Bitter Writer Advice Column #3
Dear Bitter Writer:
I’m just starting out as a freelance writer and I’m not “connected” in any way to the decision makers in publishing. Do you have any tips on how to write a successful query letter to an editor?
Lost in the big city
Dear Lost in the big city:
A “friend” I know, after reading a really brilliant and funny and smart query letter I had written to an editor, asked me this: “Did you write that while you were in your bathrobe?”
Well, of course. The bathrobe is like the writer’s uniform.
This jealous guy, whom I will call Wilson and who doesn’t have a tenth of the talent I do, went on about how my 800-word e-mail was “doomed from the first exclamation point–laden paragraph.” He wasn’t finished, “You can smell the desperation. It’s obvious you have all the time in the world in which to splash words about the page,“ he said, “and editors are busy people, they don’t have time for juvenile charm offensives. They just want good writing delivered swiftly.” And then he paused to chuckle and say, “You didn’t really send that, did you?” Later, he posted it on his well-attended blog as a piece of “found fiction.”
Wilson and I have not spoken in years.
The point that the talentless Wilson was making was that if you write like you don’t have a job— like you have no compelling reason to put clothes on each day, you won’t get a job.
Because the industry is clogged with unimaginative nobs that are all sleeping together, they have little time for outsiders. The best thing to do is to keep your query letter short and sweet. Briefly flatter them, pitch your idea with some graceful economy, link to a few of the finer examples of your writing, and remember your job isn’t to be the “next big thing,” it’s to make your editor’s job easier. They don’t want to be scrolling through some windy pitch, they want to be out having drinks with somebody they want to sleep with, or at the very least, somebody who might want to sleep with them.
PS: Have you considered veterinary technician as an alternate career? Writing sucks.
PPS: Do not add, “I am poor and almost 50. Everything around me crumbles,” to your query.
Please send any questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or just post them to the comments page here.