Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Query in Review--2009

Thought it might be interesting, since 2009 is about to pass off into obscurity, to look back and cough up some helpful hints that might prove useful to those who are still seeking representation. We’ll try to be kind as it’s close to Christmas.

Seems that the query letter, whether being sent via email or snail mail, is still the primary transport mechanism device between agents and writers and the place most writers fail, so why don’t we begin there?

In the glory years, the letter carried by the faithful mailman through rain, sleet or snow in daylight or darkness of night was the way most literary agencies received their queries. However, that time has passed and most enlightened agencies (and even a few in NYC) now receive most of their queries via email transmission through some kind of Internet magic. If you haven’t, technology-wise, arrived in the 21st century, we would suggest you move rapidly forward as your contemporaries are already there. Of course, there is no competition among authors, so take your time. I wouldn’t even mention this, but we are still seeing way too many snail mail queries.

Query letter writing is boring. I don’t even like blogging about the subject anymore because it bores me, too. However, looking back over 2009, I’d say most rejections still occur at the query level. Thus my advice to authors would be to make a New Year’s resolution to learn all there is to know about writing winning query letters. That way you can get past the #1 road-block to getting your work published.

It should tick me off when I receive a query as I’ve been closed to them since July 1, 2009. But actually I’ve received better queries since I’ve been closed. Now why do you suppose that is? Weird is what I’d call it. It seems that if you’re closed to communication you’re deemed more attractive because of your bold “I don’t want to hear from you” vibe, I guess.

Enough on queries, already. Let’s talk about something else.

What does concept mean to you? Webster’s last definition of concept is it’s an “abstract notion.” You’ll also hear “conceptualization of ideas” kicked around these days when editors talk about projects. Concept is now central to just about everything publishing. So, if you, as a writer, are going to excite agents in 2010, fully recognize and understand the desirability of those abstract notions when you conceive your stories.

I’ve tried this past year to interest many of my clients in marketing and, for the most part have failed miserably. Why is that, I wonder? Yes, like query letters marketing is boring; however, it is essential that everyone who expects to be a successful author fully understand and utilize all the marketing skills available to them. The reason is there isn’t much in publishers’ budgets these days to promote debut author’s books. One would think that large portion of ad dollars would go toward helping newly published author’s career off the ground, but that’s not the case.

The real grim fact, however, is that most dollars are spent on promoting authors who make money for their publishers, and that means celebrity authors. Debut people, for the most part, are left to their own devices as far as marketing goes. So I would advise anyone who has a book coming out in 2010 to promote it. NOW. Unless it’s not due out until November or December, then you’ve got few months leeway.

If you don’t promote your work, your book might fail, and you, as an author, will fail along with it. There’s a saying on the literary street that it’s better to have not published at all than to publish and fail. One of the first things an editor does when he or she learns that someone has been previously published is to consult Nielsen Bookscan for sales numbers. If sales are low, you might not get another chance at a career, so make every book count.

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