Good Things Come in Fives: Five Editing Myths, Five Edits for Your Query Letter

Editing IS Marketing: Boning Up on First Impressions

By Carolyn Howard-Johnson, author of the multi award-winning HowToDoItFrugally series of books for writers

First impressions are important. We all are aware of that as we brush our teeth and try to unknot the rat's nests from the back of our hair each morning. In fact, first impressions are part of our marketing efforts, too. Whether we authors are trying to get an interview or a TV appearance or marketing our books using e-mail or social networks, editing is an essential part of that first-impression effort. Generally that first effort is a query letter or proposal. Thus editing equals great first impression. That makes it an integral part of a marketing campaign.
Here are a few tips to help writers avoid blunders in the documents first seen by those who can make or break a writing career or at least say “nay” or “yea” to the project that counts—the one you’re working on now. First up are five myths that can sabotage your efforts and five tips to make your query letter the selling machine it was meant to be follow. All are little tidbits from the winningest book in my #HowToDoItFrugally series of books for writers, The Frugal Editor (
Five Editing Myths Waiting to Trip Up Your Campaign to Market Your Work
•    If your English teacher told you something is okay, it is.
(Nope. Language rules and style guidelines have changed since you were a sophomore.)

•    If a manuscript or query is grammar-perfect, you'll make a great first impression.
(No! Lots of things that are grammatically correct will annoy publishers, agents, and other gatekeepers like feature editors.)

•    Always use your Spell and Grammar Checker.
(Maybe. Some well-known editors suggest you don't use it at all, but The Frugal Editor gives you dozens of ways to make it your partner instead of your enemy.)

•    Your publisher will assign a top-flight editor so you don't need to worry about your manuscript.
(Maybe, but don't count on it. Besides you can be a better partner for an editor—whether she is assigned to you by your editor or you hire one for yourself-- if you know something about the process; you'll know better when to nix her suggestions! In any case, I suggest hiring an editor of your own before you submit your manuscript.)

•    Formatters and editors will take care of the hyphens, ellipses, and all the other grungy little punctuation marks that English teachers avoided teaching because they knew basic grammar but nothing about publishing.

(Chances are, you'll catch even great formatters and editors in an error or two if you know your stuff!)

Five Things to Avoid for a Pristine Query Letter
We are selling our work when we approach any gatekeeper, an editor, an agent, a contest judge. Here are five little things to pay attention to when you edit your query letter so you'll look like the professional you are.
•    Don't tell the gatekeeper you always wanted to write. You can think of something more pertinent to your cause (and something more original!) than that.
•    Don't use the verb "quote" when you want the noun "quotation." Some stylebooks will tell you that it's okay, but agents can be a picky lot. Use zero-tolerance grammar rules for your queries.
•    Don't pitch more than one book at time. You want to give just one of them your best shot.
•    Don't call your novel a "fictional novel." By definition, a novel is fiction.
•    Don't overdo exclamation marks, question marks, or the use of sentence fragments. (Yes, fragments are acceptable when they're used for a good reason.).
Here's one last suggestion for fiction writers, a take-away from the best writers’ programs around: Avoid using italics for internal thought. In the in the sample chapters you must include with your submission. In your synopsis. And any other place they rear their very pretty little heads. Italics are being used more and more these days and lots of writers see how convenient and easy they make writing fiction. But those in the know see this as indication that the author hasn’t master important techniques like point-of-view, transitions, and dialogue tags. The best (and busiest!) agents and publishers recognize it as such and might be tempted to reject rather than spend valuable time grooming an author for the big time.

Carolyn Howard-Johnson is an award-winning author of both fiction and nonfiction, a former publicist for a New York PR firm and was an instructor for the renowned UCLA Extension Writers' Program for nearly a decade. She is an editor with years of publishing and editing experience including national magazines, newspapers, and her own poetry and fiction. Her multi award-winning The Frugal Book Promoter is in its third edition from Modern History Press ( and won USA Book News' best professional book award and the Irwin Award. The Frugal Editor ( is top publishing book for USA Book News and Reader Views Literary Award. Her other books from Modern History Press are The Great First Impression Book Proposal: Everything You Need To Know To Sell Your Book in 30 Minutes or Less( and Great Little Last-Minute Editing Tips for Writers (
Learn more about the author and her career-boosting books at


Mary Jo Guglielmo said...

Great tips Carolyn

Karen Cioffi said...

Carolyn, these are great tips for authors. The query letter can be tricky; thanks for helping us get it right!

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