Thursday, November 4, 2010

Goober Writers Anonymous--Matthew Rush

Goober Writers Anonymous is a group for writers to vent about past or present writerly mistakes for therapeutic reasons, to educate others, or just for a laugh.  If you would like to join the group and sign up to submit a guest post, please leave me your email address in the comments below.

Perks of joining:  You get to put the nifty little badge on your blog (yes, this does indeed make you cool), sharing with others and being a part of a group is always fun, and I will put a link to your blog on my blog below under Members of GWA.

There are plenty of slots still open for December and I would love to get January and February filled up as well!  So, join today!

Today's Goober Blogger is none other than Matthew Rush!  You guys may remember me talking about him a while ago when I was working hard on crafting the perfect query for ELEMENTAL.  Well, Matt had been gracious enough to really help me out with that by putting it on his blog for massive slaughter.  No, it was great. 

And let me tell you how awesome Matt is because I was a HUGE goober yesterday and forgot to remind him about his post until 7:30 at night.  Well, he still pulled through and sent me something this morning.  If you guys aren't already following him at The Quintessentially Questionable Query Experiment, I absolutely recommend you do right now.


For me GWA is all about the fact that even though we’re writers, as humans we all make mistakes. Believe me I have made some big ones.

I’m going to share one of the first queries I ever sent, which I masochistically decided to hold on to. It’s a pretty embarrassing scenario, but I have to admit I learned a lot from it. It’s long enough as is, so that should be enough set up.

Please be ready for some serious suckage and keep in mind that I have learned a lot about queries since then.

So here is the email I sent on May 12th, 2009:


I am writing to you seeking representation for my young-adult commercial-fiction/literary-fiction/fantasy crossover novel which has the working title "Warrior-Monks" and which is complete at approximately 475,000 words but can probably be cut by 100,000 words with the help of an experienced editor assuming the market is calling for shorter books. I am querying you and your agency because I read your blog post about your needs list from January of this year, which I certainly hope is still close to current. My novel falls into at least two of these types and fits most of your criteria.

For your Mainstream Fiction needs I would say that my protagonist is a young man from a broken family who learns to grow beyond his shyness and lack of self confidence as he comes to know himself and matures toward adulthood. The novel takes place over one year of his life, with a few flashbacks to his childhood, so it is not simply the passing of time that shows him growing but actual decisions made and actions taken that show the reader that he is growing up.

For Young Adult I would say that Warrior-Monks is intended for young adult readers ages 13-17, who are buying books in droves these days, but I am certain that once you read the manuscript you will find that it is mature enough and compelling enough to enthrall even the most discerning adult reader if they get the inkling to pick it up. The story does mostly take place at a high school, but not in the traditional sense. It is a reform school in the Northern Idaho wilderness that just so happens to have a curriculum unlike any school that has ever existed.

I believe that my story would be loved by readers of all the best selling young adult novels of the last decade such as the Harry Potter series, the Eragon series (the Inheritance Cycle), the Twilight series, the Bartimaeus Trilogy, the Percy Jackson & the Olympians series, and many others but it is unique because there are no wizards, witches, werewolves, fairies, or vampires and it only includes a bit of romance to help define and develop some of the characters as well as only incorporating magic and mysticism of an everyday kind that lies somewhere between Kundalini and "The Lace Reader".

I usually apologize for having to submit via email because I am an environmentalist and I don't believe in wasting trees for paper or fuel for shipment that isn't entirely necessary, or at least artistically worthwhile (believe me I do my best to write the finest query letters that I can but I have no delusions as to their artistry) but I see in your blog that you prefer this more efficient format, which I applaud you for.

I am including the first chapter of the book but I have to apologize that it is actually almost thirteen pages in word in the Arial font at 12 points. I hope that you will forgive this because I figure that if you don't enjoy it after the first two paragraphs you will probably stop reading anyway and I don't blame you for not wasting your time. I do believe, however, that you will be intrigued.

I have never been published but I am confident that many authors like Christopher Paolini and Brunonia Barry have proved that you do not have to be a highly experienced or best-selling author to write an incredibly entertaining book.

Please feel free to reply to this email, or to call me on my mobile phone at any time at 206-555-1212, or even to write to me at home at:

Street Address

Thank you for your consideration of this proposal. I look forward to hearing from you soon.


Matthew M. Rush

So as you can see this is just horrible. I could go on about how ignorant I was of what a good query letter is and looks like but you can probably see that for yourselves. Instead I will just post his response:

Thanks for taking the time to query me and/or send your writing sample. While your project sounds interesting, it’s not what I'm looking for at this time. For specific details on what I'm presently seeking, please visit our blog at HYPERLINK.

Good luck and thank you for your query!


REDACTED, Author Representative
Member AAR

His response was curt but friendly, pretty standard form rejection. However, as a foolish and discouraged writer who was already beginning to hate the query process, I got angry. Emotion is okay. You will get hurt, angry and thousands of other unpleasant feelings during this process. That is normal. What is foolish and usually pointless is to act on those feelings and lash out, especially at a professional who is just doing their job.

That being said, I did. I wrote back to him because I felt like he didn't even read the query - where I clearly stated that I had read his blog - and I was insulted. As you will see what ended up happening was humiliating, humbling and sobering; but I did end up learning a great deal in the long run.

Get ready for things to get really bad.

My response:

I just have to say that after reading your blog, already, I have a lot of respect for you but that response was just a cop out. If you read the query letter I sent you would see that I clearly read your blog with an extreme attention to detail. Therefore it doesn't make much sense for you to suggest that I read it again. I completely understand that my project may not be appropriate for what you have the ability to represent right now but at least we should be honest with each other. I spent about three and a half hours researching you and your current needs today but this looks to be a form rejection. I fully understand that you are a business man and taking on an unproved client is a huge risk, but what does it take to get an agent to read a manuscript? I assume you have some highly educated and extremely intelligent assistants who have the time to scan some sample chapters (since I can read a YA novel in about two days). I never usually respond to rejections but since I thought that you were a particularly good fit for my project I have to ask did you read the full query and or did you read the sample chapter? If so and it just doesn't fit please give me enough respect to say so and don't pretend that I didn't show you the due respect of reading your blog post.

After reading all that you have written online you seem to be one of the most human agents out there and it is very discouraging to get a response from what seems to be a robot. I know my response sounds very angry but if I can be honest I am just very discouraged after getting a form rejection from an agent whose writing sounded very sincere and real. I know this may all not mean much to you on a personal level but all I ask is that you take a few minutes (when you have time) to read the query, and then hopefully read the entire manuscript. I know now that this will never happen but I felt that I had to speak my mind. I am not a fool and I realize that you will probably never read this entire message but if you do I am sorry that I have wasted so much of your time.

His harsh but brutally honest reply (yes it made me cringe, but he is 100% right):

I am writing to you seeking representation for my young-adult commercial-fiction/literary-fiction/fantasy crossover novel which has the working title "Warrior-Monks" and which is complete at approximately 475,000 words but can probably be cut by 100,000 words with the help of an experienced editor assuming the market is calling for shorter books

Dear Mr. Rush,

Above you will see the what my assistant read, which was more than enough, by the way, to garner a rejection. My assistants and I send very generic rejection letters because we don't like to hurt writer's feelings. However, to learn the truth, let's analyze why you were rejected.

First of all, there is no such thing as a young-adult commercial-fiction/fantasy crossover novel. Young adult novels, by their very nature, cover all genres. All professional authors who thoroughly understand and write in the children's fiction category know this, consequently you struck out in your first sentence. But my assistant went on to find that your YA novel was 475,000 words in length and rejected you at that point.

If you could have cut your novel to 100,000 words, why didn't you? No one will handle a novel of this size, so you should have cut before you queried, not offer to do so afterward. If you want the help of an experienced professional editor, you pay for that help. The help of an experienced editor will cost you around five thousand dollars for a novel of this size. If you wish, I can give you some names.

If you had read our blog, as you insist you have, you would have seen immediately that we would never handle, read or represent a novel of this size, so you wasted your time and ours by even querying us. Your query demonstrated that you are an amateur so you received an amateur's rejection. I'm also assuming that you've been rejected by scores of other agents, most of whom, when they see a query like this one, delete it without going further. At least in our case, you were directed to a place, our blog, where all the answers one needs for being successful is contained, if a person just takes the time to read. For instance, you could have learned enough

During the time it took you to write your angry letter to probably found our good query, bad query letter examples and found your own answer as to why you've been repeatedly rejected. I hope you now have the answers you seek. Good luck with any future writing you attempt.

With sincere regards,


My reply:


Thank you very much for your honesty, it is quite refreshing and I have learned a lot in just the last few moments of reading your reply.


So I won't over analyze this but I will say that he was absolutely right. It was very painful at the time, and he was a little cruel in some of his wording, but the fact that he took the time to reply at all (and basically school me) was actually pretty nice. It's kind of like Simon on American Idol. Yes he can destroy people sometimes but when it comes to something as important as a person's career (even if it is just a dream of possibility) honesty, even brutal honesty, is actually a kind and kingly gift.

So that is essentially where it all started, painful yes, but like touching a hot stove as child, very educational. You can find more awful examples like this on my blog under the label queries/rejections.

Oh, Matt.  I've seen a few of your earlier queries, but never that one.  Eek.  But at least you learned (and readers he did learn because not only does he have an amazing query now, it's so amazing, he won a query contest at WriteOnCon).  

Thanks for sharing this with us!


  1. Thanks for having me Emily! Many of my early queries were so bad I shudder to think what the hell was going on in my head, but you're right, I've learned a lot since then, and it does provide a certain level of catharsis to admit to it now.

    Plus I hope it may help some other novice writer out there some day avoid the same mistakes. Sorry this post is so long!

  2. EEK! Yikes! Wow!

    Matt, you are very brave to share that--we all have horrible ones and stupid ugle mistakes we made.

    You know I <3 ya--and no doubt this may help some novice along the way!

  3. OOOOHHHH MMMAAANNN! I agree with Christina! You are BBBRRAAVVEE!!! This is one of your BEST qualities-humility. This will definitely help a new writer out by seeing what *cough* not *cough* to do.

  4. Eek. I'm cringing for you--but you've learned so you shouldn't be embarrassed anymore. Now if you were still writing queries like that, well......

  5. I admit it. I laughed. Laughed and laughed. But mostly because when I queried my first book, I called it a young adult romantic adventure fantasy. So, I feel your pain.

  6. Wow. Just wow.

    I don't even know what to say. Wow.

  7. I am gobsmacked. OUCH. and OUCH again! OUCH!

    I'm sorry. WOW. Ouch.

    :-) Take care

  8. Nothing wrong with laughing Christi - feel free to laugh and point even - it IS THAT BAD.

    But sometimes the best way to learn is to make mistakes, that's part of being human.

  9. Wow! I can't believe he took the time to write back to you!
    That's crazy.

  10. Matthew! Wow oh wow!!!!!!!!! I can't believe you emailed them back!!!! But I do have to agree that they did take the time to teach you a valuable lesson!

  11. Thanks for detailing your experience Matthew. It is always good to see an example of how lack of preparedness is a common mistake, but certainly a correctable one.

  12. Ouch! What a brave soul you are to share all this. I'm relieved to say I can spot many things in the query that are things NOT to do, so I must be learning some things. Length of novel, length of query, apologizing for one's work, a mix of grandiosity and It IS easy to see why the novel was so long, with how long it took you in your query letter to say things. LOL Thanks for sharing your story!

  13. Yeah. I can still get pretty long winded at times, but I'm getting much better at being more succinct.

  14. Oh Mattttttttt...I cringed and cringed and cringed. But you are so so so so brave. It is HARD to let others know the mistakes you've made--it makes us feel so vulnerable. But I know reading about this sort of thing will help a lot of people. Because, you know what? You are not the first to do this, nor will you be the last. As much as people say that querying is all about common sense, it isn't always. There are specific rules to querying that go beyond just being professional--you really have to know not just queries, but publishing in general. How is a writer to know that 475,000 words is too long (without research anyway!) Newbies often don't know the word per page ratio, right? You poor thing. But I think you show your character and intelligence in the way you handled things after the incident in allowing yourself to learn from it. You set aside your pride, and now you're letting others learn from your mistake--that's true generosity. So kudos to you. <3 <3

    Emily, I wish I had guts to do this, but I'm way too insecure. When I find my strength, I'd love to come back and post for GWA...

  15. Also, 'm embarrassed now because I thought I was following you already. But, remedied my stupid mistake. So sorry. I'm such a dunce sometimes.

  16. Emily, thanks for this bit of wackiness from Matthew--it was great.

    Matthew-- You outdid yourself with this one! It was very entertaining (although I could certainly feel your sense of frustration and discouragement). I think there's an idea for novel here. "No is not an option. A psycho author stalks agent. The more rejections, the greater the terror." Let's see--maybe you can call it The Relentless Writer.
    This exchange was priceless, but educational.

    Tossing It Out

  17. Ouch! But on another note, I think using Kundalini is totally cool!

  18. OUCH! Thanks for sharing your pain with us.

  19. I agree it actually was pretty nice of him in a round-about way to answer your angry letter. Live and learn, eh?

  20. Matt, I think you're awesome for sharing this. I also think anyone who is about to jump into the publishing pool should absolutely READ THIS POST!

    Lesson learned, right? You earn a titannic amount of respect from me, owning this mistake and using it to help school others.

    Angela @ The Bookshelf Muse

  21. Man, you really nailed all the classics with that one. Ah, the fond memories of noobdom...

  22. Wow, Matthew, that I just about had to throw an extra sweater on from reading the response he gave to your response. Hopefully this query will save another green writer from making the same mistake.

  23. Thanks for having the guts to share your goober of a mistake. The sign of a good writer is to learn from mistakes, and it sounds like you've gone miles beyond this now. That is awesome!

  24. Hi Emily, I followed you over here from Matthew's blog and I must say I think GWA is a wonderful idea. It's nice to know we aren't alone when it comes to not thinking clearly at all times.

  25. I'm a friend (and follower) of Matt's. I love the GWA idea! Brilliant!


    You are so brave for sharing this again. I remember when I read this for the first time a few months ago. You're my hero. <3

  26. I just about spit my wine all over my computer when I rea the word count. The I wondered how may Agents you gave a heart attack to - either from extreme laughter or choking on their own . . coffee.

    Well, mistakes are how we learn Matt. Nobody gets it perfect the first time - and if they do, seriously, don't tell me about it.

    And look how you've used your lessons to improve not only your own writing/query skills, but to share the knowledge with others. I've seen the results of your query assistance - yeah I know, I rarely comment on your blog but I do read a lot of the posts - and so maybe it was destiny that you made such horrendous mistakes. Eventually, it brought you to a point where you could be a mentor to others.

    And that has been a good thing for the writing community as a whole.

    thanks for making the sacrifice for us, and being brave enough to return with your life lessons.


  27. Thanks everybody! This was pretty tough to share because, well, when I first put it on my blog I had like 10 followers. Now I'm slightly more well known and have a reputation for (sort of) knowing what I'm talking about, so it's scary to admit how ignorant I was in the beginning. But hey, we all start somewhere, and mistakes are sometimes the best way to learn, so if this helps even one other writer avoid the same missteps ...

  28. We can laugh, but you are not the only one, Matthew, to make these mistakes. The thing is you learned from the situation and moved on. Thanks for being so brave and posting you first attempt at a query. :D

  29. Wow, Matt! I admire you for putting it out there. And you're so right. We all have our embarrassing starts. It makes us human. I'm afraid to even drag out my first queries as I'm sure they're ludicrous.
    The agent totally schooled you and that was cool of him. We all are on our own path and we have to make our own mistakes.Just look at how far you've come!
    This was a geat lesson for anyone new to the query game. A perfect example of what not to do ... lol... i say that with a good heart. :)
    THis is a great idea! Matt just earned more cool points in my book.

  30. sorry I'm super late, but I will say this, I have a feeling I know who this agent is and... well... didn't he do you like the biggest favor of all time? I mean, what a sh*tty fourth 'graph, but didn't it ultimately HELP you...? ((big hug)) He's really a jerk for that sh*tty 'graph. I want to kick him in the... shins. There's no excuse for being cruel.

    OK, back on point, I think agents have to be somewhat Simon Cowellish, yes? And ultimately it's good for us--writers have to be thick skinned. Wait for the reviewers to kick in~

    Now get back on that horse! ;p <3

  31. This might not have been entertaining for you in the first place, but it was very entertaining to read your exposition of it. Thanks for sharing your experience >:)

    Cold As Heaven

  32. You learn, and you move on. Thanks for the honesty Matt, and the courage to look rejection in the face and ask why, and then learn from it!

  33. Wowza... that was bold. And by bold I mean for first writing the query, replying to his response, being schooled and then allowing us to all witness what happens when you go through these steps.

    I have yet to be in the querying process, but I know I'll be in amazing hands when I put my query on your blog for massive scrunity from all angles. You've learned, you've conquered and one day my friend, you'll succeed.

  34. Oh, Matt. I already had a lot of respect for you, but that respect has increased tenfold after reading this. It takes so much bravery and humility to share an experience like yours, and to allow us to learn from your experiences, and to feel that we are truly not alone in our own mistakes. Thank you, and bravo to you. This community is better with you in it.

  35. Thanks again everybody. I will admit I was a little tipsy the night I first replied to him, and obviously I was really hurt, because this was literally my 3rd or 4th query, and I knew NO other writers then, but still, he did school me. Hard. Sometimes the hard lessons are the best ones though.

  36. Wow! Those were some fireworks.

    The fact that he took the time to give such a brutal but honest response to your second letter is rather endearing. Your words about his response clearly stung and he had the grace to want to explain.

    It's also good that you were open to learning. Brutal honestly can sometimes be the best way to deal with something.


  37. Yikes. You took a form letter personally, wrote the letter you needed to, and the one mistake is you sent it in. You are a very brave bear to post this, and I admire you for it.

    His reply was very cool of him, and your reply back was classic humble. It’s the sound of light bulb going on and illuminating a room which needs a bit of cleaning.


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