Did I write the worst query letter ever?

Is this the worst query ever written, or the worst book idea ever? Both? I have written to around 150 agents, and none have requested a read. This is the generic version, it is not personalized to any particular agents, but this is pretty much the letter.

I am Arin Lee Kambitsis, a writer and musician who lives in Pittsburgh. My book is called Unfortunate Floyd . It is MG and comes in at 54k words. It is a comedy about the world’s unluckiest boy, with elements of mystery, magical realism, puppy love romance and teen drama. It would fit comfortably on the shelf with Diary of a Wimpy Kid and The Terrible Two ( though without illustrations).

Floyd Piccolo is the unluckiest boy in the world. From contracting Pneumonic Plague on vacation in London, to being struck by a meteorite crashing through the roof of a shopping mall, Floyd has a life that no other kid could possibly understand, not even his twin brother Lloyd. Floyd’s first day of high school starts out just as Floyd expected, with a disaster. But there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, a bright light named Peyton Flores.

She’s a Brazilian-American girl whose smile stops Floyd’s heart. They become fast friends, and this really raises his spirits. But after Peyton breaks off their friendship over a mess she believes to be his fault, Floyd is sure his broken heart is the worst pain he’s ever felt, and this is a boy who was hit by a space rock.

It seems the only person who gets it is Piers Pitstick, a small, scientifically-minded boy who believes he can fix Floyd’s bad luck with wild theories and experiments. Piers suggests that a South American Christian saint called Babalú-Ayé might be the source of Floyd’s problems. Floyd is skeptical until he receives a frightening vision on the saint’s feast day of a horrible fire at an upcoming school production. The vision is so real he becomes convinced that many people he cares about are going to be hurt. Since the boys have no proof, they have to try to stop it themselves.

When the police inform Floyd, one morning, that Piers mysteriously vanished on his way home from the Piccolo house the night before, Floyd is convinced it has something to do with the impending fire they had been poking in to. Someone is on to them. With time running out, and nobody willing to believe him, Floyd is alone with nothing but courage to save the lives of his brother, his friend, and the girl he’s in love with.

The characters are the real strength of the novel. Floyd’s wit and tragic story make him the ultimate underdog and sympathetic character. The adorable Piers Pitstick, who has a troubled family life, will win people’s hearts. Floyd’s friendship with Piers, and his relationships with his brother and Peyton seem irrevocably destroyed at one point, and it makes for some heartfelt scenes of reconciliation by the end.

I was published once by a small press years ago. The book was called Days of Yore: Jack the Giant-Killer. I have a self-published novel called Sparkle on Amazon that I am proud of. A family-comedy screenplay I wrote called My Little Life was one of eight finalists in the 2012 Long Island International Film Expo.

First, I don’t like the names of your characters. It reads like a picture book or a parody. Middleschoolers like to think of themselves as “cool” and don’t like anyone insinuating that they’re little kids. And they’re too young for parody.

Second, I tried to pay attention but I’m still unsure what the book is about. This is not the best summary. You lost me somewhere in the second paragraph.

I’ll be honest, it sounds a bit… bizarre. Not in a bad way, just in a way that cannot simply be described on a short letter. Call me foolish, but I see that more as a… story that sells itself.

It seems so “out of left field” that you’d probably just have to market it by letting people read out of it instead of attempting to describe it.

Of course, literary agents don’t like that, and prefer a marketable blurb. You might be stuck.

Hi there :wave:

As this appears to be a publishing industry related question, your thread is better suited to the #industry-insider club. I’ve moved it there for you.

Thanks for understanding,

Hollie - Community Ambassador :azanthiel:

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It is a comedy about the world’s unluckiest boy, with elements of mystery, magical realism, puppy love romance and teen drama

What exactly is the story about? What is the mystery? What is the magic? This “puppy love” is not mentioned in the summary.

Floyd’s friendship with Piers, and his relationships with his brother and Peyton seem irrevocably destroyed at one point

Who is Peyton?

I would suggest cutting down our unlucky boy’s backstory and focus on what the story’s conflicts and main plot points are to make it more digestible. As it is I had to reread it a few times to understand it.

Just as a general approach, in the future, try just sending a query out to 20 or so agents at a time. If you don’t get any read requests then rework the query before sending it out more agents.

The book itself sounds very interesting, full of quirky characters and events that would appeal to middle-grade readers. That being said, I think this query would benifit from more direction. It jumps around between different plot threads and has so many characters that it’s hard to figure out what I’m really meant to follow and focus on.

If I were to re-write this, I might start off condensing the entire first part. It’s ok if it feels like you’re cutting out sub-plots, you have to for the Query. Focus on the main character and the decisions he makes.

Floyd Piccalo is the unluckiest boy in the world. He’s been struck by a metorite, caught the pneumonic plauge, and (some third thing becasue groups of three sound nice, maybe something like x happened while his twin brother got off scott free). None of that compares to loosing his best friend and potential true love, Peyton.

Willing to do anything to get rid of his bad luck and win Peyton back, Floyd joins forces with Piers Pitchstick, a scietist with some trully mad theories…

This gets right to the heart of the problem. Floyde is unlucky, he’s lost Peyton, and that’s motivated him to do something. The extra backstory and details about Peyton are interesting but obscures the plot. In the next portion, you might want to add a touch more detail about how his bad-luck (and getting rid of it) carry through in the second half of the book. It seems hugely important in the first half of your query, but isn’t mentioned in the most climactic paragraph. Keeping that a constant would make the whole piece feel more cohesive.

You say ‘someone is onto them’ but haven’t mentioned any sort of ‘someone’ before this point ,which is a bit confusing, and never state how his brother and Peyton are in danger (I can sort of guess, but it’s never stated). You could also add another specific detail or two about what Floyde decides to do, instead of the general ‘he must save everyone’.

I’m not as familiar with middle grade queries, so this might be more normal for that age range, but I’m not a huge fan of the paragraph starting ‘The characters…’ It doesn’t really seem to add much information that you couldn’t have gotten from the rest of the query, and you already state your areas of interest in your first paragraph.

Overall be looking for places you could tighten up the wording. For example

When the police inform Floyd, one morning, that Piers mysteriously vanished on his way home from the Piccolo house the night before, Floyd is convinced it has something to do with the impending fire they had been poking in to.

Becomes:

When Pieres vanishes after leaving Floyde’s house, Floyde is convinced it has to do with the impending fire.

We don’t really need to know who told him that Piers is missing or what time it was in the Query. Piers going missing is the thing that causes him to act.

Overall, I think the story itself has potential, middle grade is often quirky and weird, and it’s the characters that make it loveable. Query writing is difficult and completely different than writing prose, so I wish you the best of luck!

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Hi, first of all, please take my comment in the spirit it is meant - as constructive criticism. You’re looking for help and that alone is a good thing.

As to the letter, I won’t go into details, but it breaks a lot of rules. Now, I’m not saying you can’t do that, but it needs to be deliberate and I get strong vibes that you might not be familiar enough with those rules. For example, you make comments on how to interpret the story, you add an agent’s voice. “Characters are the real strength of the novel.” This is a massive no-no.
Or, the way you start your letter - with yourself. I strongly suspect that the majority of agents will have tossed out your query there and then, without ever looking at it.
There’s more, but I don’t think it will help you, if i list it all.
What might help - go here https://queryshark.blogspot.com and read ALL of it. That will give you an entirely different perspective and it will help you presenting your novel in a different light.
I wish you better success with the second round of queries!!! :hugs:

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Well, first of all, it’s long – about twice as long as it should be. You get about 250 words. The blurb generally should be around 150 words. Why? Because agents get between 100 and 300 queries a week. They have to go through them FAST.

Next time you query, do so in batches of 5-10. If you’re not getting a minimum of a 10% request rate for partials or fulls, STOP QUERYING and fix the problem.

Start with your pitch. Info about you can go at the end. To show the agent that this is middle grade start with your character’s age: Twelve-year-old Floyd Piccolo….

One observation: the names are cute, but too similar. If Lloyd is anything more than a bit player in the novel, I would change his name. And I wouldn’t have Flores and Floyd. I realize it’s a last name, but it’s a last name that’s going to get misread and cause confusion. Then you have Peyton and Piers. Rule of thumb: Begin every name with a different letter AND have them end with different sounds: Mandie and Candy wouldn’t be good either.

First day in high school? Too old for middle grade! Middle grade characters need to be aged similarly to the readers, who are 12 and younger. First day of middle school is about as high as you want to go.

I’ll get back to the pitch in a minute. The entire paragraph that starts “The characters are the real strength…” can be cut. You show that. You don’t tell them.

The novel sounds fun, but the pitch is wordy. When a pitch is wordy, the agent assumes the novel will be too. Lloyd is mentioned only once, so take him out. I realize that he has to be saved too, but the query needs to be tight. You want to minimize names, because in a short pitch too many becomes word soup.

I played with the query a bit:

Twelve-year-old Floyd Piccolo is the unluckiest boy in the world. From contracting pneumonic plague [Note: Not capitalized] on vacation to being struck by a meteorite crashing through the roof of a shopping mall, Floyd has led a seemingly-cursed life.

However there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, a Brazilian-American girl named Peyton Flores whose smile stops Floyd’s heart. But after a mess she believes to be his fault, Floyd is sure his broken heart is the worst pain he’s ever felt (and this is a boy who was hit by a space rock).

Floyd’s friend Piers, a believer of crazy theories and conductor of even wilder experiments, suggests that a South American saint called Babalú-Ayé might be the source of Floyd’s problems. When Floyd receives a frightening vision on the saint’s feast day of a horrible fire at an upcoming school production, he reluctantly wonders if his friend could be right.

Then Piers disappears, and Floyd jumps on the crazy bandwagon. This is real, and someone knows they know. With time running out, Floyd is alone with nothing but courage to save the lives of his friend and the girl he’s in love with.

Unfortunate Floyd is a Middle Grade novel, complete at 54,000 words. It would fit comfortably on the shelf with Diary of a Wimpy Kid and The Terrible Two. My book Days of Yore: Jack the Giant-Killer was published by a small press several years ago. I also have a self-published novel called Sparkle. A family-comedy screenplay I wrote called “My Little Life” was one of eight finalists in the 2012 Long Island International Film Expo.

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And one more thing, I forgot earlier. A fire is really serious and scary – it doesn’t fit with the tone of the rest of the book. A missing friend is pretty serious too. It’s not that you can’t have dark stuff.The tone needs to work with it, though.

Personally, I wouldn’t have true devilish deeds in a non-fantasy middle grade novel. These kids have enough to worry about with real-life shooter drills. Right now it feels like you have half MG and half upper YA. Middle grade themes are frequently about fitting in.

You could, I suppose “up” it to young YA. But if you do that, the tone is way off.

It’s too long, but others have said that.

I’ve found these resources helpful in the past. I know they are all from Writer’s Digest, but it gives you an idea.

Also, have you tried doing Twitter pitch contests like PitMad? It’s like a shortcut to getting in front of agents and publishers.

It sounds more like a synopsis (without the ending) than a query letter. Way too long. You don’t have to tell the whole story. Introduce the main characters, the conflict, and what will happen if the MC doesn’t succeed. That’s all. For example, is the main story between Floyd and Peyton or Floyd and Piers? The agent will discover the rest when she reads the manuscript. Btw, unless there’s a twist on Floyd/Lloyd, I’d change one of the names.

I wouldn’t introduce yourself in the beginning. Unless you’re a celebrity or an expert in a field writing non-fiction, that doesn’t matter.

Start with a paragraph with the title, size, genre, etc. Maybe the comps. The agent wants to know it’s what they represent.

Then a paragraph or two of the blurb. Again, it’s not a synopsis. Think of it as a marketing tool to pique the agent’s interest so they request the whole manuscript. That’s all a query letter is.

Then a paragraph with your bio. I don’t think the agent cares that you live in Pittsburgh. Does your being a musician have anything to do with the novel? Is there anything in it that being a musician would make the story better? I wouldn’t put it in the query letter that you’re a writer. If you wrote a novel, you’re a writer. Btw, I prefer author to writer.

Now the disclaimer. I only sent out four queries and I’m not strong on marketing. But I hope it helps.

This is all good advice. I am going to concentrate on the suggestions you all made in common.

If anyone is still looking at this. I’ve made some adjustments to my query.

I am Arin Lee Kambitsis, a writer and musician who lives in Pittsburgh. My book is called Unfortunate Floyd . It is MG and comes in at 54k words. It is a comedy about the world’s unluckiest boy, with elements of mystery, magical realism, puppy love romance and ‘my world is over!’ teen drama. In tone, it would fit comfortably on the shelf with Diary of a Wimpy Kid and The Terrible Two ( though without illustrations). I do have a detailed synopsis available.

Floyd Piccolo is the unluckiest boy in the world. Whether contracting Pneumonic Plague on vacation in London, being struck by a meteorite crashing through the roof of a shopping mall, or being sucked down into a sinkhole in his backyard, Floyd has a life that no other kid could possibly understand. Not even his twin brother Lloyd. The only person who gets it is Piers Pitstick, a small, scientifically-minded boy who believes he can fix Floyd’s bad luck with wild theories and experiments. For instance, sending a reluctant Floyd to school wearing lucky charms - a chicken costume with a wig and a necklace made of chili peppers.

Piers suggests that a South American Christian saint called Babalú-Ayé might be the source of Floyd’s problems. Floyd is skeptical until he receives a frightening vision on the saint’s feast day of a horrible fire at an upcoming school production. Floyd becomes certain that many people he cares about are going to be hurt. Since the boys have no proof, they have to try to stop it themselves. When Piers mysteriously vanishes on his way home from the Piccolo house, Floyd is convinced it has something to do with the impending fire they had been poking in to. Someone is on to them. With time running out, and nobody willing to believe him, Floyd is alone in finding this mysterious arsonist and saving the lives of his brother and his friends.

The characters are the real strength of the novel. Floyd’s wit and tragic story make him the ultimate underdog and sympathetic character. The adorable Piers Pitstick, who has a troubled family life, will win people’s hearts. Floyd’s friendship with Piers, and his relationships with his brother and Peyton seem irrevocably destroyed at one point, and it makes for some heartfelt scenes of reconciliation by the end. This story takes place in the charming fictional town of Bowl Valley, where places like Butter Meadow and April Forest can be found. I am going to write many future stories here.

I was published once by a small press years ago. The book was called Days of Yore: Jack the Giant-Killer . I have a self-published novel called Sparkle on Amazon that I am proud of. A family-comedy screenplay I wrote called My Little Life was one of eight finalists in the 2012 Long Island International Film Expo.

I’ve seen a lot of recommendations to put the stuff about you at the end of the letter. Your comps are also not jiving. It’s generally not great to put something too popular - it comes off as grandiose. DoaWK is also not really being ‘current’. Also, both books are heavily illustrated and your’s doesn’t seem to be. Maybe ‘Holes’, a short book by Louis Sacher with quirky names and curses.

It’s still too long. You need to pare down some of the small adventures like being sucked down a sinkhole (you already said he’s very unlucky) or wearing lucky charms to school, and focus on the main plot. You spend a lot of words on these, and they are funny, but the blurb should focus on what your character wants, what stands in his way, and the stakes.

Take out the characters that don’t pull weight in the query (the brother).

The second last paragraph really tells the agent what to think, but this should come off from the query blurb. The town is also not interesting. You should cut this whole thing and say it has series potential right where you say the word count. When you tell the agent about the drama here, you should really put that drama in the blurb.

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If you are going to mention your small press book then you should name the publisher. If it sold 14 copies and sank without trace then I don’t think it helps to mention it.