Writers use words well.
That may seem obvious, but—judging from some of the submissions I get from aspiring writers—it’s worth stating. Sure, one man’s métier is another man’s poison, but I’m regularly amazed at the ability of some writers to write the wrong word, so to speak, in submitting work to a literary agent, even one as gracious and forgiving as I am. That last part was meant to be serious. Did you not catch that?
Anyway, here is a top-ten list of fifteen recent submissions (see what I did there?) that managed to say the wrong thing:
- (salutation in cover email) “Dear Ben Hostetler”
- (salutation in cover email) “Dear Bob Harrison”
- (salutation in cover email) “Dear Mr. Hostetzer”
- (salutation in cover email) “Dear Steve Hostetler”
- (salutation in cover email) “Dear [Mr. or Ms. Last Name of Agent]”
- (in the email subject line) “just so you know, I will be deleting all my social media in a few days!”
- (first sentence of a cover email) “Sadly, some publishers today will hate this book.”
- (first sentence of a cover email) “I am an empath, and I am the reincarnation of Joan of Arc.”
- (first line of a cover email) “I have written the first transgender crime novel.”
- (second sentence of a cover email) “I realize it needs some work but I’m not usually one to write.”
- (third sentence of a cover email) “This book was wrote two years ago.”
- (in first paragraph of a query email) “This is my first fiction story in English. It … is somewhat similar in tone to E. L. James ‘Fifty Shades of Grey.’”
- (last line of a cover email) “Please, reframe from the stereotypical smug remarks literary agents are too bold to often espouse toward people like me on the other side of their screen. It’s getting old.”
- (comparison section of a proposal) “The three books comparing to this novel are Oliver Twist, Don Quixote, and Crime and Punishment.”
- (first words of a fiction submission) “It was dark.”
Obviously (again with the obviously, Bob?), some of these are more revealing than others; and some may not be immediately disqualifying. However, as I wish to reframe from the stereotypical smug remarks literary agents are too bold to often espouse toward such things, I will simply let the reader decide how decisive each was or should have been and perhaps (one can always hope) heighten your vigilance against similar choices in your own submissions to even the most gracious and forgiving of literary agents.