I’M BLOGGING BECAUSE I CAN’T WRITE A QUERY LETTER

Three A.M. and I’m at my laptop blogging. Why am I up blogging? I’m blogging because I can’t write a query letter. I know I can’t because I tried to write them to literary agents to convince one to represent my book. It’s my second book – second and a half if I count a half-finished book of poetry, but this book I believe in. It’s inspiring. It’s funny. And it needs to be published.

I had no idea how to write a query letter, so I Googled, “how to write a query letter.” Oh boy! I was already stumped at step one, setting the margins. They had to be 1 – 1 ¼ inches. I’m no typist. How do I measure? Should I hire somebody? And if I do 3 inches or 1 ½ inches, will my query be tossed away in disgust?

Finally I made a wild guess about the margin-setting and went on to the instructions for paragraph one.  Start each query, “with something that shows you researched the agent.” Then connect the book to the agent’s interests. My voice, that was clear in my book, cracked and croaked as I wrote and rewrote that paragraph I don’t know how many times. My finished letter began:

Dear Literary Agent:

FEISTY SOUTHERN FEMALE, MY GRANDMAMA RUTH OZELL FOLSOM RICHARDS VAN ORMER

FEISTY SOUTHERN FEMALE, MY GRANDMAMA RUTH OZELL FOLSOM RICHARDS VAN ORMER

I read in Agent Query that you have an interest in Southern culture and appreciate feisty female characters. As the writer of a book that is based in the deep south and has plenty of feisty characters, both male and female, I am writing to you in hopes you will be interested working with me on my memoir, Coming From Petain Street; Blue-Collar Lessons For Success.

That didn’t sound a bit like me. But I sent off a dozen or so of similarly personalized letters, each with its obligatory SASE. Rejections were sent back practically by return mail as though the agents couldn’t wait to have the offensive document off of their desks. I’ll bet they blogged about my letter as an example of the worst query letter ever.

What would my voice have said?

 

MAMA, 12 year old tomboy

My mama, 12 year old tomboy who played marbles with the boys till she won all their marbles.

You like feisty female characters, do you? You don’t know from feisty till you’ve met my relatives. And as for Southern culture (should that be capitalized?), does growing up on a red clay street in a paper mill town count? How about a Daddy who was a tugboat captain or a mother who was a born-again liberal and a leader in the effort to unionize grocery stores in south Alabama? If they count, we were as cultured as buttermilk.

No! I had to stop. I was making myself crazy. Night after night I was awake thinking of the words that would work. But in the light of morning, those words had about the same appeal as buttermilk, cultured or not.

How could I make an agent see what a great book I have? And how could I do it in a one-page, single-spaced, 1 ¼ inch margined letter that started with talking about the agent. How do I tell them my book’s about more than female feistiness and buttermilk, about more than deep south culture and some poor girl’s journey from blue-collar Petain Street to a corner office on K Street in Washington, D.C. ( it’s a big deal in case you’re not familiar with DC). I wanted to tell them … I don’t know. If I could write it here, I’d have written a query letter and my book would be in bookstores already. I can’t and I want to write, so I’m blogging.

Comments

  1. Beth Pitcher says:

    “born-again liberal”
    love it

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