Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Response to Our Response to...Oh, Forget It!

"Why do people include article credits? Because every single "how-to" book I've ever read tells you to. This is the first agent blog that I've come across that is against mentioning article publishing credits. Other agents say that by including those credits you're showing them that you can write well enough that somebody at some point paid you actual money for it. Yes they're totally different kinds of writing, but then again, writing a novel is vastly different than writing a query or a synopsis, yet we're expected to have mastered both of those art forms in order to get published. I think this is the perfect example of why I love agent’s blogging. Now any author who does their homework on what your agency prefers will know not to talk about any articles they've published, and to keep it solely about the novel writing that they have done."

First of all, it is important to remember that many (many, many, many, many…) how-to-write/get published books—and even articles on writing, for that matter—are written by writers whose only writing credit is their how-to-write/get published book.

Writing a query should be no problem as it’s a business letter, something we all learn how to write in high school. It’s only when writers are taught to try to embellish to somehow turn a simple query into a work of art that query letter writing becomes a chore. I have seen articles, books, and workshops on how to “pitch” in your query and how to “hook” an agent, and most of that kind of gimmicky, hype-y stuff just gives me more to plow through. The key, as always, is in the writing, as you mentioned. As has been stated on this blog in many posts, KEEP IT SIMPLE and you’ll get further. Writers who have been overwhelmed with “helpful” information seem to trip themselves up in their own words, and simplicity practically eliminates this.

Just on a personal note, I have never really understood the idea that if a writer has been paid to write something, an article in this case, that his skills would command monetary compensation in another area of writing. Let's look at it this way: If you were a novelist, would that count if you were going to apply to write articles for Newsweek?

The deadlines for articles and novels are different, as is the rhythm of the publishing process and how it proceeds. For me, it would be like saying that if I have held a job selling screws, that I would be an expert at selling automobiles because they contain screws--if that makes any sense. :)

Thanks for bringing this up. Good discussion.

Monday, June 26, 2006

First Novel Comment Response

If you have never written a novel before, ever, and are querying, should one say that at all? Although I have never recommended that someone attempt to publish the first novel that they have ever written, if someone wanted to, should they just not say anything about previous experience, since it wouldn't apply?

Most writers mention that this is their first novel when they query me. When I read these queries I wonder, first of all, if these writers have done any edits on their work, bothered to revise their novel or whether this is their very first draft. Consequently, if this is your first novel attempt, ever, mention this but also mention that your writing has been thoroughly revised and edited. If you received help from your critique group or if you had your work professionally edited, I would want to know this, and if your work was professionally edited, sharing your editor’s name is also a plus.

To be very honest, experience has shown me that first attempts are usually not commercially viable. The reason for this is that unless writing comes to you naturally, your first attempt as a novelist, as first attempts with just about anything, is not going to be advanced enough to win you a publishing contract. Consequently, most agents, including myself, very seldom consider representing first attempts.

We all learn to write at a very young age. Normally, children who enter first grade know how to write simple sentences. Writing is, after all, a form of communication, so it is assumed that anyone who is literate can write. However, it is a huge leap to assume that anyone who is literate is also a novelist, and I think assuming this is becoming a major problem.

Somewhere in middle school and maybe even before, we write our first composition. Is it natural to think that we could also, at this point, win a publishing contract for a magazine article? I don’t think so. It takes time to hone those skills and learn about the different types of writing out there. It also takes time to hone the skills needed to write a novel.

For a moment I would like to go beyond the question and connect back to the post about including magazine writing in your query for a novel. Keep in mind that composition writing moves one in the direction of magazine articles and creative writing moves one in the direction of short fiction, which can eventually lead to writing longer fiction. As can be seen here, composition and creative writing move on two different tracks. Consequently, since they are not that closely related—more like distant cousins—why put this information in your query letter unless you are querying us on a non-fiction project?

To reiterate the main point of this post, make sure that if you mention you are querying on a first novel that you communicate effectively the steps you have taken to make it the best it can possibly be. Without this information, your query will probably be dismissed. Most agents have seen too many poorly written first novels to believe that yours might be any better, so make sure you give us the information needed to truly understand your writing ability.