Buy Lingual

Dear Miss Snark,

English is my second language and I mention it in my query letter. Do you think I should keep doing it?


Very interesting question.

It certainly won't hurt; no agent in their right mind would not read pages because you aren't a Native Speaker

Besides, we're all looking for Nowhere Man .

In fact it could help you on your trip into the Heart of Darkness.


HawkOwl said...

Avoid comparing yourself to Conrad. I don't know anyone who sincerely enjoys reading Conrad, or even hearing him mentioned. Although, some times I get this unreasonable urge to find out what happened in Lord Jim after I quit.

Krista said...

That's something I'll have to consider when I start querying... I'm French-Canadian and my name reflects that (I'm fully prepared to use a pen name). I'm worried Americans may hate me for the speaking French part and avoid my book.

Now, I just need to learn to *speak* English. Heh.

Ilya said...

Thanks for the answer!

I wonder if the writing is good and original will the fact that I'm not a Native English speaker adds a certain air of mystery.

Does it help at some point that author's personality and the facts of her/his life could become news worthy and help sales?

And to answer that French Canadian lady, I wanted to say that not all Americans are pig-headed-freedom-fries-eating higots.

Most people I know think that being French is sexy. :)

Brady Westwater said...

Unless once's handling of the subject matter of the book would somehow be enhanced by English not being your first language - why would you mention it?

That's the question I would ask you.
Do you feel you need to explain a little exotic seasoning in your syntax - or is there another reason?

Anonymous said...

Actually, I disagree with Miss Snark on this one. It might be a cool fact once they're looking for marketing ideas for your book (you'd be able to do interviews in both languages), but the fact you're bilingual alone isn't that exciting. There's a lot more people like that than you know.

ilona said...

It doesn't hurt and it doesn't help in my limited experience. The acceptance hinges on the author's ability to produce engaging work, not on the pecularities of the author's national origin. Unless the national origin is relevant to the subject matter, as in "This book profiles the struggle of a single Armenian family during Armenian-Azerbaijan conflict of 1998. Being a native Armenian and a survivor of the war, I have a unique perspective..."

rkcooke said...


Have you read "Heart of Darkness?" Twice?

The first time I read it, I liked it. The second time, I loved it/was stunned by it. And reading "King Leopold's Ghost" doubles the impact.

Conrad is fantastic.

Heatheness said...

I was a bilingual kid, and it is a subject I tend to mention when the subject drifts to it. Sometimes, not often, it's even pertinent. It had a big effect on the kind of books I read and the writing I subsequently did. In a big way. For example, when other little American girls in the 70's were having crushes on androgynous long-haired TV boys, I had MY Richard Howard. To this day my crush for him lives on, despite his age, gayness, baldness, poetry etc. It's just one of those things. To the right person (or venue), you can admit a thing like that - it explains a lot in a very short time.

Otherwise, nah, don't. Let them discover it for themselves. Bilinguality itself won't be any more cool either way, but you might be.

Anonymous said...

Huh. So long as you're querying U.S. literary agents, you're in good company. Don't worry about it.

angrylil'asiangirl said...

putting in an introductory statement to the effect of "English is not my first language" is a major cop-out. the perception i would get, if i were to see such a statement, is that you were trying to apologize for how mediocre your use of language and/or story-line is/are before i even began to delve into your ms. that's a bit too trite for my tastes.

don't cop out. just be yourself, and don't apologize for the language.

and as someone said above, who isn't bi-lingual these days? whether english is or is not your first language -- angrylil'asiangirl says in response, "ho hum"; that's just no longer a remarkable characteristic these days.

p.s. shout out to hawkowl: i love conrad. his prose is poetic and beautiful.

Maxwell said...

Don't forget Nabokov, my favorite ESL author.

Ilya said...

I don't specifically say that English is my second language.

My book, among other things, deals with all kinds of prejudice including racism and antisemitism.

In my short bio at the end of the query I kind of mention what my 'credentials' on the subject are. :)

Here is what it says:

I’m a computer programmer, an immigrant from the former Soviet Union, married to a beautiful African American woman, mother of our two children. My ethnic background is Jewish and my great-grandparents died in the Holocaust. For the past ten years, I’ve been living in New Jersey and working in New York and New Jersey for various companies in the financial industry. These facts of my life greatly influenced my novel.


Mtanz said...

If being bilingual contributes to the story, so be it. Mention your qualifications. If it doesn't, then don't bother.

Krista, there are lots of Americans (me included) who would be open/love to read French Canadian work. When I worked for CIDA, I spent lots of time reading both Anglo and French Canadians. Very enjoyable!

Anonymous said...

hawkowl - you don't know anyone who sincerely enjoys reading Conrad? You need to get out more.

HawkOwl said...

RKCooke: as a matter of fact, yes.

Kanani said...

If having ESL has anything to do with the topic matter of the book, then yes.

However, if it isn't germaine to the book (let's say you're writing a "how to" book on building a dog house for Killer Yapp), then no.

However, I think just the mention of where you were born, raised and a bit of the family history should be enough. But I'd also want to know what are your other qualifications --are you involved in causes, organizations that center around your experience? ESL in the USA is not unique anymore. Come out to Los Angeles, and you'll find almost 50% of the population are that as well.

angrylil'asiangirl said...

hawkowl --

although i myself enjoy conrad, i, for one, still respect your opinion. i myself can't stand the bloated prose of other traditionally venerated writers, too. conrad's language IS pretty dense, so he definitely isn't for everyone. just like the quaint language of jane austen ain't for me; i like her subtle humor and all, but still, her texts make me snore.

HawkOwl said...

Actually it's not the language I mind with Conrad, it's the sentimentality. I liked the part about the ship "firing into a continent," and Lord Jim was definitely going somewhere. If Trollope had written it, it would have rocked, but I think Conrad writes like a drag queen. A Victorian drag queen, at that. :)

Anonymous said...

I never clarify Spanish as my native tongue regardless of the language I'm submitting. Yes, I submit to publishers in English and Spanish.
Being bilingual was never an issue with my publishing house, although certain missconceptions had to be corrected by my editor.

Elektra said...

hawkowl, I'm with you on this one. There's a reason the only famous quote from Heart of Darkness is "the horror, the horror"

Anonymous said...

Krista-- If they don't hate you for the prejudiced stereotype you apparently hold of Americans as petty and closed-minded, I doubt they will hate you for speaking French. ;)

HawkOwl said...

LOL "The horror, the horror" thing strikes me as hilarious ever since Neal Stephenson used it in Cryptonomicon.

The edition I had came with a really pedagogic photo essay on the Congo, though. That was pretty cool.