This Business of Writing

Posts Tagged ‘Query’

There are no rules! Really?

In The Craft of Writing on March 29, 2010 at 7:48 am

by C. Patrick Schulze

To listen to a podcast of this article, click HERE.

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I may be missing something here, but I wonder why people in the industry say there are no rules in writing. Of course there are rules. Lot’s of ‘em. Everywhere you turn.

Here’s a thought. Isn’t, “There are no rules” a rule in its own right? Thus, it would appear the statement is false on its face. So, have I’ve already made my point? Regardless, let’s journey forward.

“There are no rules” is considered by many just the Real Rule among the multitude of maxims they know exist. Here’s one example that proves the invalidity of the Real Rule.

Don’t query fiction before you have a completed novel.

Of course, another rule says you don’t have to follow this rule if you’re already a successful novelist, or a celebrity, or a politician or this or that. But, that doesn’t make the Real Rule not a regulation for us mere mortals, does it?

Here’s more proof the Real Rule is incorrect.

Don’t query unless your novel is well-written.

That’s definitely a rule.

Ah, I can hear the arguments now. “You’re talking about publishing! You must understand there are no rules when writing.”

Well, they are often interdependent, but let’s check that one out, too.

If there are no rules in writing, I guess you can write a novel that contains no conflict, right? Conflict in fiction is a rule, isn’t it? Maybe not if you believe the “no rules” rule.

Care for another example? When writing your novel, everyone says you need a sympathetic hero. How many novels would you sell if nobody cared for or identified with your protagonist? I guess we’ve found another rule that does exist.

Here’s another I guess you can ignore when writing; point of view. Just write from any and every viewpoint at any time. Right? I doubt even your mother would care to read that novel. Hum. Yet another rule.

One more, if you’ll bear with me. There is a rule when writing grammar that says you should eliminate most of your “-ly” words. Here again, another rule.

In addition to the many binding rules of writing, there are any number of ideas that are passed off as rules when they are not. One that comes to mind says fifty percent of your novel should be dialogue. That’s more a “guideline” as our pirate friends of the Caribbean might say. These sort of pseudo-maxims are a bit more difficult to address and beyond the scope of this article.

It’s probably time to stop and get to the point. My point is, there are rules, many and all kinds of them, and as writers we need to know and employ them.
With that said, I believe “there are no rules” is much like the rules of society. That is, rules do exist and people in power expect you to follow them, but it’s a lot more fun when you know how to break them. If fact, as Katherine Hepburn once gave words to my personal mantra, “If you obey all the rules, you’ll miss all the fun.”

In general, rules are made to be broken, but for the majority of us we must be circumspect when we do so. Some, such as conflict in fiction or the sympathetic hero really should not be broken if we wish to sell our novels. Others, like the use of semicolons, can be manipulated.

I recommend we think of the rules in writing as techniques or skill sets, if you will. Early in our writing careers we should first learn these various skills and methodologies. We should then adapt to them and become proficient with them. After we’ve reached that level of success that satisfies us, then figure out how to bend and even break the rules.

In the mean time, if we wish to sell our novels, we should jump through the hoops the industry requires of us and don’t give those people who say there are no rules too much sway over our writer’s life.

Okay, I’m done. Now I want to hear your arguments to the contrary.

Until we speak again, know I wish for you, only best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze
Author of the emerging novel, “Born to be Brothers.”


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How to Find Your Agent

In How-to's, The Craft of Writing, Working with Agents on March 23, 2010 at 6:52 am

By C. Patrick Schulze

To listen to a podcast of this article, click HERE.

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Most of us understand the passage to shelf space at the major book retailers is best realized by way of agent representation. And whether a writer wishes to admit it or not, each of us at least fantasizes about seeing our titles on the stores’ shelves.

So, how does an author find an agent to offer representation? This isn’t so difficult, though it does take time and effort.

It goes without saying you first must have mastered the craft of writing, with all that entails, and have that well-written book or novel completed. After all, an agent can’t ask to represent you unless you have a quality product they can sell for you. However, once you’ve traversed that long, arduous path of writing, it’s time to look for your agent.

A first priority is found in your professionalism. Few louts will ever receive an offer. Think of it from the agent’s perspective. Would you rather work with an idiot or a professional? So would they.

Next, you need to take the time to focus on the right kind of agents. Take careful aim at those suitable agents who might offer you the best chance of representation. The shotgun approach, that is querying every agent that might still live and breathe, will only waste your time, ego and money, not to mention the time and money of the various agents. Your purpose is to identify those agents who are most suitable to your novel or book, those who represent your genre.

Here are some tips on how to find the right agents.

If you’re unpublished to date, a great way to find your agent is at writers’ conferences. (Check out James River Writers for a great one in central Virginia, USA.) Focus on those agents who represent your genre and those with whom you’re a match on a personal level. Don’t forgo the personality match. It’s kind of like getting married to the wrong person.

There are any number of literary publications that can point you toward that perfect agent. They include, Writer’s Market, Literary Marketplace, Publishers Weekly, Writer’s Digest Magazine and the current Guide to Literary Agents. Pick up or check out these and other literary sources at your local library. All of these publications can assist you to identify those agents who might be interested in your novel.

Review books of those authors who write in your genre, then read the acknowledgement section. Quite often a novelist will mention their agent in this part of their novel. Those identified are, without question, agents who accepts your genre.

The Internet is loaded with sites to help you find that one agent you need. Consider Agent Query or The Society of Authors’ Representatives. Google “literary agents” and see what else you might find.

Network with other writers. Join a local writers’ group or two and become active in those groups. Being active is the secret to become known within these organizations. The membership should include a number of published authors and after they get to know you, they may be willing to introduce you to their agents.

Join one or more of the hundreds of national and international writers’ associations such as Poets and Writers, National Association of Women’s Writers or The Association of Writers & Writing Programs. Take the time to insure the groups you join are useful to you. Again, after they get to know you and your work, these members may be willing to pass your name along to their agents.

In time, you’ll have a list of potential agents developed. Once you do, organize it according to those who best suit your needs. If you’re an aspiring author, the secret is being honest with yourself. Look first to those who don’t represent the biggest names in the business. Try to find those agents with a bit of experience, but who still seek new authors to represent within your genre.

Once your list is complete and organized, it’s time to query. After that, it’s time to wait. On them, not on your writing. It can take months to hear from an agent, so here is where your mother’s warning comes into play: patience is a virtue. In the mean time, work on your next novel, enhance your education and so on. Just keep writing.

Once you do receive that first exhilarating call, be particular. The wrong agent can be worse than no agent at all.

Best of luck with your agent search and know I wish for you only best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze

Author of the emerging novel, “Born to be Brothers.”


THE Secret to the Slush Pile

In General Information, How-to's, The Craft of Writing, Working with Agents on March 19, 2010 at 7:14 pm

by C. Patrick Schulze

To listen to a podcast of this article, click HERE.

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We all know the best way to an agent’s heart is through a well-crafted query. The problem of course, is how to see that query past their hands and into their heart. However, did you know even if you’ve written the world’s best query, there’s a chance it might not be placed on an agent’s desk at all? Would you like to know why? It’s because the agents are not the first to review it.

I listened to a panel of agents a while back and they revealed a secret about queries. That is subalterns read your query first. Only if it passes their inexpert eye does it move into the agent’s inbox. So the first issue we as authors face with our book or novel, is it must pass muster with an inexperienced person. Now, I’m not knocking agent’s assistants, for we all have to start somewhere, but I have to rely upon an unproven stranger’s abilities to advance my writing career? This is not the most comforting thought, if you ask me.

So, how does your fraught-with-angst query get out of the infamous slush pile? That same agent’s panel I mentioned above gave me that answer too. All three agents agreed ninety percent of all queries are, and I quote, “crap.” Imagine! Nine out of ten queries are not even acceptable, let alone worthy. As severe as that sounds, I see it as an advantage.

Think of it this way. One hundred people apply for an important position at a company. Ninety of the applicants arrive in jeans and t-shirts, while ten of them are dressed in business suits. Which ones will move past the admin? The lesson here? Wear nice pants. Well, that too, but the real message is to learn the craft of writing. And the craft of writing includes the knowledge of how to formulate an effective query.

Now, armed with these two pieces of information, can you tell me what an agent’s assistant looks for? Here’s a hint, it’s not the next Great American Novel. The agent simply teaches them to spot a well-crafted query and to pass it along. With this information, the answer on how to avoid the slush pile, like so many answers in life, is simple. Write an effective query. How many times have we heard that one before?

I’ll bet we are all intelligent enough to craft a query letter, so I’ll assume everyone who reads this blog post will get theirs into the agent’s inbox. Now, comes the real problem. Once your query lands on an agent’s desk the process is, as you might suspect, subjective. And there ain’t nothing you can do about subjective. So, learn the craft of writing, pen an excellent query letter, be persistent and have faith.

The formula for an effective query is clean and simple and can be found all over the Internet. But in case you’d like an assist, here are some people and their article that tell you how to, and how not to write a query.

Rachelle Gardner

Nathan Bransford

Kathleen Ortiz

YA Highway

Chuck Sambuchino.

Until we meet again, I wish you only best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze
Author of the emerging novel, “Born to be Brothers.”


The Single Most Important Secret to Landing an Agent

In General Information, Working with Agents on January 8, 2010 at 9:44 am

Yesterday in my blog I promised another article about how to find an agent for your novel. As I slaved over the research for today’s post, I searched for those perfect suggestions to include when a thought struck me. The information aspiring authors need is overabundant on the Internet. Multitudinous tomes are rife with just such instructions. With this understanding, I asked what knowledge could I possibly impart that might be new or unique? I slipped away for a cup of coffee but a single thought kept coming back to me, one I heard at a writers’ conference not too long ago.

While attending the James River Writers’ Conference, (@jamesRVRwriters on Twitter), a panel of accomplished agents sat perched behind a wide, draped table in the center of the stage to the front of an auditorium. The subject of the talk was what agents look for when writers send in query letters. I had parked myself in the second or third row, which is where you get the most information at any seminar by the way, and with ballpoint in hand waited to pen the copious notes the speakers would soon convey to launch my writer’s career toward the heavens.

I sat, writing implement poised and waited for that blaze of information to spark my livelihood and make my name a household word within the literary world. The speakers spoke, as speakers do, and I sat pen still poised, and waited for that flash of inspiration so critical to my plans. After about thirty minutes, I still sat, pen now drooping, and started wondering why I’d bothered with this seminar at all. I wasn’t hearing anything I didn’t already know.

Then at last! A note I could smear across the blank page before me! All three speakers attested to the accuracy of this information and with great fervor, I scribbled two numbers and a symbol appeared on the legal pad in my lap.

And that was all.

When the fifty minute seminar concluded, the audience clapped, the speakers smiled and people filtered out of the auditorium and into the halls. I sat, waiting for the crowd to thin, and considered the single note I had written on that otherwise blank sheet of paper. That’s it. That was all I got out of the seminar. Two numbers and a symbol.

Now, don’t get me wrong. The speakers did their job well, the audience was more than appreciative of the panelists’ time and as the writers herded out, the hubbub sounded enthusiastic and engaging. Nice seminar. Even to me, the time had been well spent. I was quite pleased with my one note that read, “90%.”

That number represented the number of authors who, when querying an agent, fail to follow even the most basic instructions required of their query.

Ninety percent of those who query don’t write a professional letter. Ninety percent don’t include a phone number for the agent to request a partial. Ninety percent don’t start with the story. Ninety percent don’t send in the first fifty pages when requested. Ninety percent talk down to the agent, etc, etc, etc. The secret of this story is found in a sage bit of advice my father offered so often in his life.

“If all else fails, follow directions.”

In the case with authors, you’ll have a better chance of publication than nine out of ten authors by listening to my father. Smart guy and good odds, I’d say.

Until we speak again, I wish you only best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze

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The Query Letter Made Simple

In General Information, The Craft of Writing, Working with Agents on October 28, 2009 at 9:06 am

I read a tweet the other day that say something like, if you’re overly worried about your query, you’re probably over thinking the thing. (I’m paraphrasing as I’m too lazy busy to hunt down the quote. Despite the rewording, it struck me how we authors need to rethink the query and make that proverbial molehill out of the mountain.

Take a deep breath and you’ll be just fine. Trust me. I was a doctor in my dreams once.

Regardless the potential of this frightening piece of paper, a query is nothing more than a short story.

To start, we’ll identify the components of a query letter is.

  1. It’s a business letter. (This is important.)
  2. It’s your novel made into a short story of two to three paragraphs.
  3. It’s a listing of your writer’s credentials, whatever they may or may not be.

Present these three parts in the order shown. Doesn’t sound so bad, now does it?

Have you ever written a business letter? If so, item one is under your belt. If you’ve not, it’s an easy task to master. Formatting is really about it. If you’re unsure, look it up on the Internet. You’ll conquer that skill in a single sitting. (Don’t forget to include all your contact information.)

The short story is not as tough as you imagine. You wrote the book, now make a short story out of it and you’re done. Focus here on the major conflicts in your story and how your primary characters respond to that conflict.  After your salutation, get right to the story. Here’s an example of what I mean by that.

Dear Ms. Agent,

Sam was an exceptional student at John Q. Public High School until Max came into his life.

See how that works? No embellishments, no howdy-dos, none of that. Get to the story right away.

In these two or three paragraphs, simply tell the agent who your, (no more than three), major characters are and the high points of their conflict. They don’t need descriptions of these people, just names and the plot points. Tell how your protagonist and your antagonist fought it out, as it were. Get to the meat of this issue and ignore, for now, all the side steps to the story. Here is your example.

Sam was an exceptional student at John Q. Public High School until Max came into his life. One night, Max convinced Sam to use a fake ID to get into the local pub. The boys got drunk and, with Sam a bystander, Max killed a drifter.

After Sam helped Max dispose of the body, Sam had second thoughts and wanted to report the incident to the police. Max was furious about the idea and tried a number of times to kill Sam.

Sam survived Max’s attempts and in the process, killed Max. Sam then got a job as an assassin’s assistant and, after time, morphs into a world renowned assassin.

There you go. The major characters and the chief conflict points are discussed in three short paragraphs. (I know they’re not well written but, hey, this is an example) This short story should be in the range of two hundred fifty words.

The method I use to craft this short story is easy. After completing at least a first draft of my manuscript, I condense each chapter into a single sentence such as “Boy meets girl.” I string them together to create my query short story. I then edit this short story as I do any manuscript. This process takes me a few hours, maybe half a day.

Don’t forget, these resulting paragraphs must be as well written as your manuscript. However, that shouldn’t be too difficult as you’re a writer, and that’s what writers do. Right?

Finally, the last paragraph lists your writer’s accomplishments in paragraph form. Don’t have any? Not to worry. Agents don’t really care if you’re an aspiring author. They just want to know you’re good at your chosen craft.

In my next posting, I’ll discuss how agents look at your query to make their decisions in asking for partials.

Until then, my all your books be best-sellers.

Patrick