Monday, October 19, 2009

A note for all the authors trying to get published

Hello fellow authors...

If you thought finishing your first novel was the hardest thing you would ever do, think again. If you thought editing your finished novel to make it publish-ready was the hardest thing you'd ever do, think again. If you thought getting your publish-ready novel accepted by a big agent or publisher was the hardest thing you'd ever do ... maybe you're right.

Getting only rejections? News flash - All the rejections you've been getting may be due NOT to the fact that your book sucks, but due to some small nuances of marketing you may not even be aware of. Here are some tips from the BEEN THERE, DONE THAT file.

1. You have to present yourself as a professional. Keep your query letter short and sweet and to the point. Add a lot of humor if your book style warrants it. Be a real person but don't be real annoying. Don't send candy, don't write your letter on scented or colored stationery. Keep it clean and professional, and for heaven's sake, spellcheck and grammar-check and address it to the right person whose name you have spelled correctly. Believe it or not, if you don't do the necessary legwork to find out who to write your query letter to, it will be thrown into the slush pile, perhaps never to be heard from again.

2. Follow all the little niggling details of submission set forth by your target recipients, no matter how senseless they may seem. Don't give your recipients any excuse to deep-six your query submission. Don't skimp on this.

3. Don't mail-merge your letters and send out a bunch of shotgun queries that all sound alike, because chances are you will send the letter addressed to one place to the wrong place, or you might send the same letter to two divisions of the same publishing company and actually get your two letters compared side-by-side (with a snicker added for insult) - assuming of course anyone actually reads it. If rumor is to be believed, all queries are logged, so that a record is kept for future reference.

4. Personalize your letters and put your heart and soul into them. And make sure your sample chapters and synopsis are as error free and engaging as possible. Engaging as in INTERESTING. If the opening line of your first chapter does not GRAB the person reading it, your query packet will be deep-sixed. Why? Because, as harsh as it sounds, if your very first sentence doesn't grab the agent or editor or assistant or first reader (whoever), then that person will assume that the real readers out there in Consumerland won't be HOOKED by your story either. One actual real-live reader who buys and reads lots and lots of books in different genres admitted that if the first sentence doesn't grab him, he puts the book back on the shelf. So by golly, make your book INTERESTING enough that the reader doesn't feel like setting it aside and moving on. (And of course, it naturally follows that the second sentence, and the third, and so on, will be just as engaging to keep the reader reading. In short, your book has to be interesting to your target audience.)

5. TARGET AUDIENCE???? What, pray tell, is that? Oh, here is where we must repeat aloud that dreaded M-word ... MARKETING. Yes, you MUST know who would want to buy and read your book. It is YOUR job, as the author, to tell the prospective publisher or agent where your book fits in the greater scheme of all things literary. If you do not have a handle on this, if you do not know a book like yours that is already popular, (but of course yours has a completely different twist that will make it unique!!!), then how can you possibly convince the reader of your query letter that you have indeed done your research to make sure there is an existing market for your book. Without an existing market, you have to demonstrate that one does exist but has not been tapped yet. Think how many thousands of FICTION books are published each year (the number is staggering) and you get some ghost of an idea how dang difficult it is to market a book and reach your target readership.

6. Which brings me to the final point of this long drawn out message... It doesn't matter whether you can write well. All that matters is whether you can sell well. That, my author friends, is called THE BOTTOM LINE, something every one of us is terribly guilty of ignoring. Agents are in business to sell books to publishers so they can earn a commission off those sales. That is their primary, perhaps only purpose for existing. Publishers are in business to sell books and turn a profit from those sales. That is the ONLY reason they are in business. If they do not make money, they do not stay in business.

So THAT is what really matters. Whether your book is great and all your friends love it means absolutley nothing. If your query letter doesn't convince the business entity you are trying to get to publish your book, then you won't get published. Writing is the easy part. Selling yourself as a marketable commodity - and yes, YOU are the commodity, not just your book - should be your one goal in life if you want to be published. Your book is just window dressing. YOU are the investment that will produce the writing that sells, and then go on to produce more writing that sells more books.

Put your business hat on, and rewrite your query letter with that in mind. Oh, and don't forget to make your writing interesting and error free and a joy to read. Because that's what readers want - assuming they ever get to the point to be able to look over your book with a buying eye. They don't give a flip about the business of writing, because that's your job. And the job rarely if ever pays well. Sometimes it doesn't pay at all.

Now, why was it again that you thought you wanted to be an author????


-Penumbra Publishing


  1. This is absolutely fantastic advice. Great post! This info is like gold dust to any up and coming author. Read this and take it on board, people :)

  2. Thanks for the kudos Emailman! Having been on both sides of the fence, I know it is more fun to believe the fantasy of a charmed author's life, but the reality is ... writing is hard work, and selling your writing is even harder. So the faster newbie authors suck it up and face reality, the faster they can get busy doing what needs to be done to reach their goals. A lot of it is luck, or being at the right place at the right time, or knowing someone on the inside, but some people actually do get a break. The sad fact is, those breaks are few and far between, and most people's odds of being one of those lucky authors is about as good as getting hit by lightning.

  3. Excellent point on the fact that publishers want books that sell. They are a business first.

    Great post. :-)

  4. Thanks Ruth, a point many authors wish weren't true. Because it is so hard to figure out how to sell something when you haven't got a clue...


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