Intern 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.