Um yeah… about those query letters.
So far I haven’t done much about getting my first novel Dead Mountain published. I got interested in working on my new project Cog and life sort of ran be over as well. However, I’ve given a lot of thought about simply self-publishing it as an e-book. There are a few reasons why.
- I can just work on writing. Self-publishing won’t be less work really, but I don’t have to work on making pitches and writing cover letters. Instead, I can concentrate on making the book better. I need to go over it a time or two or three more and hunt down errors. If I self-publish I want to get rid of as many errors as possible.
- Traditional publishing is a long shot. A literary agent gets tens of thousands of queries a year and may only pick up a handful of new clients. Now I happen to think I can write a good enough query letter that I might improve my odds a little, but the odds will still be staggering. Small press might have better odds, but that won’t put my book into a bookstore.
- Epic fantasy isn’t exactly a hopping sub-genre. While I think epic fantasy has a strong core of readers, that doesn’t mean it has mass market appeal. That’s another strike against me in the publishing game when the odds are already bad.
- Freedom. This has a lot of appeal. I can take Dead Mountain back into the shop and add scenes or new plot where I please. I’ll no longer have to worry about that big wordcount making it unpublishable. I think I could add some more depth to the story and make it more what I want. Not that I think it’s bad now, but there are places I thought there could be more.
Of course, there are disadvantages as well. My book will get buried in a sea of other self-published e-books out there and I don’t know how many readers it will find. A traditionally published book will get more exposure. As far as money goes, I’m not really concerned about that. I’d like to make a little so my hobby pays for itself, but I’m not counting on it. Neither traditional publishing nor self-publishing is likely to make any serious money anyhow. I’ll have to deal with my own cover art as well. I hope to find a freely useable image I can manipulate or existing artwork I can pay to get the rights to use. Commissioning newly created art is likely to be out of my price range, but I figure if I can find something existing I might not have to pay a lot since the artist doesn’t have to do anything.
There are two really big disadvantages that give me the most pause. One is the lack of an editor to sharpen up my work. I can check and re-check, but I’ll never be able to put on the polish a professional editor can bring. I do have a very intelligent wife who is thankfully willing to help me out and that will help. Still, I’d like to have that professional polish.
The other is that I can’t stick an e-book on a bookshelf. There’s an appeal to an actual hardcopy book. Sure, I could self-publish in print as well and buy myself a copy, but that’s not the same thing.
Maybe I’ll do the work and try both, putting out queries on the existing version while making a version for self-publishing. For the moment I’ll work on finishing Cog, though. I like the way my new novel is coming together.
This is a publishing site where you can sell your work instead of just give it away for free. In my case, I’m giving away a short story for free, but I were to e-publish my novel, this might be one of the places I’d go. It’ll get you onto Barnes & Noble, Apple’s iBooks, Sony’s Reader store, and a few other places. You can get paid through the mail or via paypal, though you need to accrue enough royalties (two digit figures here) before they’ll cut you a check. The cost to get set up? Zero.
From what I can tell with my free story, this seems like a pretty legit place. However, you may have noticed a certain very important name missing from the places they’ll get your book listed. Getting listed on Amazon appears to be in an indefinite delay. I’d figure on having to do that directly through Amazon instead.
At the moment, e-publishing my novel is still only a future possibility. If I did, I’d want to go through another time or ten to weed out errors. Cog will be a more marketable novel, I think, so I think I’d have to have no luck with my first novel and it before I looked into self-publishing this way.
The odds are massively against a new author in the publishing world, and with Dead Mountain in a pretty cold sub-genre I could strike out without anyone even looking at a page of the manuscript. So who knows what’ll happen? Of course, I need to get query letters out there before worrying about it.
If you want to distribute an e-book for free, this is a good way to go. I have a single ‘book’ on Feedbooks. It’s actually a short story rather than a novel since I’m not planning to make my novel into a freely available e-book. However the principal is the same. If you want to sell your book or story, then it isn’t an option. They do sell books, but they don’t sell the ones authors self-publish on their site.
You prepare the e-book by entering the text into their editor. It’s sort of a pain to have to paste it in chapter by chapter (and I only had three of them), but it does produce nice output. I really like the way it formats the e-reader files. Snazzy.
One nice thing is that the site is integrated into the popular e-reading app Stanza on Apple devices and Aldiko on Android devices.
However, it’s important to keep in mind that this is merely a delivery system. Feedbooks is not going to market your book for you, and once you fall off the new books list, then your book will descend into the mass of available titles. Getting people to know about your story is up to the author.
Anyhow, it’s a neat site, and it’s free to use.
I got my first rejection. The odds say I’ll be getting a lot more, but it’s still no fun. My wife came up with an example of a query letter that takes a different approach to pitching the book emphasizing a different aspect of the story. It looks like a great idea so I’ll probably run with that once I get the new query letter all spiffied up.
The short story is still out there and will be for quite awhile before I can expect to hear back. The odds there aren’t good either, the place I sent it to gets flooded with submissions.
I think I’ll try to finish chapter one of the new book before prepping the next query letter, I’d like to feel like that ball is rolling before interrupting it again.
I’m officially now trying to sell my novel, the first query letter has been shipped out. Statistically speaking, the likely result will be a rejection, the agency averages about a hundred queries a day so the percentage which will lead to a request for sample pages is going to be pretty small. Okay, really, really small.
I wonder how many queries of those hundred are legit. I have a bad feeling that while an agent gets a lot of crazy stuff, most queries are serious and well-written. Not to mention that there might be a good number who have publishing credentials. It’s going to be difficult.
My short story ‘Sarah’ has been submitted. Now for the long wait to see if it gets picked up. The place I sent it to gets a lot of submissions, so it’ll be some time before I hear anything. Months.
Anyhow, now I need to send off that first query letter and hope for the best there. The odds are daunting, well more than daunting, but I’ve kept the letter professional and hopefully the novel’s description will be interesting. I’ll never be able to make the odds favorable, but maybe I can make them a little less slim.
It feels like I’ve entered a new phase of my writing now that I’m trying to sell. It’s partly a business now. I haven’t made any money, I don’t know if I will, and I don’t expect to make much even if I do; but it’s entered the equation. Somehow it feels a little more serious. If I were to sell my story to the place I submitted (the odds aren’t very good, though I think my story is good enough), I would make more money that I have on any freelance computer project I’ve done. That’s not too bad for a hobby.
That said, I’m not really trying to write to a market with the current projects. I get ideas and I weigh them on how much I’m interested in writing them as well as marketability. I moved up ‘Cog’ before writing ‘Shore of Night’ partly because I think Cog will be more interesting to agents, but also because I’m ‘feeling it’ a bit more with that story. I still think up scenes for ‘Shore of Night’ though.
Anyhow, things feel just a little different now.
I’ve yet to return to the new book, but I’m pretty much ready now to do a couple of submissions.
The first agency I’m sending a query letter to took on 9 new clients last year and received 36,000 queries. I get the impression those kind of odds are not unusual. It’s tough going into it knowing how slim the chances are. My hope is that a lot of those queries aren’t very good. Maybe I’ll shake up each query letter a bit and see if any get a bite, if so, then I’ll know which one to use.
The other submission is a short story so it’s a different game. In that case, the story stands for itself to a greater degree and I feel a bit more optimistic there.
I’m hardly done with the business side of things, but I’ll be able to get back to the creative side a little more.
More query letter struggling here. I think I have a mini-synopsis very close to done, but that’s not the whole query letter. There’s another important part to do. At the beginning of the query I need a hook. The hook is a sentence or at least a very short paragraph that gets the agent interested in my book. Here, I need to make my story stand out among a generic epic fantasy tale. What quality would make someone decide this is the book they’d like to buy.
The first step is then trying to figure out what is distinctive about this story. So what is it that makes ‘The Dead Mountain’ something a reader would want to well…. read.
- The pace. This is a fast-paced story despite its 120,000 words. Things are always happening and there is not much in the way of exposition and lore, ruminating over what has happened, or switching between plot lines. It’s more like Raiders of the Lost Ark than Lord of the Rings.
- The central relationship. The Dead Mountain has a female hero as the protagonist. Now having a strong female protagonist isn’t really distinctive anymore, but her friendship with a second strong female is the core relationship of the story. The love interest is important too, but not as much as the friend interest. From what I can tell, that is unusual.
- There are some twists in the plot that I think are pretty interesting as well, but I don’t really want to say what those are.
I need to keep thinking about this and try to articulate it in a compelling way. Just one more task in getting this ready to send out.
This is a useful book by Noah Lukeman, a literary agent, has plenty of great information about how to put together a query letter. It covers formatting and the basic structure a letter should follow. I don’t know that this should be the final word on how to create a query letter, but I still think it is a valuable resource well worth a read.
I don’t think Lukeman believes it’s the final word either since he makes reference to another book of his ‘How to Land (and keep) a Literary Agent’ for more detailed information.
Still, you can’t go wrong taking a look at this book and it’s free.
I’m still working on my query letter template. It’ll have to be customized for particular agents, but the part that talks about the book should stay pretty much the same. The book doesn’t change after all.
Humanity teeters on the brink, hunted by demons and a savage race called the Fari. Mystical barriers protect the few cities left, but a mad priest threatens their survival when he reawakens the ancient power of the Dead Mountain to bring forth an apocalyptic battle.
Aimee Fallon, a sheltered creator of magical gadgets, discovers a mysterious artifact—the key to stopping the Mountain’s magic—and joins an expedition to destroy the power’s threat, but little is as it seems. Along the way, she is betrayed by those she trusts and finds herself abandoned in hostile Fari lands with a forbidden lover who suspects her of murdering his kin. Her only help is an assassin: a woman with a tongue as sharp as her knives who once nearly killed her. The cause seems lost, especially because Aimee doesn’t believe she has a heroic bone in her body. But fate isn’t consulting her.
THE DEAD MOUNTAIN is a fast-paced 120,000-word fantasy adventure mixed with romance and betrayal and a female hero who relies on her wits and determination rather than swords and spells.
This is unlikely the final word on the ‘about the novel’ part of the query letter, but it’s where I’m at right now.