Tina Wainscott

Query Letters of the Damned

by Susan Donovan

(This article was first published in the Washington Romance Writers Update newsletter in February, 2001.)

In her book “Writing Down the Bones,” author and teacher Natalie Goldberg instructs us to “go further than you think you can,” and “go for the jugular” in everything we write.

“Excuse me, Ms. Goldberg?” (I have to raise my hand on this one.) “Does that include query letters?”

See, lately I’ve been thinking that when it comes to query letters, I’m damned if I do and damned if I don’t. There’s so much conflicting advice out there for us unpublished types, such as:

  • Don’t be afraid to stand out in a crowd, yet don’t make a fool of yourself;
  • Make your writing sing, but remember all the spoken and unspoken rules of query letter etiquette;
  • Show admiration and professional courtesy to that editor or agent, but, for God’s sake, keep some shred of self-respect while groveling in the dirt.

Sigh… All I want is to come up with a query letter that is REAL. One that is PERFECT. One that is a TRUE reflection of who I am. One that falls somewhere between laughable self-promotion and a snot-soaked, shameless outburst that requires the use of creative punctuation.

Know what I’m saying? I thought so. We struggling, unpublished, query-letter-writing types need not be alone in our shame.

Since I’ve had only marginal success with the traditional query letter format thus far in my career, I decided to come up with a few alternative approaches. I believe they just might do the trick. Here they are – feel free to use any or all of these ideas in your next letter.

For more articles from Susan Donovan, go to www.susandonovan.com!