Thursday, February 12, 2015

The Many Hats of Being an Author

Occasionally I'll reject a query with a little extra advice to the writer. Recently I was really vacillating
between requesting more material and rejecting. In the end I decided to reject. The query letter was just missing something and if the blurb was missing something often the book is too.

The writer responded to my rejection with a thank you, but also added: 

I wish my writing could speak for itself rather than trying to pitch it like a used car salesman, but I guess that's how it's done. 

Let me clarify. The writer was super kind and thankful. She saw my point and agreed that her query needed some work. She was not at all acting defensively or arguing. But I think this line says volumes about how discouraged she must be feeling and I would bet almost every writer who has ever queried has felt this way at some time or another.

But here's the thing about the query blurb. It is a different style of writing from fiction writing (something else the author said), but it's also something you all need to learn. Writing the query is a part of honing your craft.

In any job we all get to do the things we love, and need to learn how to be better at the things that might be a struggle for us. An agent doesn't just read submissions and send them to her buddies. She also needs to learn to write a compelling blurb, she needs to sharpen her negotiation skills, learn how to edit and revise, and occasionally hold a hand along the way. Not all of these are going to be an agent's favorite task, but she needs to learn to do each of them well.

The job of an author has a number of similar tasks. It's not just writing a great story, but also learning basic grammar, how to sell that story (to agents and readers alike), master social media (or hire someone who will do it for you), and how to sell yourself as the author.

So hate the query all you want, but spend some time learning how to perfect it.



Melissa Cutler said...

Fantastic post, and you're absolutely right on all accounts.

The ability to write a blurb well doesn't stop after a writer gets an agent. It's a skill I use almost monthly, often weekly.

Our writing will never just speak for itself, published or not. Authors have to be a passionate, skilled, and tireless advocate for our words.

Sharon said...

Thank you for this timely post! It was just the encouragement I needed to revise my query.

Elissa M said...

I've found that honing my query while I'm still working on my novel helps keep the novel focused, especially since I'm a "pantser" style writer. Other writers have told me they feel the same.

I also tend to think query writing is like a musician practicing scales. You have to get the basics down if you want to perform that concerto perfectly.

The skills required to write a good query are really not that different from any other type of writing. You're trying to communicate an idea or a story through written words. It's a skill all writers should have.

DLM said...

In a case like this, a great part of the discouragement is learning that an agent is generous enough to respond as you did - and, if you were a dream agent for her, the disappointment is all the keener for getting even a glimpse of your humanity. I have gotten Rs after second reads from two agents I already thought were pretty great, but who through that process showed me smarts and kindness that got me pretty twitterpated.

Now, I just tell myself - hey, these two frankly legendary agents READ MY WORK, and not everybody gets that. When one of them said online I'd written a "darn good ms" I nearly died, because that was in public. We ended the reading portion of our acquaintanceship with her saying she looked forward to telling the story of how she let me get away, and thanking me for being one of the wonderful people she gets to work with. A "darn good" out of some folks is more hagiography than reams of praise from some others.

Your querier will find that right fit, and you gave her a good moment along that path. It's the good part that makes it so hard some days.

AJ Blythe said...

I find queries to be very daunting. It's like writing a job application. You know you can do the job, but it all boils down to how well you write the application. The person who lands the job may not have been the best applicant, just the best at writing their application.

The only way to improve is to keep writing and submitting. Over time you might be lucky enough to get feedback and one day your query will be the one that floats to the top.