And things just went down hill from there.
After I read the letter I was incensed and mortified (didn’t know you could be both at the same time did you?): on one hand I couldn’t believe that someone had written this expecting me to take it seriously, and on the other I just felt really bad for this author.
“Oh, honey,” the angelic side of me said, “that’s not good. That’s not good at all. Did you have someone read over this before you sent it out?”
“Obviously not,” hissed the other half of me, which may have drawn some of its pure evil from my psycho grandmother. “A better question would be, ‘Who thought this person should be published and do they still have their job?’”
“Don’t be like that. It must be hard to send out self-promotional letters like this. S/he doesn’t know any better.”
“Well, they should learn,” devil me sniffed. “We should send the letter back. Send it back covered in red correction marks. Bleeeeeeed on it with pen. This person needs to be taught a lesson.”
It was at this point that I put the letter away and went to look up the symptoms for Multiple Personality Disorder in the DSM-IV-TR we keep in Self-Help. Since close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades I figured I wasn’t suffering from MPD, but just in case, I ate a cupcake. One should never underestimate the healing power of a sugary baked good and its ability to assist in one’s overall wellbeing. Still the letter stuck with me; I wasn’t really going to write the author back, nor was I going to out the poor person in the blogosphere for the amusement of others, but there had to be some way to talk about the author/bookseller letter format.
Is there some sort of template out there that y’all use when you write up you’re “get to know my book” letters or do you have to wing it? If there is, I hope it includes the following points:
- Get the bookstore’s name right. I have a feeling that a lot of publishers, publicity people and authors are working from old lists because we routinely get mail addressed to the bookstore that hasn’t been in our spot for five years (one that was part of a whole different company). If two stores are showing up with the exact same address maybe someone should call and find out who is actually still there. While it is possible to have two bookstores in the same mall, why waste the postage if you can easily find out if this is indeed the case, or if someone simply forgot to remove a store from the list.
- Event’s Whaaa? Let’s get something straight here: large chain stores have events coordinators, while small chain stores have someone who may answer to this name right before they walk into their backroom and starting crying “Why me? I don’t get paid enough for this.” “Dear Bookseller” is a perfectly acceptable way to address a letter if you don’t know the specific bookseller’s name. If you do have access to the person’s name then make sure to spell it right!
- The word “rollicking” should never, ever be used in your letter. EVER. Especially when talking about your plot. In fact, let’s just table the ability to use that word for the next twenty years, at which time we can reexamine its ability to make a reader wince in pain.
- I don’t care where you went to school (Oh sure, I might care if we went to the same college, but then I would wonder how you knew we went to the same college and that paranoia would make me seek out the DSM-IV-TR again, so let’s not go there). I don’t care if you’ve worked in publishing before. Your job and schooling history should never appear in your letter to a bookseller unless you are writing to tell us about your fantastic nonfiction book about a topic related to your job or schooling. If you write fiction for a living the only thing I want to know is if you’ve written anything else that was fiction and if it sold well (or if Jon Stewart/Stephen Colbert/or someone else with the power to sway the masses liked it).
- Most chains don’t have a section for local authors. They may occasionally stick said author in the local/regional section, but usually only if they are nonfiction or if the book’s fictional world takes place in real world surroundings (and those surroundings are the local area) and has gotten a lot of press because of that. If I walked into a chain store in Wisconsin I would not expect for them to have a bunch of books in a wall-bay labeled “Local Authors!” (I would, however, expect cheese paraphernalia.) ?” I can tell if you are local by your postage mark and return address. Asking me to label your book as “Local Author” just makes me frown as I wonder, “Do we even have a ‘Local Author’ sticker
- Kill the adjectives. Unless you have a quote from someone famous telling how super-fantastic your book is, don’t describe your book in any terms that would make you personally retch if applied to a movie or another book description. (See “rollicking” rule.)
- Don’t send bookmarks unless asked. Please, dear God, don’t send bookmarks. I’m drowning in the suckers.
- A little card with your cover on it is more effective than a computer printout on regular plain white paper. They are easy to file in rolodexes, they can have all your contact information on the back, and you can use them in any situation (when meeting booksellers face to face, as a friendly reminder for friends and family to pass out, an ice-breaker at the next business meeting). Printer sheet covers are not any of these things and just look tacky.
- Short, sweet, and to the point is the best way to go. If you’ve got an elevator pitch for you book, or a good marketing slogan then use it, if you don’t then don’t think up something groan-worthy just to fill the white space.
This letter I received broke almost all of these rules even though it had the best intentions. It wasn’t a letter from a self-pubbed author (who might not have had access to anyone in marketing or publicity), but someone being released by a major house, and it was not the first of this kind I’ve received. I know how hard it is to write business correspondence, believe me, but please have someone read over anything you are going to be mass mailing (and don’t let that person be your mother who has loved everything you’ve ever produced and still has your macaroni painting from kindergarten on the wall in the kitchen). Work on your letter until it has some sort of flow, otherwise the person on the other end—the bookseller you want to order in your book—will being to doubt your writing ability.
And that’s an unhappy thought not even a cupcake can fix.