Giving Thanks to the Query Letter

This Thanksgiving, like most Thanksgivings and most non-Thanksgivings, I was thankful for many things: a lot of the usual stuff, and some unusual stuff, too.  But since I am a writer and this is my writer website, I figured I should talk about the things I am thankful for that are related to publishing.

But that list was way too long, so I decided to pick something that is too often neglected.  Something left out of the acknowledgment section all too frequently.

That’s right.  The query letter.  I am thankful for the query letter.  There, I said it.

The query letter has a lot of haters out there.  I’m not one of them.  I think the query letter is kind of amazing.  I mean, in what other industry can you convince someone to take you on when you have no qualifications or experience?  Imagine, if you will:

“Dear Ms. Big-Wig Scientist: I watch a lot of Grey’s Anatomy and I hear you’re interested in medical breakthroughs and, okay, I studied history and worked in finance, but I have this really great idea for curing cancer.  Would you like to see my proposal?”

Or

“Dear Mr. Principal of the School: I’ve had a lot of great teachers, and I think I could maybe be one.  Please let me know if you’d like to observe me in a class of your choosing.  Thank you for your time and consideration.”

No?  How about this:

“Dear Mrs. Accountant: Attached, please find my tax return from last year.  I did it myself.  I think others would love to have their taxes done by me, as well.  I look forward to your prompt response.”

Exactly.

There’s a reason people dream of being published.  Because they can.  Because it is a possibility.  No matter who you are or what your education, as long as you do the research and put in the work (and I mean really work at it, then do some more work, and just when you think you’re done with the work, go ahead and do some more) it is this thing that maybe possibly could potentially happen.

There is a place we can send our work, even if we have no connections and no experience and no qualifications: an agent's email inbox – affectionately known as the slush pile.

The slush pile is the reason I could sit in my bed with two baby monitors turned down low, bent over a netbook that didn’t even have MS Word, and tap at the keys for hours with nothing but a whisper in my head asking, Why not me.  Well that and lots and lots of work.  But still.

The query letter is the great equalizer.  It is a chance.  I am thankful for that chance.

Lastly, I would be remiss if I did not mention a certain reader of a certain query letter and the certain keeper of a certain slush pile, who will certainly be in any acknowledgment page of any book I write, but I’m certain I won’t have enough space to adequately thank her.  So.

I am thankful for my agent, Sarah Davies, who read my query and said yes, and who told me I wasn’t quite there yet – and then helped me get there.