Monday, April 13, 2009

The Easy Writer

As a first-time author, I'm trying to get my brain around query letters. Maybe I'm just thinking of it too much like a resume or a CV, but I feel that I need to include something that says "I'm easy." That is, I know that:

  1. I'm a first-time author.
  2. Pretty much everyone else is going to have a better concept of "the right thing" than I will.
  3. I have a day job so I'm not starving and freaking out trying to get published.
  4. I'm willing to shut up, listen, and do what it takes to enjoy the ride.
  5. Whether it takes 2 weeks or 2 years, 2 or 200 rounds of revisions, I'm cool with that.

But . . . I'm having trouble coming up with a way of saying all of that so it doesn't also sound like "I'm doing the writing thing as a lark and don't really care about it." It's not that I don't care -- I care quite a bit -- but I'm smart enough to not let my ego get in the way. I'll save the crazy high-maintenance stuff for when I've published 20 books and optioned them all to movie studios.

Is there a concise way of saying all of that? Or am I on the exact wrong track?

You are on the wrong track. Here’s the deal: note to all of you aspiring writers out there, you better all be “easy.” It’s not an option. Here are my thoughts on your list.

  1. I couldn't care less if you’re a first-time or fiftieth-time author; if the book wows me, I want you. From there, each book is a new experience and we’ll ride that wave together if necessary.
  2. I’m not sure I have a better concept of “the right thing” than you do. Heck, I don’t even know what you mean by that. This whole crazy business is subjective and what’s right for one isn’t always right for another. What you have to know is your book and your characters and what’s right for them.
  3. Starving and freaking out about getting published are two different things. If you’re starving and published you’re likely to still be starving. If you’re freaking out about getting published you’re a writer.
  4. We should all be willing to shut up and listen and do what it takes to enjoy the ride. If you’re not, get off the bus now, I don’t want you. Publishing a book is not the job of one person, it’s a team effort, and the better you are at playing with the team the more successful you’ll be.
  5. Time is your friend in the publishing world. It will take 2 weeks, 2 years and 200 years (oh, sorry, you said rounds of revisions), and whether you’re cool with it or not you don’t have a choice. So buckle in, write until your fingers ache, and work on your blurb, because that’s what the query is all about.


Anonymous said...

This letter just plain scares me. Are other people thinking this way? Overthinking this way? I know what this person means but the thinking is just so wrong. It's inappropriate and sorry, kind of pathetic.

Writing. It is about writing.

kris said...

"If you’re freaking out about getting published you’re a writer."

Bwah! Finally! A criteria I can meet with ease!

PurpleClover said...

Maybe the "easy writer" is under the assumption that their query isn't getting past the front door because of the blurb about themselves rather than the blurb about their MS.

I know I've read several times that agents are looking for the personality of the writer in their query.

They probably don't realize that just being the best person in the world isn't going to get them rep'd. It's about the writing.

At least that was my impression on what they were trying to say. Maybe? I'm thinking the focus is just off.

Shawntelle Madison said...

Great post! Thanks.

Rick Daley said...

I think it boils down to show and tell, just like writing does. Don't tell the agent you are easy to work with, show them by querying according to common standards and the agent's preferences. Showing that you are easy = acting like a professional.

Write what you think is right. Walk into a bookstore and look at all of the books in one long, sweeping glance. Take it all in. For each book, several people thought it was right, that's why it is on the shelf.

Do you want to read every book in the store cover to cover? No? Then you should understand the subjectivity in the publishing world.

WORD VERIFICATION: outriess. To riess more than the next person.

Anonymous said...

Is this a real letter? It sounds like begging to me...and I don't think writers (or anyone) should beg, esp if they're proud of their work.

Megan said...

Anonymous at 8:12 am, I think that’s a little harsh. When I first learned about agents, I had no idea what went into a query letter, and I’m sure I asked a lot of questions that were much stranger than this. People just want to make sure they are giving the best impression possible, and while they may not always go about it the right way, that doesn’t make it inappropriate or pathetic.

To the easy writer, Jessica gave you lots of good advice. While publishing is a “group sport” and willingness to work with others in a professional manner is essential, a query letter is more about the book you’ve written than it is about you. As Rick Daley said, if you query according to the agent’s guidelines and are respectful in your correspondence with him or her, you are more than halfway there. The only thing you need to tell an agent about you in the query is whether you have any professional publication credits – and if you don’t, you can pretty much leave the bio section out altogether.

Kimber Li said...

Sounds like a newbie. We were all there once, so a little patience and compassion is in order.

Here's the way I've boiled down all the query-writing advice-

The only thing that matters at the query stage is the story itself, unless you have real writing credits. If you don't have real writing credits, you simply don't mention it. By real, I mean you got paid for it.

Tap 'query' into the search feature at the top of this blog and all the other agent blogs and learn all you can. Then, put a LOT of hard work and time into perfecting the query, which, remember, is all about the story. "I can't write a query" is no excuse. None of us could starting out. The fact is *YOU CAN LEARN.*

If you're worried about an agent liking you, simply make sure you're on-line presence is both honest and polite in case you get Googled.

Otherwise, I've really not seen where it matters what you're like until an agent is seriously considering offering representation. That doesn't happen until after they've read and fallen in love with a Requested Full of your story. Unless you're Stephanie Meyers, it can take a few years of learning and trying before you reach that point.

Rosemary said...

I think the writer is using "easy" in place of "professional," and I understand where she's coming from.

She wants agents to know that she's flexible,willing to learn, and hardworking. Some of that can be conveyed in a well-crafted query--tone goes a long way.But it's only after she lands an agent that she'll have to prove those things.

Her questions aren't necessarily "pathetic" and I don't think she's begging. She's just getting ahead of herself--something I suspect many of us are guilty of.

Bill Greer said...

I wonder if the writer is nervous about the biography section of the query. He has a day job and has spent his evenings writing a novel, and he's ready to start querying. Maybe it's a great novel and maybe it's a typical first novel. He does his research and does everything right in the query until he gets to the biography section. He doesn't have an MFA, he hasn't had short stories published in the New Yorker, and he doesn't know any industry insiders. Basically, he has no platform, but he wants to put something down. What do you put then without sounding like a nobody or a newbie who doesn't have a clue?

If an agent sees basically the same query from two different writers, and the only difference in the queries is that one has no publishing credits and the other has already established some sort of credentials, will the agent pass on the first and request on the second?

Anonymous said...

To the writer of this letter:

I know just how you feel. Many moons ago (hmmm...two that's what, 24 moons?) I wrote to Miss Snark with sort of similar questions about a conference I was about to attend and an agent I was meeting wit there. Like you, I wanted the agent to know I'd be easy to work with, and that I was ready and willing to take advice. I had the advantage(?) of meeting the agent in person, but that also meant I couldn't carefully craft the words I would use in advance.

If you follow the link, you'll see that what Miss Snark said is that it's more about not coming across as a freak than it is about coming across ready, willing and able. As Jessica says, not being "easy" is just not an option. Since agents will assume you are "easy", you don't have to tell them. What you have to do is show how good a writer you are and not come across as "difficult" (or any of those people Miss Snark told me not to be).

By the way, I didn't mess up my chances with the agent at the conference. She didn't want the work I pitched to her there, but when I queried her with my next work, she took me on.

Robena Grant said...

Jessica, I think your comment on publishing being a team effort is key. The only thing we have any control over is the initial writing.

So easy writer, relax. Concentrate on producing the best book possible. That's your part of the publishing equation, and it isn't about how nice you are, how old you are, what you look like, how you dress, so long as you present yourself in a professional manner and your story has a fabulous hook, you're golden.

Sookie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Devon Ellington said...

Great post. Anything else I say will be superfluous.

Sheila Deeth said...

So do I qualify? I'm trying to freak out quietly so as not to disturb the family.

Kate Douglas said...

"I have a day job so I'm not starving and freaking out trying to get published."

I certainly don't think you need to be starving (I had a very supportive husband watching my back before I sold) but if you're eye isn't glued to the idea of writing well enough to get published, then you don't really want to be published. It can't just be an impossible dream, something you "might do some day." If you really want publication, you'd damned well better REALLY WANT PUBLICATION. This is not a career you step into in a half-assed fashion. I truly believe it's an all or nothing way of life.

Shakier Anthem said...

Considering all the recent press about queryfail and the ensuing fracas, not to mention all the "don't do this" advice on various agents' and editors' blogs, I can understand how a writer trying to break into the industry would worry. There are a million ways a writer can reveal him- or herself to be undesirable to work with. The trick, I think, isn't to prove that you *are* ready, willing, and able. The trick is *not* to prove that you're a pain in the butt. And the key to that is educating yourself on what agents are (and are not) looking for. Most PIB writers probably don't realize they come across that way, simply because they don't know that it's inappropriate to call agents, send 300,000 word manuscripts that haven't been requested, etc. Educate yourself, and you'll have more control over how you come across. Oh, and also, if you're as laid-back and easygoing as you say, then apply some of that to the long, slow query/publishing process. You'll need it!

Debra Lynn Shelton said...

Be confident and trust yourself.