Sunday, July 20, 2008

Five less common query letter mistakes




1. “I’ve spent years polishing this manuscript.”

From the comments here. It implies that the writer needs years to edit and refine a book, which doesn’t bode well for any revisions that an editor might request.

2. “I’m prepared to make any changes necessary to sell this book, or to correct anything you don’t like.”

On the face of it, this may not seem so bad. The writer is being flexible, keeping saleability in mind and not showing the smallest gleam of Golden Word syndrome. On the other hand, it looks as though the writer has gone in the opposite direction, and isn’t too confident in the work. It’s fine to be prepared to make changes, but the agent shouldn’t be left with the impression that something in the manuscript might need to be corrected.

3. “I’m an unpublished writer, and I know this may be a problem.”

If no other novels are mentioned in the query letter, the agent will know that the author is unpublished; there’s no need to state it explicitly. What seems like acknowledging a problem may come off as putting oneself down or being too diffident. Even if the writer's nervous, there’s no need to let anyone know it.

Also, a brand-new author is often going to be more favorably received than a previously published author who hasn't had good sales.

4. “My novel is a story of a character who faces great obstacles but finally succeeds.”

This is like saying that the novel is composed of words which are organized into sentences and even paragraphs.

5. “Published Author Joe Smith says of my novel, ‘This will be a great read.’”

In other words, it isn’t one yet. If there isn’t a solid recommendation in writing from Joe Smith, this may be taken as either a polite brush-off or damning with faint praise.

5 comments:

kiwi said...

“I’ve spent years polishing this manuscript.”

... this, I think, might also ring warning bells for an agent.

In short, said author doesn't appear to have the nous to write the novel a year an agent would expect of a career author.

Angela said...

So true. The best way to present yourself in a query is professional yet approachable. Writers should be confident in their work, but not stinking of delusion: "Really, I'm the next JK Rowlings!"

Marian said...

In short, said author doesn't appear to have the nous to write the novel a year an agent would expect of a career author.

Unless you become a really famous career author, in which case the fans will wait for years before A Dance with Dragons is done. :|

Oh well. At least it's not as bad as waiting ten years for the next Earth's Children novel.

Marian said...

The best way to present yourself in a query is professional yet approachable. Writers should be confident in their work, but not stinking of delusion.

It's a fine line to tread - writing a good query letter is an art all its own. I don't even want to read my early efforts; they'd be too embarrassing.

kiwi said...

:)