Query Letters Lead to Rejection Letters

So, why bother?

A Rant by Brett Paufler


On any given day,
I can do three things with my writing time:

I can send out a query letter
I can work on one of my websites, or
I can work on my current writing project.

Almost invariably, I choose the latter,
I choose to write.


Go figure.
I am a writer.
It's what I do. 

Rejection Letters (I've had a few, but not many more)

    In all, I've sent out ten queries over the years (as of 1-7-14, anyway, but just in case you bemoan the fact I never sent one to you, no need to feel left out -- a Very Simple Email Query Letter, just for you).
    The last three are short stories -- are all be me -- that I sent to two of the leading SF/Fantasy genre magazines of the time.  And believe it or not, the rejection letter I got for The Luck of the Draw was so nice, I sent A Turkey Story to the same folks.

This is what made that rejection letter so particularly wonderful:
    Wow!

    I mean, it was such a good rejection letter, I thought they were interested in me... until the rejection letter for the second story came back and I saw that it had been done in the exact same format.

    Oh, well.

    But then, to understand why I was so excited after receiving the first, it makes sense to contrast that (the best rejection letter I ever got) with the worst:
    Who knows?  It may have.

    I may use too many commas... or too few.

    My sentences might be too long... or too short.

    So I guess, in retrospect, the advice was probably spot-on, the cheat sheet having covered every possible iteration of the writing experience.

    All the same, it would have been nice if the editor (or someone) had bothered to highlight one of the pieces of advice.  But then, that would have required thought.  Or more importantly, it would have required someone actually taking the time to read my manuscript (or even just the first page of it).  And quite frankly, I have my doubts as to whether anyone had bothered to read that particular submission and whether submissions in general get read on anything resembling a regular basis.

It's a Numbers Game (and/or a case of the blind leading the blind.  Seriously, my vision sucks.)

    I've been told that some magazines get upwards of a thousand submissions a month and sometimes all those submissions are for a single spot in the magazine.  (The submission number might actually be more like ten thousand at some places.  True, I don't know the exact number.  But I am led to believe that it is quite a large number).

    And that alone seems like pretty bad odds (1 in 1000 or 1 in 10,000), but it only gets worse.  You see, in your typical month, that one lone spot for a fiction story is going to go to an established author, so really two, three, and four months of unsolicited submissions are all vying for that one spot in the magazine that is available not once every month, but once every quarter.  Whatever the exact odds, you can bet it's an extreme long shot.

    And then add to all that the fact that the guy (or gal) reading the slush pile (as it is called) isn't making a lot of money, isn't really expected (or expecting) to find anything of value in the pile, and is perhaps motivated to throw out the entire lot of unsolicited material (hook line and sinker) because they already have a story in mind for the next opening in the magazine (a little piece either they or one of their friends wrote).  I mean, let's face it, if they're interns, then that means they want to be writers -- no ifs, ands, or buts about it.  And that means every second they spend reading another person's submission is another second they're not writing, editing, publishing, or publicizing their own stuff.

    So after taking all of that into account, I'm guessing the publishing houses throw away a huge percentage of the slush without ever reading it.  Certainly, if it was my job to read said crap, I would.  So, I'm not really complaining.  And I don't take it personally.  But if one assumes that my assessment of the situation is accurate, then there is no reason (absolutely no reason) for me to willingly become a part of the process.

    In other words, I eventually came to believe that many of my submissions were literally never read.  And in many cases, the response to my inquiry was so fast (one week versus the six to eight quoted) that it seemed like just enough time for my submittal to get to its destination; and from there, for an intern to open it up, remove the SASE, insert a rejection letter, and mail it back.  And if said intern was anything like me, they would have gotten so good at the process (so quick and efficient) that I would have been lucky (have beaten the odds) if they had merely glanced (just glanced) at the first page, maybe taken in the title, or read (hope beyond hope) the entire first sentence... let alone the entire first page or flipped to the second.

I Could Be Wrong (but I'm not).

    Still, I could be wrong.

    What do I know?

    But from my perspective, the whole process seemed like a gigantic waste of time.  I mean, I was actually reading the submission requirements for different publishers; and then, customizing query letters just for them (as some folks recommend, typically the editors who you're querying).  But all that takes time.  And if the entire thing is a numbers game to begin with, I figured it might make sense to cut some corners and increase the number of submission I put out.  So I thought, why not just forget about their requirements (what individual editors or publishing houses might want) and just broadcast the same submission packet to the lot of them, just fill their mailboxes.  What do I care if it suits their needs?  What do I care about their time?  I mean, they certainly don't care about mine.  And having gone that far, to cut down on the costs, I could take it a step further and skip the SASE, which maybe sounds like a trivial thing, but multiply the cost of return postage by a hundred ($50) or a thousand ($500) and we're talking real money.  And the truth is I have absolutely no need to pay that kind of money (or indeed, any money whatsoever) in order to receive a meaningless rejection letter.  Besides, I'd already sort of concluded (however inaccurately, like I know), that an acceptance letter, accompanying contract, and returned manuscript with annotated revisions, wouldn't fit into my SASE.  And so if my manuscript was accepted, no one would be using the SASE.  That in reality, the SASE was for rejections, not acceptances.

    So, why include it in the first place?

First Rule of Winning (never play a game you know you're going to lose).

    And that's more or less the where and the when of it all that I had my epiphany.

    If I implemented all those time and money saving steps, I'd have gutted my submission and reduced my chances of getting that coveted acceptance letter even further.  No doubt about it.

    But then, on the other hand, I wasn't willing to devote the time (an hour or two) or the money (more than a buck or two) to do the submission thing right, not when another submission seemed like a complete waste of time, and especially not when another submission probably had the same chance of drawing an editor's attention as I would have by starting my own website -- a website, something like this one, which presumably you find interesting because you've gotten this far into and/or this far down the page.

    So, the subject matter must be compelling.

    And the writing must be decent.

Second Rule, Always Play to Win (always).

    So, tell your friends, tell your family, tell your buddies on 4Chan, Pinterest, Reddit, or whatever's new and cool these days; but most importantly, tell the publishers, authors, agents, and webmasters in your life that: Brett Words is well written, compelling, and interesting and it's sort of amazing that Brett Paufler hasn't (not yet, anyway) found a publisher, agent, and/or book deal (by any other name) for Celli the Happy Go Lucky Celaphopod's Minataur Tails, the Second Book in the hilariously funny (you can quote me on that) D-B©und Adventuring series.

    But then, not to worry, because if things go according to plan (in six years, Eddie assures me), shortly after I've had my millionth page view, I'll be able to prominently make note of that fact in any submission I care to send out, maybe bragging how I have the 10,342nd most popular website in the world (as opposed to being tied with 63 million other folks, as I now am, for last place on the web). And, assuming that will be the case (in six years, always in six years), there will be little need to send out a query, because the powers that be will already know about my work (as they do keep an eye on the rankings, this I am sure of). Which, of course, means that I'd already have a book contract based on my website's popularity (which is really how the big boys play the game these days, anyway); so in the end, if this website gambit is successful, there will be absolutely no need for me to initiate the query process ever again.

    (I hope.  I hope.  I hope.)

    Of course, individual results may vary.  And so, if that doesn't work, and in six years I'm tied for last place on the web along with 123 million other homebrewed websites (at that point), I will have, at least, saved a few grand in postage and by virtue of these pages will have something to look back on in my old age -- and in the meantime to show my nieces and nephews, future employers, copyright lawyers, and federal prosecutors alike.

Brett Words
The Main Writing Stub


© Copyright 2014 Brett Paufler
Brett@Paufler.net

And no, I don't know where you can find Eddie.  If you do, tell him I either want my money back or he needs to rework the last few chapters of The Suki Kamasutri: Queen of the Galactic Frontier.  Love the first 80,000 words Eddie, but it sort of falls apart at the end.  And don't give me some crap about how you're just a chronicler of the events and that's the way it happened.  You got to do something.  Lie if you have to.

*** Which in the end he did.  Not so much as lie, as rework it.  And if you don't believe me.  Check out the first few chapters here.  The Suki Kamasutri: Queen of the Galactic Frontier.  This is the stuff I like!  It's exactly why I started working with Eddie in the first place.

Or who knows, wait long enough, and you might find everything I own posted on this site.  (Free for the taking?  Nominal charge?  Honor System?  Who knows?)  Certainly, if I ever win the lottery (or get to the point where death seems more imminent), that'll probably be my game plan.  In the meantime, everything I own is for sale.  Make me an offer.  I'm not proud (but I like to think I know what my stuff is worth).