How to shoot your own foot

There are many queries that make me wince. Not because of the material, but how the authors present themselves and their story. Here are some of the ways authors can shoot themselves in their own foot:

I’m not much of a promoter:

Eeek. Editors aren’t going to jump for joy to see this in a query letter. In this age of tanked economies and dwindling budgets for bookstore buyers, it’s harder to send books out into the world and keep them sold. Sure a publisher can get the books shelved, but what’s going to create demand? Genre buyers have one question that is tattooed on their tongue: “What’s the author doing to promote the book?”

If the answer is, “Sitting at  home crocheting toilet paper doilies,” I can guarantee the genre buyer will pass unless the publisher is doing co-op marketing – which is basically a shakedown that says, “I’ll stock as many of your books as you want as long as you fork over some big buckeroos.”

So the publisher who does this is at double jeopardy; they hand over a chunk of change in the hope that it pays off. If the author isn’t out there, those books can easily sit on the shelves because there is no demand.

And what goes out can easily come back in the form of returns. This means that the publisher not only paid the bookstore shakedown co-op marketing fee, but they wasted a small fortune on a large print run.

So if your query letter says that you’re not much of a marketer, get out the Glock and take aim. If an editor has a choice between an author who understands the need to promote and is actively engaged in a solid promo plan versus an author who “isn’t much of a marketer,” who do you think the editor will pick? More than likely Ms. ShyPants has sealed her fate and will be receiving an instant rejection.

My e-book version has been up on the various sites for free:

So you’ve given away thousands of free downloads of your e-book version [and keep in mind that we have no way of verifying those “thousands” you’re claiming to have sold]? That cuts out an editor’s chance for the e-book rights. Will this diminish your chances for a “send me pages”? Maybe.

Personally, I don’t want to be competing against you – which is what I’d be doing if you retain the e-book rights and I have the print rights. An editor is going to edit your book, so you’d have two versions of the book on the marketplace. You’ll also have two different cover arts.

It’s not uncommon for people to like the e-book and buy the physical version. I just had a lady do this with one of our books. She called and ordered ten copies of a book that she’d read on her Kindle. There is a possibility that your version is in need of serious edits, which means readers will read the Kindle version and not be moved to buy the physical copies. That means lost sales for the publisher.

Most of us want the physical and e-book rights. If you’ve been giving it out for free, then you’ve possibly hit a large populace that we can’t recover. Might as well pull back the firing pin and hold up your foot.

“I’ve never cared about being published before.”

I hear this more often than I care to. It’s one of those, “gee, if it weren’t for all these people telling me I should publish this book, I wouldn’t be querying you.”


Why would you tell this to an editor? First off, there are thousands of wonderful authors for whom writing is akin to breathing and who take their craft very seriously. How does this information convey that you’re a player? Times are tough, and editors are looking for the g0-getter – the author who may be a debut author but who understands how the biz works.

Even if you hadn’t thought about being pubbed before, you don’t need to reveal this tidbit. It’s not a selling point. Rather, it makes many of us want to drink Draino.

As I’ve written before, the idea of the query is to sell yourself and your story to an editor. It’s a job application, so it’s important to ask yourself whether your query puts you and your story in the best light. Telling an editor that you’ve never really cared about getting published, you don’t really like to promote, and that you’ve already sold freebie e-book copies is not the way to capture an editor’s attention. More than likely, they’ll help you take aim and steady your firing hand.

4 Responses to How to shoot your own foot

  1. Cassandra says:

    It baffles me how many queries there are that have six paragraphs of some poor writer’s story about how they got laid off three years ago from a six figure job, their wife left them, kids disowned them, dog died, truck crashed–wait, isn’t this a country music song? Anyway–all this stuff about how they now have all this free time, and thought, ‘Why don’t I write a book?’ and so this is their first attempt and shared it with the old man who sits out by the road in a deck chair playing chess with that weird guy who has a monkey and all three of them (including the monkey) liked it and so it’s going to be a bestseller.

    And then there’s just a single vague line about the plot.


  2. LOL! Not only are you channeling many of my queries, but you’ve made me spew coffee over my keyboard.

  3. NinjaFingers says:

    At least I’ve never done *that*.

  4. Henry C. Link~ While one person hesitates because he feels inferior the other is busy making mistakes and becoming superior.

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