Monday, 25 July 2011

Little Words That Make a Lot of Difference

Back to covering letters and some examples of how a few changes can make a big difference to the way you come across.

1.  You will remember meeting me at XYZ conference.
That's asking for someone to say 'No, I won't', and chuck your letter away.  Better to write You might remember...

2. I write like X and Y
That's presumptuous and, if it's accurate, plagiaristic.  Better to write 'my novel will appeal to the same readership as X and Y', which will indicate your market awareness and also the genre of your novel.

3.  Who are X and Y?
You want to show market awareness, but make sure that your examples: 
a) reflect your book accurately - I'm sure that many readers of Ian Rankin also enjoy Jilly Cooper, but their books are in different genres and 
b) genuinely show market awareness - Melvyn Burgess and Frances Hodgson Burnett would be the same genre - children's - but they don't sit comfortably together on the shelves. 
c) are current.  Dickens and Tolstoy are fine writers but they're not writing now. 

4. I'm just completed my 100,000 word novel
Just completed?  The implication is that you haven't spent any time redrafting, editing, rewriting, etc.  Hot off the press is not a good sign with novels.

5. My fiction novel
All novels are fiction, full stop.  To say yours is a fiction novel doesn't bode well for the standard of your writing.

6.  Have you ever wondered what would happen if the moon was really made of blue cheese?
The trouble with rhetorical questions is that the answer is more often than not going to be 'No', and that's your central premise blown out of the water.


Nadia Damon said...

Great post, Sarah! As you say, a few little words can change the whole tone of a letter. I think you can often weed out any unintended pomposity by reading aloud in a suitably discreet venue!
Best regards,

Sarah Duncan said...

You're absolutely right Nadia, reading aloud is always a good idea - as is running it past a friend.

Gilli said...

Brilliant Sarah. Must review all my begging let.... um ah submission letters. I often read your blog but don't comment.