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Sunday, 11 January 2009


These comments, whether in the covering letter or any other part of your approach to a publisher or agent, are certain to do one or all of the following:
  • expose your lack of understanding of the whole business - OK, so you're not expected to understand it all, but there has to be a starting-point which suggests that you are taking the right steps
  • stop them wanting to read on
  • produce such a profound sinking feeling that they may not physically be able to draw breath to speak to you
In short, never say or write (even if these things are true):
  1. I am a wonderful writer. (Not for you to say.)
  2. I just know you are going to love this. (You don't. You really don't. If you think you can know what a total stranger will love, you don't understand books and reading at all.)
  3. My mum and all my friends love my writing. (They would.)
  4. I read my work to a writers' group / readers' group / school class / anyone, and had great feedback. (Utterly irrelevant. Totally typical. And stupendously meaningless. But very possibly true and deeply important - it's just that it is a total turn off at a time when you are trying to turn them on.)
  5. I've always loved making up stories for my children. (As above.)
  6. I started this novel five years ago but have only just found the time to finish it. (There is a distinct possibility that if it interested you so little, it will do the same for a reader. You have shown no commitment. There may be good reasons why you didn't have time but none of those reasons will appear good enough at this point. Essentially, a real writer is someone who simply cannot not write.)
  7. I haven't finished this novel but I thought I would show what I've done so far to agents/publisher and get some feedback. (You thought wrong. Anyone can start a novel. Few can finish it adequately. Besides, adequately is not adequate.)
  8. I have wanted to write this novel for so many years. It has burned inside me like a veritable burning brand and now I feel I can wait no longer to fan the flames of my burningness. (Oh, so you were that committed then? Frankly, the world is happy to wait much longer, especially if you write like that.)
  9. If I could get this one novel published, I would be happy for ever. (So, you don't envisage a career, then? You don't really burn to write? You just want to get it out of your system. Well do, but not at our expense. A one-book wonder helps no agent or publisher - you'll lose them money.)
  10. Rather than waste paper by printing out my novel, I have put it online - please visit (Why should we? You're the one meant to be making an effort.)
  11. It is your lucky day: I am writing to give you the opportunity to publish my book. (Sadly it's your unlucky day because I'm not reading it.)
  12. Just to give you a happier time, I've written my covering letter in rhyme; and then, to show you what I can do, I decided to versify the synopsis too. I know (of course) that that doesn't scan, but, just like you, I'm a busy man. So, Mr Bloggs, let me sing of a guy, who has given this novel his very best try. It's funny and frightening and chilling and stuff, And please please don't tell me it's not good enough.
(Sorry, yes, you can see this is sending me a bit batty. I'll stop there. Good excuse for some shocking poetry though.)