In my conversation with Amy Tan last week (an edited version of which will appear in our January ’14 edition) the mega-bestselling author of The Joy Luck Club described being asked by her new editor at Ecco to “tell him what her book’s about.” This was a first time she’d ever been asked for this kind of synopsis. For the record The Joy Luck Club was published without one query letter ever having been written (yet another interesting story). Wanting to make a good impression, she sent her editor a 100 word email. And immediately regretted it. She then fired off another email. “That is not what the book’s about. This is what the book’s about.” Attached was a 4,000 word essay. Her new editor loved her essay so much he wanted to publish it.
I am not recommending writers query prospective agents and editors with essays. The nature of this business necessitates a reduction of the ideas contained in our books so that a busy person might know whether it is the kind of book she might what to represent or publish. But never mistake the queries or pitches for your book. Never mistake the simplicity of those greetings for the full conversation to follow. Never mistake selling for writing.
Selling is important, but as a writer your most important job is to create something you would like to sell. Your most important job is to allow yourself to feel the depth of your own life and translate it into something another person might want to read so that he can feel the depth of his life. After all, you cannot actually sell yourself. You and the services you offer are separate commodities. To sell yourself you would first have to find yourself, and the only one who would pay a price to end that search is you.
Write Within Yourself: An Author's Companion. "A book to keep nearby whenever your writer's spirit needs feeding." Deb Caletti.