Excerpt from author cover letter: (not real)
“Dear (Agent or Publisher),
The enclosed book proposal contains never-before-seen information to help the most important of all human relationships. It identifies six different kinds of languages of love, combines the findings of extensive studies from all cultures and is endorsed by every important person living within one hundred miles of my home. It contains a stirring story how I went to heaven and met the Apostle Paul in person. He agreed to write a foreword, which I expect to receive any day. Throughout the 15 years it has taken me to research and write this 350,000-word manuscript, I have sweat actual blood. I am convinced this is a best seller for the ages.”
Agent and/or Publisher: (thinking)
“Oh, another marriage book.”
You pour yourself into writing something and after carefully pointing out the uniqueness of your work to an agent or publisher, the pigeon-holing and rejection begins:
Memoir – they don’t do memoirs.
Marriage – too much competition.
Science Fiction – nope.
Poetry – oh my, no.
Bible study – already have some.
For men – men don’t read.
Parenting – too many.
Theology – not enough letters after your name.
Devotionals – can’t sell them.
Children’s Story – isn’t that cute, no.
So let’s take a deep breath here and try to figure this out. You see your work as never before explored territory, but an agent or publisher doesn’t see it that way.
Imagine standing near a grove of trees. Each one is different. A few pine, others are magnolia, ash, maple, and oak. Each one is different from the other. The very makeup of each tree, from the height, to the hardness of their wood to the shape of their branches, texture of their bark and leaves are different one from another. Underground, their respective root systems have distinct characteristics.
You live on the ground and see the trees clearly. And because you can see the trees so clearly, you can’t see the forest. (Insert common metaphor here)
The agent or publisher on the other hand lives at 30,000 feet. (The lack of oxygen at that level would explain a lot what goes on in agenting and publishing) Sellers of books might live a little lower, but not much. At this altitude, the beautiful grove of trees where you can see every nuance and unique feature is merely a green outcropping on the vast landscape below.
If publishers were in charge of forests, there would be neat groupings of oak trees over here, maples in a cluster over there and willow trees would have their own imprint.
Publishing is generally the art and business of doing new things that are like things done before.
For authors trying to be creative and distinguish themselves from everyone else, it can be very frustrating because just about every person or company that touches your work after it leaves your computer serves in one or more of the following roles:
The curator is that job of a quick subjective decision that decides if it fits with that agent or publisher. The categorizing determines what the book is like, or similar to, so we know how to think about it from a business perspective. Once determined to fit and where it fits the agent and/or publisher will be become an advocate for it and commend it to others.
As an agent, I function as all three at one time or another.
This might seem rather silly, but the phrase that strikes fear in agents and publishers is, “This book is unlike anything you have ever read.”
While your intention is to communicate the highly creative nature of your work, unintentionally you have said, “This book is immune to any attempt to categorize it, at best making your job more difficult or worse, very frustrating.”
Increasing the pain for a publisher is not a good start to a successful writing career!
Being easily categorized is a good thing. Don’t fight it.
A final note related to all this, whether you publish traditionally or indie, your book will need to be given a written description. That description will need to include certain key words to describe your book. And whether you like it or not, some of those words need to be the same old words as everyone else uses to describe their novel, marriage book, devotional or whatever.
Intentionally avoiding those key words in an attempt to be creative and different will leave your online search results lacking. And with the majority of books now being sold direct to consumers online, this is more important today than ever before. Product descriptions are to be written with great care. Take your time. It might be the most important thing you do for your book.
Traditional publishers have people doing this, but it never hurts for the author to know a bit about it as well. Collaboration is a good thing.
There are online resources that can help you. Click here for Amazon’s take on it.
Remember, if people can’t find you, they can’t buy you.