Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Beware The Cliche In Queries

The purpose of the query letter is to get the editor or agent hooked BEFORE he or she reads your manuscript. If you are taking the selp-publishing route, your goal is to get the book buyer interested enough to want to "feature" your book. Unfortunately, I have seen far too many author sabotaging their own work with  pitches and blurbs that are nothing but beige. While the author might thing he or she spent hours finding the right words and the right phrases, the only result was a lifeless piece of wilted lettuce and now, they look like everyone else.

Although this is not one my favorite movies, I find myself, more often than not referring back to
something that happened in it. What was the color of her resume?


Why? Because it would stand out among all of the other resumes going out to the potential employers.

Let me first state, this approach is not acceptable, but the thought behind it is right on the money. Your job is to stand out. Your job is to show the agent, the editor or the book buyer that your project is different from anything else out there.

And yet, time and time again, I see pitches and queries that tell me there story is not anything different from the other authors that submitted that day, the authors I currently have working for the agency, or for that matter, the other authors out there publishing. We have nothing but beige. And in every one of these cases, it is all coming down to the high concept in the query letter. That one single sentence that should be setting your story and your project above all others.

I understand there are certain common "generic" themes out there...

  • lost love
  • bad boy redeemed
  • good girl tainted
  • All of the Disney characters...
  • The list is endless
There is nothing to say you can't work with these ideas as a starting point but if this is all you have, then your story is not going to go anywhere.

Lately I have have received some queries with phrases very similar to these"

  • This story is about that first love we all feel and getting our hearts broken when the other person found someone else
  • This story is about finding that love you had discarded so many years ago because of ill-timed words.
  • This is a coming of age story about finding love for the first time.
Give me a break. How is this different? How is this new? When agents and editors talk during those editor/agent panels and tell you they want someone with a new voice and new approach, is this what they are asking for? (Spoiler Alert: The answer is no).

You have to think about what makes your story special BEFORE you even start writing it. You have to know what you are out to achieve and then, take the time, as you write, to insure all of the pieces are doing just what you want. If you are trying to figure out what makes your story special AFTER the story is written, the odds are you won't find it for the simple reason, there probably isn't anything there.

As you write those queries, remember that you are in competition with not just other writers that are submitting to that agent or editor, but also with other authors new on the market and those already published. There are simply too many of you out there and only so many readers. If you don't find a way to stand out, you will be lost.

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