There was a time when query letters ruled my life. Once you finished the months or years of writing the book, then you had to learn how to write a query letter. You had to study the websites or read the books with instructions and then go through many drafts to write your own.
They were painful and nerve-racking things, these query letters. It took months to figure out how to write them and more months figuring out whom to send them too. Once you sent them you waited many more months for replies.
Everyone needed a query letter, publishers and agents. Many never bothered to reply. Most just sent form rejections back. Time that you might have spent writing the next book was spent writing these letters.
You had to sell your book. You had to tell them why you thought it would sell, what was there in the market and why yours was better or different. Since mine was nonfiction the publishers who answered my letter did not know the subject.
Give me a list of similar books, said the publisher.
I did. I put together a list of everything similar.
Send me the books, said the publisher.
What? It took me years to collect those books, many of which are irreplaceable. I had a hard time sourcing them and many are not even in English translation. Am I to hand my whole library to some editorial assistant and risk never getting it back?
It was easier to get another publisher, which required the whole process to begin again with more progressively frustrated letters.
Of course, there are publishers who are not as arbitrary and high handed. Still the nicest thing about self-publishing is to be able to say – no more query letters, thank you.