Don’t Say This In Your Query

Rachelle Gardner

Blogger: Rachelle Gardner

“Ever since I was a kid, red velvet cake has been my favorite.”

I know you’d never put that in your query (unless your book is about red velvet cake). But agents typically want you to include something about yourself in the query, so how do you figure out what to write? Here are the kinds of statements we typically see in query letters:

“I’ve been writing since I was born with a pencil in my hand.”

“I’ve been writing fiction since the third grade when I showed my first novel to my teacher Mrs. Zuckerman and she told me it was the best story she’d ever read in her life.”

“I’ve loved writing ever since I can remember.”

red velvet cupcakeThese statements say something about you, but they’re not relevant. And since so many people use them, they end up sounding cliché.

Your love of writing doesn’t help your case, because loving writing doesn’t make you a good writer. (Trust me on this.) And your lifelong penchant for writing is irrelevant because plenty of wonderful, talented authors didn’t write or get published until later in life. Richard Adams published Watership Down in his fifties. Laura Ingalls Wilder didn’t publish the Little House books until her sixties. Henry Miller was 44 when his first novel was published, Raymond Chandler 51. And don’t forget one of my favorites, Frank McCourt, didn’t publish Angela’s Ashes until he was 66.

So really, does it matter if you’ve been writing since you were a child? Either you have a salable book or you don’t, whether you started writing at six or sixty.

Keep your query letters on-point and focused. Only include information that’s germane to the topic at hand. Besides the actual pitch for the book, include such details as whether or not you’re previously published, if you’ve won any awards for your writing, and what genre of book you’re pitching. If you can’t think of anything to write about yourself, just give us a logline on you.  “I’m a graphic designer, I live in sunny Florida, and I’m currently unpublished in fiction. I look forward to hearing your response.” Keep it simple.

All clear?

Since you shouldn’t put it in a query, go ahead and tell me now: How long have you been writing? Did you start when you were five, or fourteen, or were you a late bloomer?

P.S. My third grade teacher really was Mrs. Zuckerman and I wrote my first novel then. It was about a horse who broke his leg and the rancher was going to shoot him, but the rancher’s daughter fought to save the horse, and went on to campaign for the end of shooting horses with broken legs. Now you know why today, I am not a novelist.

 

Tweetables

Your lifelong love of writing doesn’t improve your query letter. Click to Tweet.

In a query letter, there’s no need to say how long you’ve been writing. Click to Tweet.

Either you have a good book or you don’t, whether you started writing at 6 or 60. Click to Tweet.

 

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39 Comments

  • Crystal says:

    I’m a late bloomer but I can see how my career path and circumstances brought me here. I attended a writers conference as a way to connect with a friend. I’d prepared speeches and technical documents for my job, but a novel? I never thought about that.

    Then, my nephew died unexpectedly and I wanted to write a story for young people about what it feels like to survive someone’s suicide. And now, I’m working on a second book about surviving a mistake, and maybe a third about surviving a circumstance.

  • Jenny Leo says:

    Thank you for the inspiring list of late-blooming writers! I loved to write stories in school, but set it aside in adulthood, as no one in my world saw writing stories as a viable career option (except for journalism, and I was too introverted for journalism, lol). I pursued a career in business and channeled my love of writing into marketing copy with a side of magazine articles. Then in the 1990s I started writing scripts for a Christian theater group. I wrote a full-length play, loved the whole process, and thought I might try a novel. Nine years later (!) I have my novel and two more in the wings. It’s still unclear what God may do with my writing, if anything, but I’ve never had this much fun. I look forward to writing well into my dotage. :)

  • Heather says:

    I have been story-telling since I played barbies with my best friend. I had my first experience as a published writer at 10 when my grade 5 teacher picked my haiku to go into a district publication.

  • Well, I guess that lets out, “I was born at a very early age.” And forget about the story of walking to school three miles through the snow…uphill both ways.
    Seriously, I agree with your statement, “Either you have a salable book or you don’t, whether you started writing at six or sixty.” Age and background don’t hook agents and editors. Plot, structure, and language do.

  • Jeanne T says:

    You made me laugh with your P.S. Rachelle. :)

    I am a late bloomer. I wanted to write when I was young, but I never pursued it because it seemed too hard. I was right on that count: It IS hard, but doable. When a story came to mind somewhat fleshed out a few years ago, I dove into learning how to write a novel. I’ve been writing since 2010.

  • Perhaps you should have gone into politics, Rachelle, campaigning for health care for horses. :)

    Sixth grade was my moment of discovery. The entire class came together in the cafeteria to write timed stories. I can’t remember what it was about (probably mean older brothers) or if it was any good (probably not), but I enjoyed it. And I discovered that I could do something that mean older brother couldn’t.

  • Kate says:

    Thank you so much for this advice. Any help making query letters less awkward or off putting and more concise is much appreciated. As for my life as a writer (if I can even call it that) writing things down is a compulsion for me. I really feel like I cannot help it. I am someone who struggles with OCD but writing is an aspect of my tendencies that I would not change:) * I should probably note that 90% of what I write down is totally useless, like notes on a phone conversation I had with my internet provider, or a list of coffee flavors I like, still I feel better once I’ve put the pen to paper.

  • Rachelle….love your passionate heart! You might have pursued screenwriting…I’m fairly sure when I was young I saw a movie similar to your story.

    I entertained my younger cousins with storytelling all our growing up years. In the eighth grade my teacher and my class encouraged me with their response to a story I’d written. I continued with Creative Writing classes in high school, but in college, I diverted my energies into Social Causes! Talk about passion!

    During my teaching years and as a young mother, I wrote stories for my children and classes…but never tried to get them published.

    Now…in my grandmothering days…I still tell stories…but am trying to write a serious novel while I explore a myriad of teas!

    May we always remember this day…9/11

  • Great post, Rachelle. I like articles on what to put in a query, but I find these even more helpful.

    As for me, I began writing as a teenager to help with the loss of my mother. Life got complicated and I didn’t write again until I was in my twenties. More life. More delays, until I became a stay-at-home mom and began pursuing my dream of a writing career.

  • I was writing in my mother’s womb, and invented Word Processing software in kindergarten. You’re welcome.

  • Paula says:

    I don’t remember when I started writing, but there’s a “family story” about how my mother discovered I could read.
    I was two or three years old, playing with some magazines that were lying around, and my mother was on the phone. Suddenly, she heard my tiny little voice carefully sounding out a headline: “Good… sss…ex.”
    And then she decided it was a good time to throw out some magazines and start censoring all reading material that came into the house.
    :)

  • Sue Harrison says:

    I’ve been writing for 53 years. I started in the womb. My poor mother.

  • My mother has always told me – I was born with a No.2 pencil in my hand.

    . . . Ouch! That must have hurt.

  • I had a late start because I had to wait around for pencils to be invented.

    Seriously, I discovered in 7th grade I loved to write.

    Thank you for the info on queries.

  • My first memory of writing fiction was in the fourth grade. I don’t even remember what it was about, but when I finished reading it to the class I heard, “Ooooh,” from the students, and “We saved the best for last,” from my teacher. This was encouraging, and I wrote book reports in the fifth grade, but after that there wasn’t much emphasis.

  • The first time a story I wrote got recognition from a teacher I was in seventh grade. We had to write a myth. I chose to write about Zeus Longbeard, a god with the longest beard. A human soon grew a longer beard. Zeus handed the guy’s wife a razor and convinced her that a clean-shaven man was desirable. When the man was asleep his wife shaved him and Zeus Longbeard reclaimed his title. About the same time as that story came out, I wrote a comparison of life to an industrial clock.

  • Brandi says:

    This is a little off-topic, if you’ve been published in newspapers but not for fiction writing should you mention it if you’re writing a fiction novel?

  • Kira Budge says:

    I’ve loved words and reading for a very long time. I got into writing in first grade, after a school project on different kinds of creative writing. I started trying to write a novel in third grade, and I finished my first full-length novel in sixth grade. Incidentally, I’m 19 now, and I’ve completed 17 novels, although obviously I’m not planning on sending out all of those.

    Not that I would put any of that in a query, but since you asked. ;)

  • Voni Harris says:

    Maybe you don’t WANT the agent to know how long it took you to get where you are, skill-wise. ;)

  • I didn’t start writing until college, but I’ve been a storyteller since childhood. Actually, I was a consummate liar, living in a fantasy world that frustrated my parents and teacher, and alienated me from my friends. No big loss – fictional people are easier to deal with anyway. While I eventually outgrew my penchant for lying, I never tired of telling stories.

  • In 2007, mom in the hospital sick with heart disease. Every day I would walk the double stroller a couple miles to see her. My twins loved this time, but I liked it more because I could think the whole time, uninterrupted. I had to be strong for my mom. I didn’t want to cry and I would distract myself on the way. This prompted me to write in a journal all those short stories I’d been telling myself on those walks. I found I worried less and was more productive when I was writing. It was the hardest best time of my life. Best part is she didn’t die as the doctors predicted. She is still here supporting my writing now.

  • Skye Taylor says:

    My high school English teacher really did inspire me to think positively about creative writing – his first assignment: write 500 words about something you can smell. Are you kidding me? But the challenge was out there and I rose to it. I had a history teacher that commented on how well I’d do if all my exams were essay since I seemed to have a gift for gab, but not so much for facts. But, then life got in the way and I didn’t start writing seriously until it slowed down after my kids were out of school. I could claim that I write to shut the voices up, but in reality, I love creating characters, then sticking them into the middle of a very conflicted situation and see what they’ll do.

  • kath says:

    Oh how I wish I got this email three days earlier. I have wanted to write all my life and yet I am a late bloomer. Finally finished first picture book manuscript and submitted it the other day. I did write that I have been writing for many years and wish I had given this more thought now. I tried to keep each answer professional and give straight answers. It is hard when you are just starting out and you have no experience. I am a graphic designer and did mention that and the fact I am building my platform through my website. Thank you I really needed to read this post.

  • I guess I was a late bloomer. Been writing since I was 28. Still writing, and, still lovin’ it!

  • Since I could write… I had a chest of stories in my childhood bedroom :)

  • Mandi Barber says:

    I wrote my first story in fifth grade. It was about a talking pencil that kept getting the narrator into trouble at school, until finally she snapped the screaming pencil in half.

    My teacher told me it was well-written, but she was concerned about how morbid it was, coming from a ten-year-old.

    You could go farther back, though. For as long as I can remember, my dad would tell me and my sister a story every night before we went to bed, a story about Clyde the Chameleon and his grand adventures. Every now and then, he would let my sister and I tell that night’s story. It’s really no surprise I’ve always loved storytelling.

  • Before I could read, Mom would play a game with my brother and I. She would begin a story, then I would continue on from there. Unfortunately, my brother didn’t like the game, because by the time it was his turn, Mom couldn’t figure out where to go from there.

    But books and stories have always been a part of my life. It wasn’t until I was about 42 that I finished my first novel length manuscript.

    Great post!

  • David Todd says:

    Started my first novel at age 49, finished it at age 52. Started writing poetry at age 50. Now age 61 and only self-published.

    I suspect that a comprehensive survey of the big five publishers and the major CBA houses will reveal that less than 2% of authors currently under contract received their first contract after they turned sixty. Celebrated exceptions are always fun to mention, but they are the exceptions. The rare exceptions.

  • I’ve been writing since I was 12. Filling spiral notebooks with characters, stories, poems, and the less than exciting life and times of a teenager. I finished my first novel last year, and I’m writing the next one now.

    I write because without expressing myself my soul is restless, and as soon as my pen comes in contact with my paper, bits and pieces of my soul seep out and explain themselves to me. -Lakisha Gavin

  • Robin Patchen says:

    I started my first novel when I was forty. Wrote 270,000 words in 4 months and was hooked. The novel was terrible, but I’m learning.

    I love your story idea. I wish I’d started writing when I was in 3rd grade.

  • Karla Akins says:

    I’ve been writing since I was five. But got super serious in fifth grade. But didn’t publish my first book until August 2013.

  • I love your story about your first novel! I was in third grade when I wrote and illustrated “Sonny Otter and the Four Seasons.” I won first place in the young authors contest. The story was about a young otter who experienced each season for the very first time and learned the value of having friends as they enjoyed a year full of adventure. My parents accidently tossed the book when they were cleaning out the garage. :(

  • ahmad a. sbaiti says:

    I started writing at age 70 after I retired from a 45-year career. I had lots of time on my hand, and had a lot of ideas to put on paper. All ideas came from my dealing with people, literally, around the world during my working years.Although I pertain to write fiction, it is ll based on actual events I participated in or witnessed. The fiction part of my writngs is how the events are synthesized to make a cogent and coherent story. I self published a fiction novel called NORA: A Tale of Love in Times of Conflict. It can be found on amazon.com under my name.

  • Peter DeHaan says:

    I had my first article published 30 years ago and I dabbled with writing for the 10 years before that. But it’s only been in the last four years that I realized I was a writer and began calling myself one.

  • Diane Radel says:

    Thank you so much to all that posted. I’m taking every word to heart on my journey to book publication. All the best. Diane

  • Sharyn Kopf says:

    Well, since you asked:

    I penned my first poem when I was five and I’ve been writing ever since, including professionally for almost 20 years. But in 2012 I wrote a novel in six months, which is being published in February 2014.

    Oh, and I’ll be 50 this month (October). So only 45 years to get from having the dream to holding my first book in my hands.

  • sonya says:

    Being the procrastinator that I am, I discovered my love for writing in the eighth grade by writing book reports on fake books, Always got away with it too:)

  • Thank you so much, Rachelle! All of yoour blogs have been so informative and helpful. How I wish I had discovered you back when I was writing my novel, CODE 936, an international thriller. It was self-published in 2009. And, without a doubt, would have been much better had I known you!
    I have now changed horses and am trying to write nonfiction. You have been a great asset and resource in that endeavor. I can’t thank you enough, Rachelle!!

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