Last week I offered suggestions of DOs I gathered from being an editor for a day at a major publisher, here. A couple of lingering thoughts before I move on to the DON’Ts:
7. If you have a Web site that looks professional, enhances your brand and has been updated recently (Hmm. Guess I should go update mine…), include the URL in your correspondence.
a) having a site shows that you understand the importance of self-promotion and building an online presence
b) you never know if the editor will check it out.
8. If you’re already published, make sure your query reflects that in the most positive light. The way a couple of already pubbed authors described their experience raised more questions than it answered (I checked with the editor, and she agreed). Consider:
a) mentioning the name of your most successful title
b) including a one sentence review snippet from the best known reviewer you have.
c) though this can be tricky to express concisely, think about letting her know why you are switching houses and/or why you don’t have an agent. We agreed we’d request some pages in any case, but having that info up front might have been helpful.
On to the DON’Ts:
1. No pet hair in the pages. Not kidding.
Also, if you smoke, consider printing your submission at a non-smoking facility. I didn’t come across any in NY, but I have heard editors/agents say they’re sensitive to turning pages and getting a whiff of cigarette smell. I judge a lot of contests, and it’s hard for me to concentrate on scented entries.
2. Do not say how much your colleagues at your day job or your friends and family like your story/writing/whatever. Yes, people did this. And yes, it made them look like novices.
On the other hand, if you happen to have a friend who is an NYT best-seller or an author who writes for that house, and she’ll give you a quote…that’s a different story.
3. Do not say, “this is my first novel.” Armed with the knowledge/experience that many first novels don’t sell, the editor may think you’re not ready. In any case, this isn’t info that the editor needs. Save valuable query letter space for factoids that make you look good.
4. Don’t address your letter using her first and last names: “Dear Susie Editor.” Several people did this. To me this came across as a mail merge form and not a customized letter. Follow the business format and use “Dear Ms. Editor.” If you’ve met her, “Dear Susie” is fine.
5. Don’t make your heroine’s current boyfriend or husband too, too horrible/evil/unpleasant. When a novel starts with the heroine being married or having a boyfriend, chances are he’s going to hit the road in favor of the hero (yeah, he may BE the hero, but I think you know what I mean) or be excised to show the heroine’s personal growth. Though most readers have this expectation, you need to maintain tension and make them think the current guy might work out. If he’s so awful or their relationship is so bad up front, we might think the heroine is TSTL (too stupid to live) because she’s with this complete loser. We might not connect with her and stop reading.
6. This is my favorite DON’T: ABSOLUTELY 100% do not say, “I have a better book I didn’t pitch/submit.” I couldn’t believe when I read that. The editor will think, “Then why am I wasting my time with this one?”
You need to pitch/submit your best work. If it’s not ready to send out, why risk ruining your chance to impress her?
Yes, you may be in an appointment where the editor will say something like, “I don’t acquire aliens with red hair who have secret cowboy babies,” and your red-headed alien secret cowboy baby book is your favorite. But if your other projects aren’t ready for prime time, it’s better to say, “I’ll contact you when I have something you might like.”
Hope these tips help the next time you submit…any questions?
Debra St. John says
Again, these are great! Thanks, Ruth.
Maria Geraci says
great tips, Ruth 🙂