April 9th, 2009


Notes from the Front Lines: What's Your F***ing Book Called?

It's been a while since I've done one of these, so let's ease back into it with something small and obvious. Or at least, you'd think it would be obvious.

When we reply to queries at work, we include "Re:" lines with the name of the books being queried about. We do this mainly as a clear and easy reference for the writer, who may have more than one project out on submission. He or she can look at our response and know immediately which project it is in reference to.

But I've been noticing something a lot lately, and by a lot I mean it's like some weird supervirus infecting authors around the globe with stunning speed. I see one of these problem queries at least once a day now, and sometimes significantly more often.

So what's the problem?

Authors who forget to include the title of the work in the query letter. I truly cannot believe any author would commit this kind of oversight, but it happens all the freaking time. I feel amazed and surprised every time I read a query that basically says, "I wrote a book. It's about [blah blah blah]. Would you like to see it?" I wind up reading the query two, three more times, certain I simply missed the title because it was buried in a sentence somewhere, but no. No title. No title at all.

This isn't a make or break issue, I don't think anyone in my office has rejected a query because the author forgot to mention the title, but come on, people. You've put so much time and energy into your project already, why shoot yourself in the foot at the query stage by leaving out important information that could help the agent/editor/whomever make the most informed decision he or she can? Are you really going to spend entire paragraphs explaining the far-future universe you've created in which your military sf novel takes place, who the evil Emperor Galacticon is, why Buck Nebula is the best pilot in the rebel fleet, etc., and yet not bother to include such basic information as what the book is actually called? You've worked up the courage to send off queries in the first place -- which puts you ahead of about 90% of the people out there who want to be writers -- and yet you forgot to tell me the title? Really?

I'm guessing it's an issue of nervousness, as most of the offenders I see are first-time authors just dipping their toes in the water, and as I said, it's never a make or break issue. But if you want you and your project to be taken seriously, nothing screams amateur more than a sloppy query letter that doesn't even mention the book's title. So here's a tip: re-read your queries carefully before sending them out. Then re-read them again. And again. Make sure everything you want to say is in there, including even the most basic information like the title.

That way we won't have to feel like idiots when we have no choice but to reply by writing "Re: your novel."