Ah, the dreaded query letter!
So much is made of this all-important, life-changing, career-determining page pleading to have work read and considered for publication. Blogs are devoted to the “right” way to write one. I've known authors to spend six months or more just to get a first draft. Seriously? Do you really think acquisition editors are really monsters sitting behind a desk ready to jump on one typo so they can gleefully send out a rejection letter?
Maybe I'm too laid back, but all I'm looking for is a pleasant salutation, the title of the novel, word count and genre. I'd like to know a bit about your writing background, although I'm going to google you anyway. Let me know what the plot is about, but don't try and tease my curiosity.
For the most part, the query letters that come across my desk are pretty good. Some make me grin because a sense of humor comes through; some make me smile because I can sense the author quaking behind the earnest words.
But, every now and then, I get one that just makes me scratch my head. Like this one. Please, if somebody can interpret it, let me know because I'm clueless.
“My graciousness by upon you.
Please, lavish me with your interpretation. I am inspired by the eternal void. I am listening for the Grate Abyss.
Thank you for your consideration.”
Alrighty, then. If your query letter is WORSE than this one, yes, you have something to worry about!
The next one simply demonstrated to me that the writer was a victim of bad advice. But, perhaps without realizing it, he also managed to insult me. Those of you who know me know that I'm not going to give a letter like this a pass without striving to educate the author.
“Dear folks at Oak Tree Press,
This book has the potential to be as successful as Blow or Ballad of the Whisky Robber. It is not difficult to imagine it being made into a movie. The books has a myriad of adventures in it, at times it can be humorous, at other times it is absolutely devastating.
I was invited to submit a "treatment" to an executive producer in California. They suggested I finish it as a full length novel to gauge public interest. This is why I write to you.
I am also seeking an agent and other publishers for their feedback and/or interest. I am including a brief introduction to the story for your review. I have also put a brief biographical about myself at the end. While I have set the stage for the story, the ending must remain proprietary for now. Enjoy and let me know if interested and to what extent.”
Just for fun, can you pick out the 5 really irritating parts to this query? Let me help you. I'm suppose to be impressed because it's movie material. With the quality of most movies these days, I'd put a hold on that thought. Oh, and I'm asked to give my opinion to reassure the Hollywood types that they are right.
If Oak Tree publishes the novel, then surely an agent will snap it up for a more important house. We're just suppose to be a stepping stone to bigger things. Let me inform Billie Johnson, the publisher. And, because the book is THAT GOOD, I won't be told the ending.
Finally, I'm now downgraded to his private critique group. And, I'm suppose to let the author know how much I enjoyed it.
In my response, I “gently” pointed out all the errors in this author's thinking. He came back humbled and ready to learn. The Hollywood stuff was bunk. He admits he's got a long way to go. Maybe I'll take the time and put him in the Posse. Somebody has to.
Still worried about writing a query letter? Trust me, there are many out there who never worry. I've just given you two examples. You know you can do better.