I just finished reading a post over at Query Shark, and it appears Janet Reid and I are channeling one another because she mentions the very things that I received in three different queries this weekend – all which aren’t helpful in rating a high score on my Wow O’Meter.
“I’ve just completed…”
I’m not quite sure why authors feel this is a helpful thing to communicate. It isn’t. For starters, I now have the impression that your manuscript is literally hot off the presses…or fingertips, as the case may be, and you’re all jumpy happy excited to get your work out there. So jumpy happy excited, that you haven’t stopped to consider how unready you really are. I’m willing to bet the beagle’s remaining bottle of tequila it could use some serious polishing.
Trust me; you do not want me reading what you’ve just completed. You need to sit on your newly finished tome and let it marinate before you go in and begin refining and tweaking and rewriting and using small sticks of dynamite. When you use this term, I believe I’m seeing your first draft, and this makes me want to reach for the bottle of Draino.
And the worst part? That one sentence tells me I’m working with someone who doesn’t understand the industry.
“I’m a published author.”
Once again, Janet read my mind. When I see this, I figure you’re a DIY’er, which means I’ve never heard of you or your book because it never reached the marketplace. Telling me you’re a published author really tells me nothing unless you include your title and publisher. Most DIY’ers don’t, so I look them up and see AuthorHouse or some other pay-to-play press. A vanity book doesn’t count as a publishing credit, so I will still look at you as an unpublished author. Why? Because there is no litmus for talent with a vanity press, other than the size of your wallet.
On the other hand, if I look you up and see that your publisher is someone I know, I have to wonder why you didn’t include the info. It’s really easy; just say something like, “I’m the author of Beagles Who Imbibe (BigWooHoo Press, 2008).” And you’re better off putting this info at the bottom of your query. Most of us would rather dig right into the story, than have to wade through your bio, how much your Aunt Grace lurved your book, why you wrote it, and the many people you’d like to thank for believing in you. *facepalm*
“I chose your company because…”
It doesn’t matter why you chose us. The facts are that you did, so let’s get on with it, shall we? Forms of flattery aren’t effective because we have no hearts or souls. It’s sweet that you think we’re the bee’s knees, but it doesn’t mean you have a marketable story. And that’s why we’re here, so let the games begin.
Lots of queries start out with backstory. I see why authors do this; they feel it’s important to convey who their characters are and how they came to be caught up in this particular plot. It isn’t. Simply start where the action begins. Your query is only a page long, so you need to get to it pretty fast. Just the facts, thankyouverymuch. We don’t need to know how Jack came to be caught up in saving the world from pygmy unicorns, we just need to know what he’s doing to fight those rascally unicorns and save the world.
“Have you ever wondered why beagles drink so much?”
Rhetorical questions. Meh. As Janet sagely mentions in her blog post, they suck stale Twinkie cream because they might not elicit the answer you hoped for. What happens is you take us out of your query. Consider the above question, and let’s pretend someone wrote that in their query. Now, I have lots of experience with drinking beagles, and my brain is off to the races wondering if I should initiate an intervention on her behalf, or fill her tequila bottles with ginger ale. Before you know it, I’m totally out of your story and into my own head.
That’s not where you want me. Rhetorical questions are fluffy, nonsensical things that offer nothing to your story, so my recommendation is to avoid using them.
Brag or apologize
I always like to know a wee bit about the author, but I’m not crazy about the author who tells me she’s fabulous and brilliant, or one who apologizes for not being a famous, multi-published author, but insists that she has what it takes to write a great book. First off, this is telling, not showing. These two ends of the Confidence Spectrum equates to the author basically telling me to trust them because…well…they said so. That ploy never worked with me when Mom said, “because I said so!” so I can assure you it won’t work with me when an author says it.
It’s a good idea to avoid braggadocio or acute under-confidence. If you have something brag-worthy, simply say it. “I’m the author of Bestselling Novel, which won a PEN Award.” And you don’t need to have a publishing credit to wow me. “I’m a detective who was awarded the Heroism Medal of Abject Coolness, and my experiences are the foundation of my book.” This tells me you have a platform in which to showcase your knowledge of your subject matter. You’re unimpeachable, which is verra cool.
If you have none of those things working for you, then don’t feel compelled to build yourself up. Go with what you have. Or don’t (for fiction). With nonfiction, you really need to have a platform.
But most of all, have confidence that your plot will carry the day, and an agent or editor will ask for pages. And leave the blurky stuff out – it doesn’t add or enhance you or your story.