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Even though it wasn’t real, the most famous ‘query letter’ of all time has to be the one immortalized by the Beatles within the lyrics of their 1966 classic, Paperback Writer. But what if Paul McCartney (who wrote the song) really had been an unknown wannabe, trying to get an agent or editor to read his book? What kind of response would he have got if he’d sent a query letter like the one he sang about?

We’ll never know for sure, but here’s how I think Agnes Hardacre, former senior agent at The Write Good Read Literary Agency (who some of you may recall sent me feedback on my query letter for Dracula vs. the Daleks a couple of years ago), would have responded:


Dear Mr. McCartney,

With reference to your recent correspondence seeking representation for yourself and your novel, I regret to inform you that The Write Good Read Literary Agency will not be inviting you to join our client roster. 

As someone who harbors ambitions of one day becoming a published author myself, I fully understand your desire to become a ‘paperback writer.’

I share the frustration we authors feel when our work is rejected with little or no explanation as to why it’s deemed unworthy. With that in mind – and please understand this is in no way a request for you to re-submit your work – I’d like to offer some observations about your letter of enquiry, along with some helpful advice which, if heeded, I believe will greatly increase your chances of getting past that all-important first stage of the representation process when you submit your work elsewhere. 

1: DO YOUR HOMEWORK
You start your letter of enquiry with ‘Dear, sir or madam, will you read my book?

To use the modern vernacular, I’m afraid you ‘Shot yourself in the foot’, not once, but twice, within your very first sentence. In this modern technological age, a quick call to Directory Enquiries would have gotten you this agency’s telephone number. Had you then telephoned our main office, a member of our secretarial staff would have gladly furnished you with the name of the person to whom you should address your letter of enquiry (in this case, myself). 

A little extra effort would have gone a long way, believe me.

2: LEAVE OUT THE OBVIOUS
As for ‘will you read my book?’ of course you want us to read your work. Why else would you have sent it to us? To ask even once in a letter of enquiry is redundant, to ask twice, as you did, smacks of desperation.

3: LEAVE OUT UNNECESSARY INFORMATION
Moving on. A good book is a good book. Readers (and agents) don’t care how long you or any other author worked on a novel (even if it did, as you claim, take you years). In a similar vein, nor do we need to know about your current need for employment. It makes you sound desperate.

4: BE AWARE OF POSSIBLE COPYRIGHT INFRINGEMENT
You say your plotline is based on a book by another author – a Mr. Lear as I recall. You should be aware of the potential for a lawsuit if you’ve used characters created by another writer without his or her express permission.

5: GIVE MORE (AND BETTER) STORY DETAILS
Your covering letter tells me next to nothing about the novel you’d like us to represent, not even (and this is an enormous faux pas) its title  .

All I could glean from it was that you’ve written a somewhat smutty story about an ill-groomed, unkempt man whose wife won’t give him space and doesn’t appreciate him (or his ambitions, I couldn’t tell which). This unnamed man has a son (also unnamed) who works at a newspaper, but (like you) harbors an ambition to write paperbacks. 

It’s too vague. Give me a reason to care. Give me a reason to ask for more.

6: FINISH YOUR BOOK BEFORE YOU SEND IT OUT
When I read your offer to write extra chapters and/or rearrange the plot if we like your writing style, it became obvious that your book is still a WiP (a modern acronym which stands for ‘Work in Progress). We want people to send us finished work. Besides, at a thousand pages, your manuscript is already too long. I believe you should consider splitting it into two, or even three novels. 

7: IT’S NOT OUR BOOK IT’S YOURS
It’s also a mistake to tender the rights to your work without pre-conditions. A less ethical agency might have taken you up on your offer.

8: DON’T MAKE WILD CLAIMS
I sincerely doubt that your (or any other unknown author’s) book would generate a million pounds for our agency overnight. It does you no good to claim otherwise. In fact, it makes you look unprofessional, which is never a good thing in the literary world.

9: IF YOU WANT THINGS RETURNED, INCLUDE POSTAGE
You state that if we must return your manuscript (or as we like to call it these days ‘ms’), we can send it back to you, but since you neglected to include the necessary three shillings and sixpence in postage stamps, I’m afraid that’s not possible.


On a final note, I detect a lyrical symmetry in the way you wrote your letter which makes me wonder if your efforts might find better reward in the field of poetry, or even songwriting. Perhaps you could set your letter of enquiry to music, though I’m not sure a song about wanting to write paperback books is exactly the sort of thing young people would listen to. These days, everything on the hit parade seems to be a variation on the theme of love.

I sincerely hope you find my comments and observations helpful. Wishing you the very best in your future endeavors.

Yours faithfully, 

Agnes S. Hardacre (Junior acquisitions editor)
For The Write Good Read Literary Agency 

 
I think that just about covers it.



How about you?

What kind of reply do you think an unknown writer would have got?

 



                                                                                 
 


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Comments

( 46 comments — Leave a comment )
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msstacy13
Jun. 27th, 2011 11:15 am (UTC)
Thank you.
Although we've been all over this like the replacement cover of
Yesterday and Today,
it's something those of us who focus primarily on craft, rather than marketting,
and who, quite co-incidentally, are generally devoid of people-skills,
need to give considerable careful attention.

Seriously, in the 60s or 70s,
a query such as that might have worked;
John Lennon did get A Spaniard in the Works published.
Today, however, I'm certain it would elicit a heartfelt form letter,
assuring the prospective author that the decision to forego representing the work
had nothing to do with the merits of the work itself,
but simply resulted from the number of authors the agency already represented,
which would preclude giving this work the attention it merits.

Of course, that could mean they simply don't have time to dig a pit
deep enough to cover the stench it exudes...
:)
jongibbs
Jun. 27th, 2011 11:36 am (UTC)
I'm not so sure. No matter what the year, I can't see any agent taking on work from an unknown unless he/she saw some potential in either it or the author. What would be the point?
(no subject) - msstacy13 - Jun. 27th, 2011 11:57 am (UTC) - Expand
(Deleted comment)
jongibbs
Jun. 27th, 2011 11:36 am (UTC)
My pleasure, Barbara.

PS: I like your icon :)
mutive
Jun. 27th, 2011 11:48 am (UTC)
Hah hahh hah. I'm inclined to think that the writer would have gotten, "Thank you for your query. We regret to inform you..." or a similarly written form rejection letter. ;)
jongibbs
Jun. 27th, 2011 12:03 pm (UTC)
Yes, things probably haven't changed too much in that regard.
kathryncraft
Jun. 27th, 2011 11:59 am (UTC)
Good one, Jon! On a serious note, I'll be there are tons of writers who, in worrying how to synopsize and describe themselves succinctly, actually forget to include the title of their project.
jongibbs
Jun. 27th, 2011 12:11 pm (UTC)
Forgetting to include the title of their project
It's certainly a mistake something to avoid :)
(no subject) - snapes_angel - Jun. 27th, 2011 01:29 pm (UTC) - Expand
snapes_angel
Jun. 27th, 2011 12:57 pm (UTC)
"Don't call us. We'll call you."

Perhaps you could set your letter of enquiry to music, though I’m not sure a song about wanting to write paperback books is exactly the sort of thing young people would listen to. These days, everything on the hit parade seems to be a variation on the theme of love. M/i>variations</u> on the theme of love. To write "a thousand pages, give or take a two", with plans to to "writing more, in a week or two...It may or may not be publishable (probably, as first draft, the latter), but it takes a variation of a type of love, to be so...prolific.
jongibbs
Jun. 27th, 2011 12:58 pm (UTC)
Lol, I suppose it does at that :)
(no subject) - snapes_angel - Jun. 27th, 2011 01:31 pm (UTC) - Expand
asakiyume
Jun. 27th, 2011 03:02 pm (UTC)
Win!!
asakiyume
Jun. 27th, 2011 03:14 pm (UTC)
Dear Supplicant, I won't read your book
The years you spent still aren't worth a look
Ripping off a man named Lear
Is not the way for you to launch a career
As a paperback writer
paperback writer!

As for dirty stories about dirty men
I'm afraid we reject about nine in ten
If the son or wife were the main POV
There's still no chance this would interest me

Sorry, wannabe writer
paperback writer!

A thousand pages sounds excessively long
But it's wordcount that matters--UR DOIN IT RONG!
Don't you bother writing more, this is more than enough
The best option open is to cut this stuff

Sorry, wannabe writer,
Paperback writer!

I don't need the rights, you can have it back
I'm shipping it to you a burlap sack
Better luck next time, my delusional friend
Enjoy your world of let's pretend

Sorry wannabe writer
Paperback writer!

bogwitch64
Jun. 27th, 2011 03:36 pm (UTC)
You rock, woman. :::Snicker:::snort:::
(no subject) - asakiyume - Jun. 27th, 2011 07:15 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jongibbs - Jun. 27th, 2011 04:29 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - asakiyume - Jun. 27th, 2011 07:14 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - authorwithin - Jun. 27th, 2011 07:22 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - asakiyume - Jun. 27th, 2011 07:35 pm (UTC) - Expand
(Deleted comment)
(no subject) - asakiyume - Jun. 27th, 2011 10:28 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - tracy_d74 - Jun. 27th, 2011 10:55 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - asakiyume - Jun. 28th, 2011 10:57 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - paulwoodlin - Jun. 28th, 2011 02:59 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - asakiyume - Jun. 28th, 2011 10:57 am (UTC) - Expand
(Deleted comment)
jongibbs
Jun. 28th, 2011 05:50 am (UTC)
He did pretty well, didn't he? Especially considering he co-wrote songs with that Russian communist bloke, and during the cold war too ;)
pingback_bot
Jun. 27th, 2011 09:06 pm (UTC)
Spreading the virus of my inspiration
User writerjenn referenced to your post from Spreading the virus of my inspiration saying: [...] t, Jon Gibbs pretends that the Beatles song "Paperback Writer" is a real query letter [...]
wordsrmylife
Jun. 27th, 2011 10:15 pm (UTC)
Thank you! That brought a smile to my face, which is a wonderful way to end the day.
jongibbs
Jun. 28th, 2011 05:47 am (UTC)
I'm glad you enjoyed it :)
tracy_d74
Jun. 27th, 2011 10:56 pm (UTC)
*crickets chirping* that's what he would have received.

You are too funny Jon.
jongibbs
Jun. 28th, 2011 05:46 am (UTC)
Thank you :)
paulwoodlin
Jun. 28th, 2011 02:58 am (UTC)
Oh, sure, mock my second favorite Beatles song, will you?
jongibbs
Jun. 28th, 2011 05:47 am (UTC)
Okay, I have to ask, what's your favorite?

Mine is Eleanor Rigby
Beatles yay! - asakiyume - Jun. 28th, 2011 10:56 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: Beatles yay! - jongibbs - Jun. 28th, 2011 11:07 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: Beatles yay! - asakiyume - Jun. 28th, 2011 11:09 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - paulwoodlin - Jul. 1st, 2011 05:22 am (UTC) - Expand
quill_quirks
Jun. 29th, 2011 02:35 pm (UTC)
Jon, just caught up on reading f's list, you have the most helpful blog. Helpful and, sometimes, brilliantly funny and musical, too. Thank you.
jongibbs
Jun. 29th, 2011 03:42 pm (UTC)
Thank you :)
sevenzebras
Jun. 29th, 2011 09:15 pm (UTC)
Like this very much!
jongibbs
Jun. 30th, 2011 05:28 am (UTC)
Thanks. I had fun writing it :)
livejournal
Aug. 9th, 2012 10:12 pm (UTC)
Share-Bears II: Secrets of the Ooze
User tex_maam referenced to your post from Share-Bears II: Secrets of the Ooze saying: [...] hilarious in its own right: Paperback Writer: Great song, but what if it was a real query letter? [...]
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( 46 comments — Leave a comment )

Things What I Wrote and Other Stuff

No longer in print but there are still some copies floating around out there


No longer in print but there are still some copies floating around out there















 











THE MEAGER PUDDLE OF LIMELIGHT AWARDS


Books by my writer friends - compressed

NJ Writing groups - compressed

NJ writing conference - compressed

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