Writer, author, trailblazer

ChatGPT wrote my query letter . . .

Unless you’ve been holed up in a Himalayan cave the last few months, you’ve heard about ChatGPT, the revolutionary new AI (artificial intelligence) app that interacts conversationally and can “answer follow-up questions, admit mistakes, challenge incorrect premises, and— ”gotta love this— “rejects inappropriate requests.” The app was built by OpenAI, a San Francisco based company that stormed onto headlines and forced tech behemoths Google and Apple to play catchup.

The news provoked little more than idle speculation in my household (Will students use it to write papers?) until my UCLA student son remarked that he’d written several questions that fooled ChatGPT into giving incorrect answers.

There has also been much speculation about what evils this Pandora’s Box might unleash. Yes, it will likely be a disruptive technology like most new technologies before it. However, I take a more sanguine view. From the beginning of time, human inventions and abilities have been used for good and evil. Should humankind have eschewed fire? Or the bow and arrow? Or alcohol? For better or worse, we are an innovative species, forever searching, creating, and inventing.

My curiosity piqued, I decided to put ChatGPT to the test and to say I was flabbergasted is an understatement.

I’m currently sending out queries to literary agents for a recently completed historical novel. For months I’ve a shaped, sweated over, and used all my rhetorical powers to create a query that I hope will interest a receptive agent. I began my test by asking ChatGPT to write a query letter based on a two-sentence description of my novel’s premise.

Now here’s the crazy thing. when I clicked on the start icon, within a nanosecond a square cursor slid across the screen leaving a trail of words, sentences, and paragraphs in its wake while my wondrous eyes stared in near disbelief. For in less time than it takes to tie your shoelaces, it wrote a six-paragraph query letter.

Wait a minute, I thought, it might just be gobbledygook.

As it turned out, the query touched all the right bases. It contained an enthusiastic opening with a title (it created), the genre, and a brief description of the premise. Then two paragraphs described a plausible plot and two more paragraphs on why readers will like it. It even closed with a paragraph thanking the agent and that included were the first three chapters and a synopsis (not actually included). It didn’t cite the word count, which is mandatory, and it was a bit bland, but it described several details not in my prompt, probably because my novel focuses on a well-known event.

My appetite wetted, I wanted to see if Chat could write a query that more closely adhered to my novel. I gave it more details and again it quickly scrolled out another query. However, I still wasn’t as good as my hard-earned version.

Finally, I pasted in my entire query as a prompt and let it rip. One minute later, as I read the result, I felt a twinge of pride that aside from the open and closing paragraphs, Chat had used my text verbatim.

My takeaway: this tool can be useful to begin writing a query letter that can be customized. But be careful. One important purpose of a query is to show off your writing style and, at least for the time being, only you can do that.

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