The Query Letter

Have you ever had one of those “Well Duh!” moments?  I know I occasionally do and I hate them almost as much as I love them.

Aaron and I went to a short (2-hour) workshop last week with Simon Rose.  I wasn’t quite sure what to expect; the description of the workshop mentioned things like “where do ideas come from” and “plot versus character”.  Still, I’ve known Simon for quite a while and I’ve wanted to hear what has to say for some time.

While the workshop didn’t go into great detail on several of the topics (it was almost a fireside chat in many ways), I came away with a few items that left me shaking my head.  Not in dismay, but in amazment that I’d never considered some things before.  I think the biggest idea that I’m going to run with is the Query letter.

I’m pretty impatient sometimes and never more than with my writing.  After spending months/years working on a story, I simply can’t wait to get it out to the publishers.  I want instant gratification and therein lies the problem.

I’ve looked at many submissions guidelines for many publishers.  In a lot of cases (especially those that accept unagented submissions) the publisher says something like “please send a letter of query or the first three chapters of your book along with a synopsis”.

Letter of Query?  Pfffft!  Why would I waste my time asking if I can send a sampling of my book when I can just send it?  Doesn’t that add a step?

There’s a couple problems with that attitude that I hadn’t considered. 

First, most publishers don’t like simultaneous submissions (which means submitting a story to more than one publisher at a time).  If I’m sending sample chapters, I’m basically stuck with waiting until the publisher’s submissions editor gets around to reading my entry and letting me know if they’re interested or not.  Query letters eliminate that bottleneck; I can send twenty Query Letters out at once if I so choose.  If I’m lucky, some of the group I sent to will be interested in my story and will ask to see it.  I’m told that editors tend to be faster reading something they’ve asked for than something unsolicited.  The bottleneck has been partially eliminated.

The second problem is directly related to the first and it should have been more obvious to me.  The whole unsolicited submission smacks of telemarketing now that I think about it.  What I mean is, are you more likely to be interested in something if someone calls you up out of the blue selling a great long distance package or if you see an advertisement and realize it’s what you’re looking for.  In the first case, you don’t have time to think about the offer.  In the second, you’re able to mull it over and decide if it’s for you.  If it is, you can always get more information.

Um, Alex, I’ll take the second choice for $500 please.

The Query Letter has a third advantage:  you can always continue to edit while it’s out in the wild garnering interest for your story.  Time is actually being used more efficiently.

It seems like a win, win, win situation for me.  I’m putting my Query letter together as we speak and I’m looking for candidate publishers.  By this time next week, I should have several in the mail.  I’ll let you know how it works out.


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