Sunday, April 7, 2013

How Not To Pitch Your Novel

Many writers want advice on how to write a compelling query letter, or how to pitch their book so that it stands out.  While I'm not exactly an overflowing fountain of query advice, sometimes I find it easier to work with what NOT to do.  And so, here is a list of how not to pitch your novel:
  • "It's the next Twilight/Hunger Games/Harry Potter/Game of Thrones/whatever.For starters, it is not Hunger Games.  It is The Hunger Games.  And it's not Game of Thrones--it's A Game of Thrones.  (There is a bit more leeway here with aGoT, because Game of Thrones (minus the A) is the name of the show, but if you're pitching a book, use the A.  It's not that hard.)  Even aside from getting the titles correct, though, it still sounds dumb.  How are you going to guarantee that your book will sell as well as any of these?  You have no grounds on which to say that, other than that you think your book is awesome.  Of course you do.  Agents and publishers don't care what you think of your book. 
  • "It's A Game of Thrones (or anything else) for girls."  No, no, no.  Stop being sexist.  Guess what--I found this great book, and it's a perfect version of A Game of Thrones for girls.  I mean, I'm a girl, and I love it.  Know what it's called?  A GAME OF THRONES.  Seriously, stop genderizing your books.  Girls can and do enjoy things like aGoT.  We can also like The Avengers and Percy Jackson and the Olympians and The Lord of the Rings and other things that tend to be labeled for male audiences.  Adding some romance doesn't make it more feminine, just as adding more violence doesn't make a book more masculine.  The story is what it is, and if you call it "for girls" or "for boys", you come off as sexist. 
  • "It's the Bible meets Battle Royale meets Amelia Bedelia."  Wait...what?  It's good sometimes to compare your book to similar works (as long as they aren't too similar).  Going for something like "it's like Eragon meets The Hunger Games" or "Iron Man meets Sherlock", but don't go too far out.  The works mentioned in the last two examples at least have some things in common, even though they are pretty dissimilar.  If you start getting all over the place like my first example, though, nobody is going to know what to think of your book.  This isn't a good thing, in this case.
  • "It's my first novel." Don't say this.  Maybe it is your first novel, but agents don't need to know. You want your novel to be judged on its merit alone.  You don't want anyone's predetermined notions of a first-time author getting in the way.
  • "It's like The Hunger Games (or whatever else)" when really, it isn't.  Let's stick with THG as an example, because people describe nearly everything as "like THG" these days, it seems.  Books like Matched, Under the Never Sky, or even Incarceron.  Before you describe your book as "like THG", read it.  Matched is marketed as similar to THG, but it isn't.  THG is full of violence and social commentary, where Matched is just a love story in a kind-of-dystopian-but-not-really society, Under the Never Sky is an extended journey sequence through another kind-of-dystopia-but-not-really, and Incarceron blends elements of steampunk, medieval fantasy, and sci-fi.  These books don't actually have that much in common with THG.
  • "If you like ___, then you'll like my book."  Again, here's another comparison.  This time, though, the problem is not in the comparison itself.  It's in the way it's worded.  It's saying I will like the book.  This might just be a personal thing I have, but I hate it when someone tells me how I'll feel about something.   Note: this isn't the same as saying "my book will appeal to fans of x and y".
  • "My novel provides a unique perspective on society through its gorgeous prose."  Stop complimenting yourself.  Don't call your prose "gorgeous".  Again, agents don't care what you think about your book, because of course you're going to like it.  Learn the difference between describing the book and praising the book.  Describing the book sounds more like "it's a post-apocalyptic struggle for power" or "a mysterious love story", where praise sounds more like "a compelling sci-fi" or "thorough characterization".
  • "It's unlike anything you've read before."  Um, how do you know?  How do you know what this agent has read?  Unless you have stalked this person and know the title of everything they've ever read, you have no basis on which to say it's unlike anything else, no matter how unique your book is.
  • Begin the query letter with "Yo Adrian" or "to whom it may concern", etc.   Okay, "Yo Adrian" might be acceptable if and only if a) the agent's name is Adrian and b) said agent is a huge fan of Sylvester Stallone.  Otherwise, find the agent's name.  And use "dear", or nothing at all.  Make it formal.
  • "My beta readers think my book is awesome, as do my best friends, my mother, and my dog."  The agent doesn't care what these people think.  These people like you, so of course they're going to like the book.  That doesn't mean it's publishable.
There it is.  This is nowhere near being a complete list.  Anyone else have anything to add?

(And yes, this is slightly reminiscent of a 2011 post but not really.)
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