If you want to ever publish a piece of work anywhere other than your own blog, a query letter is an essential document. It can be a challenging place to tread, full of hidden pitfalls that you might not have thought of. Several pieces are essential, and some ideas and strategies should best be left behind.
Writer's Market has a clinic within its pages to help craft the perfect query letter. An excellent writer of young adult fiction, Rosemary Clement-Moore, has a section on her blog devoted to helping budding writers avoid the most common mistakes. I thought I'd do something a little bit different... an analysis of the world's most famous query letter. Never heard of a famous query letter? I bet you have. It was written 45 years ago by John Lennon and Paul McCartney. I thought we'd take a look at it and see what works... and what should have been left behind.
Dear Sir or Madam, (not off to a good start here. It is essential to target the specific editor or agent who will be looking at your work)
Will you read my book? It took me years to write, will you take a look? (needy much?) It's based on a novel by a man named Lear (Are you saying this thing plagiarized or what??) And I need a job, so I want to be a paperback writer. (Don't start off a sentence with a conjunction. It's bad grammar and you are trying to get a writing job for pity's sake. Also? You sort of said that already.
It's the dirty story of a dirty man and his clinging wife doesn't understand. (We need a bit more of hook to know what this story is really about. This is pretty vague.) The son is working for the Daily Mail, it's a steady job but he wants to be a paperback writer. (So is this a novel or an autobiography?)
It's a thousand pages, give or take a few, I'll be writing more in a week or two. (An editor or agent isn't going to be the least bit interested in a book that isn't even finished yet.) I can make it longer if you like the style, I can change it round and I want to be a paperback writer. (Believe me, if there are problems that need fixing, the editor or agent will be making you change it around. Oh. And I believe you said that already. You should never admit in a query letter that you are a beginning writer or that you have never had anything published.)
If you really like it you can have the rights, it could make a million for you overnight. (This is a bit over-enthusiastic. The writer seems really focused on making money.) If you must return it, you can send it here (hope you included a self-addressed stamped envelope or you aren't getting it back) but I need a break and I want to be a paperback writer.
Paperback Writer is a great song (one of my favorites, can't imagine why) but it quite frankly fails as a query letter. Bummer.