I wouldn’t say I like writing that letter. It’s the bane of my existence these days. Because I am a writer, I should have no problems composing a bloody letter, would I? Well, you’re wrong because it’s not just a letter, is it? It’s a letter explicitly made to sell yourself and your story to prospective agents and publishers.
And well, I am no good at selling myself as a writer or describing my story in such a way that you might find it appealing. That’s what I like about submitting personal essays for publication. Even if your cover letter is so-so, your article follows immediately after. And if you’re a good writer, it will be your saving grace.
I’ve done my research on how to write a good query letter. It’s pretty much the same standard format unless the publisher has particular guidelines. If you’ve been following my blog, (ha! what a joke!) I don’t query agents anymore. I send my manuscript directly to publishers. Their guidelines don’t differ significantly from those of literary agents: salutations, title, genre, word count, synopsis, bio, marketing plan, sales, financial statements, cash flow, a perspective of revenue placement. All that written in no more than a neatly crafted, ingeniously designed 300-word letter! Nothing we can’t handle, right?
Not all writers are good query writers (will the real Slim Shady please stand up), i.e., me. But it’s a learning curve. You can’t just send out the same formatted letter to Peter, Paul and Mary (they were a 60’s folk group; look them up). You have to personalize the darn thing. It’s more complicated than it looks. And don’t even get me started about synopsis and bios. Take any great book, give a boring old summary; no one would want to read it. Exhibit A:
The story is about a family who sets out to live in an empty hotel for a few months. The father is a writer and plans to write his manuscript while serving as a caretaker of the premises. However, the hotel is haunted, the father goes crazy and becomes psychotic and wants to kill his family. Turns out the hotel is a lethal, living entity that possesses Jack and pushes him to continue a cycle of murders that have been going on for years.
Ok, that actually sounds good… Perhaps Stephen King wasn’t the best example!
But all you writers out there trying to summarize your story in a synopsis know my struggle.
As for the bio, well, unless you have a solid background in writing, it needs to be short and concise. I have a degree in animal biology and am now a homemaker who’s published parenting articles. Doesn’t exactly scream bestseller, does it?
To all those submitting your manuscript for representation or publication, I wish you calm seas and strong winds in navigating these tricky waters. And may your manuscript find a good, safe and prosperous shore.