We’ve all heard the hilarious stories about crazy query letters—the ones written from jail, the ones that start “Dear Sirs or Madams,” the ones that include nothing but 3 pictures of purses made from jeans and an assurance that “this book will sell millions.” (My personal favorite of the year.)
But I think sometimes agents don’t talk enough about the encouraging query letters. Not necessarily the queries that get a request for more material, or the ones that are ultimately picked up by an agent and sold to a publisher. I don’t mean the successful queries, but the encouraging ones—the ones that give us back a little faith in humanity.
Because I work in nonfiction, I see a lot of sad stories in my query pile, mostly from the memoir queries. There are stories of cancer, sexual abuse, drug addiction, human trafficking, divorce, death of children, infertility, homelessness—every horrible thing that can happen to us humans. But, without fail, at the end of every one of these query letters, there’s one word: hope. These memoirs are always about hope.
The very fact that these writers have suffered through all the crappy stuff life can throw at you, and then come out on the other side able to write about it, says a lot about the therapeutic power of writing.
That’s one thing I wish I could tell more writers: sometimes writing can be just for you. For the therapy, for the catharsis, and for the energy it provides. Getting all those words and emotions and memories out of your head can be its own reward, and chasing a book deal can be secondary.
Publishing is a crazy world, and it can be a full-time job to build the sort of platform necessary to successfully launch a book. But writing is, and will always be, just for the writer.
[Writers: I’m caught up on all queries through August 1, 2014. If you sent me a query prior to that date and did not receive a response, please re-send!]