Give yourself a hand. No, I mean it! Give yourself a hand, pat yourself on the back, buy yourself a big cigar (just don’t smoke it around your query letters). If you’re an aspiring writer and you’re reading this blog or Miss Snark’s or the blogs by other agents and your fellow writers it means you’re doing the right thing. You’re researching the publishing industry, you’re serious about the business of writing. You, my friend, are pretty darn awesome. Or it means you’re procrastinating.
(And no, this is not the introduction to my new self-help book. But if I did write a self-help book I would call it THE PURPOSE-DRIVEN SECRET OF YOU, THE OWNERS MANUAL: HE’S JUST NOT THAT INTO YOUR SOUTH BEACH DIET.)
A couple of years back something was invented that changed the course of the publishing industry forever. A device so revolutionary we tremble at the mere mention of its power. No, not paper. Even more important. They call it….. Google.
The effect of Google on the publishing industry has been utterly profound (ok, maybe not as profound as paper), and in the years to come its effects will be even, uh, profounder. The New Yorker recently featured a very good article on Google’s Library project — Google is essentially trying to scan and (make searchable) every book ever written, (including, apparently the occasional finger of the people doing the scanning, which is my favorite part of the article.) In the process of scanning, well, everything, Google is taking a controversial approach to the copyright ramifications of the program, which is the subject of two lawsuits.
Meanwhile, Google is also expanding its Book Search program — they already have quite a few public-domain books posted online, and their goal is to make more existing books searchable. Two years from now if you entered, say, “Nathan Bransford’s secret of life” in Google Book Search, a little excerpt from THE PURPOSE-DRIVEN SECRET OF YOU, THE OWNERS MANUAL would pop up next to a link to buy the book (which you should totally buy, I swear it will change your life).
There are more and more ventures like this in the pipeline, I’m told, because hey, it’s Google, and new ventures are what they do.
But this isn’t just an extended product placement ad for Google (although they did pay me handsomely AND give me one of those scooters they ride around on). This post is also an exhortation to please, please, please use the Google before you query an agent. Especially, uh, me.
Two years ago I could have understood if someone queried me about their screenplay or their poetry collection, or if they began their query with a rhetorical question. I mean, short of knowing me personally, how could they know that I personally declared war against queries beginning with rhetorical questions in 2004?
Things have changed. Now all you have to do is Google me and my blog pops up. Just five minutes looking at my blog, seeing what I represent and don’t represent, and tailoring your letter accordingly will instantly increase your chances of me requesting your manuscript by approximately 1,000%. Five minutes! And yet people don’t do this. It boggles ze mind!
But here’s the problem — if you’re reading this blog you already know these things. You’re already one of the smart ones. You know that your odds are drastically increased if you Google an agent you’re querying and write a personalized query letter. I need to reach the people who aren’t reading this blog. So I have a plan. We’re going to pay it forward. Yes, you heard correctly. Pay it forward.
You know that movie with that kid who saw dead people that was about being nice? Yeah, I didn’t watch it either. BUT. Apparently there’s this idea in the movie that if you’re good to three people then those people will be good to other people, and suddenly everyone will be good to everyone else and we can all hold hands and sing kumbayah and watch more movies with the kid who saw dead people.
So here’s the plan — let’s all think really bad thoughts about queries that start with rhetorical questions, and let’s also encourage everyone we know who is writing a book to just take five minutes and Google the agent they’re querying before they send the query, and then maybe I won’t get any more of these types of queries.
Ok, fine, or you can just pay it forward by being good to people and try and make the world a better place. God. You’re so selfish.