Sheryl Cline (1)
Laura Geringer Books (2)
New York, NY 10012
Dear Sheryl (3),
Thanx (4) for talking with me on the phone. When Art (5) said at that conference (6) that he would love to
publish my book (7), I was very pleased (8). He said "Wizard Magick High" (9) would
be great for you and earn lots of money (10). It's sort of like that book, "Harry
Potter", written by a woman from England. Have you heard of her? (11) I want you
to know that I would very happy to make any changes to my book, if you find anything you want to change. (12) I also have lots of ideas for toys and games and posters and things, and have plans for a whole series--a "Sweet
Valley High with Wands" sort of thing. I'm currently working on the screenplay. (13) I'm sending along my book as an e-mail attachment (14), and I would be happy if
you could get to it quickly. (15)
P.S. Alot of other publishers are also reading it now (16), and if we could get the book published by my birthday
next April, that would be magical. ;-) (17)
1. She misspelled my name. This isn't terminally damning if the proposal is good, but it's evidence of extreme sloppiness
-- like showing up for a date in a mustard-stained shirt. Do your research.
She misidentified my publishing house. This happens often when writers have just come back from a conference and decide to
mail-bomb all the presenters with the same manuscript or query letter. Like (1), not terminally damning, but it is deeply
annoying because it tells me you're mail-bombing and you haven't really thought through whether this ms. is right for me.
She calls me by my first name (again misspelled). I am not a stuffy person, really, and I have absolutely no objection to
someone calling me "Cheryl" when we meet in person -- "Ms. Klein" is my mother, after all. :-) But this is a professional
letter, business correspondence, and in professional correspondence you show someone the respect of calling them by their
last name until you become better acquainted.
"Thanks" spelled "Thanx." Again, this is business correspondence and not the place for cutesy colloquialisms.
No one calls Arthur "Art." No one. So this writer obviously doesn't know him as well as she thinks she's showing
me she knows him. And again with the overfamiliarity.
"At that conference." Query letters aren't just professional letters -- they're also friendly introductions of the writer
and the work, or, if you've met an editor at a conference, a chance to reestablish the acquaintance in order to move
it forward. Editors can attend several conferences in a year, so it's thus very helpful if you can identify specifically
where we met before or where you found my name.
would love to publish my book" -- again, this person thinks she's establishing her authority and familiarity with
Arthur over me, the lowly editorial assistant. But as the lowly editorial assistant, I know Arthur would never say such a
thing to a person he met for two minutes at a conference.
"I was very pleased." What annoys me about this is that a query letter should not be about you and how you feel as an
author about your work. Of course you would be pleased if you received an offer to publish your book, and of course you
should be proud of your work. But as of this point in the letter, I have no reason to care about you or your manuscript, and
you should be working on making me care, not wasting my time telling me the obvious.
"Wizard Magick High" -- oh lord. Another failure of research: If an editor already has a book on their list set, say,
in a school for wizards, s/he will be extremely unlikely to take on another one with the same basic plot, UNLESS the voice
or point or magic or overall story is easily and demonstrably different from the first book (all the students in
the school were dragons, for example, or they only practiced romantic magic, or it was written entirely in first-person
plural voice because the story is really about the dangers of mass conformity, etc.).
"and earn lots of money" -- Of course we want our books to earn lots of money; that's how we keep our jobs, after all, and
how the author earns a living. But this is not the way we at Arthur A. Levine Books talk about a manuscript, especially when
we're first acquiring it; we talk about how much we love it and why we love it, and what in the manuscript makes us willing
to read it at least five times in order to publish it (five times being the average, or perhaps minimum, number
of times an editor will read a book before it's published). So again I suspect this person hasn't met
Arthur at all, because that's not the way he talks about our books; and then I'm annoyed because this person is valuing the
money she's going to make off the book (not at all guaranteed, even for a "Wizard Magick High") over the joy and quality of
the book itself, and those values don't match mine.
"written by a woman from England" -- an actual line from an actual query letter, I kid you not.
would also like to pause here and identify all the things the writer has NOT done in the query letter thus far:
established the book's setting
provided a plot outline
conveyed any sense of the characters and why I should care about them
demonstrated her writing ability (except to annoy me)
revealed how her book differs from the nine hundred and ninety-nine other fantasy novels on bookstore shelves at this
moment, and more specifically,
told us how her book differs from the fantasies already on our list, though this isn't a surprise as
she hasn't shown any specific interest in or familiarity with our imprint at all.
to my readers -- I can hear myself getting a little cranky as I type the annotations here. This letter really annoys
"I would be very willing to make any changes" -- Something so obvious it doesn't really need to be said, unless you're not
willing to make changes, in which case I don't want to work with you. I am not an autocratic editor, and I will never
force changes on a writer; but maybe one manuscript in ten thousand arrives on my desk already absolutely perfect,
and if you're not open to constructive feedback, I don't want to waste my time.
tie-ins/series/screenplay -- Again, all signs that the writer is thinking about money more than the quality of his/her book.
an e-mail attachment -- Unless you're writing from overseas, you should send manuscripts in hard copy. It's a waste
of the editor's time, paper, and toner to have to print out your manuscript, which makes it that much less
likely that an editor *will* actually print out and read your manuscript with any speed.
"I would be happy if you could get to it quickly" -- Honey, I'd be happy about that too, but you have given me no reason to
make you a high priority, so your odds are not good.
"Alot of other publishers are reading it now" -- I don't love simultaneous submissions, but they're a fact of an editor's
life, and they actually make it easier for me to reject something because I know (a) the author hasn't thought specifically
of me for this project and (b) if I don't like it, the chances are good that someone else might.
I once received a manuscript (handwritten on paper torn from a yellow legal pad) from a grandfather who asked to have the
book fully illustrated and published for his grandchild before Christmas. This was in October. It did not happen. (For the
record, it takes a year from when we receive final art for a picture book for the book to be published and arrive in stores.)
So that is the Query Letter from Hell. If you have committed these errors, do not be embarrassed; just go forth
and sin no more. For more on queries and submissions, check out Finding a Publisher and Falling in Love elsewhere on this site.
And in the meantime, thanx for reading! :-)