Yesterday I asked my Twitter friend and member of the Johns Hopkins literati, Kim, for some ideas about getting reviews for my new book, 3 Things I Know. She forwarded me the masthead of a well-known Washington, DC, magazine and suggested that I reach out to them for a review of my first book Walking Tall. I followed her lead and prepared the query letter for book she recommended.
The masthead contained names and the email addresses of the paper’s department heads, but I was unsure to whom I should send my email. Something just didn’t seem right. If you’ve ever queried literary agents and the like, you know they don’t take kindly to misdirected query letters.
So I called the phone number on the publication’s website, followed the prompts—”press 1 for this, press this 35 for that, blah, blah, blah”—and wound up speaking with the receptionist. Finally, a real human. Score!
“Hi, this Andrea,” the receptionist said.
“Hi, Andrea. I have a question for you: do you guys review books?” I asked. I had to. I wanted to make sure I was going down the right road.
“Yes, we do.”
“Great, what’s the process for that?”
“We receive hundred of query letters. We’ve got a reviewer out in Portland who handles that.”
I think she said Portland. All I remember for sure was that it was some west coast metropolis far away from DC and even farther from me. My imagination kicked in and in a split second images of a flannel wearing reviewer with one of those butcher block beards hanging off his face, sitting in a vegan mom and pop coffee house sorting through his email popped into my head. All the while he’s dutifully clicking “delete” on all submissions, including mine. No, Andrea. Nothing worth reading today. Late. Butcher block bearded man ends the call and closes his laptop just as a piping hot mug of artisan brewed coffee arrives at his table.
I pressed on. Undaunted.
“Tell you what, send your letter to [name redacted].
Because of its tricky spelling, I recognized the name as one of the movers and shakers listed in the publication’s masthead.
“Since we get hundreds of submissions all the time, be original. Do whatever you can to stand out from the crowd.”
I’m a four-feet tall, black, Christian, gay male. Trust me, standing out from the crowd for me is effortless.
And here’s where things took a turn for the unexpected.
“Is there a preference for printed or electronics queries?” I asked.
“No. I’d say it’s pretty much 50/50,” the receptionist said. “You know what? Why don’t you put my name in the subject field of your email.”
“Great! I’ll do that,” I said and asked for a confirmation of the spelling of her name. “Thank you so much for your time, Andrea. I really appreciate it.”
“Good luck!” she said.
We both hung up. And as I finished up my email to the designated contact at the magazine (with Andrea’s name in the subject field), I glanced over at an open window on my laptop and there staring back at me was the receptionist’s name listed as the publisher of the magazine.
I picked up the phone and regaled the serendipitous call to Kim. We laughed heartily about the chat and agreed that I should cc the “receptionist” on my query letter. After sending it, I began writing a separate thank you letter to the publisher and in the middle of composing *that* letter I received a very pleasant letter from her (with her official publisher signature) in which she ranked our chat in the “top 1% of calls.”
Talk about making my day!
We exchanged two more letters that afternoon.
The Take-away Even in this day when nastiness is the norm and cruelty is king, my parents’ admonishment to treat everyone with kindness and respect—not just those who are in a position to do something for you—still rings true. Kindness and respect are always the right things to do as they ripple out in ways you may never know of. Are you doing the right thing to those you encounter?
I’m sure there’ll be more to this story. I’ll keep you posted.
6 thoughts on “The Right Thing to Do”
Erik Deckers says:
“I’m a four-feet tall, black, Christian, gay male.” You seriously should lead with that in your letter.
Clay Rivers says:
You’ll be happy to know that it’s typically somewhere in the first paragraph. Depending on the subject matter.
Temple Emmet Williams says:
What a great story, Clay. Fingers and toes crossed. Temple.
Clay Rivers says:
Thanks Temple. We’ll see where it all leads.
linda parvin hutchinson says:
Clay Rivers says:
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