the writer's arsenal: room for interpretation


In my post on Query Letter Dos and Don'ts, I touched on the fact that you shouldn't praise yourself in your query. I want to expand on that a little because I see writers doing it wrong all the time. The rule of not praising yourself is twofold: don't praise yourself and don't praise your writing. Just lay your cards on the table and leave it to the agents/editors/readers to judge for themselves.

There are a few things to consider before you write that letter...

There are a few things to consider before you write that letter...

When it comes to talking about yourself, just stick to the facts--what's your writing experience? Agents and editors don't need to know your life story or how awesome you think you are. They care about your credentials, not that you think you've written the next bestseller, or that your five divorces have made you "super wise in the way of women". (Yes, I've seen that in a query letter.) And they definitely never want to see anything along the lines of, "you're seriously missing out if you don't take me on because I'm a literary genius".  Again, stick to the facts. Let your reader decide whether or not those writing contests you won (which you *should* mention) make you a literary genius. Factual credentials = impressive, even if they're slim. Overstating your brilliance = major turn off. 

Now, about that bit of the query where you talk about your book...

Writing a good blurb is an art in and of itself. So is writing a synopsis (and yes, a query blurb and a synopsis are different things). The blurb needs to tell your reader what your story is about without just being a bunch of buzz-words. In other words, not "It's a hilarious, touching, awe-inspiring journey through the human condition that will rock the genre to its core". As the author, that's not for you to say. Your blurb should give a sense of the plot, and sure, even the themes, without blowing them out of proportion. It needs to walk the fine line between factual and enticing, without forcing subjective opinions into the mix. You can say that your story "explores themes of human frailty", without claiming it will "shatter our current interpretation of human frailty in the modern world". If your book is funny, that should be conveyed in your writing, in your voice, in your blurb. It's classic show, don't tell. Leave it up to the reader to say, "Hey, this sounds funny!"

It's the difference between this:

"Hey guys, wanna know who's hilarious? It's me! I'm hilarious!"

And this:

Okay, maybe you don't find that sailor pac-man ghost as funny as I do, but that's kind of what I'm getting at here. It's open to interpretation. Don't say you're funny. Be funny. Your query letter, or pitch, is your first impression. You want to make a good one. You really don't want to be this guy:

"Who wants to hear some super funny jokes about cancer?"

Umm. Nope.


A previous version of this post originally appeared on