NaNoWriMo Tip #27: Don’t do this in your query letter. Pretty please.

Johngrisha_6905555_11586349As 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…”

3. Boasting.
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.

5. Threats.
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. 

7. Begging.
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…

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READ YESTERDAY'S TIP HERE…

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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,

— Josie

 

Judging a Book by Its Cover: Secret Lives of Husbands and Wives

PosterSee that messy desk?

Ooops! Let me start again…

See that colorful poster over the messy desk? The one of the eye-catching book cover?

That book cover is mine.

It belongs to the novel you'll soon see in bookstores–June 1, 2010, to be exact–all over the country.

It will also be inside Target, which makes me very proud, because I feel that the story–about a marriage disintegrating, and what others who are close to it project their own fears into it–would relate to many of us who shop there.

This cover was blown up to a size that is close to 2 feet by 3 feet. Since a book's cover is the first consideration for a book lover's impulse buy, unfortunately for me (but fortunately for you, since, hopefully, you'll be lugging it to the beach with you I hope I hope) it won't be that big when see it in the store.

When you see it, will you pick it up?

My publishing house, Simon & Schuster, is betting that you will. And since they're the horse that I"m riding in on, here's hoping they're right. They created a cover that implies people in a very public neighborhood setting, in close proximity–husbands, wives, lovers and other strangers–and yet they are aloof. As Woody Allen would say, "friendly, but not familiar."

And that's the crux of the story: does, as the adage goes, familiarity breed contempt? Does it kill passion?

Do we fall out of love when we reach the point that we know too much? If our partner's actions are mundane, are we boring, too, for putting up with it?

In this book, the divorce of a community's "perfect couple" sets off a rash of soul-searching for those who are on the outside looking in. These neighbors reason: if it can happen to them, how about me?

The only one who doesn't want to consider this is my heroine, Lyssa. She gets close enough to witness the destruction, and feels immune to the arrows of outrageous partners behaving badly–

Maybe because it hits too close to her own marriage.

Which brings me back to my cover. On the bench (which wraps around the whole book) are these four people. The middle two are in each others' arms, but what are they thinking about? Are the other two who share the bench with them strangers, or acquaintances?

The cover lends itself to the darker side of the story, although there is a lot of humor as well. (That's just the way I write.) Divorce is not murder or mass destruction, but it is still the death of trust and love; it is the destruction of a union that held hope.

What does it say to you? I'd love to hear your comments. 

At first I didn't like it. I wanted something softer. In time, though, I
grew to appreciate its edginess. And in person, the colors are rich,
which make it eye-popping as well. 

A note: for those of you who presume that authors get to choose their book covers, think again. Maybe if your first name is Dan, or your last name is Grisham you do, but for the rest of us, when it comes to a book contract, you may get "consideration" — in other words, they may take your opinion as to what you'd like to see on the cover — but the publisher has final say. His/Her decision takes into account the reaction from the sales team, which is out in the field pitching it to their accounts (who, by the way, swing a big stick, too, when it comes to covers).

From concept to cover,

—Josie

http://twitter.com/JosieBrownCA




Secret-Lives400w
 
Josie's
Next Book: Secret Lives of Husbands and Wives

Simon & Schuster/Downtown Press

(ISBN: 9781439173176)

In bookstores June 1, 2010. Order it
TODAY
!

"Hollywood's got nothing on the cast of characters living in
the
bedroom community of Paradise Heights, who have the secrets, sex, money
and scandal of an OK! Magazine cover story. Josie Brown is a skilled
observer whose clever dialogue and feisty style make for truly
entertaining reading."

Jackie
Collins
, bestselling author of Hollywood Wives and Poor Little Bitch Girl

In bookstores June 1, 2010. Pre-order
today
:

From Amazon

From Barnes & Noble

From Books a Million

From Borders

From Copperfield's

From Your
Local Independent Bookstore

From Powell's

From
Target