Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Danger of Publishing Blogs

I was reading through some of the posts on my own blog as well as those of my colleagues and started to think about some of the dangers to authors that can occur because of these blogs.

Oftentimes we are asked to give advice, guidance, or further explanation as to some of the biggest causes of rejection we see, and certainly there are a number of things that pop up again and again. Some of these include telling and not showing your story, stiff and awkward dialogue, or lack of description. So how can knowing what often sets us off be dangerous to you? It’s dangerous when you try to generalize too much.

Sometimes, for example, a lack of description can be a good thing. Sometimes it can set a certain pace and tone. Have you ever read Robert B. Parker, especially his Spenser series? Parker has a unique style of writing that is clipped, quick, and full of energy. There is just enough description, but not too much.

My fear is that by writing about why we often reject things we are giving authors the impression that it’s just that easy. That there are only three to five reasons for rejection, and if you can get past those you’ll easily sell your book. Nothing is ever that easy, and when reading these agent blogs it’s important to remember that. I also fear that you’re getting the impression that publishing is that formulaic. That there’s a magic guideline out there and that if you find it and follow it you’ll have written a bestseller. Alas, folks, if it were that easy we’d be blogging from the beaches on our own private Agent Island.

Each agent has a unique perspective. We all work differently, we all have different tastes, opinions, and ideas. What I think might make an amazing and dynamic query letter might not work for Agent Kristin or Nathan Bransford. What Nathan sees as an instant rejection might not be the same for me.

So what am I saying? I’m asking you to of course keep reading our blogs. We enjoy writing them and enjoy hearing from you. At the same time, though, I’m asking you to understand that each of these blogs is the opinion of one agent in a sea of many. And it’s one voice, one opinion. I am not a goddess and never pretended to be. I’m just an agent who likes to share my opinion, what I know and what I’ve learned from 15+ years in this business.

So take it all with a grain of salt. Learn what you can, but write your own book and sometimes, just sometimes, forget all of the rules and let yourself go. Those are the books and the queries that really end up being the winners.



Colette Garmer said...

Thank you! I was starting to wonder about this exact subject. It's good to hear that there is hope for individuality with my having been a rule breaker from way back.

Now, it goes without saying that there are rules to be followed as far as the business end of writing such as: spelling, grammar, format for printing out your manuscript, etc... But what is bound within those pages we refer to as our babies or heart and soul should remain ours to a certain degree.

Bernita said...

A heart-felt thank you for this post.

beth said...

Add another thanks for this post :)

I think it also comes from the a writer, I read all the blogs and guidelines and all, but I internalize it. I don't make checklists or anything like that, just tuck it away in my head--which is why its good if two or three agents cover the same thing. Then when I write my query, all those tidbits I'd internalized come out in the writing, and I know it's decent, and while mine, also fits in with the advice.

Mark Terry said...

I'm SO disappointed. I thought you were a Goddess blogging from your own Agent Island.

tina gray said...

Thanks for the post! Anything, even “How To Write” books, must be taken in stride with your own unique talents in mind.

It’s important not to get hung up on techniques. For example, I plot to an extent, but some best-selling writers don’t plot at all. Instead, they are story archeologists. They dig until they have a big pile of disjointed bones (scenes), then they brush them off and magically fit them into something cohesive and brilliant.

Stephen King admits to using such a method in his autobiography "On writing." His is the ultimate writing book in my opinion. He doesn’t try to tell you how to write. Instead, he offers tools you can use to hone your own skills and become successful.

The best thing any writer can do for their career, aside from respecting the obvious grammatical parameters that everyone must follow, is to remember that they are an individual. And individuality is key to unlocking VOICE, which ultimately is the only “technique” any writer ever needs to master.

Voice and a unique story idea are the two things that will stand out above all else to capture the eye of an agent or publisher and land books on the shelves of the reading public.

Writer Dad said...

Publishing blogs are teachers, if we accept that we are students. I've never done everything a single teacher has told me, but I've taken their advice and blended it with a hundred others to help define the way I think. You're doing good work. Thank you. And I agree with Tina. King's book is my favorite.

JES said...

Thanks for this, Jessica. Kind of makes me think of the, umm, was it something Picasso said? Somebody asked the artist (whoever it was) how they managed to create a lifelike sculpture from a solid block of stone. He replied to the effect that he just picked up hammer and chisel and removed everything that didn't look like the subject.

Answering for ourselves the question "How do I get an agent?" or "How do I get published?" is something like sculpting. It's easy to focus on the "hold the hammer this way," "measure the angle carefully before striking," "be sure to use the right gauge chisel" sort of details and forget to remember that taking care of all of them doesn't necessarily leave you with the writing-success counterpart of a finished statue.

[tortured metaphor provided free of charge for today only]

Amy Nathan said...

I think it's important to remember we need to go with our gut.

If you get a bad feeling from any suggestion - it's not for you.

Sometimes a comment is enlightening, sometimes it's blinding. We need to know the difference.

Kate Douglas said...

I think your last paragraph says it all..."Learn what you can, but write your own book and sometimes, just sometimes, forget all of the rules and let yourself go." Unfortunately, the hardest thing in the world is to take what you've learned and then "write your own book." However, speaking from experience, once you've actually done it, you'll know. It all comes down to voice--finding your own, not trying to mimic someone else's. It also means not always following the rules.

Anonymous said...

What a great post!!

I've seen posts on pub blogs that people take very seriously; some of the comments are actually sad and you can't help feeling bad for these people. I've even gone so far as to leave encouraging anonymous comments on personal writers blogs because I was worried these people took the pub blog post too seriously. I've been in publishing for a long time, and every now and then I'll read a blog post and actually think, "Please, writers, don't take this too seriously."

Chris Redding said...

If you read a variety of publishers and agents blogs, the last idea you could get is that this industry is simple.

Anonymous said...

Right on. Or Write On. Write the book you want to write, the way you want to write it. Then write the best query letter you can. Then let your baby go. While you wait, write another. Keep writing. In my experience with the query wars I've found that both my queries and my fulls are met with a mixed bag. The exercise will hopefully find the right agent who has a passion for the book. Sort of like going on a bunch of blind dates and hoping eventually you will find 'the one'. It happens all the time. Kismet.

Elissa M said...

While I've always believed I should write what I want to write and not worry about making it "fit", this post truly encourages me. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Your blog made me feel better than I have ever felt. I have written two books and have yet to turn them loose. Every agent seems to want something different and I had it in my mind that I had to please all of them at the same time. I had even thought about going the self-publishing route, because I didn't want to jump through all of the hoops. When I do let my babies go, I'll do my best to send it to the appropriate agent, but the query shark will only slightly influence my style from here on out.

Anonymous said...

I think agents and editors should also be careful with their blogging tone. I've crossed a couple off my list because they appeared as less-than-professional on their blogs. I'm nobody, but a future J.K. Rowling might come searching too.

Anonymous said...

The biggest danger of publishing blogs is that, if you submit your work to them and are awaiting a reply, you'll check the blog every ten minutes to see if they've written a post about you. Like, "You'll never believe the work of beautiful genius that just landed on my desk!"

Anonymous said...

You iz to a Godness!

AstonWest said...

So take it all with a grain of salt. Learn what you can, but write your own book and sometimes, just sometimes, forget all of the rules and let yourself go.

Unless you're writing about space pirates... :-)

Santa said...

I started writing my own story, then got told to show not tell, throw in GMC - internal and external, use few words, be more descriptive....It can drive a person a bit looney.

So, I've decided to go back and write my own story.

Then I'll fly it up the flagpole and see who salutes - so to speak.

Thanks for the post. It could not have been better timed.

Jess Anastasi said...

BookEnds said: "My fear is that by writing about why we often reject things we are giving authors the impression that it’s just that easy. That there are only three to five reasons for rejection, and if you can get past those you’ll easily sell your book."

And as I have been finding out recently, sometimes there can be no reason for the agent to reject it except it doesn't 'feel right' to them. It is such a subjective indusrty, all you can do is put the best work out there you can and hope it lands on the desk of someone who sees something in it.
Thanks, Jessica, I think we need reminding of this sometimes.

Anonymous said...

Well, this is just great. I had finally decided to write all literary agents off as pompous windbags with giant egos and delusions of godness.

And now this!!!

Usman said...

So what is your take on queries starting with rhetorical questions. I particularly ask this in reference to Nathan.

Julie Weathers said...


Thank you. I think this is something every writer should bookmark. A friend of mine once sent me a pm that saved my sanity when one of my chapters was going through a brutal critique process. She said something to the effect of take all of the advice and examine it carefully. If several people are noting the same problem correct it. But, don't lose your voice and sense of humor in your writing because that's what makes you unique.

I do pay careful attention to writing blogs and there is a ton of valuable information to be gleaned. At the end of the day, they all have the same golden rule. Write something wonderful and we will notice. The rest of the information should be used or discarded as needed.

Just because you have a full spice drawer doesn't mean all of them need to be in the cake.

Charlie Russell was encouraged to go to Europe and take art lessons after he had achieved some success in America. He did and tried to paint like the French artists. Then he decided that wasn't him and burned everything and went back to his original style.

Thank heavens.

MB Dabney said...

Thanks for this posting.

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