Thursday, October 22, 2009

Not Just Because

I have been an agent for nearly ten years now, a packager for a year plus prior to that, and an editor for five years prior to that. In other words, I have some experience in this business and have learned what works for me and what doesn’t work for me. This holds true for submissions and queries as well as material I’m planning on submitting to clients.

When setting guidelines for authors I’m not making arbitrary rules just to make your lives harder. In other words, I ask for a query letter because before picking up a book or a partial I like to know what I’m reading first. In fact, that’s one of my biggest pet peeves about the Kindle. I miss the cover art and the back cover blurb that reminds me why I bought the book in the first place. I have shelves of yet-to-be-read books throughout my house and my office. When it’s time to pick up a new title I browse those shelves in the same way you browse shelves in a bookstore. I evaluate the cover art and reread the back cover blurb, sometimes time and time again before the right time comes for that book. For me the query letter is that cover art and blurb. It sets the tone for me before reading the material or helps decide if I even want to flip the cover open. It also helps me to determine if I’m in the mood to read the material that day or should wait until tomorrow.

These same sorts of guidelines apply to my clients. I don’t make them rewrite proposals (fiction and nonfiction) because I want to read each proposal 10, 15 or even 20 times. I ask them to do the work because after 15+ years in this industry I know what a proposal needs for me to sell it. Other agents might have other ideas, but this is what works for me and has worked for me over and over again. I don’t ask for revisions on a manuscript because I want an author to do unnecessary work or because I like to see authors sweat. I want them to do the work because I feel, based on my experience, that without changes editors have an easy reason for rejection.

Think of it this way: Wouldn’t my job, my life, be a lot easier if I simply submitted manuscripts exactly as they were when I originally received them from an author? If instead of asking for revisions again and again, reading the manuscript or proposal multiple times, and sending out revision letters, I just left it up to the editor? Wouldn’t it be easier for me to submit without crafting the query/cover letter I need to include to send to the editor? I spend hours on revisions, hours on the letter and even more hours following up with editors. Wouldn’t it be easier for me if I didn’t do any of that?

Life and getting published is not about easy. It takes work and I’m willing to do the work to help you build a successful career. Since it’s your career I would think you’re willing to do the work too.

And just so you don’t think I’ve gone off my rocker, here’s what caused today’s little rant: “I can't write a synopsis, summary, or blurb to save my life. My mind simply doesn't work that way. For this reason I will save you the trouble of reading the drivel that would be my traditional query attempt. Here are the first few pages of my novel.”

In any job or career there are things we love and things we have to do. In publishing, hopefully writing is what you love; revisions, editing and queries are things we have to do. I’m sure most firefighters love fighting fires, but there’s probably also a long list of things they have to do, like rescue potential suicide attempts or pull cars from frozen rivers. Wouldn’t it be a shame if all firefighters simply decided they were only going to do the parts of their jobs they loved?