Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Tips for Our New eQuery Form

If you’ve visited The Zack Company’s website recently, you may have noticed it looks a bit different. That’s because we are in the midst of a loooooooooooooong redesign. I’m not going to lie. It’s not turning out quite the way I’d hoped. I thought it would look “slicker” and that by switching to Joomla, it would be easier to maintain. Neither seems to be the case. But I’ve invested quite a bit of money into it and so we’re going to be living with it for a while.

One major new improvement in the site, though, is that we’ve added an eQuery™ form. eQuery will allow authors to query us online, without having to send in paper queries or the dreaded Self-Addressed, Stamped Envelope (SASE). This is both a good thing and a bad thing.

It’s a good thing because, obviously, it saves authors paper, time, and postage. It’s a bad thing because it requires me to read queries like I read many of my other emails: quickly and with the goal of hitting the DELETE button as soon as I can. I honestly suspect that I’m more likely to pass on an eQuery than a snail mail query, but only time will tell if that becomes a verified pattern.

There are some other bad things. The form has been designed to get authors to provide me the information in the format I prefer. First step is a one-to-three sentence “Keynote.” Keynote is a word taken from my days as an editor and when I wrote Tip or Title Information sheets for the sales force. It’s supposed to tell the reader (in this case, me) what the book is about in very few sentences. So far, no author has written what I would call a correct or compelling keynote. Here’s an example of what it should be, using the new TV-show-based-on-a-book, FAST FORWARD:

For two minutes and seventeen seconds, everyone in the world blacks out. During that time, each person has a vision of what they believe is their future, only six months away. This is the story of what happens during those six months. Are their futures fated, or can they stop the future before it becomes their present?

And, honestly, even that is a bit too long. Let’s try one for THE FIRM. You’ve read the book or seen the movie.

Mitch McDeer is a young man from a poor Southern family who has struggled through Harvard Law School. When a Southern law firm makes him an offer too good to refuse, he takes it. But shortly he learns that the offer really is too good to be true, because his new firm is actually a front for the Mafia.

The purpose of the keynote is to grab the reader’s attention and make him or her want to read more. It’s also a good test of whether or not the book is “high concept,” which is something that agents and editors love to see. If your book can be described and made intriguing in three sentences or less, you’re off to a good start.

Next, the form asks you for a description of the work. This is supposed to be three or four paragraphs at most. Including the length of the work is not a bad idea, as well as the format (proposal for nonfiction, for example).

Last but not least, there’s a section for About the Author. This is your one-paragraph bio, pure and simple. Pick up any hardcover book and turn to the back flap. This is your model. Don’t go too long. However, if you are writing nonfiction, it’s important to put in any relevant information. If you are writing about mental illness, do be sure to tell me you are a shrink, for example.

My article from THE PERFECT PITCH remains a good place to get ideas on writing query letters, so be sure to check it out.

Also, keep in mind that the firm doesn’t allow formatting. Everything you put in there will be plain text. So if you want to italicize something, better to use ALL CAPS.

I hope this helps. I’m sure as the form gets more use, I will be posting more tips and also refining the form to make it work better.


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