Now, as you may already know, I am NOT the queen of the query letter, and my fondness for the dreaded synopsis ranks right up there with cow tripe in my list of all time favorite things. I don't have a website for my work, nor do I have a book trailer put together. That said, I have no lack of enthusiasm for my stories. I could talk about my characters all day, and I'm fortunate that the people who have read my manuscripts have done so not just once but several times and are almost as crazy as I am. Which is to say that they talk about my characters as if they are real people, too.
So when I think about some of the bland, boring queries I've sent out, I cringe. And I realize that part of the problem was that I knew too much about the story to identify the selling point. Fortunately, I've learned a little bit since I started querying. For one thing, I already have the one sentence pitch done for my current WIP, and for the next one on the list. I'm not letting myself get derailed by other aspects of the story that I've fallen in love with along the way. I'm also making darn sure I nail down the BIG concept before I write in the future.
Writing a book is a different job from selling a book, according to Casey Sherman. You have to put aside your Hemingway hat and put on your P. T. Barnum hat, and it's up to you to be able to do that to make your writing pay.
Hmmh. Making your writing pay. Novel concept.
Sherman also made a couple other great points:
The goal is to tell a story, and if you are a good storyteller your success will come.
If you can't articulate the synopsis of your book very quickly, then the reader won't as well.
I put those thoughts together with the takeaway from the other blogs I read this morning, and here is my epiphany: the need to write a query letter isn't just some arbitrary punishment agents inflict on writers because they're mean. It's an important rite of passage for the work.
If we can't articulate the reason why an agent should read our manuscript well enough to get a request for more material, how are we going to convince a potential reader to buy the book? And no, I don't believe that's the publisher's job. Hopefully we are going to have interviews and school visits and book signings to do. That's where our enthusiasm and our ability to tell a story, and to tell it well, are going to have to shine.
So what's your book about? What's your selling point? What makes YOU love YOUR story enough to need to write it? If you can't answer that question, take time out to figure it out before you query, before you continue writing. I am convinced you will end up with a better book and a better bottom-line because you did.
Nathan Bransford asked for opinions last week about whether the query process worked. I said I thought it was probably better to have the agent read the first part of the manuscript before reading the query letter. Now I think I'm going to change my mind. I do think the query is important. But I think it works only when the writer takes the time to make the query truly reflect the work.
Someone on the BookEnds blog this morning wrote:
It still bothers me that some of us who follow directions and do our research are lumped in with those "others" who can't or those who are void of common sense.
I don't think we're lumped in with the others. Not having the "bam factor" as the above poster suggested isn't something an agent can overlook just because we followed instructions and completed the minimum requirements. I've made huge mistakes in querying--pretty much, you name it and I've goofed. I don't intend to make mistakes again, but I'm human and Murphy is not my friend. The one mistake I won't ever make again is assuming that agents will automatically be able to divine the brilliance of my manuscript, like Karnac the Magnificent, through some magical means. I have to show them, clearly and convincingly.
What do you think? I'd love to hear your thoughts....
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About the Author
Martina Boone is the author of Compulsion and Persuasion, out now in the romantic Southern Gothic Heirs of Watson Island trilogy from Simon & Schuster, Simon Pulse. Illusion, the final book, will be out in October of 2016. Martina is also the founder of AdventuresInYAPublishing.com, a three-time Writer's Digest 101 Best Websites for Writers Site, and YASeriesInsiders.com, a site dedicated to encouraging literacy and reader engagement through a celebration of series literature. She's on the Board of the Literacy Council of Northern Virginia and runs the CompulsionForReading.com program to distribute books to underfunded schools and libraries.