Since we are publishers as well as writers, we receive a number of query letters. They give us a general idea of the kind of queries agents and other publishers receive, and we are not impressed. No wonder the rejection rate is so high.
The worst query we ever received was typed across one side of a 3” x 5” postcard with no margins and no space between the lines. Other queries showed not even the least understanding of what we published or the audience and genre for the book they’d written. Sometimes we’d get phone calls from hopefuls who had an idea for a book and wondered if we’d give them an advance to write it (extremely unlikely).
I received a query yesterday from a man who’d written a picture book and simply wondered if we’d like to publish it. No return self-addressed stamped envelope enclosed—a real no-no. The query letter, only one paragraph, seemed so respectful and unassuming that I could feel the writer’s hope and fear. Who was he? I thought he might be a high school student or a retiree. He thought he’d written a worthy story for a picture book and included the first couple of pages. They weren’t too bad.
So I wrote him back a kind rejection letter. I told him we don’t publish that kind of book, which he should have known. I suggested that he join a writer’s group in his area and read the numerous sources on the web and in the bookstore on how to write an effective query letter.
I hope this good deed will go unpunished and that it will help him.
Years ago, I read the biography of mystery author Earl Stanley Gardner, a hugely popular and best-selling author in his day, in which he told about the many, many rejections he had received. Then one day he received a rejection and the editor had written a note attached to the manuscript commenting on what was wrong with the story. Gardner read the comments, rewrote the story and resubmitted it with a letter of thanks for the comments. He found out later that the comments had been meant only for the editor’s secretary, not for Gardner, but she’d forgotten to remove the note. Gardner speculated that the editor bought the resubmission out of embarrassment.
Earl Stanley Gardner’s first mystery, The Case of the Velvet Claws is written as if he followed a mystery-writing primer step by step. Conflict? it’s hurled at the protagonist, Perry Mason, from every character in the book, even his secretary and his client. Considering Gardner’s great success, he obviously got it right.