“Read. Read anything. Read the things they say are good for you, and the things they claim are junk. You’ll find what you need to find. Just read.”
I’m going to be away for a few days. My colleague Cayte will running things in my absence.
I referenced it in a previous post (though I got the state wrong) - and it remains taped up next to my computer. I’ve given this letter some thought since the original post - as I’ve changed offices twice and retained it both times, I have the occasion to question every element of my workspace - and there is no one reason I keep it. I get that numb off-site sadness at being confronted by a stranger’s sad story, the suspicion that anyone who reads query letters feels when the text of the letter is designed to engender sympathy, and anger.
Anger at myself because it would have taken me zero effort to call that redacted cell phone number - it wouldn’t take much for me to tell this person that while we appreciate the letter and the contents therein, they will have no success sending blind faxes - no matter what her book is.
Anger at my industry because we like to laugh about the “crazy” and “pathetic” attempts people make to get our attention - as if every single successful book was published by a bunch of people being polite and respectful to each other - and how we’ve learned to shut down all of our empathy when we sense a stranger approaching who wants to climb whatever ineffable golden ladder they think we oversee. We phrase things carefully, we give no contact info, and we comport ourselves as smoothly and briskly as we can so that this person will Just. Go. Away.
I have hand-written reply notes to jail mail; I have (amateurishly) edited full manuscripts for no charge simply because I can’t stand the idea that someone who wrote a manuscript, even (especially) a badly conceived and poorly written one, doesn’t deserve honesty instead of indifference. I have always said “email me what you have” instead of “not interested”. I will never stop doing this. But I know, above everything, that I am limited in my professional and personal capacities, and that letters like these written by people like that will almost definitely remain in the Motel 6’s of the world. Good or bad, wrongheaded or not, properly formatted or crayon - it doesn’t matter what I do, or they do, that will never stop happening.
Which is a necessary and fantastically sad concept that we in publishing rush ourselves toward being inured to, because we only have so much emotional energy to direct toward all the other sadness and/or unknowns of our work. We focus on the positive because it helps us not focus on the inherently negative side of book publishing and acquisition and writing in general; failure, indifference, and getting fucked over by unknown unknowns.
So that’s the worst thing I’ve ever seen in a query letter, and that’s why I refuse to forget it.