The True Purpose of the Query Letter

Twitter is a far more interesting and entertaining form of social media than I expected.  I am constantly discovering great articles and interesting insights about issues centered around writing and publishing. 

One such insight came after I read a tweet from a respected agent asserting that a not only does a strong query letter herald a strong manuscript, but that in almost every case a weak query letter indicates a weak manuscript.

What Is Query Letter?

A query letter it perhaps the most misnamed item I’ve ever come across.  The author doesn’t ask questions of those they send the letter to.  Instead the author sells themselves and their work.  The purpose, from the author’s perspective, is to convince an agent to invest time and effort in promoting their manuscript.

The heart and soul of a query letter is a (very) short summary of the completed manuscript.  This summary is like the blurb on the back covers of books; a snapshot of the novel’s contents designed to make prospective buyers flip to the first page and begin reading.

Why Do Agents Use Query Letters?

Busy agents can receive hundreds of submissions every day, more manuscripts than they can possibly read.  A streamlined process is required to process those submissions in an efficient manner.  When put into this context the need for query letters becomes clear.

The Faulty Inference

When an agent rejects a manuscript because of a weak query letter they never read the manuscript.  Its entirely possible the author wrote something good or even great, but the agent will not know because they never even looked at the manuscript.

Ergo the assertion that a weak query letter indicates a weak manuscript is not based on objective study, but a rather a belief unsupported by evidence. 

The Underlying Truth

What the query letter does demonstrate is the author’s ability to market themselves and their work. It reveals how good the author is at self-promotion. 

Self-promotion is a crucial skill modern authors must master.  A great manuscript is not enough.  The author must market their work in order for their books to sell.  A book which fails to sell well can cost a publishing house vast sums of money.  The agent who chose to promote that book might lose their job, and the author might never sell another book. 

A weak query letter indicates a weak self-promoter, someone who cannot market themselves or their work successfully.  This is someone agents can’t, and shouldn’t, take a risk on.  An agent who spends significant amounts of time helping an author overcome a marketing deficiency is doing a grave disservice to themselves and the other authors they represent.

I don’t like query letters and I don’t think you can say much about a manuscript based on a query letter, but they are an essential tool in the business of of publishing. In particular, they force writers, such as myself, to realize that literary success requires treating beloved creations as products to be branded and sold.  A sad, true fact.

The True Purpose of the Query Letter

Twitter is a far more interesting and entertaining form of social media than I expected.  I am constantly discovering great articles and interesting insights about issues centered around writing and publishing. 

One such insight came after I read a tweet from a respected agent asserting that a not only does a strong query letter herald a strong manuscript, but that in almost every case a weak query letter indicates a weak manuscript.

What Is Query Letter?

A query letter it perhaps the most misnamed item I’ve ever come across.  The author doesn’t ask questions of those they send the letter to.  Instead the author sells themselves and their work.  The purpose, from the author’s perspective, is to convince an agent to invest time and effort in promoting their manuscript.

The heart and soul of a query letter is a (very) short summary of the completed manuscript.  This summary is like the blurb on the back covers of books; a snapshot of the novel’s contents designed to make prospective buyers flip to the first page and begin reading.

Why Do Agents Use Query Letters?

Busy agents can receive hundreds of submissions every day, more manuscripts than they can possibly read.  A streamlined process is required to process those submissions in an efficient manner.  When put into this context the need for query letters becomes clear.

The Faulty Inference

When an agent rejects a manuscript because of a weak query letter they never read the manuscript.  Its entirely possible the author wrote something good or even great, but the agent will not know because they never even looked at the manuscript.

Ergo the assertion that a weak query letter indicates a weak manuscript is not based on objective study, but a rather a belief unsupported by evidence. 

The Underlying Truth

What the query letter does demonstrate is the author’s ability to market themselves and their work. It reveals how good the author is at self-promotion. 

Self-promotion is a crucial skill modern authors must master.  A great manuscript is not enough.  The author must market their work in order for their books to sell.  A book which fails to sell well can cost a publishing house vast sums of money.  The agent who chose to promote that book might lose their job, and the author might never sell another book. 

A weak query letter indicates a weak self-promoter, someone who cannot market themselves or their work successfully.  This is someone agents can’t, and shouldn’t, take a risk on.  An agent who spends significant amounts of time helping an author overcome a marketing deficiency is doing a grave disservice to themselves and the other authors they represent.

I don’t like query letters and I don’t think you can say much about a manuscript based on a query letter, but they are an essential tool in the business of of publishing. In particular, they force writers, such as myself, to realize that literary success requires treating beloved creations as products to be branded and sold.  A sad, true fact.

New Music and Updated Chapters

Kathryn completed a new piece of music called Guildhall; named after the building housing the central government of The Guild, the decaying empire which dominates the world in Gods Among Men.  As usual, all chapters, author readings, and music MP3s can be found at http://gods-among-men.com/blog/books/book1.  And here is a direct link to Kathryn’s new song: http://gods-among-men.com/Uploads/Music/Guildhall.mp3.

Also, I have republished all of my chapters on the website.  I did this for a couple of reasons. 

First and foremost, the book’s final three chapters have undergone substantial changes in the last few months and I’ve been remiss in getting these changes posted.  These changes were prompted by the invaluable editing suggestions from the Magic City Writers Group.  Chapter thirteen is going to be edited by the group in the near future, so it will be updated again in about a month. 

Secondly, during the editing changes I made in the last three chapters I realized I needed to tweak specific sentences and paragraphs in various places throughout the book.  Minor edits that subtly enhance the overall work and is more consistent with the final third of the book.  Along the way I stumbled onto errors that had escaped my notice in previous edits; misspellings, the wrong word used (‘would’ when I should have used ‘wound’, that sort of thing), unclear sentences, etc.   Again, a series of minor edits that primarily cleaned up what was already there.

Third, I did another edit on chapter 7,…And Critical Moments Relived…, in preparation for submitting it to a writing contest.  I’ll go into more detail about that in a future post.  The main point is that the edits to chapter 7, while not major, were more than tweaks or cleaning up mistakes.  These changes smoothed certain rough spots and sharpened specific scenes.

Finally, I decided to change the font I have been using in the PDF’s of my chapters.  Up till now, the text of the story has been in Times New Roman.  I decided that using Garamond would give the text a more “book-like” feel.  This is part of an larger process in which I am moving closer towards the possibility of self-publishing my book.  Another subject I will go into more detail in a future post.

That’s all for now.  Take care and have fun.

New Music and Updated Chapters

Kathryn completed a new piece of music called Guildhall; named after the building housing the central government of The Guild, the decaying empire which dominates the world in Gods Among Men.  As usual, all chapters, author readings, and music MP3s can be found at http://gods-among-men.com/blog/books/book1.  And here is a direct link to Kathryn’s new song: http://gods-among-men.com/Uploads/Music/Guildhall.mp3.

Also, I have republished all of my chapters on the website.  I did this for a couple of reasons. 

First and foremost, the book’s final three chapters have undergone substantial changes in the last few months and I’ve been remiss in getting these changes posted.  These changes were prompted by the invaluable editing suggestions from the Magic City Writers Group.  Chapter thirteen is going to be edited by the group in the near future, so it will be updated again in about a month. 

Secondly, during the editing changes I made in the last three chapters I realized I needed to tweak specific sentences and paragraphs in various places throughout the book.  Minor edits that subtly enhance the overall work and is more consistent with the final third of the book.  Along the way I stumbled onto errors that had escaped my notice in previous edits; misspellings, the wrong word used (‘would’ when I should have used ‘wound’, that sort of thing), unclear sentences, etc.   Again, a series of minor edits that primarily cleaned up what was already there.

Third, I did another edit on chapter 7,…And Critical Moments Relived…, in preparation for submitting it to a writing contest.  I’ll go into more detail about that in a future post.  The main point is that the edits to chapter 7, while not major, were more than tweaks or cleaning up mistakes.  These changes smoothed certain rough spots and sharpened specific scenes.

Finally, I decided to change the font I have been using in the PDF’s of my chapters.  Up till now, the text of the story has been in Times New Roman.  I decided that using Garamond would give the text a more “book-like” feel.  This is part of an larger process in which I am moving closer towards the possibility of self-publishing my book.  Another subject I will go into more detail in a future post.

That’s all for now.  Take care and have fun.