Ask Daphne! What people think about it?

April 13th, 2009 • Kate

differentshoesMandy writes with a question about different opinions:

I’ve recently finished a novel, though I’m still in the proof reading process. While proof reading and rewriting, I have been doing research into agents, query letters, and the publication process. On one agent’s website a four paragraph query letter set-up was described as the sort of query letter they preferred. Most of the descriptions for the paragraphs make sense, but the third paragraph is described as:

“Here’s how the book came to be written and what people think of it.”

Now, I have been following your blog and Facebook for only a short time, but I’m sure that you have said not to say things like “my friends liked it”, which only makes sense. My friends are not literary critics. Any ideas on what this agent could possible mean by “what people think of it”?

Hey Mandy, it’s true — I really don’t go for queries with blurbs from your fellow writers or friends or paid editors, or even writing teachers most times. But the agent on whose blog you found this advice clearly feels differently!

As I’ve said before, this is a business of personal taste, almost above all else. While I don’t really care HOW you came to write your novel, and what people you’ve shown early versions of it may think about it, other agents clearly do. Sometimes, that’s because a great story of how a book came to be written can crossover to be great publicity material. And that writing teacher who loves your book and wants to blurb it may be a Pulitzer Prize-winner, whose taste is widely respected.

Even if someone is asking for this information, however, be wary of what you include. Did you personally experience something much like the events in your novel, and are writing it to help others who may be going through the same thing? That’s useful to know. Did the events of your book come to you in a fever dream? Less useful.

And even if you have the world’s best blurb from a widely respected writer, did you pay for it? Then I don’t care. (See above re: paid editors.)

“What people think about it” could also be shorthand for contest wins or nominations. I’d avoid excerpting rejection letters from other agents or editors, but responses to contest submissions might be what this other agent is looking to see.

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