Burial of the Query Letter: Inside Beyond the Will of God

Somewhere in this photo is an envelope containing over 100 rejections.

You will find below an actual query sent earlier this year to a book publisher for my novel Beyond the Will of God. I sent out over 200 query letters for this novel — mostly in the early nawts. This is the very last one. I have an envelope, conveniently lost in my office now, with over 100 rejections of Beyond the Will stuffed into it. Yes, only about half the folks I reached out to actually made the effort to get back to me. That’s the way it is. (So it goes).


My manuscript was rejected outright by one agent because “I don’t do religious fiction.” Beyond the Will of God is not exactly a religious story (see the query below to learn where the title came from if you don’t already know).


Another publisher wrote that they felt the novel had potential and was well-written (aw), but they weren’t publishing mysteries. A year later their catalog contained a mystery and crime section that is now one of their top imprints. I also went back and forth with an editor of one of my favorite houses for over half a year. They liked the conspiracy theory stuff and the history of MKULTRA and even the drug angle for remote viewing, but the music theme and all its other worldly implications was just too over the top (note that I write this during Zombie Summer 2012). 


It takes a lot of effort to craft just the right query. You can’t just do some stock letter. It has to be personal, intelligent, and directed at the publisher or agent in question. That’s the way it used to be, anyway. It sucked. It was a time drain trying to write the perfect letter. Then you had to wait anywhere from a couple of weeks to a couple of months…and the roulette of the situation generally meant you would never hear squat. But if you did it was usually, “Sorry. Not for us.” And you had to start all over again. Very frustrating. Very weird. The system didn’t work. It was set up to make writers feel grateful if they got picked. So grateful that they would accept very little money for their work. 


I offer my last query letter, below, because I think it gets across what Beyond the Will of God is about and how I thought a publisher could market it. The letter also provides those who don’t know how writers have to present themselves a good idea of what goes into trying to get people in the business to pay attention to us. For what it’s worth, the whole deal is a shot in the dark with nothing but a wet cap gun…unless you’re famous, or really, really lucky.


Mostly, though, I’d like to think of this post as a burial of the query letter to publishers and agents. And not just for me. I’m burying this letter into the depths of this blog and into the deep blue sea of the Internet for all the other writers I know of who have struggled and strived to get “the industry” to take a chance on them. 


I have two other novels and a book of short stories to publish independently over the next year or so. All I need is for people to go to Amazon’s Kindle Store and buy my stories. My fiction is not normal. It is not genre specific. But it is intended to be a good read and to entertain you. My stories are also written to pose questions and make observations about life that aren’t so obvious. Stay tuned…


Adieu, then, queries to agents and publishers. Adieu, adios, and goodbye gatekeepers and middle men and women. We do not bury you in anger or frustration. We simply have better things to do with our time. 

____________________________________________


Dear Mr. Nelson:

I discovered the whole Red Wheel group through my membership with Salon.com. and have just finished reviewing the websites for all the imprints. Hampton Roads Publishing’s orientation to visionary fiction and metaphysical issues caught my eye. I’m writing to see whether you have an interest in reviewing a manuscript for an odd speculative paranormalish novel I’ve written with the working title, BEYOND THE WILL OF GOD. The title comes from a line in the Jimi Hendrix song, “…1983 A Merman I Should Turn to Be,” (Anyway you know good and well, it would be beyond the will of God, and the grace of a king). In a nutshell, the story is a psychedelic mystery.
BEYOND THE WILL OF GOD takes place in Mid-Missouri (the geographic center of the country) during the peak of summer when insects take on an orchestral quality, especially at night, and the wet, dense heat is both oppressive and oddly erotic. While the locale and its pulsing personality figure strongly in the story, the plot centers on investigative work by police detective Jill Simpson and reporter Frank Harris into a murder of an Amish teenager. As these two work first separately and then as a team, the storyline progresses to include many of the legendary conspiracies we all pondered during the 1970s — secret missile silos in farm country; the faked death of entertainers like Jim Morrison and Marilyn Monroe (and many more of the fallen from those good old days); mysterious black helicopters; remote viewing; CIA psycho-pharmaceutical experiments; the powers of sensory deprivation tanks and so much more.
Threaded through this whole story is the question of the power of psychedelic music, especially loud guitar music, and whether we have missed out on identifying a secret dimension of human perception as we’ve passed on into the 21st century. The story plays with the meaning of music as a transcendent force for the Baby Boomer generation in a way that no one has ever done before. It is part speculative, part mystical, and part spiritual. Marketed appropriately, I see BEYOND THE WILL OF GOD as a cross between Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged and Carlos Castaneda’s Yaqui Sorcerer series. It is serious yet playful, questioning and entertaining. 
The manuscript is roughly 110,000 words and is overtly directed at Baby Boomers (I’m waiting to see an article in Publishers Weekly on how this demographic is reacquainting itself with reading but wants stuff that is more than what the run-of-the-mill houses are producing). The story, though, is for anyone who “gets it.” There’s so much that we’re forgetting about those days in the late Sixties and Seventies. We were onto something very big. And then we walked away into the real world. The secrets are still out there, though, and, believe it or not, a new generation of thinkers is beginning to ask the same questions about the meaning of life that were asked so long ago.
I have been a part-time freelance writer for over 30 years, publishing fiction, essays, and articles in everything from The Harvard Business Review to Kotori Magazine. My work can be either conventional or off-beat. While writing fiction on the side, I was also an environmental consultant and contributing editor to InBusiness magazine. After completing three novel manuscripts and over three dozen short stories, I have decided to turn to writing (and marketing my writing) full-time. Trying to publish in this 21st century universe requires an immense amount of time and perseverance. I’m certainly up to that challenge, and am hoping that Hampton Roads can help me develop and establish myself as a novelist and storyteller. 
I look forward to hearing from you soon. The full manuscript, or a partial, is ready to send as you require. At this time, I am only submitting this query to Hampton Roads
Thank you kindly, and most sincerely, 
David Biddle
_____________________________________

Needless to say, with Beyond the Will of God set up for you to purchase at Amazon’s Kindle Store, I will never again have to spend what basically amounts to an entire work day perfecting a query letter like this for a particular publisher or a literary agency. Now I’m just sending review requests to book bloggers, but they’re incredibly committed to seeing independent writers succeed…I’m hoping that my query skills will finally come in handy with people who do give a shit.


All the best. God save agents and publishers. Please buy my books! Click here!

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