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Thursday, July 17, 2014

THE ABC'S OF HOW 'NOT' to WRITE SPECULATIVE FICTION: Q is for QUERY LETTERS

IF THE TRUTH IS TO BE TOLD, WE EDITORS AT ON SPEC DON'T SPEND A LOT OF TIME reading the covering letters you send us. We give them a cursory glance at most, so you're better off spending your time polishing your manuscript. That said, a query letter can still influence us in the wrong way and put your work in a less than favourable light. Here are some tips to think about when composing your query or covering letter to a magazine of short fiction:
  • Make covering letters short and professional vs. charming or flattering.
  • Get the editor’s name right, and make sure you spell it correctly. If there is more than one editor, don’t leave anyone out. On the other hand, (since we now have eight editors at On Spec) a collective approach like 'Dear Editors' is fine.
  • Don’t tell us jokes in an effort to make us like you. We’re not as interested in your sense of humour, as we are in your fiction. Save the humour for your prose.
  • Don’t use an editor’s name for one of your characters in the hopes that you’ll butter that editor up. You won’t, and it will be seen as a ploy to gain psychological advantage. (I will personally see it as a sure sign that your work is not up to par.)
  • Don’t tell us your plot. Doing so makes us feel like you're trying to convince us. Let the work speak for itself. We like surprises.
  • Don’t advise us of your theme (again, let the work speak for itself).
  • Don’t expect us to be impressed with your story because you mention you’re related to a Mr. Big Name Author. (Yes, we have actually received such letters. We would rather be swayed by your work.)
  • Don't flatter yourself. (See my Memo to the Slush Pile #2, for a good example of what not to say.)
  • Do offer us a list of prior publications if you have them, but again, don't try to impress us. 
  • And finally, related to the above point, don't claim writing credits you haven't earned. It's unfortunate I even need to point this out, but we have run into this before. There's nothing more pathetic than to realize what the writer claims isn't so because of the poor quality of his work.
Of course, a query to an agent or a book publishing house will be quite different. Read their submission guidelines and give them exactly what they ask for. Do your utmost to sell yourself and your work, but again, avoid any flattery and don't boast. In the end, it will always be the work that sells itself.

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