Thursday, July 1, 2010

There Are Some Books That Just Need to be Self-Published

I spend my weekdays doing IT work at a well-respected University Press.  One of my occasional jobs has been to clean out the (now defunct) "generic" Press email inbox.

It was during one of those clean out sessions that I found a query that stopped me in my tracks.  I have been spending some time working on a query for an agent for my Steampunkish MG book and have read up on what makes a good query.  What stopped me wasn't so much that this query not only breaks all the rules of query writing (and drops them from a twenty-story building and then runs over them with steamroller) but the earnest tone with which the author makes his claims.
"Dear agent, publisher, movie make, gallery owner, associate, friend, etc., 
I am a yet unpublished book writer/unexihibited artist/unproduced scriptwriter who is in search of representation.  You seem like someone who might have connections for an author of non-fiction like myself, or are somebody with pull or an imagination. I am submitting this query to you for your consideration to represent/assist me. Do know I am writing the most “evolved” books ever written on Earth. With them I intend to move humankind by “leaps and bounds”.  That is because I’ve written a book more "important" than the best selling book in the world, the Bible.
It is so that I have written the most "important" book in the world; way more "important" than the Torah, Bible, Koran, Pearl of Great Price; etc. Read on if you don’t believe me. I plan to change the world with my books, especially with “God is also a woman” (now Earth’s “most important book” and dedicated to my parents).  Please do let me know if you can be of assistance to me in finding a willing agent or publisher."
I've thought about this query over the past several weeks because I completely believe the author's sincerity.  I believe he believes he's written "the most 'important' book in the word" and that he plans "to change the world with (his) books".  I believe this, in part, because I've dealt with people in the past (my wife's ex comes to mind) who would make equally ginormous claims about the effect a book they had written would have on the world.

I also believe him because his query included several attachments (including "God is also a woman"), each of which continues this same train of thought.

Here's the thing: I'm struggling to become a first-time published author, much like the author of the query.  That I've spent time researching how to write a proper query that has a fighting chance at being given more than a five-second cursory glance by an agent (or their assistant/intern -- Hi Assistants! Hi Interns!) is not the point.  The point is that I know that, as a first-time author, there's a very good chance that whatever publisher decides to take a chance on unpublished me is going to do so (a) with some requested edits and (b)with only a small-to-vaguely-moderate publicity budget to promote my book.

For me, this isn't such a huge problem.  I understand publishing, publicity departments, the time and  money available to all of the books on the publisher's seasonal list and that, as the new kid, I'm likely to be waa-a-a-a-ay down the totem pole.  Once the story is polished to their standards, the job of selling my first book will, in fact, largely be mine.

On the other hand,  my guess is that anyone who says he has written "the most 'important' book in the world" would not want their message edited.  Nor would he or she be satisfied with a limited publicity campaign.  Me, I'm writing to entertain a young audience and hopefully make some of them laugh.  The author of the query, on the other hand, is writing to "change the world."

To my mind, that type of author would be best served by self-publishing.

Yesterday, over at There Are No Rules, Jane Freeman wrote a great entry entitled, "The No. 1 Most Important Factor for Writers Considering the Self-Pub Option" (Hint: knowing why you're doing anything is a good start)  Freeman doesn't include the reason I'm citing, but I think it should be included.  If your stated goal is to change the way people think, perceive their world and how they live, you have to not only sell your book you need to evangelize for your book.

If the author is the best salesperson for his or her book, the author of a world-changing book needs to make sure the book is done right, without the interference of agents, editors or other people who might want to change the message to fit their corporate interests.

-- Tom

Do you have any experience with self-publishing?  Interesting query letters?  Let's discuss them in the comments section.

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