There’s an art to the query letter. This post isn’t about that. I did as best I could to condense my novel to a paragraph and still contain the wonder and darkness that the novel contains. I wrote an eight page synopsis, then I discovered most agencies and publishers only want two pages. More often than not, you’re reducing your 94,000 words to a single paragraph, with a second paragraph about you. When you’re a writer you have two products to sell; your work and yourself.
There is no real answer to the selling and marketing of either. You need presence and stock. If you take the time to develop a following you won’t have the amount of writing you need to sate an audience. If you work on the writing (that’s me!) then no one will know you exist, so no one buys your book. There’s a point in the work where you must switch to the other element of selling your career. I don’t know where that line lies. I bet it differs from writer to writer. This is why most writing courses teach craft over marketing. There’s a clear how-to with craft and it’s fun. Marketing is the nameless monster in the shadows. Everyone who has survived to sell their wares has a different story of how they got past this monster. Yet, when you try to follow the successful’s footsteps you find yourself butting up against a wall in the publishing labyrinth. The minotaur is not far away and you don’t dare follow the yarn back to where you began.
So, you send query letters to hundreds of agencies. You do the same for publishers. You know you’re doing it wrong, you know your query letters will get jumbled with millions of others. You feel sorry for the publishing house interns and novice agents who have to sift through the paper-cut slush. Sometimes you get a reply. By reply I mean a rejection. This is a good sign. It means someone read your letter and felt they had to respond. Even if the reply is an automated email, someone had to hit the button to send it. And to hit that button the person had to read your letter and make a decision. They could have made the decision to pass without any response, most do. With each rejection you know you’ve hit a nerve.
I mentioned to customer at work that I was sending query letters and getting rejections. She agreed this was a good sign. She had gone through something similar for her art. She said there’s no such thing as a cut and dried marketing strategy. The now famous writers and artists had no idea they would make an impact, they just loved what they were doing despite real life trying to stop them at every turn. They had received rejection letters, too, and even more agents and publishers passed on their work from the void without any hint. The customer said every person rejecting your work is looking for an apple when you have an orange. You gotta find one person who wants an orange.