Since there's been a lot of talk about queries and such on the Bookends and Nathan Bransford sites lately, I've decided to join the party. I'm doing something I've never done before - including a bit of my writing. Please don't steal this masterpiece. If you do, I'll call your mom and tell her you're a really bad person; and worse yet, I'll have to tell my friend Amy I was wrong and she was right. Nothing makes me crankier than having to admit I was wrong. I really don't think you want that on your conscience.
The following is an excerpt from my last novel, "Little Pearls." I hope you enjoy!
(And, if you're an agent, please keep in my mind I am a HUMOR writer. This story is meant to be FUNNY like "ha-ha-giggle-giggle," so please don't take offense. If, however, you are offended, you should know my evil twin Deidre wrote this, not me. Scout's honor.)
The Art of the Query by Debra L. Schubert - Copyright 2009
Every writer worthy of the name soon discovers their entry into the world of publishing begins with the Query Letter. The query is a letter sent by the writer to prospective agents in order to secure a multi-million dollar publishing deal.
I found that peddling a book is similar to selling your first-born to a total stranger:
Knock! Knock! Knock!
Stranger: "Yes, can I help you?"
Me: "Hi! I'm Jenny from down the street, no relation to Jenny From the Block. I know you don't know me, but I was wondering if you'd be interested in purchasing my first-born son, Alex, here? (Hold up Alex so she can get a good look.) He's sweet, cute, obedient when he wants something, loves pizza, burgers, fries with lots of ketchup, and -"
Can you believe that? It's my first-born son we're talking about here - my pride and joy, the love of my life, my heart and soul! How dare she slam her ugly door in my face?
My first attempts at writing queries were met with roughly the same level of enthusiasm:
Dear Joe or Betty Agent:
Hi! It's Jenny, remember? No? Oh, well I know it's been a while, but I've written a book since we last spoke. It's pretty good, too. It's easy to read and quite interesting. I hope you like it.
Oh, and let's do lunch soon to discuss a movie deal.
This warm and fuzzy approach reaped no potatoes, so I thought I'd try a more professional slant.
Dear Joe or Betty Agent:
I greatly appreciate the opportunity to submit this query regarding a wonderful book I've written. It's all about me and the amazing adventures of my life. I'm sure I've piqued your interest, so I'll get back to my soaps and await your multi-million dollar publishing deal.
Again, nothing. Something was clearly amiss. Like a good writer, I researched "query letter content" and found oodles of material on the subject. Who knew? I was quite surprised since I didn't think anyone really took this stuff seriously. Since I didn't want to take time away from watching Oprah and Dr. Phil, I merely skimmed the query letter etiquette surface. I did, however, discover some great tips. For example:
1) It helps if you've got credentials on your topic.
2) Try to grab the reader's attention.
3) Be exceedingly professional.
4) It doesn't hurt to have fancy letters after your name.
Being an exemplary student, I immediately incorporated my new found knowledge:
Dear Joe or Betty Agent:
Herewith please find a query letter written in response to your request for query letters noted in How to Get Published Without Really Trying, which, by the way, I think is a great idea. My book Pearls Without a Chain is the story of my fascinating life. I feel I have the proper expertise to write a book of this nature since I've lived with myself for practically my entire life. (Excellent credentials!)
The pages of this unique literary masterpiece exude amazing insights on vital topics such as sex, religion, chocolate, aliens, and imaginary children. I'm sure you can see why this book is worth reading. (Sex - a great attention getter!)
I will be excited to hear your ideas pertaining to my brilliant writing career. I have enclosed a SASE for your convenience. My attorney will be available to discuss any and all contractual details. (A lawyer - very professional!)
J. Shortcake, MD, PhD, MBA, MSA, AIA, ABCDEFG
Sadly, this too caused not even a hiccup. Then I remembered a line from the movie, "Gypsy" - "If you want to do it, you gotta have a gimmick..." What would be a good gimmick? Hmm... How about confidence? Yeah, confidence - that sounds like a great gimmick!
Dear Joe or Betty Agent:
I've written the most incredible story ever concocted in the history of the universe, no make that the galaxy, no make that the stratosphere! War and Peace, Citizen Kane, and Valley of the Dolls combined have nothing on me.
This astonishing prose centers on (are you sitting down?)....ME!!!! I have led such an extraordinary life that you, the reader, will be emotionally, spiritually, and physically spent with nearly every word. I envy you in that you have this book to look forward to reading. What a great thrill that must be. If you enjoy reading this book even one/one-hundredth as much as I've enjoyed writing it, than you will be the luckiest person alive.
In addition to a SASE, I have enclosed a round-trip, all-expenses paid ticket for you and a lucky guest to visit me in Maui. Upon arrival - while still deplaning - I will read this stunning verbiage aloud to you. Can you even imagine a more perfect moment? No, I didn't think so.
I am lying naked on the beach, soaking in the rays, drinking margaritas, and awaiting your enthusiastic response.
Jennifer L. Shortcake
Author Extraordinaire and Queen of the Inter-Galactic Stratosphere
And then I waited. And waited. And waited. And then... Nope, nothing. Just more waiting. I mean Maui for crying out loud! What the hell else could Joe or Betty possible want?
I was starting to get desperate and a tad bit annoyed, so instead of simply claiming to have enclosed a SASE with my queries, I actually started including them. What the heck, I figured - I'd tried everything else.
And baby did the floodgates open...
When I received my first SASE in the mail, I nearly fell off my chair with unbridled exhilaration - at last my publishing contract had arrived! I knew it was just a matter of time until someone glimpsed my unmatchable genius. My days of living in a car and eating out of trash cans like a respectable starving artist were over! I noticed the envelope felt pitifully thin to be embracing a long and complicated contract, but I surmised the process was quite streamlined these days. A one-page contract would be fine - less stuff for my pretend attorney to read. I called my mom to tell her I'd just received my first publishing offer, and excitedly tore open the letter.
Dear MS. SHORTCAKE:
First of all, you have a silly name. Secondly, we regret we are unable to pursue your manuscript. If your query is any indication of your writing abilities, we feel you have nothing to offer us or anyone remotely connected to the publishing world. However, don't let this discourage you. Writing - or in your case - "journaling" can be quite cathartic.
Good luck in your future endeavors as something other than a writer.
PS: Don't contact us again. Seriously, don't. If you do we will be compelled to file a restraining order.
Oh. My. God. I was like so totally devastated. My mom said she had to go because the Jehovah's Witnesses or Girl Scouts or some kids selling subscriptions to TV Guide were at her door. I listened to the dial tone and stared at the incomprehensible piece of paper in my hand. These people have elevated the sting of rejection to a whole new level. They may as well have rang my doorbell, stuck hot burning twigs in my eyes, pushed me to the ground, and stomped on me over and over again as if I were a cigarette butt that refused to go out. Is this what they chose to use my SASE for? Silly me. I figured if I had the decency to send them a Self Addressed Stamped Envelope along with my query, then they'd have the decency to return it with a six or seven figure contract. Do they even know what stamps cost these days? But nooooo. Clearly I'm the only polite one in this crowd.
Instead of sending more queries, I thought I'd skip to the chase and send them rejection letters!
Dear Joe or Betty Kissmyass:
You think you're so great? Yeah, well what makes you think so? Whatever it is, it's wrong! You're not so great - you're not even worth the paper this is written on.
Ha! Ha! So there!
I was on a roll...
Dear Joe or Betty Biteme:
You heard me, BITE ME! How does it feel to have the shoe on the other foot? Yeah, I didn't think you'd like it. But, it's fits pretty well, doesn't it?
You should find yourself another profession like terrorism, for example. That way you could rip the hearts out of lots of people at once instead of only one measly person at a time.
Eat my shorts,
Between the cookies and nasty-grams, I was starting to feel much better. Management was right. Writing can be cathartic. At least I know I can volley mean, ugly epithets with the best of 'em. I'm already starting to think about my sophomore literary effort, which I think will be about lesbians. Yeah, that's right...lesbians! Chocolate, red wine and lesbians!!!
Now I've got Joe and Betty's attention.