I touched on some of these in my last post, but I thought it would be nice to have them all in one tidy list. These are a few of things you absolutely cannot do in your query letter.
“What do you mean, cannot?” you say. “What, am I gonna get arrested?”
Let me assure you: yes. You will be arrested and fired into the sun. Tread lightly, friend.
What Not to Do in a Query Letter
1. “I’m the next big thing, baby!”
Maybe you are and maybe you aren’t; it’s not your determination to make. Confidence is great up to the point where it shades into megalomania. Knowing writers as I do, I suspect this kind of self-flattery is an effort to conceal deep-seated self-loathing. We hate ourselves, we writers. Every one of us. Agents and publishers know this, so any declarations of greatness (or assurances that you’re going to make the publisher like, so much money) are going to come across as really phony. And also obnoxious.
2. “My mom read this story and she loves it!”
Slow down there, Motherboy. Your mom has to like your writing, just as she has to like you. Mothers are not the most objective audience, so their opinions don’t track much with publishing professionals. You shouldn’t use your mother as a reference. Similarly, you should avoid mentioning commendations by your father, sister, brother, grandma, best friend, or parole officer. In fact, you should probably reconsider including the opinions of any of your “first readers.” A publishing professional will either be interested in reading your manuscript, or they won’t, and it doesn’t really matter what a complete stranger thinks of it.
3. “I’m an aspiring writer. Maybe this manuscript isn’t that good, but I tried my best.”
Ho boy, you went in the complete opposite direction, didn’t you? Come on, kiddo, there’s hundreds of degrees between self-eulogy and telling the agent you hate yourself. I definitely understand the urge to self-deprecate–I’m from the Midwest, after all–but your query letter isn’t the place to do it. Don’t talk yourself down. Don’t describe yourself as an “aspiring” writer. You wrote a book, didn’t you? You’re not just “aspiring;” you’re the real deal. Chin up!
4. “Have you read my manuscript yet? I sent it to you like, five weeks ago!”
No one likes a pushy pain in the butt. Slush piles reach mammoth proportions, and it can take months for yours to rise to the top. Agents and publishers are people too. They don’t want to do business with a diva any more than you would.
5. *stuffs glitter into query letter envelope*
I wouldn’t even mention this, except that I’ve heard horror stories from multiple literary professionals. Shockingly, this is something people actually do. You want your manuscript to stand-out, but preferably in a “this is some really solid writing” way, rather than a “Lisa Frank just sneezed all over my hands” way.