Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Selling Yourself...

...in a non-prostitutional way, of course.

There seems to be a lot of self-promotion in the publishing industry. Probably in other industries too, but it seems to be of the utmost importance for a writer. The fact is that unless a big movie studio is turning your book into a movie (Twilight), or you're already a very well established author who has proven your talent and ability to rake in the $$ (JK Rowling), you aren't going to get big advertising displays for your book, and reviewers aren't going to beat down your door to get a copy. Or even make a polite phone call.

You have to do most of the promoting yourself. Which in turn means learning how to promote both you and your book. The first major test for me came when I had to write a query letter to get an agent.

For those who don't know, a query is a one page letter you send to an agent, telling them in the shortest and best way possible what your book is about and why it's so awesome that they'd be crazy not to represent you. Except you can't say that last part, you have to prove it.

It sounds simple enough, but I can assure you, it's a NIGHTMARE for any normal human being. The pressure to make it perfect is overwhelming because it's likely to be your only shot at catching an agent's attention, and the amount of competition out there is staggering.

I don't care what anyone says, the opinion that if you're a good writer, you should easily be able to hammer out a query letter is wrong. For one thing, being a good fiction writer doesn't automatically mean you’re a good nonfiction writer, nor does it mean you're a good salesperson. But you have to find a way to make it work.

The good news is that there are things like Query Shark out there, as well as countless blogs and websites with tips on what to do and what to avoid. Here are a few things I found the most helpful:

-Research, research, research. If you're sending an agent a query you better be sure you know as much about them and their agency as you can. Google is your friend. There's not much point in sending queries to agents who don't represent your genre, aren't taking on new clients, or just aren't the right ones for you for whatever reason. Not to mention the vast amount of scams. Look for someone legitimate, someone you think will fit you and your story, and tell them (in two lines or less) why you chose to query them out of all the other agents. But don't make it sound like you'd be doing them a favor by letting them represent you either.

-Don't try to fit everything from your plot in the letter. Stick to the main storyline and character, highlighting what makes it interesting and/or unique. Also, agents are busy people; they want you to get to the point and hold their interest throughout the rest of the letter. Don't talk about writing being your lifelong passion (they know that) and only mention your writing experience and/or writing credentials if you have some worth mentioning. Otherwise, use that letter space to talk about your story. You'd be surprised how short one page actually is.

-Don't try to be cutesy or gimmicky. They've seen it. They don't like it. Read some of their blogs if you don't believe me. Be professional and let the story speak for itself. If you've written a solid one, a few choice details will be enough to get someone's attention.

And it probably goes without saying, but I'll say it anyway: Expect them to reject you and don't be a jerk about it when they do.

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