We've talked before about how to write a professional query letter – how it's you're first exposure to an agent or editor and how important it is. This time I thought I'd mention a few things you definitely should not put into those letters or do with them. There's no particular order so let's dive right in:
1. Don't ever tell them how hard you worked on your novel. That's a given, and basically who cares? The important thing is hopefully it's a good novel. Good is more important than working hard on it. In fact, I'd go so far as to say if you wrote the thing in less than a week without raising a sweat, good for you! But again, really, who cares?
2. Don't photocopy a whole bunch of your query letters, and then send them out with no personal salutation or communication within the letter. Very bad form.
3. Proof and edit your letter like a mad person. Have someone else read it. Under no circumstance have typos in the address or the first sentence. Gads that's unprofessional!
4. Don't let your letter grow to more than one page. Really, one page is enough.
5. Don't give the editor you're addressing long and involved instructions for replying to you. If you're going on vacation, they don't need to know that. Just give them your address, phone number, and email address. That information should be in your return address header anyway. If they're interested in your work, believe me you're going to hear about it.
6. Don't use a very small font or allow letters to print when your ink cartridge is running dry. Make sure your letter is crisp and very readable. Just figure every editor, agent, and other writer you meet is suffering from eyestrain. I know I am.
7. Don't waste the few words you have allowed yourself in that one page by commiserating with the recipient about how you know how busy they are and you're going to keep this short so as not to waste their precious time. You've already wasted it with that observation – and you've lost their attention. Stay on track, keep it short and professional. They'll love you for it.
8. Considering you're no doubt a newbie, if you're doing all this yourself, refrain from making claims about how wonderful your work is, how many people it appeals to, and how many copies it will sell – in the millions do doubt! Simply inform them briefly of your considered audience. If you're putting together a proposal you'll be including a marketing section and that will cover it.
9. Don't use bright coloured, cute tricks. Believe me they've seen them all and to editors and agents that kind of stuff just screams amateur! Newbie! Unprofessional!
10. Your best bet on paper is simple, clean white or ivory. Here too is not a place to get cute with colours and designs. Keep it simple and clean. Check for finger smudges too before you affix your signature and ship it out. If you're sending it somewhere that accepts email queries, the same applies. Don't color the background some interesting shade of puce or make the text a bright orange. Go for simple, elegant, and professional.
Avoid the mistakes above and you make it just that more likely you won't receive a knee-jerk rejection.
Read Peggy Bechko's excerpt from Blown To Hell.
Author of Doubleday western novels, Harlequin romances, Fictionworks' fantasies (eBook format), Peggy Bechko has also optioned screenplays domestically and abroad, written for an animated series and for variety of other venues. She's working on a new novel and collaborating on a animated series. http://www.peggybechko.50megs.com/