A while back I was skimming posts in a very popular forum/bulletin board for writers, and ended up with two semi-related rants. But after writing the rants out, and then reading what I’d written, I decided that my rants were probably a bit too rant-tastic for this site, so I decided to rewrite my rants into something more along the lines of “Observation and Advice.”
Observation #1) I swear to god, if I see the quote about how you should only write because you Love Writing and not to Be A Writer one more time I’m going to scream. I would like to humbly disagree with the oft-made assertion that one should write for the Love of Writing before writing in order to Be A Writer. I understand where the posters are coming from (I hope.) I would like to think that they are advising aspiring writers to keep the stars out of their eyes, to let go of the dreams of fame and fortune, and write because they love to write.
Except. If you’re writing with the goal of Being A Writer (i.e. a professional writer), then the love of writing is pretty much a given. Anyone who doesn’t have a love of crafting words and stories isn’t going to be willing to endure the torture and flaying and depression and difficult road to publication. It’s pretty much a self-culling herd.
Therefore, I give the opposite advice: Make your goal to Be A Writer. I believe that if you have any aspiration whatsoever of becoming a writer who is actually paid money for their work, then you absolutely must at some point want very badly to Be A Writer.
Without that desire, there’s no drive to improve, no need to learn the business, no fire in your belly that pushes you to finish what you’re working on and then start another project. Without that desire to Be A Writer, you won’t be able to swallow pride and accept criticism. I think that once a person accepts that whatever they’re working on isn’t going to be sold and published, then that’s when they stop trying. That’s when their work loses that extra little spark. I’m not talking about literary genius, I’m talking about that life in a really cool story, that extra mile that the author pushed because it mattered, because they wanted their audience (see? Other people reading it?) to love it as much as they did.
But more than that, I think that if you don’t have the desire to Be A Writer, then you’re not going to be willing to put the time in on the business end of Being A Writer.
Because, let me tell you, Being A Writer is a job. I haven’t been doing it all that long, but in this past year it’s been driven home to me that it’s a job. (Don’t get me wrong–it’s an awesome job and it’s the one I’ve always wanted, but there’s a lot more work involved than just writing words for a story.) And, like any other job, you can do it half-assed and get half-assed results, or you can put A-level effort in.
Which leads me to Rant Observation and Advice #2) The search for an agent.
Again, I read a number of posts on this subject. Yes, I totally remember how frustrating and depressing that process can be. I know that in today’s market it’s pretty much a necessity to have an agent if you want to sell a book to a major publisher, and I remember well that sense of desperation when the rejections started rolling in. I didn’t have a personal referral to my agent, and I didn’t meet him at a conference or convention. I landed my agent the traditional way–with a query letter.
What kills me is the number of people who shoot themselves in the foot during this process. I would like to offer some helpful advice to those readers who are currently or will soon be in a search for an agent to represent their work. If you’re searching for an agent, that would seem to indicate that you want to sell your book, i.e. be a Professional Writer. And, if you want to be a professional writer, then you need to treat your search for an agent like a profession, because at this stage of the process your JOB is finding an agent.
Research which agents handle the type of fiction you write. It’s not that hard. I mean, seriously, you have the internet. That’s all I used when I did my agent search, and there are quite a few free sites. And, in the same category of research: Address the query to the agent. Not To Whom It May Concern
Make sure you’re querying a reputable agent. Again, there are many sites to help you figure this out.
Every agent out there has guidelines for submissions. And yes, they’re all different. Deal with it. They have zillions of submissions to wade through, and those guidelines are there to help them do their job in the manner that best suits their own personal style. Asking all agents to do things the same way is like asking all writers to sit at the same type of desk and use the same word processing program and listen to the same music. Do what I did, and make a spreadsheet with columns for agent/agency, date submitted, material submitted, submission guidelines, response, etc.
And yes, you’re going to have to describe your 400 page book in a paragraph. Yeah, it sucks, and it’s not a great representation of how wonderful your work is, but again, it’s the best system in place for dealing with the 50-100 queries that most agents get every day. Practice. Read queries for other books (again, that cool thing called the internet.) Get others to read and critique your query.
Keep trying. And, in the meantime, keep writing your next novel.
[more pompous ranting deleted]