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
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.
I am a writer.
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.
- 6 for The D-Bound Quartet by Celli the
Happy Go Lucky Celaphopod (a fun romp through the Seven Realms, based
on the true story of Ruby's ascension to the throne as Consort to The
- 1 for The Sick: Drugs, Sex, and
Celaphopods by Eddie Takosori (a twisted autobiographical tale that
relates Eddie's descent into the depravity that is the title material)
- 1 for Time Travel... and other matters
as may properly come before the board
- 1 for The Luck of the Draw
- 1 for A Turkey of a Story... or rather I
mean, A Turkey Story\
This is what made that rejection letter
so particularly wonderful:
- It was printed on stationary quality
- The letterhead was embossed with raised
lettering and had a contrasting color for their logo.
- The letter was addressed to me: Dear Mr
- The letter referenced my story by name:
blah, blah, blah, thank you for submitting your story The Luck of the
- It included the editor's name.
- And he signed it! In ink!
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.
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.
- It wasn't a letter it was a photocopy.
- Or to be more precise, it was a
photocopy of a photocopy (perhaps of a photocopy) as someone had
undoubtedly lost the original long-long ago and no one could be
bothered to retype the default rejection letter again.
- But it gets better, because behind the
meaningless rejection letter that I had included a SASE (that's a
self-addressed stamped envelope you young'ins) to receive (and
therefore had paid to receive) was copy of a copy of some generic
writing advice provided in checklist form that may or may not have
applied to me.
I may use too many commas... or too few.
My sentences might be too long... or too
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
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
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
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:
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
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.
The Main Writing Stub
© Copyright 2014 Brett Paufler
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
*** 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
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).