There’s a lot of advice on the Internet about how to sell your manuscript. However, like everything else you find in the only library I know that doesn’t use the Dewey Decimal System, you have to consider the source before deciding whether or not it’s good advice. After you’ve done your information triage and think you’ve mastered the basics of breaking into publishing, it’s time to add your own common sense to the mix. That’s why I’m giving myself the luxury of writing about sending out my very first query letter, even though those in the know suggest you avoid blogging about your writing.
The rationale seems to be that if you’re blogging to promote your publishing aspirations, editors and publishers will be put off and count it against you. Common sense, however, dictates that if someone in a position to help you with your career is actually reading your blog, you are so far ahead of the competition that you might as well consider yourself a success and retire.
The first order of business when trying to sell your manuscript is to write what the business calls a query letter. This is like the cover letter you send with your resume. The resume may be chock full of applicable experience, but if the cover letter is poorly written, the resume may never be seen. That’s thirty years of experience tossed aside because you forgot to proof-read the cover letter, or you used the wrong title for the recipient, or were too personal, or too aloof, or who knows what else.
The same goes for the manuscript that you’ve worked on for the past year, or years. The rule says that you need to describe the story in three sentences. Those three sentences need to convince someone to read the first three chapters of the work you’ve slaved over for what seems like forever, no matter how long it’s been.
You’d think that would be easier for me than for most, since I’ve spent my entire adult career creating elevator pitches for software. An elevator pitch is a description of your product that you can share in the length of time it takes to go from the first floor to the top, in an elevator, in a short building. It turns out that a YA novel about a pregnant teen is actually harder to compress into three sentences, than enterprise software that lets your databases speak a common language. But with a little help from my friends (thanks, Lisa), I’ve done it.
They say that editors and agents get multiple hundreds of submissions a week. Of those, they read a handful of query letters, and of those, a subset of introductory chapters. It’s hard for me to get too exercised about the possibility that they’ll make it to my blog and ding me for writing about the process.
Today I put my first query letter in the mail. I’m proud of myself for having come this far. And I’m not embarrassed to say that I’m my number one fan. If no one in a position to publish it loves it, well, I won’t love it any less. And I certainly expect to find a way for you to buy, er, read it someday, no matter what. But don’t start saving yet. This may be the end of my first manuscript, but it’s the beginning of a process that could take a couple of years. I hope you’ll stick around.