know the Steve Miller Band sang that. I would have put my money on Solomon.

       7″You are slender like a palm tree,
          and your breasts are like its clusters of fruit.
      8 I said, “I will climb the palm tree
          and take hold of its fruit.” (Song 7:7-8)

      Can I get an Amen from the back row?

    • Chip says:

      Amen! Sing it, Steve!

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