If you’re a writer and you’ve been following my blog for any length of time, you know I’ve become a strong proponent of self-epublishing with a cost-free and easy to use platform like Kindle’s Digital Publishing or PubIt! from Barnes & Noble, or Smashwords, which allows you to publish in a broad variety for formats but doesn’t seem to have the traffic the other two sites do.
My last post depicted a literary agent who got her undies in a knot because she wrote an article about how critical it is to write a successful query letter. Not how important it is to write a good book, tell a good story or have solid, likable characters. Nothing like that – no, the focus is on the query letter. When this commenter remarked how this is one of the reasons traditional publishers are going the way of the Great Awk, the blogger became defensive and rude, claiming she was NOT ABLE to avoid being rude and sarcastic in replying (When did “snarky” become a suitable substitute for sarcastic, anyway?)
My point in showing that is to demonstrate how the traditional, mainstream publishing establishment reacts to the idea of authors being able to go directly to readers. How the traditional publishing establishment ridicules the idea of suppliers filling demand without middlemen, basically. How the traditional publishing establishment justifies the use of its screening tool to keep writers out of the traditional publishing establishment while telling them they must support the traditional publishing establishment. They’re holding us out but telling us we have to side with them, because they are, after all, the gatekeepers of good fiction. If just any author can self-epublish without having to go through an agent (who probably won’t even see their work unless the query letter is written in just the right pitch, the right tone, the right hue and nuance.
This person maintains your query letter has to be like an ad copy, direct response letter, one that elicits a response from every set of twenty queries. That is, no fewer than one response should come from every twenty queries sent out and if that’s not happening, your query isn’t strong enough.
Oh! Is that all?
This is a heinous lie. No author I’ve ever heard of, read, or met got a minimum of one response for every twenty queries. NONE. This person, this “gatekeeper”, just found (created, frankly), another hoop for the writer to jump through. Write the magic query to draw a minimum of one response for every twenty queries! That’s your new goal! There is Nirvana of the Literati! Run for it, faint not, rise up on wings like eagles and soar to those lofty heights!
Balderdash. Bollocks. This isn’t truth. It’s a ploy to get authors trying to write direct response advertising,something they never wanted to do in the first place. They wanted to write stories, not direct response ads. There’s a magic and a mojo in doing that. There’s a special juju for that, and like it or not, not everyone is cut out to be a salesman.
I’ve worked in sales. I’ve worked in it several times over my career. I always fail at it because, no matter how many people tell me “Oh, you’re going to be GREAT at this!”, I’m not. I’m not, period. I don’t do it well. I don’t have the personality type. And I’m willing to bet most authors don’t either. This is why, in part, we write: we’re not extroverts, we’re introverts and our characters let us live and do things vicariously. But traditional publishing establishment members and those who are sycophants for them – or apologists for them – are trying to make us writers believe we not only have to be salesmen, we have to be direct response ad copy writers too. See, they don’t write the blurb on the back of your book anymore. Nope. You do. And that needs to go into your query letter. If it’s not good enough, you go down in flames and will not see the light of publishing day.
Who, then, are we writing for? A writer has become a two-headed monster. Or, is made to believe they have to be a two-headed monster. One head is the creative genius who writes incredible, riveting stories which are unique and well-told and yet not too quirky and hard to categorize. Brilliant bucolic stories, right?
The other head has to be a marketing genius, willing to chase wherever and whenever the publisher tells us to go, IF we’re lucky enough to be published at all. But we have to develop those skills now because we need them to write that catchy, winning, hook-sinking query letter to catch the agent. If we don’t have the agent, we can’t get any farther. And I have a couple of friends who can tell you how having an agent doesn’t guarantee anything more than being agented.
Who, then, are writers writing for? Are they writing the stories they have to tell, in the best voice for their characters and drawing readers into their world of wonder and fantasy, or are they writing to the publishing industry, reduced to boot-licking from one to another until they are finally, maybe, possibly, graced with a nod from first an agent and then, if the stars all align, the publishers?
What do you think? How long does it take to write a good query letter? I have one acquaintance who worked on no fewer than six drafts, another with a similar draft count, trying to find the magic combination, the silver bullet, to do what they so desperately wanted. But the cruelest joke is, there isn’t a silver bullet. The one which would work with one agent won’t with another. The one which would with the big agency does nothing for the independent shingle-hanger who decides to branch out on their own.
And really, what does an agent do but provide you with “contacts”? But they don’t, do they? Not always. Why is that? If they like your book enough to look at, accept for representation, and supposedly offer to their “contacts”, how is it so many books from agents are turned down? Why aren’t all represented books published? That’s what the agent is supposed to be doing, after all. If they weren’t sure their “contacts” would love the book and want to publish it, why did they offer to take it on? There’s a huge disconnect here.
My agent didn’t fool around. When he agreed to take me on as a client he sent me work within three weeks. He told me what to do and how to do it and who to contact and put me together with the publisher. I wrote the book and less than 90 days later it was finished. A couple months after that it’s on the shelf. My agent gets things done. I ask for information, he gets it. I have a question, he finds the answer. Period. He does his stuff. He vets his writers. Then he lets them do their stuff.
Why do so many agented writers find out the hard way their book isn’t being published by someone? This is the entire reason they needed the agent in the first place! If I have a friend and I know the friend and I tell him my mechanic is good, my friend will use the mechanic I recommend at least once. Or a plumber, or a landscape architect, or what-the-hell-ever. People use the person I recommend or I stop making recommendations to them. This is what agents are supposed to do, isn’t it?
But they can’t recommend anyone unless they see a great query. Writing doesn’t matter; if you don’t have an amazing query getting at least one response in every twenty queries, you fail. And your manuscript languishes in something which shouldn’t exist in the first place – the slush pile.
Who are we writing for? agents and editors? traditional publishing establishment members? or readers?
Who would you rather write for?
I can tell you who I’m writing for, and I’ll say that even if it means I never sell a single book, or make a living as a writer. I will offer my wares to the reading public and their all-powerful wallets and let them decide whether I’m any good or not. They will determine my fate. Because that’s how it should be, ladies and gentlemen. The ones who read our work are the ones who should be letting us know if we stink or not.
The gatekeepers must go. Full stop. And I, for one, am sick of writing for them.
Copyright 2011 DarcKnyt, All rights reserved