Two Things That Don’t Help a Query (Part 1)
“I got up today and decided to wear purple socks.”
Now, I’m sure you can see how a line like that wouldn’t help your query. Does it tell me something about you? Yes. Is it relevant to your book? No. Does it help an agent make an informed decision about whether to represent your book? Again, no.
Of course, you’d never write about your purple socks in your query letter. (Right?) BUT. What you will write… what you have written in a query (many thousands of you, anyway) is this:
“I’ve been writing since I fell out of my mother’s womb with a pencil in my hand.” Or some such impressive statement about your lifelong habit of writing. “I’ve been writing fiction since the third grade when I showed my first novel to my teacher Mrs. Zuckerman and she told me it was the best story she’d ever read in her life.”
The corollary is: “I’ve loved writing ever since I can remember.” You want us to know that you’ve not only been writing your whole life, you love writing.
It’s about as relevant as the purple socks statement. Yes, it tells me something about you. Go ahead and include it if you really feel it’s the most important thing I should know. But understand this: I will ignore it. I will slide right past as if you’d never said it. That’s because every single day of my life I read query letters that include “I’ve been writing my whole life” and hence, it has gone so far beyond cliché, it’s like a parody of a stereotype of a cliché.
The only time that kind of line is helpful and relevant is if it goes something like this: “I’ve been writing since I was three, at which time I won my first Caldecott Medal. By the age of seven I’d garnered two National Book Awards, one for fiction and one for non-fiction. I love writing so much that I continued, even though it took eight more years for me to finally win the Nobel Prize for Literature.”
See what I’m saying? Only if it’s relevant.
One of the reasons your lifelong penchant for writing is irrelevant is because plenty of wonderful, talented authors didn’t get published until later in life. Richard Adams published Watership Down when in his fifties. Laura Ingalls Wilder didn’t publish the Little House books until her sixties. Henry Miller was 44 when his first novel was published, Raymond Chandler 51. And don’t forget one of my favorites, Frank McCourt, didn’t publish Angela’s Ashes until he was 66. So really, who cares if you’ve been writing since you were a child? Either you have a saleable book or you don’t, whether you started writing at six or sixty.
Keep your query letters on-point and focused. Only include information that’s germane to the topic at hand. Besides the actual pitch for the book, include such details as whether or not you’re previously published, if you’ve won any awards for your writing, and what genre of book you’re pitching.
Q4U: Since I don’t want to hear it in a query, go ahead and tell me now: How long have you been writing? Did you start when you were five, or fourteen, or were you a late bloomer?
*Tomorrow: The OTHER Thing That Doesn’t Help a Query