Mailbag: A form query

I received the following e-mail:

Within the last few months, I sent you a query regarding my book, [title redacted], which you kindly declined to represent. In the interim, I have built my own website , and I’ve since had grown my audience to hundreds of enthusiastic readers. I’d like to invite you to check it out at [url redacted],

If you are interested in representing this book, then I would be interested in speaking with you.

Thanks for your time,

If anyone is interested in how to write a query letter, well, this is not the way. Among the errors here:

  • Not researching the recipient. I am neither an agent nor a publisher.
  • Not tailoring the letter. You can’t just dash off one letter and assume it will work for everyone. Imagine you need to convince 10 people in your workplace to go along with a plan. If you are smart you will talk to each one individually and address the special concerns of each person. Book publishing is very competitive, and you have to do the same.
  • Beginning with a negative. I can guarantee you that many or most agents and publishers will stop reading after the opening sentence, which announces that they have already rejected this manuscript. The likelihood of a manuscript being reconsidered by a legitimate agent or publisher after a “few months” approaches zero (this is one reason not to go crazy with multiple submissions early on, as you can quickly exhaust the market with that approach). And the author does not even mention rewriting.
  • Not looking at the pitch from a publisher’s perspective. Is “hundreds” a strong number for a website? It is not. And how many is that, exactly? For the sake of argument, let’s say 500. Suppose you could get an incredible 10 percent rate of return on sales of the book to this group — that’s 50 books. Not too appealing!
  • Not selling the work. There is nothing in this e-mail that says anything about the nature of the work.
  • Not proofreading. That is the author’s comma at the end of the first paragraph.

I will give the author points for effort. At least he is trying — he’s not giving up. But he needs to go about finding representation in a more intelligent way to maximize his chance of success. (I’ve sketched out some tips about the process in my guide to getting a book published.) I wish him the best.

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  1. I recently received an ‘offer’ to go to an Asian country to help with selection/design/whatnot for a future portfolio of art books. Although flattering (and tempting!), I sent them a link to an interview about me from a couple of years ago and suggested that I was possibly not the person they suspected I was. (ie. I have no design or book publishing or editing background whatsoever; my web curatorial addiction is purely avocational)

    It was a very pleasant exchange (and I got some superb books for my trouble) but it mirrors your example of not researching the contactee. Ultimately it will have been a positive interaction for both parties — I got books and scans appearing on my site will give them exposure. This was not, at all, the expected outcome when the publisher first wrote: that it turned out well is a product of luck, a variable that should not have a major role in a transaction normally!

  2. I think that this is happening in all sorts of “publishing” areas of the Internet. Now that I write an art column for the, I get e-mails requesting my help in getting their art into a museum or even, buying their work for a museum. Then, there’s the interesting spam. Now, if I were a book publisher, I’d be over the moon if Peacay would feature my book. Bibilodyssey is one of the first sites what I check each day (after this one, of course). It’s a treasure trove!

  3. Yes, there is the tendency to get catty after rejection but it’s nothing which can be helped.

    Merry Christmas to you.