Horror Business: On Query Letters and Not Appearing to be a Lunatic

ImageIt has been about six months since Blood Bound Books first brought me aboard as Acquisitions Editor. They’re a true, tough, damn-the-torpedoes indie that has made incredible strides in just a couple of years under the guidance of a dedicated staff. (Two of their releases are on the 2012 Bram Stoker Award Recommended Reading List.) It has been a hell of a good time so far.

After appearing in BBB’s Night Terrors and Rock & Roll is Dead (my story “End of the Line” received a 2011 Best Horror of the Year Honorable Mention), I applied for a position with the press. I’m honored they saw fit to let me join their strange little cult. (I hope it’s not just because Marc and I bonded in our mourning of Ronnie James Dio’s passing, but there are worse reasons.)

I love reading submissions. I really do. I’ve selected two manuscripts so far, and look forward to announcing them soon.

I will not presume at this point in my life that I can, or should, tell anyone how to be a writer. I’d no sooner tell you how to live. But I can tell you what I like in a query letter. I’ve read a ton of the things lately and I have my goddamn opinion. Also, God knows I’ve gone about it the wrong way enough times to at least have a a vague sense of the right. All is vanity, and to each his own, but if you ever submit to Blood Bound Books (or anywhere else) you might want to consider these dos and don’ts:

DO: Write a letter.

Your query letter is a letter. It is an email in which you introduce yourself and present your work for the editor’s consideration. It has a salutation (“Dear Editors” or “Dear Blood Bound Books”) and a closing (“Sincerely” or “Thank You”).

DON’T: Send an advertisement.

The editor assumes you think your work is good. There’s a difference between portraying your techniques (“Deepening intrigue and increasing danger keep the reader in suspense until the very end.”) and spitting hyperbole (“It’s an action-packed shock-fest sure to gain a huge following!”) Don’t compare yourself to other famous authors, or describe your manuscript as a mixture of other well-known works. Don’t include endorsements from your author friends, paid editing services, boyfriend or girlfriend, et cetera. And please don’t ever use a roller coaster metaphor. I’ve been on lots of roller coasters. Roller coasters are almost, but not quite, entirely unlike books.

DO: Include title, genre (as you see it), and word count.

Demons-a-Go-Go (40,000 words) is a comedic horror-suspense novella.”

DON’T: Include a lengthy resume or publishing history.

Pick a few things you feel would be of most interest to the editor. We are interested in the manuscript you have sent us, not the fifty blog entries and stories you’ve done previously. Your other stuff doesn’t make this stuff any better (or worse).

DO: Present your work as a story.

The editor needs an overall sense of what to expect from your manuscript if he is going to choose to read it. Karen Everett’s article “Squeezing Reality Into Three Acts” discusses how documentarians identify a story, and it’s a useful technique for all storytellers (I’ve mentioned it in posts before):

“Keep in mind that a story . . .  is not a profile (for example, a film about an eccentric uncle who farms nuts), a condition (human rights abuses in Haiti), a phenomenon (the popularity of multi-player video games) or a point of view (social security should be privatized).  Simply stated, a story chronicles the efforts of the main character to achieve his or her heart’s desire in the face of opposition.”

Your query must (at the very least) present your protagonist, her world, her opposition or main conflict, and her goal. If you can’t do this in a paragraph or two, you might need to re-examine your plot. If you do not have a plot, you probably should not be submitting to us.

DON’T: Try to summarize the entire novel.

A query letter is not a synopsis or an outline. A single paragraph or two should tell the editor, in broad strokes, what sort of story you have written. An ideal query letter fits on one page. Present the most important elements. Every subplot, background detail, and minor character does not need to be included.

DO: Proofread.

A typo in you’re query won’t take you out of the game, but it sure don’t help your case. (See what I did there?)

DON’T: Be insane.

Writing novels (especially horror novels) is an activity that suggests a certain warp of mind. Above all, a query letter demonstrates to the editor that you are able to keep your latent insanity down to a manageable level. If you believe you have been contacted by extraterrestrials or ghosts, have been victimized by a Satanic conspiracy, are writing in the service of a deity, or anything else like this, do not mention it in your query letter. It doesn’t make you more interesting.  (We don’t care if you’re an interesting person, anyway. We’re interested in your book, not you.) It makes us worry you won’t want to accept revisions because they are contrary to the commands of saucer-people, and we have enough to worry about.

That’s all for now, folks. Now, if you’ll excuse me, it appears my inbox has flooded again…

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One Response to Horror Business: On Query Letters and Not Appearing to be a Lunatic

  1. Pingback: Blood Bound Books Taking Pitches at WHC 2013 | Geoff Hyatt

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