How Not to Query

I received a query letter this week that I want to share with you because it's an example of everything not to do. Most of you will know this already, but occasionally I get an e-mail from a blog reader that lets me know that some still need basic instruction. And that's okay. That's what I'm here for.

I am not going to poke fun at this letter because it's clear they are trying their best. It's not full of ego and attitude (my cue to poke as much fun as I want). Even though I'm fairly certain they will never stumble across this blog (they're not LDS), I have changed the details so that even they won't recognize themselves.

John Doe
123 My Street
My Town, XX


XYZ Publisher
My PO Box
My Town, UT

To Whom It May Concern:

I Am Currently Looking For A Publishing Company, For My Book, "Car Maintenance for Women"

This is my First Book, I will Appreshute Any INFORMATION You Can Give Me, Such as Proof-Reading, Typesetting and Such.

I Am Looking Forward to Hearing From You.

John & Martha

1. It's handwritten. That is not appropriate. If you've written a book, surely you have a computer and could use that to write the letter. If you've handwritten your entire book, you will need to hire someone to type it before you submit. They can type your queries as well.

2. No phone number. No e-mail address. No SASE. You have not made it easy for me to respond to you. It will now cost me approx $1.50-4.00* to reject you (postage, materials, payroll; $1.50 if my assistant does it, $4 if I do it myself). It upsets me when I have to pay to reject a query I should never have gotten in the first place. Sometimes, I don't reply.

3. My name is not "To Whom It May Concern." If you don't know my name and can't figure out how to discover what my name is, "Dear Acquisitions Editor" is a better choice. However, if you're writing non-fiction or historical fiction, I will assume that either you do have research skills but are too lazy to use them, or that you don't have adequate research skills, which calls your manuscript content into question. Not a good place to start.

4. I am an LDS publisher. It states that clearly on our website and all official materials from us. I don't know of any resource list that we are on that doesn't also state that. The title of the book makes clear that it is not an LDS book. Again, if you didn't do enough research to determine if we even publish your type of book, see #3. (Now, Car Maintenance for Mormons...uh, never mind.)

5. If we publish your book, why do you need information on proof reading and typesetting? We take care of that in-house. If you're talking about cleaning up your manuscript before submitting, it would be unethical for us to refer you to someone. Also, you never need to typeset your own book.

6. Spelling and punctuation mistakes in your query are not a good sign. Either you were not careful or you don't know any better. Both options mean that your manuscript will require too much editing for us to consider it. Also, if you had typed your query using any of the standard word processing programs, the spell and grammar checks would have cleaned that up.

7. Who the heck is Martha? Co-author? Include her name at the top and mention that you are co-authors in the letter. Spouse? Leave her off.

There is nothing wrong with being ignorant. If you've never done something before, there's no reason why you would know how to do it correctly. However, there is every reason to do a little research. Go to the library, pick a book--any book--on how to query and/or submit a manuscript to a publisher. One book, one afternoon of research, would mean the difference between being considered and an automatic rejection.

*41¢ postage, 6¢ letter, 1¢ envelope, 1.50 payroll (counting taxes, etc.) or $3.33 (what my company considers my time to be worth, even though they don't pay me that amount)


Anonymous said...

I really believe some people say, "Hey, I took English in high school and I've read a few books, I should write one." They don't even consider what it takes to write a marketable book or a professional query, they just know they want to write a book. It's hard to believe with all of the avaiable information on the interent, in the library, and at bookstores, that you would continue to receive such queries.

I'm quite sure that these same people would never think that since they've been to the doctor and they took a biology class in school that they would then be qualified to perform surgery. Right?

Anonymous said...

I used to work as an assistant for a publisher and that submission would never have even made it past my desk. In fact, I would have kept it until my boss was having a bad day, and then pulled it out as comic relief.

Anonymous said...

This reminds me of a writing conference I attended and one of the attendees asked the visiting editor, "How much can I expect to earn from writing for children?" The editor was so dumbfounded she just blinked her eyes several times and said, "Not much." Duh.

Evil HR Lady said...

You mean you aren't looking for Car Repair for Mormons????

Drat. I'll have to throw out that manuscript and start over.

I was going to do a whole series--car repair, motorcycle repair, microwave oven repair, all involve calling your home teacher and bugging the EQ president if your home teacher is not mechanically inclined.