The query letter – not just cannon fodder


The query letter doesn’t exist as a warning. As in, “Hey, gird yer loins, slam back a quick chocolate martini, I’m gonna send you my synopsis and 50 pages.” The query exists to PITCH your work in a short, artful, mouth-watering manner that has me screaming “Do NOT eat lunch, put down the glass of wine, ignore your significant other/children/pets/taxes/boss/gardening, and send pages NOW.” I don’t need to be warned of your impending query. That is my job, so you’re sort of preaching to the choir.

I received a query woefully short on detail – one sentence, in fact. The rest of it was description of its formatting and a quickie bio. I commented to the author that since her query didn’t tell me anything about her story, I had no choice but to reject it outright. I was, therefore, surprised to receive a reply from the author that basically said she had prepared a full synopsis plus a 30-50 page sample ready to e-mail to me and was quite surprised at our submissions guidelines that state:

“To submit, send query letter that includes your bio. US residents only, please. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts”

The gist of it was that since she was prepared to send her stuff to me, she wanted to do so. The unspoken message was that her non-query letter shouldn’t count.

I receive over 200 queries a month, so those pesky query letters do count, and the answer is no. She shot her wad and came up empty.  I was surprised at her gently taking me to task because she didn’t know the standard method of the query process. She basically said, “I didn’t understand the purpose of a query letter, so may I please have a do-over and send my pages anyway?”

Well…no, you can’t. I’m of the opinion that authors have no idea the load of stuff that graces our desk every day, and this engenders impatience on the part of the author.

“Why can’t you make exceptions?”

A lot of times I do just that. However, I do this for authors who give me something to work with. I am not a card-carrying member of The Great Benevolent Society, so y’all have to meet me halfway. Give me something on which to hang my fez. One vague sentence can’t possibly catch my attention. I’ll admit that if someone wrote: “I would have never been born had my mom not lost a poker game to Al Capone” that I wouldn’t ask for more detail. It’s a brilliant log line – and I wish I could grant proper attribution, but my memory has abandoned me.

“It’s not my fault you’re so busy, so quit whining.”

Yes, this is very true, and I don’t whine. I clarify for the sake of perspective and empathy. I adore my job, but if I have 200 queries sitting in my inbox, then the beagle usually whacks me over the head with the sanity stick so I’ll attend to those who provided me with the info I need up front. They don’t make me ask, or worse; guess.

A query is oftentimes your only chance to pitch your story, so don’t shoot your cannon until you’re convinced your ammo is packed with the right kind of gunpowder.

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