To Whom It May Concern: I'm Terrible At Query Letters.

Posted February 18, 2017 by Ari in Lit Life / 0 Comments

Maybe it’s all in my head. I recall a conversation with a friend in high school. She suggested I turn my poems into songs because, according to her, “that’d be cool.” I disagreed with her, attempting to explain all the reasons why my poems couldn’t be songs or why songs aren’t considered poems. In hindsight, my arguments were weak and completely subjective, but in my mind, poems and lyrics would never be the same.
It’s difficult for me to write anything shorter than an essay. I’m not sure when this limitation began or why I struggle to write a haiku. I know the rules. I know how many syllables there should be and I know enough words to put into a haiku. Yet, writing one feels impossible. It’s unnatural for me to sit and write a single, perfect line that sums up everything I want to say. I wish I was that kind of writer but I don’t think I am.
Essay writing can also be a struggle, especially if I don’t plot out each point I need to make that corresponds to the ultimate message I’m trying to get across. I can’t tell you how many edits I end up doing to cut the excess word count off the ends of essays. One positive aspect of this continuing issue is that I can now edit my own essays quickly, identifying unnecessary sentences and removing them. The end result is a great essay that conquers the subject directly and without many superfluous details.
So, maybe is really is in my head after all.
Query letters fall under my umbrella of struggle, often having a page limit while asking me to be “detailed but concise.” See? My mind almost shatters at requests like these but as a writer, there isn’t time to whine about specifics or dance around anxiously because I’m uncomfortable with keeping things short. I don’t have the luxury – or the popularity – to cut corners or dodge conformity in the publishing world.
They, the agents, will go on living quite happily without me. The same can’t be said in reverse.
It can take me months to work up the courage to query and then an entire month after that just to lay out a rough draft of “this is why you’ll love my book” and other concise, yet detailed information they might require. In this sense, it’s no different than plotting out a novel and drawing up the first draft – the skeleton.
I might pour over examples online to figure out what my skeleton is supposed to resemble while also taking note of what to avoid. There are different ways to write a query letter and depending on what genre your piece falls into, your query letter could look unalike the many examples you find online.
And of course, the most IMPORTANT place you should review regarding a query letter is the literary agency you’re interested in. Their requirements trump those you might find on the internet or displayed beautifully in query letter examples. Some people rave that you should write a unique letter that stands out from the masses and while this may have worked on rare occasions, the general consensus is to stick with what the agent is asking for.
None of this helps me to be a better query letter writer, per say, but I do find it alleviates my anxiety and helps me to better understand why I struggle writing shorter pieces. A significant part of the struggle is myself: my belief that writing query letters is hard because of its length and therefore, uncomfortable for me. It’s what stands in my way of actually sitting down and writing the darn thing. So, I suppose the first step would be to sit myself down and shift my view; to stop convincing myself that poems aren’t songs, songs aren’t poems, and that anything shorter than an academic essay is a near impossible feat for me.
Intellectually, I know it’s a matter of perspective. I write poems! Those are ridiculously short yet I don’t find them intimidating or out of character for me. I don’t pace the room, anxiously clawing at the air for the right words to string together or glare at them as if they are out to get me. Poems are….well….they’re kind of like reflections of ourselves or the world we’re observing. Why, then, can’t query letters be a reflection of what I have to offer or of my value as a writer?
Well, a query letter kind of is and I think this is the root problem of my limitation: a fear that my own reflection might be rejected or perhaps that whatever I have to offer isn’t good enough. After all, in hindsight, I never wanted my poems to become songs because I didn’t think they were good enough to fit into that definition. They weren’t rhythmic in my eyes. They didn’t conform to a melody or relate to anyone else in the world but me because as a 17 year old girl, I really didn’t believe that anyone else on the planet could possible see or understand how I felt and thus, what I had written.
It’s not like that anymore and I’m trying to write a query letter. For practice, I write to “whom it may concern” and make an impossibly long list of details to add. I tell myself not to worry because I’ll go back later and cut out what doesn’t belong. It resembles a bowl of spaghetti upset on the floor or a pile of children’s ABC blocks scattered through an unkempt room. As expected, I waver for a moment, muttering about how unacceptable this is and I can’t possibly send it in like this.
Then I remind myself that this version of my query is a skeleton; nothing more and nothing less.
And I keep writing.

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