Friday, May 19, 2006

 

Instant query -- just add words

Here's an excerpt from The Renegade Writer's Query Letters That Rock, which is to be published in November:

QUESTION: Should I buy some query writing software to give me an edge?

ANSWER: Hey, we're all about saving time when it comes to writing queries, so we checked out a Web site that sells "Instant Query Letter Software." The word "instant" really appealed to us, because we don't want to spend even one second working when we could be out striking fear into the hearts of baristas everywhere.

The site had pages of super-hyped sales-talk with words underlined, bold, and in different colors. It's a scientifically proven fact that if a Web site makes you want to don sunglasses, the product must be good! And what if, as the site reads, "just one article of yours got published in a huge magazine that made you famous virtually overnight..."? Sign us up!

But we started cluing in to the red flags when the software creator signed her name, "Jane Doe, Successful Author (of way too many publications to list here)." Hmmm...so you can take several scrolled-down pages to tout the wonderfulness of your software, but you can't spare the space to list your creds?

We did a little research online. A Google search shows no publications by this author. Amazon.com turns up no books under that author's name. Findarticles.com finds no articles. The only thing we could find, in fact, are e-books that the author is selling through her own site. We could be wrong -- after all, not every writer is like us, bragging about her creds to all and sundry -- but it seems that if you're a well-published writer with "too many publications to list," people should be able to find your books and articles online.

But we were still enticed by the prospect of pressing a button and getting, "like magic," a "highly professional, completely irresistible query letter." Besides, we can't give the author's lack of credentials too much weight -- perhaps she is actually a shy, reclusive soul, and writes under pseudonyms like "Susan Orlean" and "Dan Brown." So we shelled out 37 bucks to try out the instant query letter software.

Here's the scoop. Sit down and get your pen out, for you are about to become rich and famous!

In short, you're asked to fill in fields with info like your name, the editor's name, the magazine and address, your credentials, the target market, a word count, rights offered, and -- hey, what's this? -- an opening statement, a description of your article, and a statement about what the reader will learn from your article. This is a far cry from the "magic" we were promised. Where is the fairy dust? Where are the elves? Where's David Copperfield?

(To be fair, the software isn't totally unhelpful: Under each field are useful tips that include such gems as "Be creative! Grab attention!" and "... make sure this is correctly spelled!")

After filling in all the fields, you press a button and -- wait for it -- the software generates a query that cobbles together all the information you put into it, with a couple of bits thrown in to connect it all together.

So, in sum, you are paying 37 dollars for the rare and unique opportunity to write your own query letter -- and not a very good one at that. What you put in goes out. If you suck -- your query sucks. Even if what you put in doesn't suck, the form leaves no room to really flesh out the idea with quotes and examples, and it certainly doesn't give you much of a chance to show your voice.

We're now 37 dollars poorer, but hey, we live (and shell out the smackers) in service to our readers. Want to show us your appreciation? Send us the 37 bucks -- we'll probably be grateful enough to share a secret that's actually worth something.

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