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Querying with Confidence

It doesn’t happen a lot, but every once in a while I get a query in which the author tells me, right up front, that I’ll probably reject her book. I’m not sure if this is lack of self-confidence, a poor attempt at humor, or a feeling that it’s better to go in on the defense. Whatever the strategy, it doesn’t work.

When you query you want to make me believe that you have the most exciting book I’ve ever read because, frankly, that’s exactly what I’m looking for. I’m looking for a book that I haven’t yet seen, that I must have on my list and that I think everyone in the world needs to read. Starting out by telling me none of that is true doesn’t make me want to read it. Before I’ve even dug in my experience with your book is a negative one.

Imagine this. You’re at a cocktail party and you’re introduced to a potentially lucrative contact. It could be an agent, it could be someone you’ve always wanted to work for, your favorite author, or even the head of the PTO. It doesn’t matter. This person reaches out her hand to shake and as you extend yours you say, “Hi, you probably won’t like me, I’m a little odd and off-putting and different from anyone else you’ve ever met. I’m sure you’ll walk away from this and think about how you never want to see me again.” Weird? A little.

If you can’t be confident in your book you aren’t ready to query. Querying is sales and in sales, you want to wow the buyer. You don’t need to brag endlessly to do so, but you also shouldn’t be the one putting down your own work.

 

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5 comments

    1. I see so many writers on Twitter talking down their work, hating their story, their characters, and it’s just… no. No! You have to LOVE your story, you have to be enthusiastic about it, and then you have to share that enthusiasm. I’m sure most of them in fact do love their stories and are enthusiastic, but it’s like they think they’re not supposed to show it. There’s a happy medium between humbly claiming unworthiness, and announcing having written the next NYT bestseller and/or blockbuster.

  1. I love this.
    Years ago I read an agents bio which said “…I don’t represent NYT bestsellers.”
    I started my query:
    “I am querying you because my book will never be a NYT Bestseller.”
    Never heard from the agent. Wish I could remember his name because I’d love to see if he ever ended up with a bestseller. Bet he didn’t.
    My book never made the big list but my next one will. How’s that for confidence?

  2. I understood this in theory, but I didn’t understand it in practice until I was in charge of hiring for a position at my old job, which meant reading through all of the resumes. Even though I knew from personal experience that the most confident person wasn’t necessarily the best at their job, I still found myself gravitating toward the most confident cover letters, and the folks who sounded most confident in interviews. I had to consciously focus on their work experience and recommendations to see past the pitch.

    So as a soon-to-be-querying writer I remind myself I need both. Strong pitch, strong content to back it up!

  3. You wouldn’t start your job application saying you aren’t the right person for the job. The query letter is the equivalent of your job application. Instead of selling the idea of yourself as the best for the job so you can get an interview, the query letter sells the idea of your book, convincing the agent they want to read the manuscript.

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