U is for Unique


Artwork by Tom Torre (@CopernicusNerd)

By Dawn Frederick

A good way to make an agent’s eye twitch is to claim one’s book is unique in a query, especially when there is already a long list of competitive titles for the idea. Unique is a word that shouldn’t be used lightly. It should only be used when there is nothing else like the book (in any form) on the market.

Definition of “Unique” (Source: Merriam-Webster Dictionary)

1:  being the only one:  sole <his unique concern was his own comfort>
<I can’t walk away with a unique copy. Suppose I lost it? — Kingsley Amis>
<the unique factorization of a number into prime factors>

a :  being without a like or equal :  unequaled <could stare at the flames,
each one new, violent, unique — Robert Coover>
b :  distinctively characteristic :  peculiar 1 <this is not a condition
unique to California — Ronald Reagan>

3:  unusual <a very unique ballpoint pen> <we were fairly unique,
the sixty of us, in that there wasn’t one good mixer in the bunch — J. D. Salinger>

There are several ways to show off one’s expertise and knowledge without falling into the “unique” trap.

1. Be aware of the competition. Remember the books that have already reached success, understand the reasons for success, but also make sure your book idea doesn’t imitate the competition either. Find a new hook, a fresh approach, and introduce a new voice.

2. Work on your platform. Nothing is nicer than a good idea partnered with an author who brings a reading audience to the table. Maybe the book idea falls within a busy category, but the author’s reach is wide. That will add a special twist to the query letter.

3. Write the best book you can vs. putting the figurative cart before the horse. Many times a writer will have the ingredients for a good book idea, but query too early. Often losing valuable time to write and research the idea while preliminarily sending out queries. For an idea to truly be ready for agents or editors, it needs to be the best it can be, so that the “unique” factor is evident without any need to mention it.

Remember the best laid plans for a writerly life work without clichés like “unique.”



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  1. MRS N, the Author on November 23, 2013 at 11:10 am

    I understand your meaning but what if you have a book and a book idea that is unique? I have a book that no one has ever thought of before. The problem I have is that no one wants a brand new book idea. I research every day and still nothing is out there. 🙂

    • redsofaliterary on November 23, 2013 at 11:37 am

      It may be in your delivery with the query letter. Maybe your market is too narrow, maybe it’s too large. Maybe you need to come at the idea from at a different angle… And don’t let the use of this adjective be the reason folks should be interested in the first place. We DO want brand new ideas, but it comes down to the delivery, the author platform (if nonfiction) and/or how the idea is presented.

      • MRS N, the Author on November 23, 2013 at 12:26 pm

        Thank you for your helpful response. I am always looking to improve my writing and my query letter. I will take your suggestions and make my query letter even better! Have a great weekend! 🙂