Don’t Put Me to Sleep!

Hi Rachelle,

I’m working on a book proposal, and was wondering if I should interject my personality/humor into it? Or are they usually personality minus? I believe I tend to write better when I can be humorous and use my own voice. Thoughts…?


Don’t Want To Bore You


Woman bored


Dear Don’t Want,

Would YOU rather read something that was intentionally dry and boring, or something fun and funny?

What would most likely sell YOU on buying a book?

It’s CRUCIAL that queries and proposals include your personality… or at least the personality of your book. Draw me in. Make it so that I’m DYING to read your book. Don’t bore me!


Boring Agent

Does your query or proposal have some personality and life in it? Do you find this difficult?


Posted in

Rachelle Gardner

Literary agent at Books & Such Literary Agency. Coffee & wine enthusiast (not at the same time) and dark chocolate connoisseur. I've worked in publishing since 1995 and I love talking about books!


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  5. Jaime Wright on September 2, 2011 at 10:45 AM

    I find this post very FREE-ING! I think professionalism is still wise and expected, but I’ve tried so hard not to interject myself? Guess I’ve been boring. Maybe I’ll do a rewrite and see if it changes the tone while still retaining professionalism.

  6. Crafty Mama on September 1, 2011 at 11:57 PM

    Good question! I’m always worried my personality will scare away the professional-types. 😉 However, if an agent didn’t like my personality, they probably wouldn’t like my book.

  7. Susie Finkbeiner on September 1, 2011 at 10:23 PM

    I admit it. My queries/proposals have been boring. Heck, they even bored me when I was writing them. Why were they so dull? Because I was trying SO HARD to get them to be perfect.

  8. Larry Carney on September 1, 2011 at 6:35 PM

    I once queried an agent whose guidelines included the first few pages of the manuscript.


    ….one of the purposes of the opening scene was to build an atmosphere which was to soon be jarred by events in the story, heightening the impact of the events and making the reader question the validity of the point-of-view the opening scene was presented in.

    However, I think I made the agent fall asleep, lulling them into thinking it was merely a story about a girl coming of age in a small southern town.

    Too bad for my manuscript the corpses don’t start piling up until page ten 🙂

  9. Joan Cimyotte on September 1, 2011 at 4:16 PM

    I wish I knew how to make it perfect. Short and sweet. To the point. My story is a little bit funny. You’d have to read it.

  10. Selina J.H. on September 1, 2011 at 4:13 PM

    I’ve heard that most publishers, when reviewing a story, look for something to hook them right from the beginning. I would imagine the same goes for proposals.

    That being said, we are our worst critics when it comes to our own personalities. We tend to hide our true selves when we meet people for the first time. The problem with doing this with your writing is that your true self is probably all through your story in one way or another. Seems best to be your true self right up front, because hopefully you’ll have a working relationship with whomever your posing your story to, and they will appreciate it in the long run. Its nice to be accepted for who you are, and not what you’re trying to be, because no one can keep that up for long.

  11. Beth MacKinney on September 1, 2011 at 3:37 PM

    I do think a query should have some personality in it. The best queries seem to explain the plot briefly, but still embody the author’s voice. They are also professional in their content and presentation, but they manage to be personable without being overfamiliar, and tantalizing without being brazen.

    It’s a fine line. It’s not unlike having a blind date.

  12. Roger Floyd on September 1, 2011 at 3:21 PM

    I’m a scientist. I’m used to looking at things dispassionately. I’m quiet and shy so my personality IS dry and boring. I do have a sense of humor, though I use it to liven a letter (or a comment), but not so much that it gives the wrong impression. I try to impress people (agents, editors) with my knowledge of the subject and my polished style of writing (you’re snickering already), and I hope it doesn’t come across as TOO boring. In any event, did you hear the one about…

  13. Jennie Dugan on September 1, 2011 at 2:56 PM

    I confess! I have an incredibly tough time interjecting personality into my queries! But thanks for tweeting this. I’ll adjust my sails and add some personality today.

  14. Dave Clark on September 1, 2011 at 2:21 PM

    Rachelle, you rejected my last query. If you’d told me that it wasn’t funny enough, we would have at least had a laugh over that! But there’s a slightly more insidious wrench in the works: Length of query. Was it terrific but not quite long enough, or was it fascinating as it went on until something not-so-inviting crept in? So much mind-reading to be done…

  15. Michael Dobishinsky on September 1, 2011 at 2:03 PM

    Great reminder Rachelle! No one would want to read a flat, boring book so why write a antiseptic book proposal or query letter. We have to let our “voice” be heard while still getting the essentials of our book across.

  16. Karen Nolan Bell on September 1, 2011 at 1:39 PM

    Thanks, Rachelle. I think my professional background influenced my proposal. Sorry. I’m sure it is one of the ho-hum ones. I am trainable, though! So, I’m starting today on a new one – with a little of the personality of my characters. Now, I just hope I don’t go too far. Oh, by the way, I have personality too. Somewhere in there.

  17. Krista Phillips on September 1, 2011 at 1:29 PM

    I *hope* my proposal isn’t boring!

  18. terri tiffany on September 1, 2011 at 1:27 PM

    I know the first few I sent out bordered on boring–um–were really boring. Then I studied more on how to write one and actually got some requests.

  19. Crystal L Barnes on September 1, 2011 at 1:26 PM

    This is a good one. I hate being dry and boring. (Definitely not my personality.) I hope my proposal will have that good balance of me + professional.

  20. demetrabrodsky on September 1, 2011 at 1:25 PM

    I’m sorry. I fell asleep. Were you saying something? ; )

  21. Loree Huebner on September 1, 2011 at 1:13 PM

    Funny but true…thanks for the tip.

  22. Ginny Martyn on September 1, 2011 at 12:56 PM

    I would argue that proposals themselves are the MOST boring medium for writers. If you want personality change the game. It’s like choosing a date for Friday night from a row of Vicars- the process is both unnecessary and antiquated. Could be why self-pub is on the rise.

    • Rachelle Gardner on September 1, 2011 at 1:17 PM

      An interesting perspective, but not a correct one. If you want investors in your business, you must present them with a well-thought out business plan. If you’re looking for traditional publishing, then you’re looking for an investor. Hence you need a business plan – a book proposal.

      And in all my years of both acquiring and selling books based on proposals, I’ve seen hundreds (thousands?) of well-done proposals that didn’t bore me in the least. They fascinated me, captivated my interest, and made me want to not only read the book but invest great quantities of time and money in the author.

      Of course, if you’re self publishing, you don’t need investors. Hence no business plan (book proposal).

  23. Kathryn Elliott on September 1, 2011 at 12:25 PM

    A little humor goes a long way. (Especially during extended in-law visits.)

  24. Marji Laine on September 1, 2011 at 12:13 PM

    I’ve always thought that the query/proposal should be more professional than my regular writing voice. But then, I don’t have to read the several hundred a day!

    Ah-ha moment!

    • Rachelle Gardner on September 1, 2011 at 1:12 PM

      Where ever did anyone get the idea that “professional” needs to equate with dry and boring? I didn’t say don’t be professional, I just said, inject some personality so that it’s not boring!

      After all, if you were going for a job interview, you’d be VERY professional. But what would get you the job would be the combination of your skills and your personality, i.e. who you are, not your nice matters and well-pressed suit.

  25. Valerie Norris on September 1, 2011 at 11:40 AM

    I just rewrote my query letter with this in mind. Hoping it works! The book is humorous, so I’m hoping adding humor to the tone of the letter helps.


  26. Reba J. Hoffman on September 1, 2011 at 11:23 AM

    As a greenhorn, I could be guilty of that type of question. My editor emailed me stating the formatting in my manuscript had gotten out of sync. I was concentrating so much on trying to figure out the formatting issue, I emailed back asking, “Did you add or subtract words? That could cause the formatting to be off.”
    She emailed back and diplomatically replied, “Reebs, I’m an editor. That’s what editors do. We and and subtract words.”
    She’ll never-I mean not in a billion years-let me live that one down.

  27. Susan Bourgeois on September 1, 2011 at 9:31 AM

    This is an important post. All of your posts are important but this is a great reminder.

    This is the second time I’ve read about this topic from an agent’s blog.

    I will make a note to remember the importance of inserting the voice of the book throughout the query letter.

    I will also remember to add my personality.

    The query should make the agent eager to ask for the proposal or first chapters.

    Do not use this comment as a reflection of my voice or personality.

    I’m funny and humble.

    Maybe not so humble…

  28. Kathrine Roid on September 1, 2011 at 9:14 AM

    I think it’s important to make sure your query is infused with your book’s mood and personality. There were a couple queries over on Query Shark where the writers had mixed moods and it was hard to tell what the book was supposed to be like. I suspect that’s the life that’s missing in “dry” queries.

  29. TC Avey on September 1, 2011 at 8:57 AM

    Thanks for the advice, I think perhaps my submissions have been a bit dry compared to the story I am ‘selling’. I will try to work on that…

  30. Heather Sunseri on September 1, 2011 at 8:48 AM


  31. Erin on September 1, 2011 at 8:36 AM

    Ha! This is great. BUT, I would think this would be different for fiction and non-fiction, right?

  32. Leigh Caron on September 1, 2011 at 8:33 AM

    An make an excellent point.

  33. Sue Harrison on September 1, 2011 at 8:24 AM

    A novel’s personality – expressed through its characters and voice – is what sweeps me into the story!

  34. Michael Seese on September 1, 2011 at 7:55 AM

    Hmmm. Does anyone know where I can get one of those “personality” things?

  35. otin on September 1, 2011 at 7:42 AM

    My book has a lot of personality. Hopefully it’s not exactly mine, though. Otherwise I’d be doing twenty to life in Sing Sing, LOL!

  36. Donna K. Weaver on September 1, 2011 at 12:34 AM

    lol That’s awesome.