One of the first questions a writer gets when she has written a novel is….how long did it take you to write it? The second question…what does the cover look like?
The answer to the first question varies greatly according to what writer you ask. One particular writer might tell you that it took her about a year and a half. She might tell you about the two novels that she wrote and then stuck in a drawer because they both stunk—the first more than the second. She might tell you that the novel she sold is the third that she wrote and she would also tell you that the toughest part of the process was writing the query letter.
Once a writer has written a novel that she thinks is good enough to sell—not an easy thing to determine—she sets about finding an agent. The first step in this process is to write a query letter. This is a one page letter intended to introduce the author and, more importantly, the book to the agent. In the space of this one page letter, or more specifically, in the space of a paragraph or two, the author must summarize her novel in a way that is compelling enough to grab an agent’s attention, keeping in mind that agents may receive hundreds of these queries in any given month. So, how to distill a 368 page novel into a paragraph or two? How to capture the essence of the plot, the unique qualities of the characters, the haunting atmosphere permeating the setting? These questions plague an author, keep her up at night, give her headaches that settle in between the eyes, make her want to beat her computer with a sledge hammer.
If this query letter is a book’s first introduction to an agent, then perhaps it is fair to say that a book’s first introduction to a reader is its cover. How does a cover distill 368 pages into a single image? How does it capture the essence of the plot, the unique qualities of the characters, the haunting atmosphere permeating the setting? I don’t know the answer to these questions, but I am fortunate enough that the folks at Dutton who worked on and created the cover for BENT ROAD have achieved and surpassed all of these goals. This is one instance where I hope you can judge a book by its cover.