Whoa, tiger, before you worry about the movie, sell the book

In order to sell the book, you need to make sure it’s fully defined. This is an example of someone with commitment issues:

1) The story can be marketed as fiction, though it is nonfiction. Presently in first-person viewpoint, it can be changed to third person. For publication, I will change some or all of the names of characters and towns, with the story remaining true…

2) Multicultural and political issues include sexual harassment, unequal civil and criminal rights, and discrimination: cultural, racial, language, age, and gender. These issues aren’t specifically labeled; but they may enter the mind of young-adult and adult readers, who are free to form their own opinions.

3) There are intermittent stanzas of narrative poetry, such as: [poem gratefully redacted]

4) Movie considerations: The story would be relatively inexpensive to film on site in [country redacted].

Lead-ins like this don’t ell me anything. I’m not putting this up here to poke fun at the author (though I don’t think he’d even know since the query was addressed as Dear Acquisitions Editor), but to highlight some common problems. This author managed to commit them all in one query letter.

1) Fiction/nonfiction…you decide: Offering a choice of fiction or nonfiction is, well, weird. Unless you’re James Frey and the truth is a slippery slope, this isn’t a multiple choice question. You have your reasons for fictionalizing your memoir, so stick with it. You can always say that this is based on your real-life experiences but chose to fictionalize it because of reasons ABC. You never want to appear as wishy washy. Anyone who doesn’t know exactly who they are and what they’re doing is hard to work with because they can’t ever make up their mind.

2) This is what the readers will think: Many writers are in a rush to alert editors to all the high points of their work, but without a frame of reference, you may as well be reciting the Greek alphabet. For that reason, it’s never a good idea to tell an editor what readers’ opinions may be because she’s gonna figure that out on her own.  We analyze market potential and the elements that may make a book a hot item. It’s what we do.

3) Writing samples: Argh! AVOID the urge to share actual writing from the manuscript. Again, without a frame of reference, it’s as meaningless as when the beagle tries to balance her checkbook. Adding poetry to a novel/memoir is just asking for trouble. What can I possible glean from four lines? The idea is to sell me enough to where I ask for pages. Then I’ll sample your writing.

4) Movies, baby!: And the movie suggestion? I mean, it’s nice the author is keen on telling me where his book could be cheaply filmed but, well…we don’t make that decision. So it’s meaningless. It also suggests the author leans toward the noobish end because he doesn’t realize that publishers aren’t movie producers and that selling the movie rights to the actual point of production is pie-in-the-sky stuff.

In a word, some of the specifics that you think are selling points are actually repelling points. Don’t worry about selling the movie or telling me all the delicious thoughts that will run through readers’ heads. And PLEASE, don’t include samples from your work. Just knuckle down and tell what your story is about. The rest will fall into place.

3 Responses to Whoa, tiger, before you worry about the movie, sell the book

  1. Chris says:

    Well, so much for this great movie idea I was gonna pitch you. Maybw I’ll save it for next week.

  2. Baughman, you’re trouble, mister!

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