Now that I’ve completed my WWII novel manuscript and have breathed a sigh of satisfaction, it’s time to sit before the task of selling it. This is the point at which many of us flail in frustration – there’s just not that much consistent information or advice out there as to how to go about it.
Like most published-and-aspiring-to-more writers, I’ve had my share of advice along these lines. But over these past years, I’ve boiled things down to something reasonably consistent.
First and foremost, you need to master the dreaded query letter. Strangely (and I include myself in this group), I find such a letter harder than creative writing. It goes against the grain, I suppose, to reduce your creative panorama to a few sentences.
But the best query letter (and it should be written in a business format) can be reduced to three or four components:
The hook: The first paragraph should convey something intriguing about your story. The agent or editor will want to know what sets your story and character apart from the maddening crowd.
The ever-so-brief synopsis: the hook should segue into a very brief depiction of your central character and his/her conflict within the story.
Sell yourself: The third paragraph can be a listing of your publishing credits – or an accounting of life experiences that connect with your story and main character.
Finale: Simply ask if you can send your completed story (or a portion) and thank the person for his/her time.
Often, agents will ask for other, ancillary things to help them decide if you story is for them:
Synopsis: This amounts to a one or two page condensation of your story. The trick here is peeling away the twigs (incidental or peripheral aspects) from your story’s main trunk and limbs.
Chapter outline: at rare times, an agent or editor will ask for this. It’s laborious, but usually amounts to three or four lines per chapter. Just give the story’s main thread as it appears in each chapter.
Writing sample: you’ll usually be asked for the first 30,50, or 100 pages of your text, double-spaced. Warning: if you’re reluctant to send the first chapters instead of something from the middle or end, your beginning is probably too weak, or you began at the wrong place in the story’s sequence.
Afterthought: these days, agents and editors are more and more willing to receive submittals by e-mail. I recommend it. It gives quicker turnaround and costs virtually nothing.