First things first, I applaud everyone that wants to find an agent, or publisher, or both, and go the traditional route to getting a book into bookstores. If I could find a good agent, and a great publishing deal, and an amazing publicist, I would be sitting on a beach in Ibiza right now working on my next book, and not worrying about all those nitty gritty details us self-publishers have to worry about. All that being said, my advice if you want to go the traditional route is, buy one or both of these books:
They are both kind of the same thing (I own the Writer’s Guide), but definitely a must-have resource for someone starting the querying process. They list ALL agents and publishers, their contact info, what books everyone specializes in, and…describe how to write query letters and book proposals.
Since you’ll be querying a lot, because that’s what the traditional route is all about, here’s some food for thought regarding your query letter:
1. No more than one page in length.
2. First paragraph: Your hook. Define the subject (if nonfiction) or the plot (if fiction). This is basically your log line (expanded slightly). What is the most important thing about your book? Why will people want to read your book? I just read a great blog about log lines, i.e. the one-sentence pitch, and you should read it too: http://blog.nathanbransford.com/2010/05/how-to-write-one-sentence-pitch.html. A good pitch describes the plot, NOT the theme…so true!
3. Second paragraph: Your marketing pitch. How well defined is the market for your book? Any marketing ideas? How are similar books selling? Are they hot right now? Has the media been buzzing about your subject matter?
4. Third paragraph: Why are you the perfect writer to write this? Toot your horn about your credentials, and if you have none, your unadulterated passion, dedication, and expertise regarding the subject.
5. Fourth paragraph: The sales pitch. Thank the reader for reading your letter and ask for the sale. Tell them you look forward to sending them more information, or a manuscript, or proposal–whatever you have at the time.
Lastly…don’t give up. It’s super competitive out there. You may send out 100 query letters and get no response. If this happens, well…you may wanna consider rewriting your query letter, re-thinking your project, or loitering outside CAA…Seriously! Think out-of-the-box, and think about anyone you might know that might know someone, who might know someone. I swear that’s half the battle.
If you want someone to look over your query letter or brainstorm ideas with you, give me a shout: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Up next, Part 2: an awesome, low-risk way to self-publish.