Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Words That Will Kill Your Query

You’re doing your best, researching how to write a query, who to query, and when to query. You’re devouring blogposts, Twitter feeds, how-to books, and any other resource you can get your hands on. You want to cover all the bases. You want to make sure your not going to be that writer, you know, the one who blows their chances by making stupid mistakes or assumptions.

So here’s another one to watch out for: if you are a speculative fiction writer, there are certain words that will instantly doom your query.

Words such as:
Chosen One
End of the World

… and so forth. You get the gist.

Why are these words and phrases bad? Just about everyone has used or is using them. Agents and editors see these words all the time. It’s an instant turn off. Suppose you had a stack of a hundred queries and each one used one of those words. You’d start to think writers only knew one kind of plot, one kind of story.

Even if your story is truly different, even if you take one of those tropes and turn it inside out, if you use those words in your query letter, you’re sunk before your story has a chance to prove it’s different.

I don’t care what Agent So-and-So recommends in their How-To-Write-a-Query book/blog/workshop. If they’ve said to use certain key words, you can bet thousands of other writers have read/heard this same piece of advice and are using those words. Watch out for overused phrases or common clich├ęs as well.

But what if your story is about a chosen one whose destiny it is to prevent the end of the world? Find an inventive new way to describe it. It needs to stick out from the thousands (no exaggeration here) of other queries using the same general premise.

Know of any other overused words/phrases that would doom a query letter? Please share.


  1. Um. I'd say dystopian and paranormal romance are pretty much dead in the water words right now.

    A personal ugh goes out to SUDDENLY in a query.