Every once in a while I do sample critiques of query letters on my blog. Sometimes, I ask for volunteers to submit their work and other times, I’ve held a contest where an edit is the prize. If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you’d have seen these samples and may remember I’ve told writers not to reveal in their query that this is their first novel.
In today’s post, agent Jessica Faust of BookEnds explains the reason you shouldn’t include this information. “Honestly, I wouldn’t divulge any of this information to an agent or editor. Don’t tell me it’s your first novel. That makes the agent immediately think that you’re sending the first writing project to ever come out of your printer — whether that’s the case or not. Writing generally gets better with practice, just like anything else. Perhaps you’re the exception and have penned a classic the first time you sat down to write. It doesn’t matter, because agents and editors have preconceived notions. And you don’t need to give up that information anyway.”
Jessica isn’t the first agent to say this and it probably wasn’t the first time she’s posted about this topic. The point is when you’re contacting agents, you want to put your best foot forward. You want to appear professional and a part of that is showing you’ve done your research. Mentioning this is your first novel or that your novel is complete defeats this purpose. If your novel isn’t complete, you shouldn’t be querying agents because there’s a possibility they’ll request to see your full manuscript immediately. Sure, that doesn’t happen often, but it does happen. And wouldn’t you look silly if you had to come back and say you’d only written the first hundred pages? If the writing is really good, the agent will wait, but you’re risking a lot here. She may lose interest and the initial excitement she had for the book. The trends might change by the time you hand in your manuscript and she may no longer believe she can sell your story. Or, in the meantime, she may have signed a client with a similar idea (or one that’s close enough) and now can’t offer to represent you because of the conflict of interest. Besides, there really is no reason to write your book is complete. You should include a word count, right? Well, how are you supposed to calculate that word count if the novel isn’t done?
Be smart. Do your homework before contacting agents. You’ll get better results if you do.
What are some of the other mistakes writers make when contacting agents?