Publish or Die! Part 4

January 19, 2009

Here in New Zealand, if you ask a Kiwi a question for which there is seemingly no answer, the reply will be: “How long is a piece of string?”

I’m reminded of the impossible answers every time I draw near to the stone walls of Castle Publish. It’s here I encounter the first line of defence against howling mobs brandishing their manuscripts.

These defenders are the literary agents and they will gladly eat you alive for breakfast and then later pick their teeth with your ribs.

In a scenario straight from Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, there are magic words required to pass into the promised land beyond the battlements but these words have nothing to do with uttering “Open Sesame” and everything to do with a query letter.

But while the query is the key, the shape of the keyhole keeps changing, depending on which of the gatekeepers you talk to (or website you visit).

From what I can gather, the format can be broken down into three paragraphs:

1) hook

2) brief synopsis

3) publishing/pertinent education, if any, or at least some experience/knowledge you brought to the writing process (in my case, I lived in Rarotonga, the setting for my book; the lead character gets a tattoo just like mine; the protagonist struggles to cope with strong female characters and that is pretty much the story of my life).

Those are the basic tools you will need. How you embellish the toolbox depends on which person is describing the ideal query letter. The maddening thing is, I’ve come across agents who, after giving an example of what they considered to be the perfect pitch, still rejected it.

Say what? Is the Spanish Inquisition still alive and well and no one bothered to inform us poor writing wretches how much torture we will need to endure on the path to eternal enlightenment (or at the very least, a movie contract)?

Let me get this straight — you can do everything right and still be wrong? Why does that sound like every inhabitant of Planet Man?

If no one in the industry can agree on the perfect query letter, then isn’t rejecting a manuscript based solely on a query letter akin to looking at a birth certificate and announcing the baby is ugly?

When I walk into a bookstore and peer at the thousands of books on display, my first thought is not, “Wow, look at all that talent!” Rather, it’s, “There is no frickin’ way every one of those writers produced a better query letter than me.” My second thought is,  “There is no frickin’ way every single one of those books is better than mine.”

This is not me being an egocentric, deluded prat. This is me stating a fact. To date, everyone who has read Brown Girls (in its POD format or manuscript) has enjoyed it.

Sample comments:

LR: ” . . . just finished! Brilliant. With a few minor tweaks it should, without doubt, be in every major bookstore.”

ML: “I loved the book, my friends loved the book, and we are still waiting for Brown Girls 2.”

JB: “(It drew) me in, and that’s exactly what you want.”

If the general public is already sold on my book, how then do I convince the gatekeepers to read it?

While I ponder that, can you please pass me the string.

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