Dear whoever you are

I received a query letter in today’s mail, and before I even read the letter, I knew I wasn’t going to publish the book. It could have been James Patterson’s next multi-million-copy bestseller, but I will never know because as soon as I saw the salutation (the part where you write “Dear _____:”) I gnashed my teeth and stomped around the room, growling a bit, and then tossed it in the recycling bag.

What ruffled my feathers? The query letter began:

GENTLEMEN:

I get that publishing used to be (USED to be) a rich gentleman’s hobby, something for the elite intellectuals. But not for a few generations now. It’s 2011, and even if the writer of this query letter pines for publishing’s Good Ol’ Days, pine quietly please.

I am a woman. I run a press that especially promotes women authors (though I can see a day when we have our first male author). So far, all of our editors, illustrators, photographers, and designers have been women. Even the FedEx driver is a woman.

Please, please, please do your research before you query. Anyone who spends five minutes looking either at About Us or Submissions will get that the person they should query is probably a chick. I’ll even take a “Dear Sir or Madam”—that doesn’t bother me. Although “Dear Occupant or Current Resident” will probably wind up in the circular file, too.

The very best query letter I ever received (to date) was for the manuscript that got away and found a home at another publisher (and I wish her well and can’t wait to read the published book!). It was funny, it was personable, and she even included a Minnesota stamp on the SASE. It made me laugh, which made me want to read the manuscript, because here’s the secret, folks:

Your query letter is a test run. If you write an amazing query letter, we’re going to start out assuming that you can write an amazing book, too. And the opposite is true: if your query letter looks like you can’t spell better than a 5th grader, or you leave out half of humanity in your salutation, your manuscript won’t even get a passing glance.

1 Comment… add one
Ellen Sackett June 28, 2011, 4:18 am

Fantastic advice. Thanks for the insider view.

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