As mentioned in yesterday's NaNoWriMo tip (#25), you don't have to wait until your novel is completed to start the process of researching literary agents — or, for that matter, crafting a “I want this book”–inducing query letter.
Get started now, after you finish today's word count, of course.
Yesterday, I made some suggestions as to what a query letter should include. Today, I want to let you know what will get your letter tossed immediately:
1. Poor spelling.
We all make mistakes. We make less of them if we proof our letters prior to sending them. And then proof them again. Then, to play it safe, have someone else proof them, too.
While I'm on the subject: Since we live in the age of multiple submissions and cut-and-paste (and we should all be thankful for both), it is truly bad form to leave the name of the last agent you queried in the salutation of your letter for another. Not to mention calling a Ms. “Mr.” or visa-versa.
Proof. Proof. Then proof again. Trust me, you'll find something.
2. Bad grammar.
You are what you write. That goes for your query letters, too. Again, proofing should catch an “It's…” that should have been an “Its…”
You aren't J.K. Rowling. You aren't Stephen King. You aren't John Grisham. However, if you can attach a personal letter from an author of note espousing on your manuscript, you'll certainly get an agent's attention.
4. A biography that is longer than a couple of pertinent lines.
This isn't a job interview, so don't include a resume. And for that matter, it isn't a date either, so skip your hopes, dreams and future financial projections.
Warning literary agents that they are missing out on the next Twilight series doesn't make them beg to see your novel, but may give them a needed chuckle for the day. The begging part comes when you whet their appetite with a surefire teaser that describes your book. Which brings us to…
6. An inability to sum up your plot in a paragraph.
The sole purpose of the query letter is to intrigue agents about your novel and to request that you send it to them to read. If you bore them with paragraph after paragraph of specific details about your plot or hero, they'll think that your manuscript reads that way, too…
And they'll pass on it.
Sell it to them in a one-liner: “In (novel's title), a (middle-aged woman/shy teen boy or whatever) has their (life/ or whatever, cut short/changed forever) when (s/he finds a letter from…).”
Hopefully, you'll show more nuance and perspective than I did in the line above. In other words, it's your story, so sell it.
And yes, it's okay if you need two or three sentences instead of one.
They don't care that you took eight years to write this novel, 24/7, or that you're supporting your invalid mother. Should they like what they read and get a bidding war started for your manuscript, trust me: that will be the backstory used by the publicist to get you an interview or two. So cut the sob sister act. Work on a killer one-liner instead.
8. Photos or Illustrations.
John Grisham claims he received twenty-eight rejection letters before he found a publisher for his first novel, A Time to Kill. I'm guessing that the bare-chested photo he included had something to do with it. (I kid you, John!) This isn't Match.com or the Miss America Contest, so resist the temptation for visual stimulation.
For that matter, don't send chocolate, either.
Save that for your first face-to-face meeting with your new agent.
(c) 2011 Josie Brown. All rights reserved.
Picture: The s(pec)tacular John Grisham. I'm sure the six-pack abs are under there, somewhere…
I've got a question for you: Have you already made a query letter faux pas ? Let's have a pity party, 'cause I've made some, too, lemmee tellya!
Let your fingers do the talking during National Novel Writing Month,