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If you’re a new author and have explored the Pie Plate Publishing website for advice on submissions, you’ve seen some of our tips on how to write a query letter. For fun, this week we’re devoting our Slice topic to a few things you probably shouldn’t say in a query. These apply to queries to editors, agents, and publishers. New authors – beware. Here’s not what to say!
- I self-published a book, but I’m tired of trying to sell it myself.
- I’ve written a novel that’s 50,000 words.
- I have an idea for a book.
- I have an idea for a series.
- How much will my advance be?
- It took me 5 years to write this book.
- My book isn’t done but I’d like to see what you think so far.
- My kids/friends/fellow writers/grandparents/grandkids/cats love this book.
- I know ur going to luv my book.
- I’m including my manuscript (even though you didn’t ask for it).
1 – There’s nothing worse than telling someone who you want to invest time, energy, and money that you want them to do all the heavy lifting. If you don’t want to promote your own book, why should anyone else? Always be enthusiastic about selling your work – in fact, your query is an attempt to sell it, so don’t make it sound like you are giving up on yourself.
2 – Unless it’s a young adult novel, 50,000 words is too short. Most novels are closer to 100,000 words or more. Research your market and know what is normal. If your work is short for a reason, say so in your query. Otherwise, it may be rejected before you have the opportunity to explain.
3 – It’s great that you have an idea. Let us know when you do the hard part – writing it down! Okay, that’s a snarky comment and probably not how we would phrase our response to your query, but it’s what we’re thinking. Some publishers accept proposals, but unless you’re a public figure, it is not likely that you’re going to get an advance for a book in your head, especially from a small press.
4- This is even worse than number 3. Even if a publisher has the chops to front a book that isn’t written, signing a contract for an entire series that isn’t written is even riskier. Unless you are a best-selling author, you will likely scare off a publisher if you include this phrasing in your query!
5- Plenty of indie publishers/small presses do not offer advances. Even when they do, it’s very presumptuous to ask about one in your query when the book is still sight unseen. It’s like asking how much a job pays before you even know what the job is and a turnoff in a query.
6 – If it took you 5 years to write your book, the unintended response evoked by this remark may be – uh, why so long? If it didn’t interest you enough to work on it more enthusiastically, it’s probably not going to be of interest to anyone else either. Even if it’s a carefully crafted masterpiece worthy of your 5 year commitment, don’t tell the publisher how long it took. To the publisher, even if this book is successful, it means it might take another 5 years for a follow-up book!
7- Similar to #3, a query is not a way to ask for feedback. Publishers look at many queries and sample chapters (when requested) for works that are complete. It’s unfair to other authors to ask a publisher to take the time to look at your partially finished manuscript.
8- If you have the confidence to query a publisher, it is very likely because you indeed have a strong support system behind you. We expect that you probably wouldn’t be trying to get published unless you believe someone will like it. The question is whether we like it and whether our readers will like it.
9- There’s a time and a place for “shortspeak”. Like our Facebook or Twitter pages! It may seem silly and outdated, but publishers enjoy a nice, carefully crafted query. It’s like a love letter that shows how much you care about your book – and it’s also a sample of your writing ability. Do your high school English teacher proud!
10- There’s no bigger turnoff to anyone really, but especially publishers, than pushiness or overconfidence. Instead of sending unsolicited manuscripts, try to think of a query letter as the back cover of a book. In just a paragraph or two, you have to catch someone’s attention. If it’s a great idea and your teaser is well-written, no one will be able to resist opening that book. Same here! Trust the publisher to carefully read your query. If it’s a good concept, they will indeed beg for more!
Pie Plate Publishing specializes in the works of new authors for all genres in print, eBook, and Espresso formats. Our blog, The Slice, offers free advice to writers on a variety of reading, writing, and publishing topics.