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by Bev Huston
Write a novel? That's easy. Write a query letter? That's a different story. When I'm writing fiction, the cursor flies across the screen. Within moments I have close to 2,000 words typed. What stops me cold is the thought of trying to sell my work.
I have pages and pages of writings — as every writer does. They are simple works, humble pieces of every day life, devoid of earth shattering revelations. Bits of humour, bits of pain. All woven into novels about ordinary people attempting not-so-ordinary things. Sometimes when I read them later, I think to myself, "I wrote that?" I'm surprised at how good it sounds. But would anyone else think so?
And if I get past the insecurity stage of my work, how do I then get an editor's attention? Those in the know advise that a query letter is de rigeur. Lately, I've been researching what makes a query letter great.
Never having seen the types of letters an editor receives, I must use my imagination. Take, for example, a recently published book called: The Complete Pictorial of Bathrooms, by Roger Kilroy. I can only wonder what the author's query letter said:
I have the perfect book for you. You've never seen anything like it. I call it "The Complete Pictorial of Bathrooms." A looky-loo at loos, if you will. Pictures of toilets through the years. Some of them very old and smelly — the pictures that is.
Have you ever wondered just what type of bathroom Napoleon used? Or President Nixon? Do you know who had the smallest bathroom, or the largest? These are questions your readers ask everyday. And my book, a sort of Who's Who of Loos provides the answers to this important subject.
Well, was the book a big seller, or is the publisher in the, ah, outhouse? Was he certain he had a royal flush in his hand, only to find his career now down the toil-...err, drain? Personally, I find it hard to understand why the editor would even be interested in a book like this. I firmly believe there was some magical spell in the author's letter — a secret weapon that is a requisite in the arsenal of every aspiring writer. Why else would a publisher purchase a book of toilet pictures?
Those same sages who advise us to send query letters always provide a lot of rules to be followed. But who can remember them all? I've read that you must never tell the editor he'll love the book. So what do you say? "I know you won't love this book, but I could really use the money. Could you find it in your heart to buy it anyway?"
I've also heard you must always state a style and market for your book. How about something like this: "My book has the romance of Danielle Steel, the horror of Stephen King, the mystery of Agatha Christie, and the humour of Erma Bombeck. There is something for everyone and everyone will want to buy it. I've created my own genre." I'm sure a line like that only creates a special place for my work — such as the round file.
How does one draw a fine line between selling and simply blowing a very large horn? I've struggled with this for a long time and I think I'll just let it stew in the back of my mind for a few more months. Good idea? I thought so.
In the meantime, is there anyone out there who prefers to write query letters instead of novels? If so, let me know: I've found my next book subject. Just don't ask me to try and sell it...
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