Query Letters Make Me Feel Dirty—And That Attitude Has To Change

I hate writing query letters. You get three hundred words to strip your novel to its barest, most saleable elements, and then you shove it naked into the streets in hopes of enticing a buyer.

Hey baby, you like historical fiction? How about a red-headed love interest for the protagonist? Did I mention there’s ghosts in here too? C’mon baby, you know want it.

The query letter is a blatantly commercial act. I’m no Jonathan Franzen, draped in the robes of The Serious Artist, but I think my book has aesthetic qualities (in addition to commercial ones) and I really don’t like trying to pimp it out.


But no one’s going to read the book if the only place it exists is my hard drive. And so the query letter.

My wife recently sent me links to examples of query letters than landed an agent. I printed one out and put it on the dining room table, side-by-side with a recent draft of my own letter, so I could compare them.

My twelve-year-old son walked by and read the successful query. When he was finished he said “Wow, that sounds really good!” He was genuinely excited by the pitch.

And I thought “Damn! That’s exactly the reaction I want an agent to have when they read my letter.”

I realize now that my goal is to generate real excitement from a potential reader. The attitude that the query letter is an act of prostitution might satisfy my English-major snobbery, but it’s entirely unhelpful.

I’m re-writing my query letter now. My goal is to produce letter that feels honest to me but also compels the reader to want to know more. I hope this is a more productive frame of reference, and that a better letter will emerge. I’ll keep you posted.

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