Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Thank You for Your Time

One time, long ago, I said that I don’t like people to thank me for my time in query letters. And wow, what a mistake that was. I think that of all the things I have written this is the one that has created the most problems and the biggest misunderstandings. I’ve seen other bloggers comment on it, I’ve seen rages on message boards, and I’ve listened to how people will never submit to me because of it. If this isn’t proof of how blown out of proportion things can get, I don’t know what is.

So while I’ve sat back for more than a year, slightly amused and bemused by the entire thing, I’ve finally decided once and for all that it’s time to set the record straight. I am the queen of thank-you notes. Certainly I’m not perfect and have missed a few in my time, but for the most part I make every attempt possible to send out a handwritten thank-you note whenever necessary. Which is why this little urban legend about how Jessica Faust hates being thanked is really very amusing, and of course how it’s gotten out of hand is bemusing.

The entire myth started here during a query critique workshop. Granted, my wording was harsh and snarky and for that I’ll take full responsibility. I do believe, however, as is often the case, that readers didn’t fully read what I was saying or understood why I was saying it. I was asked to critique a query and help make it as strong as I possibly could and, in doing so, the wrath of writers came down on me.

So what did I really mean? The truth is that I don’t believe you should ever begin a query letter by thanking me “for my time.” It’s not that I think it’s stupid for you to do and I certainly won’t reject you simply because of it, but I don’t think it puts your strongest foot forward. I write a lot of query letters and with each one I’m very careful about every single word I use. This is a marketing pitch, and like marketing managers everywhere I need to truly understand the power of words and how a simple word, phrase, or sentence can change the tone of an entire letter. With a query I want to strongly come forward and say, “this is the best book you’ll ever read,” and thanking someone up front doesn’t do that. Opening your query with a thank-you puts you in a subservient position no matter which way you look at it. Think of it this way: if you are going in for a job interview, do you think you’ll appear as the strongest, best candidate if you walk in and immediate thank the interviewer for her time or will you appear strong and assured if you walk in, shake hands, and simply introduce yourself? To me the introduction seems stronger. It puts you on even ground and says to the interviewer that you know what you are doing. At the end of the interview, when the interviewer has clearly given you her time, you definitely say thank you, and so should she.

However, queries are not job interviews. They are resumes, and thanking someone in that initial query seems silly. You aren’t getting anything from them to thank them for. They aren’t reading your work and might not even read your full query. If, however, I’ve requested and read a partial or a full, a thank-you is definitely called for. Why not? Now I have done something for you. I have made a request.

When writing my own queries I tend not to thank editors for their time because it implies they are superior to me and their time is more valuable. Does that mean I don’t say thank you? No, but it’s how the phrasing is used and when. I think it’s much stronger to end a letter with something like, “Looking forward to hearing from you,” or, simply, “Thank you,” but not “Thank you for your time.” In truth, though, I rarely put a thank-you in my initial query. Editors and agents are open to queries and I don’t see the need to thank them for that. It’s because of writers that we have jobs. We should be thanking you for querying us. However, in my case, if I have pitched the book and an editor is requesting to see it, then I will definitely send a thank-you. Something along the lines of, “Here it is. Can’t wait to hear what you think. Thanks!” Because now I actually have something to thank them for. Simply thanking them because they allow me to send a query doesn’t feel right to me somehow.

I’m no expert on etiquette and certainly don’t pretend to be. And frankly, I like being thanked, and if you are comfortable writing a thank-you in every paragraph of your query, go right ahead. My point with the original post, and this one, was not to tell you the rules of when or when not to thank someone. I don’t know those. My point was to help write a strong, marketable query letter that makes me sit up and think, “Wow, this person really believes in her book, it must be something I shouldn’t miss.”

I’m not sure if I made things better or just made things a whole lot worse. I’m starting to spin in circles on this subject myself. Either way, thank you for letting me clear the air.