Sunday, January 03, 2010

Scary Queries

What makes the idea of writing a query letter so frightening to writers? After all, we're writers...we should have no problem writing a simple letter. Yes, a letter on which hangs the fate of a particular story or article, but still just a letter. It's ridiculous that a professional who can write anything from a noir comedy to a how-to on installing a smoke detector should break out into a sweat at thought of a one-page synopsis. The wealth of instructional articles and books on the subject, though, shows that we are, indeed, afraid and desperate for a solution.

For me, the thought of writing a query brings chills and a sense of nausea much like the flu. Just the thought of writing one of those beasts makes me feel like going and lying down. I've even been known to pass up a publication that requires a query in favor of one that wants to see the article. Yes, now you know my deepest writing secret. I'm a query coward.

Not that I haven't written several queries--some of which were actually successful--but the process has lost none of its terror. For some reason, writing a cover letter, though difficult, doesn't bring the same sense of horror and helplessness. I suspect it's because I harbor the insane hope that, even if my cover letter is crap, the editor will glance past it and be wowed by the dazzling article behind. (I never said I wasn't delusional.)

Nor have several years experience in writing and editing marketing copy helped me bridge the gap from selling a product to being able to sell myself.

Yes, selling myself. That's what we're all selling when we write and send a query letter, a cover letter or a story. I think, at the heart of it, we're not afraid of editors rejecting our ideas. We're afraid of editors rejecting us. Of course, to any serious writer, it's the same thing. We are our ideas. At the same time, that's where the ego comes in. Why should we have to sell ourselves? We are writers; we are brilliant. Our work shouldn't need selling. It should shine like a beacon, drawing the editor to itself like a sci-fi tractor beam. How dare the editor need a query?

Still, it's just a letter.

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