Jeff Seymour - Author of Fantasy, Literary Fiction, & c.: Bad Signs in Query Letters

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Thursday, May 17, 2012

Bad Signs in Query Letters

The other week I was rolling through some submissions and noticed the following bad signs in query letters (details fudged to protect the guilty). None of them is enough to make me reject a submission alone, but they're indicative of likely problems in the writing to follow. If you find any of these items in your query, you may want to get a second opinion on your novel from a critical reader before submitting.

1.) "This book can be released as (insert number) books or as one." I want to know that you've thought hard about the structure of your novel and picked the best one for it. This does not convince me of that.

2.) Random punctuation. Learning where colons, commas, semicolons, and other marks go is part of your job.

3.) Boldface. If you don't trust me to find the important elements in your query on my own, how will you trust your reader to do it in your novel?

4.) Repetition ("Dripping with power and wealth, Malcolm has a lot of money and isn't afraid to use it."). Doesn't bode well for same in your novel.

5.) Excessive passive voice. I don't hate passive voice as much as most how-to-write books do, but it has a time and a place, and every sentence in the first paragraph of your query is not it.

6.) "My book is great because it's full of great characters who do great things and have great relationships." If you tell me this rather than show it to me, it bodes poorly for the show vs. tell ratio in your novel.

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