Friday, October 15, 2010

How Do It Know? by Terry Burns

So how does a writer know before sending a manuscript off if it will appeal to an editor? 

That is the question.

Two men were about to have lunch on a jobsite. One, not the sharpest knife in the drawer looked over at the other and said, "What be that?" 
The man responded, "It's a Thermos." 
"What do it do?"
"It keeps things hot or keeps them cold."
"How do it know?" 

I was asked the question about how to know before we submit if something is right for an agent or editor, and the answer is as simple as the answer to this guy's question. Doing it is tough, and the people that do it well are the ones that publish. Writers want to write, period. We don't want to research or market or promote or do all the other things that go into developing a career. We want to write.

But the key to doing a good job with queries to an editor or a agent is knowing before we ever put it in the mail that they are a real possibility for the product that we're pitching. Too many people buy the big market guide and go through it sending off a letter to everybody that even lists their genre in their listing.  That's a guarantee a huge number of rejection letters will soon be on the way.

The ones that know their business look for indicators that the person they are querying really has published or handled some comparable work. They find other books and writers that are targeted at the same people they figure to be the reader base for their book. The numbers and products they develop that convince them this is true is the same thing they need to give to an agent or editor to demonstrate they know who their reader base is and have really written a book that will reach them. This goes a long way toward selling an agent or editor on a proposal.

What are these indicators? That's the hard part, because it's different for every book and may differ for each editor and agent we pitch. We search the market and search the bookstore for products that cause us to believe we'd be right for a certain agency or publishing house and we try that pitch on them. If we've figured right we've got a good shot at it. If not, well, there's always the next one.

"How do it know?" That's the key question all right.


Jeanette Levellie said...

I'd like to be able to predict what will be HOT in a year or two, so I can get my thermos ready...

Cheryl Linn Martin said...

Loved your story at the beginning. And, Jeanette, I agree with your comment! I want to get my thermos ready too. : )