Tag s | Cover Letter

Creative or Effective? You Decide

Very early in my working life, I was involved in advertising sales for a radio station.  Probably because I was pretty much a “blank slate” back then, I remember the first advertising seminar I attended like it was yesterday.

People who know me well, might smile (or roll their eyes) when I’ll repeat a sales or marketing principle I learned decades ago.  They are “on to me.”

At the first seminar, I learned, “Be effective, not just creative.”  Evidently, this was a real problem in the advertising world back then, and today as well.

The workshop leader mentioned the high percentage (I seem to recall it being 70%) of award-winning advertising considered a business failure by the companies behind it. In other words, an ad campaign created to increase sales or awareness, didn’t. It was attention-getting and lovely and won all sorts of awards, but it didn’t accomplish the goal for which it was intended.

The workshop leader asserted awards should only be given to ads which worked.

Still, ad agencies wanted the trophies, so they focused on creative instead of effective. Nothing like awards to deflect attention from a goal.

I recall the workshop leader giving examples of highly-effective advertising which was not exactly creative and certainly not award-winning, unless the creator of the ad coveted a tongue-in-cheek award by a group poking fun at poorly done ads.

But the ad worked and generated increased sales, so we needed to decide which path was more desired.

Today we explore this “creative versus effective” tension. One does not necessarily lead to the other and the two can be mutually exclusive, not always, but often enough to ask the question which side you would rather be on.

Creative vs. Effective: The Book Pitch

Frequently, I receive a book proposal from an aspiring author which confuses me. What did they want from me? Are they looking for a mentor? Endorser? Friend?

I assume there are people advising aspiring authors to use the cover letter to “spin a tale” in an attempt to catch the attention of an agent, but maybe start the creativity in the second paragraph?

Dear Mr. Balow,

You and I will change the world together. My book will make the crooked paths straight and bring joy to all who are part of it.

That’s flattering, but I am already married.

Or how about this:

 Oh Dan,

Death. Pestilence. Flies on corpses. War is the canvas on which evil writes his tale of woe…

What if I just finished lunch?

Maybe instead, make the cover letter an actual personal letter? (Now there’s a thought) Maybe even professional?

Dear Dan,

I enjoy all the bloggers on your agency website and have read them for months. After reviewing your profile as an agent, I feel you would represent my work well.  Here’s why…

Creative vs. Effective: The Book Itself

Many years ago, I recall a successful author speaking about their many books at a sales conference saying, “You know, it’s funny. The books I’ve written which have sold the most were not my best work. Those for which I was most excited, haven’t sold well at all.”

They paused, then said, “I think my new book is my best work ever.”

A tumbleweed blew through the meeting room and crickets chirped in the background. A vulture circled overhead.

Creative vs. Effective: Book Marketing

Every author would love to have a highly creative marketing plan for their book.

Or would they?

Wouldn’t you rather see a plan which sells a lot of books? Even if it weren’t particularly creative?

Sometimes (not always) an author might desire marketing plans filled with things no one has ever tried, but if pressed, would rather just sell more books. Often, the most effective business marketing strategies are relatively boring.

Do you want to be creative or sell books? Often, the two are not in the same plan. But it is nice when they are.

It’s about balance. Be creative and effective. Make a point and make it stick by the manner in which you present it. Usually, the best recipe has a nice combination of each ingredient.

 

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Covering the Cover Letter

This is the last installment of my proposal series. You may think it strange to write about the cover letter last, but usually, it’s the last part of the proposal an author writes. Our own Steve Laube has already written about the cover letter here.

His tips are so wonderful that I asked him if I should even attempt this post, but he encouraged me to write from my perspective. So here are key points I like to see in a cover letter:

Fiction:

1.) Title and genre of book: I can immediately discount horror and erotica. Saves everyone time.

2.) Target market and word count: While part of an agent’s job is to identify markets for your work, you still should do enough research to understand where your book might fit. A 250,000 word novel aimed at Love Inspired Historical shows you have no idea about today’s CBA marketplace.

3.) Story summary highlighting primary conflict. For example: “Set in Chicago in 1905, Party Time is the story of a political party boss who must fight his attraction to a suffragette.”

This is enough to tell me that I’d have to hesitate since the title is questionable for CBA and for the Christian market, a Chicago party boss is not a sympathetic hero.

4.) Past Sales: But, if you mention that your last CBA romance novel sold over 100,000 copies, I’d ask to see Party Time anyway. Those sales tell me you may possess enough talent to make the party boss the most dashing romantic hero ever.

On the other hand, if you are a new author, it’s fine not to belabor the point. I will figure this out since you didn’t mention sales history. (And this early in your career, I recommend writing about the type of heroine and hero everyone agrees deserve true romance).

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Hints for a Great Cover Letter

Here are a few suggestions for you to consider when approaching an agent. Remember to use these as hints…do not follow them slavishly as if a literary agent is going to spend their time critiquing your cover letter.

By the way, we make a distinction between a cover letter and a query letter. A cover letter is what goes on top of a longer proposal and sample chapters. The query letter is a stand-alone letter that goes by itself to the editor/agent without a proposal or sample chapters. We happen to prefer the cover letter along with the rest of the package. Why? Because a query only shows that you can write a letter. A proposal begins the process of showing that you know how to write a book.

Address the letter to a specific person. If sending something to The Steve Laube Agency, simply address the appropriate agent. Every proposal will cross the desk of the designated agent eventually.

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