Talking Down About Others & Yourself: Three Surprising Query Letter Mistakes

Get it, trash? Cause trash talk. Whatever. (via Pexels)

Look, there are endless blog posts and articles out there that talk about query letter mistakes. If you’ve ever Googled for tips, you’re aware of all the heavy hitting highlights.

  • Do your research when querying agents.
  • Don’t get too wordy when describing your book.
  • Write a solid hook that gets the reader psyched.
  • Don’t BCC a hundred agents with DEAR AGENT because no literary agent has the name AGENT, and if that is their name, I guess they were born to be a literary agent.
  • Apologies to Agent McBooks.

You know them. So we’re not gonna recap.

But one trend I’ve been noticing lately is one I haven’t seen many people dish about, and I feel like it’s worth digging into. And it has to do with talking smack. Sometimes it’s about an author, or sometimes it gets a little broader… like talking down about an entire genre.

This… is not a good look.

There is a difference between well-written criticism and just saying “this book is bad and I’m better” in a query. A difference between wanting to do something new in a genre and saying “I hate modern fantasy novels they are all awful” in your pitch.

Let’s discuss.


Talking Down on Your Genre or Category: It’s strange. I get a lot of query letters that talk trash about the genre or category the writer is hoping to publish in. “Sci-fi novels these days are bad because…” or “Young Adult books being published today aren’t good due to…” whatever the following insult is. Stress on the insult, because it is never legit criticism. Usually it’s about those books not being up to the standards of the querying writer, or they’re making claims that the books aren’t doing what that writer thinks they should be doing.

Don’t do this.

Not only does this make you seem bitter and salty (and not in a delicious sea salt dark chocolate sort of way), but it makes you seem out of touch with what’s being published. Telling me there hasn’t been a great fantasy novel published in the past few years, tells me you don’t read fantasy. Proclaiming that YA doesn’t take risks anymore, tells me you haven’t gone to your local bookstore in a long time.

Don’t talk down. Show us you are excited to write in this genre or category. Not that you’re here to belittle the work of people who came before you. You can explain how your work is unique and does something different without tearing your genre down.


Talking Down Other Books or Authors: I love comparative titles (I wrote a whole post about it here!), and discussing why readers of other books or consumers of other media (if you’re using video games, comics, movies as comps) will like your book. It shows you’re well read and know your audience.

Explaining why your book is better than another book, or why you’re superior to another author… not so much.

Believe it or not, I see a lot of query letters where the writer takes swings at other books and authors. “I’ve written a fantasy novel that’s so much better than TITLE by AUTHOR, because that book…” or “My writing could be compared to AUTHOR but it’s better and AUTHOR is bad and should feel bad.”

Remember, the book world is a community. I want to work with an author who is excited to be a part of it, not someone who is going to launch into their career talking smack about their peers before anything has even happened. And if a book has been widely considered to be bad, why compare your work to it anyway?

Also, what if that agent likes that author? That book? Don’t risk it.


Doing That Self-Deprecating Thing: And one more thing I see all too often, are writers who do this self-deprecating thing in their query letters.

Basically, talking down about themselves.

To be a writer and a creative is to be insecure. I get it. I write too, and I wrestle with that constantly. Your query letter though, isn’t the place to share it. You wouldn’t put “I really don’t think I’m that great” in a cover letter for a new job, right? Well, it shouldn’t go in your query.

Be confident. You’ve worked on this novel. You’ve poured months and maybe years into it, and now you are ready to see it go to the next level. Show that you are sure of your work. Your agent is going to have to be your champion. How are they supposed to champion something that you yourself have flat out told us you don’t believe in?

Show that you believe in your work. Don’t talk down about yourself or what you’ve written.


You got this.

You can do this without talking smack about others.

And you can do this while believing in yourself.

Good luck!


3 Responses to Talking Down About Others & Yourself: Three Surprising Query Letter Mistakes

  1. Emily Jun 21 2018 at 1:51 pm #

    This might be a good way to weed people out. What a strange thing to do. It’s one thing to think such-and-such a genre has gone down the tubes (I’ve certainly had those thoughts) but a query is not the place to share your rantings – a bar with other writers is.

  2. Brian Jun 21 2018 at 11:50 pm #

    While I do agree with your first two points, I not so certain about your third. It’s one thing for a writer to be confident in their work, but another thing to declare it the best thing you’ll ever read. What is wrong with showing a little humility and letting the book speak for itself?

  3. David May 15 2019 at 3:49 am #

    The most bitter and angry writers I’ve ever met were screenwriters.

    Something about writing a screenplay (which is a working document, not an end product in and of itself) that only a handful of people in the industry will ever read must make them like that.

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