Are you SURE you want to say that?

June 24th, 2009 • Kate

french4Intern Jenny and I just went through another batch of queries this morning, and amid a cluster of “Madison”s and “Chosen One”s, I came across several queries with a phrase similar to: “After being unable to find any good novels for this age group, I decided to write one myself.” Now, sure, I’m exaggerating for effect, and to avoid a direct quote from a query, but the fact remains: writers seem to think that they’re better than what is already out there.

Do I really need to express why this is a bad idea? Well, I will anyway.

First of all, you’re wrong. So, so wrong. There’s already a metric ton of brilliant stuff that’s been published, and the idea that because you can’t find it it therefore doesn’t exist honestly just doesn’t say much for your ability to seek out great fiction. And if you can’t seek it out — if you can’t find the great novels that kids are reading by the bucketloads, that librarians are giving awards to, that booksellers are recommending day and night — well, then, that doesn’t say much for your knowledge of the market, does it?

To make it today’s tough publishing market, an author NEEDS to know his or her competition. You can’t blithely say it doesn’t exist.

On another note, criticizing the lack of great novels out there is unlikely to cause a shiny happy feeling in the gut of an agent who may very well have many great books by her authors out there in that market — so now you’re insulting the very person you’re trying to impress.

Look, I know writing a query letter is hard work, and a different kind of hard work than writing a novel. But it’s work you have to do to find the agent that’s going to find you an editor that’s going to make the offer that’s going to turn your book into a bestseller. And you can’t cut corners — when agents advise writers to write their manuscript, put it away for a while, get critiques on it, revise, and do it all over again, consider if your query letter couldn’t stand for the same rounds of review. At the very least, put it aside until you can look at it with fresh eyes and consider if what you’re saying is really the message you want to get across.

Filed Under: Slushpile


10 Responses to “Are you SURE you want to say that?”

  1. Stephanie Perkins Says:

    Daphne & Jenny —

    Suddenly I am concerned that you won’t like my second novel, MADISON AND THE FAERIE WEREWOLF VAMPIRE BOY SUPERHERO. But, really, I couldn’t find ANYTHING out there like it for the teen market.

  2. Ashley Says:

    Heh. So what are they saying? That none of the books you've chosen to represent before are any good? That you have HORRIBLE TASTE and they're going to come along and save you from the piles of crap you've been representing forEVER? Because… well… I'd disagree. I'm quite fond of the books that have been coming out of KT. And, for that matter, the YA age group. Of course, there are a few that are less-than-tolerable, but they're easily avoidable.

    Oy to the Chosen Ones. Though I'm quite fond of Madisons… it's a pretty name. I guess it's being used a lot lately?

  3. dust Says:

    Ms. Literary,

    So here's the name of my awesomely brilliant brilliant novel fiction novel YA thingy:

    (Are you ready?!?)


    It's about a girl who lives sort of above a haunted bridge in a tent and has adventures with her pet ferret, Harry Toes, until her father, the evil Sheriff of Chosen One County, Georgia, comes to drag her back to Catholic School. Little does she know that she has been Chosen…by the cool girls, to do all the dirty jobs, like painting the fingernails of all the saints in the chapel and fighting off demons. Britney Madison laughs off the Satanic attacks until she discovers the truth…that her ferret has a secret, second life as the deacon's grandson…

    At approximately 100 words, this marvel of teenfic (a new catchphrase I invented all by myself,so don't steal it unless you can make me some money off it), this masterpiece is available on the back of a napkin wherever fine napkinry is sold!

    $9.95. Seriously.

    Thanks in advance for purchasing 7,502 copies,


  4. dust Says:

    P.S. Dude, srsly, buy this. Your other stuff isn't going to make ANY money. It sucks.

  5. tamara Says:

    Wow. It amazes me that someone would even imply something like that…and, although I know you already said this, they obviously aren't reading the genre they're trying to write for. I can't imagine anyone perusing the YA section and finding nothing. I started reading YA in order to research what was out there and ended up reading YA because I LOVE it. So much of it is fresh and original. I figure if I can even come close to writing something as good as what's already out there I'm happy.

  6. Sue Ford Says:


    I would love to reprint this in our Kansas SCBWI newsletter. As an RA I keep getting comments like this when newbies call me about "how do I get published."


  7. Lisha Cauthen Says:

    This is almost a direct quote from an interview with Madonna, when she published her first children's book.

    Great minds all work the same, I guess.

  8. Gill Avila Says:

    How receptive would you be if the author said–"I'm writing the kind of book that I like to read." That's what John Jakes said when he started writing the Brak the Barbarian novels when he couldn't find anymore Conan stories by Robert E. Howard.

  9. Kate Says:

    Honestly, Gill? I find anything like that unnecessary. Of COURSE you're writing a book you'd enjoy reading. That should go without saying. To spell it out like that is a little too close to "I'm writing the kind of book I like to read, because I can't find anymore at the bookstore." Which was the reason for this post in the first place.

    Stick with using the query letter to tell me about the plot, not your reasons behind writing it. Because mostly? I don't care.

  10. Tales to Tide You Over Says:

    […] Query tip from Daphne Unfeasible: […]