You do not know who I am.
Oh, don’t worry: I’m not complaining. Naturally, I also don’t know who you are, so we’re square.
And the fact that you don’t know me isn’t honestly a problem. There are billions of people you do not know and will never know. And you can live your whole life that way without any tragic consequences.
No, the real problem is that there is no realistic way for you get to know me. Even if occasion calls for us to become acquainted, even if the fate of the world depends on us somehow becoming more than strangers, we can’t. Because I’m a riddle wrapped in an enigma, and you are a nebulous cloud floating through a universe of pure ideas.
And it’s not just the two of us. Neuroscience tells us that we don’t actually interact with anyone. We each have our own hallucination of who the other person is, and we interact with that. You never really meet your mother, your son, or your friends. You only have discourse with the version of these people that exists in your imagination. It leads to all sorts of misunderstandings, and there is no way around it.
And, knowing these obstacles, just how is anyone supposed to write a useful query letter?
For the book publishing business, a query letter is something of a statement of intent. In it, the author seeks representation (or publication) for a written work. These letters are usually sent to literary agents, as an inquiry as to whether they would be receptive to rendering their services to the author.
Basically, you’re begging someone to help you get published.
And not just someone, but a total stranger. You are asking a person to go into business with you, sight unseen. And you have to do it…in a single page.
Not joking: this is standard practice in the industry.
And, as you might expect, this practice is wildly inefficient, psychologically damaging, and a huge drain on the bottom line of the publishing ecosystem. The only reason it persists is because better alternatives have not been invented yet.
The one-page restriction is particularly thorny. It’s a necessity for agents, considering the mass of query letters they receive every year. And yet one page won’t let you know who you’re getting into business with. That one page contains maybe a paragraph of biographical information, maybe three paragraphs about the book, and the rest is just boilerplate.
These restrictions, both on the length and the content of query letters, can obscure many of the stronger qualities of a work and its author. I am, unfortunately, not in a position to change this system.
But what I do have is a platform. My megaphone is louder than most, and there are things about me that the standard query letter cannot convey. I’m thinking it would be wrong to hide them under a bushel. So without further ado, here the things I wish I could put in my query letters (but am not allowed to).
#1: I Have the Resources to Make My Book a Success
The effort of selling books often exceeds the effort of writing them. Sales are a function of timing, buzz, and fire (passion, if you prefer).
A lot of first-time authors go into this mine field unprepared. The process is more complicated than merely propping your book up on a table and talking to passersby about it. The more battle-hardened authors have strategies. They hold contests, pass out customized propaganda for their books, get interviewed, and pull other stunts for publicity.
There is, however, a place beyond even these successful tactics, but they require resources—resources that most authors simply don’t have.
In a query letter, there is neither space nor occasion to mention what a cunning marketer you are (and it can’t be said directly without sounding like a total bluff), but if I could, I would alert agents to the fact that I have resources—monetary and otherwise—to get my book’s name in the mouths of people who matter, and to cause a little bit of public pain in all the right places, as a means of getting eyes on the work.
#2: Technology is On My Side
In a world where all networks are tied together, information travels faster than light. Granted, the signal-to-noise ratio poses a threat to any message you want to broadcast, but these things can always be negotiated.
Now, there are a lot of tech-savvy authors there. Or, at least, there are enough that one more might not be enough to impress you. But I wouldn’t be a clever hacker if I relied on tech savvy alone.
Social engineering is the real skeleton key of society, and campaigns aren’t something you just run. Rather, they need to be orchestrated.
In my query letters, I wish I could say just how much I am going to choreograph the movement of information surrounding my book. This will require some fires to be lit, but rest assured I will always be seen putting them out.
#3: I’m Not just an Artist. I’m an Entertainer
I love public speaking. I love doing it live or as part of a broadcast. And the thing I love most about it is not dispensing information, but in synchronizing a crowd’s thoughts and feelings.
All the great entertainers know how to do this. Every late night host, every stand up comic, and more than a few actors, DJs, anchors, and stage magicians. It’s all the same art form as far as the human Id is concerned.
If I could put anything in my query letters, I would let the agent know that I’m not going to embarrass them when it comes to making appearances and advocating for my book. Because I am going to be its fiercest advocate. And I know how to work a crowd.
#4: Did I Mention I Have a Megaphone?
My current platform is the fruition of many years’ labor. It took a long time, but I am not in a position where I can not only force my voice to be heard in any forum, but where I can create new fora spontaneously, and lead the discussion from there.
In my query letters, I don’t point out that I have a bigger following than the agent I’m querying (that would be rude), but I make sure to leverage my following at every opportunity to let people know that I am available. As a squeaky wheel, I’ve begun catching attention.
If that platform isn’t big enough to impress you, then be aware that it’s growing. If that’s still not good enough, then I can always buy someone else’s platform and speak from their pulpit. I will ring as many bells as it takes until one resonates with the world.
Speaking of which…
#5: I Am Dedicated to this Endeavor
Here I use the word “dedicated” in the classical sense. I have set myself apart from all else to undertake this work. This is a do or die proposition for me.
A big part of my job is to protect YOU, the agent, from risk. As a rule, most new entrants into any professional field are a liability. All the training and mistake cleanup they require becomes a drag on a company until they come into their own.
In a query letter, I can’t just come out and say I”m an excellent writer. It’s presumptuous to the point where I’m daring the agent to prove me wrong.
Of course, I am an exceptional writer. But then, most agents already know many exceptional writers. They may have a dozen or so already on their roster. And even if they don’t, they know plenty of other agents who do. Excellent writers are not hard to come by in the publishing industry (if they were, it wouldn’t be much of an industry).
But I want you to know I have come prepared. When my time comes, I will hit the ground at full speed. And you’re going to see just how much I have to bring to the table.
I am More than Just My Query
And I wish more than anything that I could demonstrate that while seeking representation. There’s a lot more to me than what I can fit in one page. And there is certainly a great deal more to my book than what I can tell in a summary.
I have little hope than any agent will actually read this post, but if they do, then I want you to know that I am going to bring tools to the table. I know you’re not a babysitter. You’re looking for a partner, and I can be that ideal partner, if you give me a chance.
You’re going to get something better than you expect with me. That’s my promise to you.
Thanks for reading all the way to the end.
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