By Alice Yeh
There is a scene in Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont in which an older woman is dressing up for dinner with complete strangers. As she adds a few finishing touches, she murmurs to herself, “First impressions.” Two simple words that summed up her entire mindset. First impressions are the same reason why we wear suits to job interviews and agonize over first dates. What we often forget, however, is that the concept extends beyond the physical into the realm of silent text. When facial expressions and innate charisma are taken away, we are stripped down to vocabulary and syntax; our only weapons are a message worth sharing and the tools with which to do so.
Good writers have an innate grasp of this idea. They respect their craft and treat their words with painstaking care and a healthy dose of humility. This same conscientiousness is reflected in everything they write, down to their review requests to bloggers. These cold contact feelers can either pique a reviewer’s interest or obliterate it entirely. The well-written query, like that freshly ironed shirt, presents the person in a positive light, suggesting competence that will hopefully be present once the first impression is made and it is time for the second.
For authors, this second impression is a sample of the book itself. While some readers allow the first page to dictate their initial assessment, I look at the first paragraph or two. Those hundred words introduce me to the author’s voice and demonstrate his ability to string words together in a comprehensible and meaningful fashion. The abruptness—or gentleness—of the introduction tends to tie into the overall pacing of the story, while the atmosphere starts to bleed into my reality from the moment my eyes strike the page. This initial lead-in can be likened to a promise from the writer in regards to the quality of the rest of the work. And promises are meant to be kept.
Perhaps all of this seems obvious, in which case, I applaud your understanding. Over several months of blogging, I have come across some truly horrific queries, the worst being one that was replete with “LOL” and other text-speak. With the precarious height of my current TBR pile, I feel justified in declining those requests without ever looking at the associated samples. Certainly I am not the first blogger to do so.
First impressions matter. A handful of words and a short string of seconds can determine your fate, whether you are a single looking to change your dating status or an author hoping for a good review. Treat your writing, as your body, with respect, discipline, and care. After all, language is no more—and no less—than another extension of the self. Dress it to the nines.