Things I Do To Stay Sane: Writing Query Letters


This might seem a little counter-intuitive, especially coming after my post about how writing work can stress me out so bad and wanting to forget about all of my writing work, but the next ‘Thing I Do to Stay Sane’ is something that most writers find to be one of the many banes of writing existence: writing query letters.

Now, stay with me here. I’m not saying that writing query letters isn’t stressful. It really is. You’ve got a page, if that, to try to convince a publisher or a journal that you, and your work, is worth publication. That you’re worth the investment. There are plenty of on-the-fence manuscripts that get the boot, or never even get read, because of a bad or unimpressive cover letter. And they’re wicked hard to write well. You’ve got to have a good pitch, you’ve got to have it be concise and intriguing, without being windy. You’ve got to have a catching bio- spotlighting your most important publication and marketing skills, without sounding ridiculous or over-pompous.

On the other hand, what other opportunities do I really have where I’m forced to both put my best foot forward and be totally, completely honest about how hard I’ve been working and what I’ve accomplished? In most situations, I’m either encouraged not to talk about it at all (in polite society), or feel the urge to play up my accomplishments to a clownish degree (among other writers who intimidate me). When writing a query letter, I’m forced to take a good, hard look at my career- at where I’ve been, and where I want to be going- and it forces me to commit to it.

One of my guilty pleasures is looking through my ‘sent’ folders, at all my query letters (regardless of whether or not they ended up in an acceptance or rejection of the piece) and seeing just how much they’ve changed in the past year. What new journals have been added, what new goals or marketing strategies I’ve been able to talk about now; what new knowledge of the industry I’ve gained.

Which I suppose is the entire point of this particular segment. You know the whole working smarter, not harder concept I’ve got going on? The trying to work in things to make myself a better writer and person into things I already have to do? Well, one of those ways is through changing my attitude about things.

Sure, I could keep being stressed about query letters and see then as only being an obstacle to the great goal (publishing, of course). But what good does that do? It doesn’t help me write better query letters, it doesn’t make me feel any better, and it gives me little to no incentive to want to buckle down and write any more query letters for the future. (This can actually get so bad that, when starting out, I just wouldn’t submit a piece or manuscript because I didn’t want to write out the query necessary for submission)

When I choose to see query letters as an opportunity to take time out of my day to take a positive inventory for my own personal self-esteem and evaluating my self-worth, in which I also have a concrete incentive to avoid being negative about myself…. you can see where this sounds a whole lot better. It’s a win-win situation really- the process of writing query letters becomes brighter, and I get to spend at least twenty minutes that I would otherwise be agonizing in a self-love exercise that is wholly productive.

We all know that the little moments count. Why not try to make every little moment work for us, and not against us, then?

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4 thoughts on “Things I Do To Stay Sane: Writing Query Letters

  1. Thank you so much for this refreshing look at one of the “former” banes of my existence. Great attitude! I really needed this to shift my perspective, and you have me taking a look at myself that is overdue. Neale Donald Walsch, author of “Conversations with God,” gave me that shift back in 2001, and I needed a reboot on my attitude.

    • Well I’m glad that it helped! I know it’s a constant battle for me- even writing these little segments help me to really get myself back on track with how I should be orienting my attitude!

  2. I love your positive take, although having been on both sides of the fence (author and editor) I think query letters are mostly just valuable for pitching articles on spec. With fiction, the writing itself is the only thing that matters and if it doesn’t blow me away then the most a good cover letter will do is convince me to personalize the rejection.
    Not that starting a personal relationship with an editor is ever really a bad thing! 🙂

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