the writer's arsenal: room for interpretation

In my post on Query Letter Dos and Don'ts, I touched on the fact that you shouldn't praise yourself in your query. I want to expand on that a little bit because I see writers doing it wrong all the time. The rule to not praise yourself is twofold--don't praise yourself and don't praise your writing. Just show your hand and leave it up to the agents/editors/readers to judge for themselves.

When it comes to talking about yourself, avoiding self-praise shouldn't be difficult. Just stick to the facts: What's your writing experience? Notice I didn't say, "What's your life story?" or "How awesome do you think you are?" Right, cause nobody needs to know that. In a query letter, you need only list your credentials. Not "I've written the next bestseller". Not "My five divorces have made me super wise in the way of women". And definitely not "You are seriously missing out if you don't take me on because I'm a literary genius". Again, stick to the facts. Let your reader decide whether or not those writing contests you won make you a literary genius. Factual credentials = impressive, even if they're slim. Overstating your brilliance = major turn off.

So then let's talk about that bit of the query where you talk about your book. Writing a good blurb is an art in itself. So is writing a synopsis (and yes, a query blurb and a synopsis are different things--we'll cover that down the line). The blurb needs to tell your reader what your story is about, without just being a bunch of buzz-words. Not "It's a hilarious, touching, awe-inspiring journey through the human condition that will rock the genre to its core". As the author, that's not for you to say. Your blurb should give a sense of the plot and sure, even the themes, without blowing them out of proportion. It needs to walk the fine line between factual and enticing, without forcing subjective opinions into the mix. You can say that your story "explores themes of human frailty", without claiming it will "shatter our current interpretation of human frailty in the modern world". See the difference? If your book is funny, that should be conveyed in your writing, in your voice, in your blurb. It's classic "show, don't tell". Leave it up to the reader to say, "Hey, this sounds funny!"

It's the difference between this:
"Hey guys, wanna know who's hilarious? It's me! I'm hilarious!"

And this:

Okay, maybe you don't find that sailor/pac-man ghost as funny as I do, but that's kind of what I'm getting at here. It's open to interpretation. Don't say you're funny. Be funny. Your query letter, or pitch, is your first impression. You want to make a good one. You don't want to be this guy:

"Who wants to hear some super funny jokes about cancer?"

Semi-related P.S.: You know how some people will occasionally say "that's funny" instead of just laughing at something? I'm totally guilty of that. But I never say it because I'm trying to hide the fact that I didn't think something was funny. Quite the opposite in fact. I usually say it when I'm really impressed by how funny something is. So impressed I need to vocalize my feelings and make it really clear that I think something's funny. Trust me, it makes sense in my head :)