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The Latest News from Blydyn Square Books
Why We Hate Query Letters
I’m about to propose something that I suspect will be unpopular in the publishing community: that we abandon query letters.
Few editors will admit it, but I bet more than a handful feel the same way I do: I have always HATED query letters.
They’re awkward, stilted, pointless, and (worst of all) they make even the most interesting, unique writers sound like they plagiarized their letter directly from a how-to book on “crafting the perfect submission.”
Query letters suck. And everybody in this business (at least those of us with a little bit of common sense!) knows it.
And yet, we as an industry have somehow made the formal query letter—that bane of every writer’s existence—more important in the process of submitting a piece of writing than the writing itself.
In fact, we have created an atmosphere where a lot of truly talented writers are afraid to submit their work for consideration because they just can’t get their LETTER right.
We have lost sight of what’s really important.
I’ve been a professional editor for 26 years now, and in my experience, there are two kinds of editors:
First, there are editors (like me) who love books and truly care about the craft of writing and about helping great (and especially new, up-and-coming) writers find their way into print.
And then there are “editors” who are (at heart) marketing professionals. They care only about sales, no matter how crappy a book might be. These are the people who give multimillion-dollar book deals to reality stars who can’t spell their own names, much less write a compelling narrative. These people are also the ones who think a query letter should be more important than the book itself.
What nobody seems to want to admit is a simple fact that I discovered long ago:
Writing a great book and writing a great query letter are two entirely distinct, discrete skills. In my experience, the kind of person who can write an excellent query letter CANNOT write a good book.
In the world of publishing, only one of these skills should really matter (and, in case you don’t realize it, I mean writing the BOOK, not writing the query letter).
If publishing professionals were honest with ourselves, we’d admit that we don’t really NEED query letters.
Sure, they tell us a few things about potential authors: Can they use grammar? Can they spell? Do they sound difficult to work with or arrogant? I’ll agree that it’s nice to know these things before signing someone up for a long-term book contract.
But let’s face it: Even terrific writers sound like dorky morons when they follow the traditional (and very cheesy) standard format for query letters.
So, what are query letters REALLY telling us? The honest answer is: not much that we actually need to know—like whether someone can write.
Meanwhile, query letters DO tell us things about authors that we SHOULDN’T know before we read their work.
For example, a query letter tells us the author’s name, which can simply be too much information in a business that’s already teeming with nepotism and favoritism.
A query letter can also tell us the author’s gender or (if the author is using his/her/their real name) ethnicity.
And though we would never admit it, knowing these details can (and often DOES) create bias in an editor, whether for or against an author. We might not even realize we’re doing it, but the danger is there—all because of the query letter, before the editor or agent has read a SINGLE WORD of the actual manuscript.
I don’t need—or want—any information about the author. Just give me a title page with the genre (if applicable) and maybe the book’s total word count. I don’t need anything more. I have enough skill and experience to tell from that (and maybe the first 50 pages of your book) if your writing works for me and my publishing house.
In a truly just world, there would be no query letters at all, and the author’s name and contact information would appear at the very end of a submitted manuscript, so that we—the editors, the agents, all the keepers of the slush pile—could judge the work based on what really matters: the WRITING.
And that’s why we here at Blydyn Square Books IGNORE query letters. In fact, last year, we added a submission form to our website to encourage writers to give us just the facts we need (like their contact information and the genre they’re pitching) and let us focus on the writing.
At Blydyn Square, we choose to go in blind, knowing as little as possible about the author who is submitting work for consideration.
We choose to ignore the silly, copied-straight-from-a-silly-book nonsense and focus on the writing.
We choose to avoid bias and treat all authors equally and as unique individuals.
We choose to step boldly forward into the future where the only thing that matters is the work you produce, not your name or your contacts or the size of your social media following or whether you starred on the most recent season of The Bachelor.
We choose to care about what’s important.
Maybe someday, our fellow publishers will wise up and join us.
Blydyn Square Book Club
For our next book club meeting, on August 18 at 5:45 p.m. (ET), we’ll be talking about Richard Russo’s Empire Falls. The Zoom link is: https://us06web.zoom.us/j/87669381923
Blydyn Square Happy Hour
Don’t forget to join us for our next Happy Hour on July 21 at 5:00 p.m. (ET), for Happy Hour. We’ll chat about books, writing, working with a small press, and whatever else comes up. Join us on Zoom: ADD LINK
Quote of the Month
“Despite the enormous quantity of books, how few people read! And if one reads profitably, one would realize how much stupid stuff the vulgar herd is content to swallow every day.”
Brain Teaser of the Month
Congratulations to Ellen Durr, who won an Amazon gift card. The question was:
The month of June has three birthstones associated with it. Name one of them.
Alexandrite, moonstone, or pearl
Now answer this:
What is the full moon in July called?
Send us your answer (email@example.com) and you’ll be entered in our prize drawing.
That’s it for this month. See you next time!
Editor in Chief
Blydyn Square Books