I stumbled across a forum question online the other day, and it went something like this: Before an author reaches out to publishers and agents, what should they do? Well, of course, I couldn't resist. Here's how I responded:
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Wow. You and your solo respondent (so far) share the same impediment. Before an author reaches out to publishers and agents, they need to improve their grammar. Get it? If not, read it again, because both of you failed a basic literacy test called English Grammar 101. Here's why that matters.
No matter what else you provide along with your approach to publishers and agents, a misuse of the English language will land you in the trash can before you can even ask, "Did you receive my query on …" Remember: Nothing turns off a publisher, editor, literary agent, or anyone else in the field of publishing faster than poor grammar.
Now, assuming you went scurrying to your latest edition of the Chicago Manual of Style or Strunk, discovered your mistake, and corrected it, you'll still need to do a couple other things prior to contact. Here they are:
- Make sure you have a worthwhile project. If it's fiction, that means a completed novel accompanied by a very brief introductory letter. (Here's my novel entitled Rhonda about a girl from the wrong side of the tracks who finally makes good. Hope you enjoy.)
- If it's nonfiction, that means three or four completed chapters (the first three or four, not three or four at random) and a dynamite chapter outline and book synopsis, including:
- A brilliantly written, yet not overstated, author's bio, including whatever writing/publishing experience you have, if any. If you haven't any, don't fake it. Just say so. Professionals appreciate honesty; they see so little of it in their daily author interactions.
- An irresistible pitch letter or query that includes the following:
- Paragraph one: The story in a nutshell, with a grabby conclusion.
- Paragraph two: Why the publisher/agent should consider taking on this story.
- Paragraph three: A brief biography and proposal—how many words the book will be; when it will be completed; what existing books exist on the subject; why you're the best author to write this book.
- Closing sentence: Your thanks for his (or her—look it up beforehand to make sure you get it right)—consideration.
Your entire nonfiction pitch should run, then, a maximum of three paragraphs and a closing sentence, totaling no more than one standard typewritten page or about 325 typewritten words.
Tempted to throw in more? Forget about it. Doing so will only trigger the thought that you're a rank amateur struggling to swim upstream to spawn. (Sorry for the sexual innuendo here; sometimes I'm just an animal.) And your goal at this point in this initial-contact game is anything but that.
Then, just sit back and wait. And hope for the best. If it doesn't happen, wash, rinse, and repeat. It's a great big world out there in Publishing Land. Keep on trying.
In the meantime ...
Smoke if you've got 'em.
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D. J. Herda is author of the new e-Book series of writing advice, About Writing Right, available at Amazon and at fine booksellers everywhere. His blogs appear on his Website at www.djherda.org. You can also check out his columns, "The Author-Ethicist" and "Fury and the Beast," at Substack. They're free; they're entertaining; they're informative, and they run weekly. Well, almost weekly. Occasionally weekly. Sometimes weekly. (Hey, he does his best!)