From Author to Marketer–the All-Important Query Letter

12 March, 2014

I invited freelance editor, ghostwriter, and blogger John Paine to contribute advice on how to approach the query letter.  Here he focuses on how to switch hats–from author to marketer–when formulating your pitch to agents.

You feel a tremendous relief when you finish your novel. All those months, all those snatches of stray time you stole to write dowJohn Paine photon a tidbit, have come to an end. You’re ready to send the book out. You know it’s great. An agent only has to read a few pages to discover that.

Before an agent reads the first word of the manuscript, however, she will read  the query letter that pitches the book. The word “pitch” is instructive. A query letter is a different type of document from a novel. The idea that governs it is: marketing. Once you finish the book, you have left the realm of art for art’s sake. A fit analogy can be found inside a publishing house. It has an editorial department and a marketing department. These two departments talk to each other all the time. So on your end, you should consider both of them. You need to be both creative and sales-savvy.

Let’s start with viewing your query letter from the perspective of the person who will be reading it. Agents as a rule receive thousands of submissions every year in a nonstop onslaught. This beleaguered individual will devote only a brief time to your query. She is trying to work through a tall stack that is ever replenished (figuratively: these days most submissions are done online). So you need to get to work fast, to capture her attention right away.

How do you do that? A good place to start is researching what other authors have done. Pick out a book that appeals to the same basic readers that you hope to reach with your manuscript. If it is a hardcover book, read the inside flap copy. If it is a paperback, read the back cover copy. That’s how they sell their books to readers, and you can do the same. Pick out the opening lure in your story to lure them into the letter. Tell a mini story that revolves around your protagonist to make us want to read more. Use subtle embellishment to spice up your adjectives.

That’s your objective with a query letter. You’re using ad copy to sell your manuscript. You want to show the agent you know how to sell your book. In the next post, I’ll address a few pieces that you might want to include in the package.

Check out www.johnpaine.com and follow John’s “Building a Book” blog.