The Publishing Process

7 Words You Probably Shouldn’t Use in Your Query

So you’re ready to query an agent. Good for you. I’m not going to tell you how to do that. There are plenty of excellent articles elsewhere on this subject. (Google it.) But I do have a smattering of advice, as indicated ever so subtly by the title of this post as well as the redundant sentence that follows this one.

Here, now, are seven words you probably shouldn’t include in your query.

Brilliant – I know. Your novel is brilliant. In fact, it’s so incredibly brilliant, Harper Lee decided not to publish a second novel because there was no way she could compete with your novel’s brilliance. Yes, this statement demands suspension of disbelief regarding time travel (among other things), but how is that any less outrageous than the claim that your novel is the next To Kill a Mockingbird? Brilliant is something others say about you, not something you say about yourself.

Literary – I’ll probably step on a few Birkenstocked toes here, but literary isn’t a genre; it’s an appraisal. Yes, yes, I know. Bookshops and book review sites and oodles of other places use “Literary” just like they use Science Fiction, Romance and Mystery – as a label to identify a certain category of books. I understand why they do this. Laziness. Okay, not just that. They also use it because calling something Literary lets us know how Very Important it is. (It also signals to booksellers, “Caution, Low Sales Ahead Unless Oprah Says Otherwise.”) Use the query to tell about your book, not to make a case that you’re a Very Important Author. That’s for the agent to decide anyway.

Bestseller – No, it’s not (unless you’ve already sold a few hundred thousand e-books on Amazon and you’re just toying with agents by querying them when you really don’t need their help anyway). Nor is your book certain to be a bestseller. Don’t say it. Please don’t say it. I hope it is a bestseller. I really do. But you don’t know that. No one does until it happens.

One-of-a-kind – Here’s the thing – every book (apart from those that are plagiarized) is “one-of-a-kind.” Of course, some are more one-of-a-kinder than others and I suspect that’s why you’re tempted to use this or similar words (like Fresh, New and Unique). You want the agent to know you’re Not Like Everyone Else. If your book really is Not Like Everyone Else’s, the agent will discover this. And then she’ll tell you. (See a trend here?)

Potteresque –  Or Twilightical. Or DaVinciCodial. There’s a proper time and place for mentioning books that are similar to the one you’ve written, but if you name-drop the obvious gazillion-sellers, you risk being query-dropped into the virtual trash bin. What do you do if your book actually is Potteresque? Let the plot description reveal that. Then make sure you have a good lawyer on retainer. Especially if your protagonist is a wizard named Jerry Kotter.

Fitzenwhacker – “What, you don’t know that word? Really? But it’s critically important to my story about the Grlabbbn uprising. If I can’t reference the Fitzenwhacker, how will agents know why young Pllrhssk is chosen to be the new Jjarrb?” Look, your fantasy or science fiction masterwork can have all the created words you want (fair warning: if you have too many, readers will revolt), but don’t invoke them in your query unless absolutely necessary and only then if context makes it perfectly clear what the hell you’re talking about.

Rouge – “But what if my book is about a makeup artist.” Oh, sure. Yes, then you can use rouge. I’m just including this word because some of you thought you’d written “rogue.” There’s nothing funnier than reading a query about a protagonist who is in love with the dashingly handsome rouge. (I do love a quality rouge, don’t you?) Double-check your spelling before hitting send. And also make sure the words you use are the words you actually meant to use.

Query on my wayward son.

13 thoughts on “7 Words You Probably Shouldn’t Use in Your Query

  1. Twilightical…brilliant.

    I love the literary genre, not that I read the books. I just love that it exists. Doesn’t the very definition of literary include all books? If o was an author I’d be insaulted if my book was catagorise any other way. Yes, even if they put it in the Sci-Fi part.

    1. Yes. O would be insaulted…. I didn’t mean that, but can we pretend I did and that’s it’s some trendy new phrase?

  2. I will definitely keep this in mind when I submit my best-seller, one-of-a-kind, Twilightical, Potteresque Fitzenwhacker of a rouge literary piece.

    Oh gosh. I have a word crush on you.

      1. If I ever get a next vacation, I’m definitely going to the Isla de Desserts with my bad boy rouge to enjoy the magic twilightical mythical moments.

  3. Heh! Lots of women are madly in love with a rouge called Orgasm. It’s made by NARS and allows the cheeks a perfect pinky-peach flush…

    Ahem. *cough*

    Yes, I quite agree with everything you’ve said and said so well.

      1. Oh, and Maddy, thanks. I’m skilled in the art of identifying things not to put in other things. Like your arm, for instance – you shouldn’t put that in a lion’s mouth. You’re welcome.

    1. Comments can be so educational. And sometimes they leave me speechless. I mean, just what else can I say about a rouge named Orgasm? Sure, there are lots of jokes pressing up against the rope, but I’m not going to go there. Nope. I like to preserve the illusion that I have class.

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