On this blog every Tuesday and Friday I write about story techniques, structure, and/or publishing. Comments and questions are welcome. I also have a personal blog, Amy Deardon, on which I write about a variety of topics purely as they catch my fancy.

I've written one novel, A Lever Long Enough, that I'm honored to say has won two awards. In my life BC (before children) I was a scientist who did bench research.

My book, The Story Template: Conquer Writer's Block Using the Universal Structure of Story, is now available in both hard-copy and e-book formats. I also coach would-be novelists and screenwriters to develop their story. YOU CAN CONTACT ME at amydeardon at yahoo dot com.

Friday, August 12, 2011

The Query Letter

I've been hearing about my cousin's book, a memoir, through the family grapevine for about a year. Those who have read it love it. During my last conversation with his mother, my aunt, she said that he was seriously contemplating giving a company a fair sum of money to publish it.

"Has he tried to find an agent?" I asked.

"I don't know."

"Has he looked into creating a company to publish it himself?"

"I don't know."

"Has he thought of just putting it up as an e-book?"

"I don't know."

"Tell him to contact me, and don't pay anyone anything. NO MONEY!" I explained that in my coaching for writers I was aware of many options for publishing one's work. The problem with paying a company to publish your work is that doing this automatically narrows your options to one -- subsidy publishing -- that in my opinion is rarely your best option, even if the company you're working with is a good one. Furthermore, many of these companies are rip-offs pure and simple.

I didn't know any more until happily my cousin e-mailed me a month later. He explained that he's been writing a newspaper column for the past ten years and his writing is considered to be on a professional level. For his manuscript he'd had an editor go through it to make it shine, and the many people who had seen it loved it. The problem was that he couldn't get an agent to look at it: he'd sent out about fifty query letters with no requests for more information. He was ready to self-publish (really subsidy publish) because he didn't think there was any other way.

"That sounds like a problem with the query letter," I wrote to him.

The query letter he was sending out was well-written and funny, full of personality, but only talked about his book.

In the real world, the literary agent or editor doesn't *really* care about how good the book is, but only how well the book will sell. The book biz is just that, a biz, that wants to move as many units as possible. The units in this case happen to be books, and if one doesn't work there's always another.

I suggested that my cousin might want to focus on the buyer since his memoir has some good lessons and relevance for others. Open with statistics. Explain why XYZ is a problem, and how the book might help. Determine the marketing groups, the people who are likely to purchase the book. Explain your platform -- how many people you come in contact with through your blog and newspaper articles, and how hard you the author would work to tell others about the book.

This is a common misconception in publishing: Many people think that just holding the book in your hand is the end of the journey. I'm sad to inform you that this is just the beginning. P an attractive book together, whether through a company that you pay, by yourself, or through a traditional publisher, isn't that hard. The hard part is transmitting the message that this book a) exists; and b) could give useful information and/or be entertaining because of XYZ.

I'm happy to inform you that my cousin rewrote his query, sent it out to another agent, and within 24 hours the agent requested the first few chapters. I'm keeping my fingers crossed for him!

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