Thursday, October 24, 2013

Your Query Letter Did Not Sell Your Book

I am frequently asked in interviews the question, "Can you describe a query letter that you received that made you sign an author." This is actually a pretty common question and I am always amazed when I hear authors stand up in front of audiences telling people how their query letter sold their first book. This, unfortunately, is not accurate.

Don't get me wrong. A well crafted query letter will certainly be an asset to getting that first book off and running in the publishing world, but the query letter simply did not sell your book. The query letter simply got the agent or editor VERY interested in your book.

Editors and agents will always say that, in the end, it will be the story itself that makes the decision for us as to whether or not we sign an author. All of those other factors you hear people talk about as being "the keys" to making that sale are certainly elements, but that is it. These are the "parts" of a "whole". The query, the synopsis, a great character, a fantastic opening line, a great high concept... all of these elements need to be in alignment, combined with great writing and an author that people would want to work with to make a success. Yes, I know sales have to be there too, but I think you get the idea.

As an agent, we really do look at those query letters. When we open our emails and start through those piles of submissions, we are looking for something that makes us stop and think. We are looking for that premise, that concept that forces us to slow down, to put our coffee down and force us to keep reading. Like this picture, if I am coming back from the mailbox reading a snail mail query, I am compelled to sit down right there and then and read, putting away everything else around me.

Obviously a query letter by itself cannot do that, but the story you have described, the concept you just pitched to me will do that.

When I talk to some writers about their query letters and they tell me they really struggle writing the darn things (yes I know they are tough), I often find, unfortunately, that more often than not, the struggle is not with the query letter itself, but it is the simple fact that the project they are writing about is not amazing. It's "OK." The writing is "FINE." The grammar is "CORRECT." But the story itself is not something that makes us scream we need to see more.

The point is pretty simple. When someone tells you their query sold their book, really take the time to listen. I think what you will find is that the story they were telling, that first book they sold was pretty dang interesting.

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