Three Traps to Avoid in Your Cover or Query Letter

Saturday, March 07, 2020
I’m not going to tell you that writing a query or cover letter is a breeze. But it doesn’t have to be as difficult as we so often make it. We worry about font and headers and our signature and oh so many other things. If we don’t get everything absolutely perfect, we seem to believe, the editor is going to reject our work. 

I wouldn’t use Zapf Wingdings, but I don’t think font is going to be what makes an editor say no. Still there are traps you should avoid in your cover or query letter.  

Getting Too Personal. Often an agent will tell writers to let them know if there is a personal connection. Why are they the right agent for you? Did you meet this person at a conference? Or perhaps you read their Tweet about looking for humorous picture books that feature twins. If you read a Tweet, obviously you follow this person on social media and that’s okay, but don’t get too personal. I once heard an agent say that she was approached by a writer who mentioned where the agent’s children go to school. It only took one observation to go from being a good researcher to being creepy.

The Next Jodi Picoult. When you present your work, some agents ask for comp titles. What books would you compare your book to? It won’t do you any good to say that readers of Jodi Picoult will love your book or your character is the next Harry Potter. Don’t pick the authors or books that have been on the New York Times best seller list and just about everyone can name. Instead show depth of knowledge and that you really know the field. I won’t compare my mystery to the work of Agatha Christie but perhaps I will mention Molly MacRae’s books.

I’m Unpublished. You know the paragraph where you list your publishing credits? If you don’t have any, don’t point it out. Instead, talk about other things that make you the ideal person to write this particular book. It is for fourth and fifth graders and you’ve taught fourth grade for 10 years. It is set in Ancient Mesopotamia and you have a master’s in Biblical archaeology. You won a Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators work-in-progress grant.

A cover or query letter is your first opportunity to connect with an agent or editor. Avoiding these three traps (and Zapf Wingdings) will help you make a good impression.

Sue Bradford Edwards' is the author of over 25 books for young readers.  To find out more about her writing, visit her blog, One Writer's Journey.  Sue is also the instructor for  Research: Prepping to Write Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults. The next session begins  May 4th, 2020. 


Sioux Roslawski said...

Sue--Thanks to you, I finally know why I haven't had a lot of success with my query letters. I thought using Zapf Wingdings would make me appear as clever. Also, it would build a connection between the agent and me. You know, the unspoken premise, "I think you're so brilliant that you will be able to unlock this secret code of a font. I was so brilliant because I used this unusual font."

Also, I don't compare myself to Jodi Picoult in my query. However, I do liken my style to Stephen King's. Do you think that might be a problem?

Seriously, I've heard of people (decades ago) who would print their resume up in fushia ink to get attention. Some women would use scented paper. I suppose if there were clueless people back then--looking for jobs--there are people today who have strayed off the path as they look to get their work published.

Thanks for your post. (And perhaps I'll rethink Zapf Wingdings.)

Renee Roberson said...

Ha! I think I'm okay with the font but I will admit I've compared my writing to the likes of John Green and his coming-of-age tales. Perhaps that may have been a mistake. I've mentioned a few other lesser-known names as comps that I think are fine but maybe I should drop that one for the future. It's also good to know agents aren't looking too closely for that personal connection. I'm certainly not cyberstalking anyone but won't plan on it in the future, either! Thanks for the tips.

Cathy C. Hall said...

Spot on tips here, Sue, especially the comp stuff. That's really an art in itself and I struggle so much with comps that unless I'm told to have them, I just leave 'em out. :-)

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