Even indie authors.
you want to be traditionally published, pouring your heart and soul into a book
is only the first step.
If you want the validation that comes with an agent and editor and marketing team behind you, the writing process doesn’t end with folding the feedback of helpful critique partners into a new draft. You wrote the book of your heart, you fawned over how much it reflects your heart, and now it’s time to break it. Both the book, and your little writer’s heart.
do you do that? By writing a query letter.
Or, as Delilah S. Dawson put it in what is still my favorite trad-publishing blog post of all time, (the self-publishing version is here) you go insane in only one day. You take your precious 80,000-100,000 words and distill their essence into an enticing one-page business letter, perhaps with a bit about yourself, that has a very high chance of sitting in an agent’s inbox, possibly never earning a thanks but no thanks, no matter how objectively good it is.
writers, myself included, wonder why the industry is set up this way, why their
chance at success and recognition as an author comes down to the whims/schedules/caffeine
habits of a few professionals (mainly) in New York. But as subjective as it is,
it’s a necessary evil to ensure that publishers take on projects they can
passionately and confidently sell to readers. Some authors, frustrated with the
layers of gatekeeping that bar them from a place on bookshelves, turn to indie
publishing for higher royalty rates, quicker production, and generally more
But even self-published authors can’t escape the judgments of others. Even if you’re not looking for agents or editors, you still need readers.
won’t try to prove that one path to publication is ultimately better than the
other. That comes down to your personal goals. What I’m going to say is that
even if you choose not to query agents and editors, you should still learn how
a book directly to readers operates on much the same principles as attracting
an agent. The synopsis paragraphs that go into a query letter are basically the
back-cover copy of your book. They introduce your main character and his or her
world, set the stakes, and should leave the reader wanting more. That feeling
of I NEED TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENS is what drives agents to request more
pages and hopefully offer representation, and it’s the difference between a
reader purchasing your book in the store (or, more realistically, smashing that
“buy now” button on Amazon), or walking away empty-handed (-carted?). Your
agent becomes your biggest cheerleader because of your pages, and your readers
can become your fans.
know, querying is scary. You’re putting yourself out there. It’s the digital,
literary equivalent of wiping your sweaty hands on your jeans, walking up to
that handsome stranger, and going hey would you want to get dinner sometime?
I sent my first-ever query to an agent who never responded, but over a year
later, I still haven’t given up. My book simply wasn’t ready, my query wasn’t
doing its job, and I had to take that step and feel the sting of a failure in
the form of weeks passing without a response in order to accept the many rounds
of revisions that would follow.
querying looks like is sending an email, but it’s an email that could launch
your career as an author. Without the support that comes from a publishing team
(how much support you get depends on too many factors to cover here and could
be a whole other post), I would argue that self-published books have to be even
more polished than traditionally-pubbed ones. Unless you hire a
freelance editor, you and your critique partners are the only people standing
between your book and the world.
Perhaps most importantly and most universally, querying also showed me that rejection wasn’t the end of the world. For every request I received, I probably got five rejections. It hurt, of course, but it thickened my skin. Not everyone is going to love or even like your book, just like not everyone is going to like you. But someone out there will, and it’s those people you need to find.
So take a chance. Put yourself out there. It’s the only way you’ll get noticed by the people who are waiting to find you and listen to what you have to say.
But also improve your chances by doing the most you can to attract those people.
Photo by Nick Morrison on Unsplash.