In a response to one of last week’s posts, I volunteered to look at some query letters. The upshot was that I got a number of very good ones–apparently only ringers responded. They were, in fact, so professional and polished that there is little point in posting them here. To paraphrase Aristotle (who was talking about people, not publishing) query letters are “good in but one way, but bad in many.”
In each case, what it came down to was simply an issue of whether the genre or subject matter is one in which I am interested. I rarely take on science fiction of any stripe, but the dystopian novel pitched to me sounded good enough that I would request it. Another was a historical novel set during the Civil War, but despite the richness of the milieu and an engaging enough synopsis, for reasons I cannot myself unpick, I find it hard to feel enthusiastic about the prospect of reading another Civil War novel. Self-limiting, I know, but there it is.
Quirks of taste and interest are a part of this process, and if I dish them out, so must I take them. I recently went out with a book in which part of the action takes place in Congo, only to have an editor warn me that novels set in Africa are rarely his cup of tea. Another editor once interrupted me midway through what I thought was a diverting aside about a trip to Peru to say that “Mesoamerica just didn’t do it” for him. Needless to say, that was the end of my report on the Inca Trail. And I made a mental note never to send him the great Aztec adventure novel that I might someday represent.
That said, I endeavor never to say never, because as we all know, there are also those books that blow these preconceived notions out of the water. I always think about Laura Hillenbrand’s Seabiscuit, simply because I have: a) no particular interest in horseracing and b) a deep-seated childhood prejudice against animal stories, since the main plot points invariably included injury or death of the animal in question (Sounder, Old Yeller, Big Red, The Red Pony, etc.).
In any case, I’d love to hear about books that redefined or overturned your own cups of tea.