This lesson is for those of you who are going on the traditional path. You will need to contact either an agent who will then help you secure a publisher, or you will go directly to a small boutique publisher directly.

Which is right for you? Knowing which will determine your query letter. In short, to a boutique publisher you must sell your product more than yourself, to an agent you must sell yourself more than your product.

Let’s look at some key differences in boutique publisher vs agent/traditional publisher:



Boutique has limited distribution (often online only)

Traditional has wider distribution



Boutique will be eBook only or print on demand, sometimes for print they will ask you to order/pay for a batch of printed to sell yourself

Traditional will not charge you for printing costs



Traditional will typically offer an advance which varies, and a two book contract

Boutique offers no advance and each contract is for one book at a time



Traditional publishers pay you a tiny, tiny percentage, usually 2% of the cover price

Boutique publishers pay more, typically 30%-45% of the cover price



Traditional publishers reach a much wider audience, but have a much wider range of products for you to get lost in

Boutique publishers have a much smaller customer base but amongst your fellow authors you can stand out more



Traditional publishers have respect/existing relationships and can get you better and more reviews

Boutique publishers have about as much luck getting reviews as indie authors



Now, that being said, there are three options you have with your first book:



1. Submit your first novel to EITHER an agent or a boutique publisher

2. Submit your book to both boutique publishers and agents at the same time

3. Submit it to a boutique publisher with an eye towards building your resume for a later work to go to an agent



Now, before you can make a final decision, let’s look at the absolute, rock bottom worst points of each:



TRADITIONAL PUBLISHING

- MOST authors do not earn back the amount of their advance on their first book. Contracts are for two books because often, statistically, the only money you’ll ever see is that advance, both books together will not cover it. You may even owe your advance back.

- You have 0 control over your cover. Absolutely none. Oh, and the title you love? You have zilch control over that. They might even move your chapter breaks around, and you can do nothing.

- You’ll go through two editing processes. The first for content is sent back to you, then a copy editor goes over it. They are human, and they will make mistakes. They will even “correct” properly spelled words to misspellings. And you have NO control…but the readers will blame you.

- If you fuck up, if you piss off anyone in the process, you can be not only blackballed by that company, but by all similar ones



BOUTIQUE PUBLISHING

- No one you meet or know is going to respect you as an author. For some reason, everyone assumes this is the same as indie publishing, and for some bizarre reason no none respects it. People are idiots.

- These people are stretched pretty thin and your book will not get any real, serious focus, so you must assume FULL responsibility for the editing, copyediting, blurb, and catchphrase

- You will get much less feedback from readers and reviewers, so you’ll largely be flying blind

- Without the backing of a large publisher you will not have many in-person marketing opportunities (readings, signings, TV/radio interviews)

- You have no shot in hell of making a bestseller list



Okay, seems confusing, I know. But these are the important things to know. I’m a person who does a cost-benefit analysis and cost comes first, so let’s turn to benefits now.



TRADITIONAL PUBLISHING

- You will have an agent who will largely look out for your interests, or at least guide you through a complex process

- Friends and family will take you seriously as an author, as will strangers you meet at parties

- Your resume will be very impressive

- If you at least break even you can generally get a new contract, or move to another publisher with ease

- You have a shot, as much as anyone in traditional publishing of making the bestseller list

- If you’re clueless about marketing, they handle the blurb, catchphrase, and press releases, giving you time to use your advance to take a marketing course

- You will have an entity behind you that can facilitate in person marketing (readings, signings, interviews on TV/Radio)



BOUTIQUE PUBLISHING

- You will have general design input on your cover and final approval

- You will be able to tailor all your marketing material in your voice

- You will have final copy edit responsibility, so if you do it right you can put out the best product

- You will pad your resume for future traditional publishing



There is no right or wrong here. That is the most wonderful and horrible thing about an adult: choices are not black and white. Hell, you can try to get an agent, fail, and then try boutique. Or you can try boutique, get horrified by some aspect before signing your contract, and then get an agent.



No matter which path you choose, remember, to an agent you are selling yourself, to a boutique publisher you are selling the product.



First up, what is the general anatomy of a query letter? It is the first form of communication that introduces you to the intern slaving away at the office. That’s right, usually an unpaid intern who just reads these things day in, day out. What do they need? They need to know who you are, what your credentials are, a very quick summation of your book, the genre it fits in, and that it is finished and ready to go. Let’s start with a very general example often touted:



Dear Mr. Johns, 

According to your website you’re actively seeking historical romantic fiction, so I’m pleased to introduce my novel, Passion Smolders. This novel won the Reviewer’s Choice Award of the Tuskegee Romance Writers Union, and is the first novel I am seeking to be published. My short stories have won me awards and have been published in Strange Worlds magazine as well as appeared in the top ten annual lists of Hot-Readers-Hotter-reads.com.

Passion Smolders is the story of 18th century Lady Catherine Morgan who is captured and seduced by the pirate Sebastioan Blackheart who is fighting Catherine’s betrothed, Sir DuMont.

Lady Catherine is a twenty-two year old orphaned daughter of an Earl due to inherit a large estate in the North of England. For her introduction to London Society by her spinster aunt Deirdre who has betrothed her to the landed gentleman Sir DuMont Catherine is kidnapped by Sebastian, fleeing pursuers.

Aboard his ship he keeps her prisoner as protection. She believes him to be a pirate but he is secretly a privateer, working to stop a spy network headed by Lord DuMont. They argue and clash as the sparks fgly, and soon Catherine finds herself fighting alongside the magnificent Sebastien to defeat the spy network.

This novel is set primarily in the Atlantic sea as well as England and the Virgin islands and  runs approximately 85,000 words. It is reminiscent, in tone, of Johanna Lindsey’s A Pirate’s Love.

I hold a double  B.A. in English and Literature from University of Illinois and my work has been published in Strange Worlds, Mysteries of History Magazine, and my nonfiction has appeared in guest content for Jezebel.

Thank you very much for your time. I have included the first thirty pages as requested and look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely yours,

Ginger Adams


Let’s break it down: 

Paragraph one introduces you, your book (and it’s genre), and your awards. 

Paragraph two a ONE SENTENCE SUMMARY OF YOUR NOVEL. 

The next two paragraphs are the briefest summary of your novel’s plot. 

The following paragraph talks about your novels word count and what it is similar to.

The penultimate paragraph lists you qualifications such as education and previous publications.

The final paragraph lists what is enclosed, thanks the agent for taking the time, and ends with an update but not desperate version of “Call me!”



This is the banal template we must follow. All you need to know is how to tailor it to the type of business receiving it, and what else you should mention. 

Let’s go over things AGENTS want to see (but not necessarily Boutique Publishers):

1. Any previously published novel (self-published or through a publisher) mentioned, and also included

2. Any awards you have won for this novel

3. Any awards you have won for other works (with links whenever possible)

4. Any previous DISTINCTIVE sales data from previous published works.

5. Any stellar reviews of previous works in relation to style

6. Any education, certification, training, or employment that can make you a better writer

7. Any SIGNIFICANT data from your author platform



Let’s go over things BOUTIQUE PUBLISHERS want to see (but not necessarily Agents):

A. How similar your book is to books they have previously published

B. What makes your book similar in tone to other established works, but makes it stand out in content from the crowd

C. What professional organizations you belong to

D. What authors you know (as long as they writer for the publisher or are top sellers)



Where and how do you insert these things? First up, let’s look at an AGENT LETTER.

Dear Mr. Johns,

According to your website you’re actively seeking historical romantic fiction, so I’m pleased to introduce my novel, Passion Smolders. This novel won the Reviewer’s Choice Award of the Tuskegee Romance Writers Union, and is the first novel I am seeking to be published. 1. 2. My short stories have won me awards and have been published in Strange Worlds magazine as well as appeared in the top ten annual lists of Hot-Readers-Hotter-reads.com [<--3.]. 

Passion Smolders is the story of 18th century Lady Catherine Morgan who is captured and seduced by the pirate Sebastioan Blackheart who is fighting Catherine’s betrothed, Sir DuMont.

Lady Catherine is a twenty-two year old orphaned daughter of an Earl due to inherit a large estate in the North of England. For her introduction to London Society by her spinster aunt Deirdre who has betrothed her to the landed gentleman Sir DuMont Catherine is kidnapped by Sebastian, fleeing pursuers.

Aboard his ship he keeps her prisoner as protection. She believes him to be a pirate but he is secretly a privateer, working to stop a spy network headed by Lord DuMont. They argue and clash as the sparks fgly, and soon Catherine finds herself fighting alongside the magnificent Sebastien to defeat the spy network.

This novel is set primarily in the Atlantic sea as well as England and the Virgin islands and  runs approximately 85,000 words. It is reminiscent, in tone, of Johanna Lindsey’s A Pirate’s Love.

4. 5. I hold a double  B.A. in English and Literature from University of Illinois and my work has been published in Strange Worlds, Mysteries of History Magazine, and my nonfiction has appeared in guest content for Jezebel[<--6.]. 7.

Thank you very much for your time. I have included the first thirty pages (or whatever agent requests) as well as the synopsis and summary as requested and look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely yours,

Ginger Adams



So what are these things specific? How do you know what to include, what not to? Here’s the breakdown:

1. Any previously published novel (self-published or through a publisher) mentioned, and also included

Pick 1 previously published novel, either your first or most successful. If it was through a Boutique Publisher notate the publisher. Include it as a PDF (unless the agent requests a specific format) and mention the inclusion in the final paragraph.

2. Any awards you have won for this novel

DO NOT LIE. These must be real, and either a link is given (for email submissions) or dates/specific data in print so the agent can check

3. Any awards you have won for other works (with links whenever possible)

Once more, DO NOT LIE. These must be real, and either a link is given (for email submissions) or dates/specific data in print so the agent can check

4. Any previous DISTINCTIVE sales data from previous published works

Did your previous work make any kind of high sales rank? Was the sales data significant enough it was reported on by a third party, neutral, source? Did you rank high within a Boutique Publisher’s in-house rankings? If you did any of that, include the data, be specific so it can be checked. If not, do not mention this.

5. Any stellar reviews of previous works in relation to style

For previous works, do not note title, simple mention the reviewer’s name, website, date, and the rating it got (e.g. 4 out of 5). Only include ratings 4 out of 5 or 5 out of 5, and simply and accurately quote a mention of style that is flattering.

6. Any education, certification, training, or employment that can make you a better writer

Education would be a degree in English, literature, or journalism. Other degrees mean shit. Even a PhD in mathematics only matters if you’re writing nonfiction about math. Certification would be a real, verifiable certificate from a respected workshop. Training would be previous work in publishing such as being the unpaid intern who reads query letters. Employment would be copy writing, copy editing, journalism ONLY. No one gives a flaming shit if you’re a blogger.

7. Any SIGNIFICANT data from your author platform

Significant data would be if your traffic is steadily in the thousands, daily. If you have done blog tours or regularly guest blog on sites that get hundreds of thousands of visitors each day. That is it. Only mention your Twitter if you have over 50K followers and you average more than 200 retweets/mentions per day. No one gives a shit about Facebook or any others.



Now, for agents, this is how to write your query letter:



Dear Mr. Johns,

According to your website you’re actively seeking historical romantic fiction, so I’m pleased to submit my novel, Passion Smolders. This novel won the Reviewer’s Choice Award of the Tuskegee Romance Writers Union, and is the first novel I am seeking to be published. My short stories have won me awards and have been published in Strange Worlds magazine as well as appeared in the top ten annual lists of Hot-Readers-Hotter-reads.com.

Passion Smolders is the story of 18th century Lady Catherine Morgan who is captured and seduced by the pirate Sebastioan Blackheart who is fighting Catherine’s betrothed, Sir DuMont.

Lady Catherine is a twenty-two year old orphaned daughter of an Earl due to inherit a large estate in the North of England. For her introduction to London Society by her spinster aunt Deirdre who has betrothed her to the landed gentleman Sir DuMont Catherine is kidnapped by Sebastian, fleeing pursuers.

Aboard his ship he keeps her prisoner as protection. She believes him to be a pirate but he is secretly a privateer, working to stop a spy network headed by Lord DuMont. They argue and clash as the sparks fgly, and soon Catherine finds herself fighting alongside the magnificent Sebastien to defeat the spy network.

This novel is set primarily in the Atlantic sea as well as England and the Virgin islands and  runs approximately 85,000 words. It is reminiscent, in tone, of Johanna Lindsey’s A Pirate’s Love. A. B. 

C. I hold a double  B.A. in English and Literature from University of Illinois and my work has been published in Strange Worlds, Mysteries of History Magazine, and my nonfiction has appeared in guest content for Jezebel.D. 

Thank you very much for your time. I have included the first thirty pages as requested and look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely yours,

Ginger Adams

Let’s breakdown the things Boutique Publishers want to see:

A. How similar your book is to books they have previously published

Research them. Find the works with the most reviews/highest sales ranks on Amazon. Read the summaries and when you can, read the books. Give the title of the work and a very short statement of what makes them similar (focus on tone)

B. What makes your book similar in tone to other established works, but makes it stand out in content from the crowd

List the things like plot arc, tone, style and how your book is similar to the bulk of the published works. The cite specifically what makes your different: pacing, characters, conflict are the best choices.

C. What professional organizations you belong to

List your writer’s groups, even the online ones. Not a member of any? Don’t sweat it, this is not vital.

D. What authors you know (as long as they writer for the publisher or are top sellers)

Only include authors you know, can call or email at will and expect a response, and make sure they matter to the publisher.



This data comes from the collected experience of many successful and unsuccessful authors (myself, others I know, those who share this information on their blogs, as well as the unpaid interns who read query letters.

Remember, don’t just copy and paste. These are examples to help guide you. But since the first thing of yours that is read is the query, it should have your tone. And it should be perfect! Spell check, spell check, spell check. Make sure links work. Format it single lined, separate paragraphs, get the names write, DO NOT FUCK UP ON THIS. Major mistakes are immediately discarded.

In a later lesson we’ll get into what you send and how you present everything to an agent or publisher, but for now perfect that query letter.