The Territory
November 27, 2010
Out of the Slush Pile
December 2, 2010
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The Author Questionnaire

During my first conversation with Peter Joseph, editor with Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press, he described the first two steps in moving forward with publication: signing a contract and completing the Author Questionnaire. I explained that I didn’t have an agent so we were able to move forward very quickly. An agent would have read the contract, possibly negotiated, and slowed things down a bit. After 26 agent rejections I opted to skip that route. I’m not claiming that was the smartest move to make, just the move that makes most sense for me right now.

Within a week Peter emailed the standard book contract. It was thirty pages of legal ease of which I read about ten pages word for word, and then skimmed the remaining. It contained information about the advance, which was already established through winning the Hillerman contest. The contract detailed royalty percentages on the various editions: hardcover, paperback, mass-market, electronic, etc. The various rights were described: first serial, second serial, dramatic readings, game rights, and so on. I can’t say I understand everything I signed my name too, but it’s a standard contract. I’m not worried. More interestingly, the contract spelled out the timeline for completion of the work, including the editing and the final publishing date, as well as information on promotion.

The Author Questionnaire was actually a bigger kick. The publisher uses it to collect information on the author that can be used for promotional purposes. Information such as hobbies you have that relate to your book, unusual jobs, any prior writing or publishing experience, and questions such as: what is your premise, what is the main point you are trying to make, what was your inspiration for writing the book and so on. The questionnaire also requires a detailed description of the book, 200 – 250 words, as well as a short description, no more than 50 words. Here’s the short blurb I provided:

Solving the murder of a local gun fanatic proves increasingly difficult as the chaos along the US border with Mexico threatens to invade Artemis, Texas. When Chief of Police, Josie Gray, arrests a brutal killer she becomes a personal target for the Medrano Cartel.

When your book is ready to start approaching agents, you’ll probably need several short descriptions for a variety of situations. I attended the Midwest Writer’s Workshop this past July in Muncie, Indiana. (Excellent conference, respected list of presenters and very reasonable price!) One of the sessions described how to write the “agent pitch.” It was a great exercise. You have to be able to boil down the essence of your book into a quick description that will grab an agent’s attention during a pitch session. The same pitch you can rattle off at the grocery store or the Christmas party. Something a person might remember a year from now when the book actually lands in a bookstore.