Sunday, September 6, 2009

Rules for Writers

Last weekend, I blogged about the things I wished I'd known before writing my first novel. That started me thinking about how you can find all sorts of advice, some good and a whole lot more bad, on the internet. One of the blogs I follow on a regular basis is Janet Reid's blog. Ms. Reid is an agent with Fine Print Literary Management -- and no, she's not my agent -- and she has not only her own blog, but she also has Query Shark where you can send your query to be posted and critiqued by her.

One of the things I like about Ms. Reid's blog is that she tells it like it is, at least as far as she's concerned as an agent. Along that line, she's written series of blog entries on Rules for Writers. And no, these are not rules to least not often.
  1. Be ready. Despite what you might have heard, whenever you are attending a convention or workshop where you might be pitching your work to an agent or editor, have your pages with you. Have them in your car, in your hotel room, even in your briefcase in case the agent or editor asks to see them. Of course, you need to wait until they ask for the pages and then you need to find out if they want the pages now or if they want you to send the pages either via email or USPS.
  2. Be reachable. Don't do like I did the first time I sent off pages and list the wrong phone number or email address, etc. In my defense, we had just changed the phone number after years with the same one. Still, it was embarrassing to have to contact the editor and tell him I'd made such a stupid mistake. So, check to make sure you have the right address, phone number, email address and even blog address or web page address all listed. Don't run the risk of an agent or editor really liking your work and then not being able to reach you.
  3. Be brave. This is probably the most important advice Ms. Reid gives, and the piece I fail at the most. The first time to be brave, according to Ms. Reid, is to get up, get out of the house and go to a con or workshop, whether you know anyone else who is going or not. Take your pages. Take part in the critique sessions and don't let what anyone -- be they other participants, an agent or an editor -- make you give up. Listen to what they say, take notes and then see if what they say will actually make your piece better. Then either work to make those pages the best they can be or, if necessary, move on to the next piece, remembering what you learned from the critique.
  4. Be polite. It seems simple enough, doesn't it? But I'm sure everyone out there who has ever received a rejection has felt the same knee-jerk reaction I have. You want to respond to the agent or editor and ask why they rejected your baby. Hopefully, common sense wins out in those situations and you file the rejections away and get to work on your next story or novel. If not, remember what Ms. Reid says. The quickest way to be rejected or fired by an agent is to be rude to any member of her staff.
  5. Be imperfect. I'll admit, this one stumped me at first. Then I read what Ms. Reid had to say. She wasn't telling prospective clients to send in work that hadn't been spell-checked or didn't follow agency guidelines. Far from it. To paraphrase, if you insist on being perfect in your writing, you will wind up never writing anything. Or, you'll write but you will never feel it is ready to send out. So, instead of focusing on being perfect, focus instead on doing the best you can and remember you're human. So you can't be perfect.
  6. Be wary. Very simply, when looking for an agent, remember that they need to have contacts in the industry. As Ms. Reid says, "this industry runs on who you know. An agent who doesn't know anyone is worse than useless. It's ok to ask who do you know to a prospective agent asking to represent your work particularly if the agent is new and doesn't yet have much of a sales record."
So, what rules do you think every writer, especially a writer trying to break into the business, should know?

Also, while you're cruising around Blogger, check out Dave's latest posts about his upcoming move at Flinders Family Freer.


Dave Freer said...

1)Don't EVER give up. 2)Keep learning, and use dispassionate common sense to sort the wheat from the chaff of what you learn. But mostly (1)

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

And before (1) comes

LOVE what you're writing. (Write what you love).

We wouldn't did it, if we didn't love the actual writing part.

I was skimming the web the other day and came across a site where the writer advised people not to write anything until they'd done a market survey and shape their book according to the feedback!

Amanda Green said...

Damn, Dave, you mean I have to not use common sense but dispassionate common sense? Seriously, you're right. It is so easy to give up, especially after you get that first scathing response from an agent or critic. I'm still trying to develop enough of a thick skin that I don't go into a funk after a rejection -- of course, Sarah allows me only an hour or two after a short story rejection, but she's very generous with a book rejection. I get a whole day [VBG] As for sorting the wheat from the chaff, I'm trying. I feel lucky in that I have some very good friends and a wonderful mentor who don't sugar coat things but also aren't out there to see how quick they can beat me down.

Amanda Green said...

Rowena, I love those sites where they tell us to do a market survey before ever writing anything. While that might work with non-fiction, I'm not sure it does with fiction. For one thing, by the time you do the market survey and research, the market has moved on to the next trend. I think our best bet as writers is to write something we're proud of, submit it and have a general marketing plan ready in case we're asked.

Chris McMahon said...

The idea of asking an agent who they know is a little itimidating. I've asked for sales records before and got a blank response. I like the approach of asking where they think the book might be placed though - its more collaborative.

Talking about agents - what do people regard as a reasonable level of communication between agent and author?

Dave Freer said...

Well, Rowena, as probably the nearest to a hack this group has, I take work where I can get it, not always what I wanted to do. I've found that I can adapt nearly anything so that I can love it. So it is more a case of learn to love it :-)

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

You take the idea and turn it into something that you love, Dave.

When I was working as a graphic artist, I'd always find a way to make the work resonate for me.

Amanda Green said...

Hi, Chris. I'm not sure I'd have the nerve to ask an agent who he knows. I do, however, check out their websites, blogs, make sure they are a member of AAR and even check Locus to see if they have any recent sales.

As for the level of communication between an agent and client, I'm not sure. I think a lot of it depends on the agent -- and on what sort of relationship the agent and client. But then, that's true about any sort of business relationship.

Amanda Green said...

Dave! I'm the hack, not you. You promised me I could be the hack.

As for sometimes having to write something you aren't in love with, I know a lot of writers who have done that. Sometimes, it's simply that the book or story won't leave you alone until you write it. Sometimes, it's a work for hire. The challenge, I think, is how to make those works as enjoyable as possible for the writer so the reader will also enjoy them.

Amanda Green said...

Rowena, I should have scrolled down to read your response to Dave :-)

I agree. If you don't find a way to make the work as enjoyable as possible for you, the writer, the reader is going to be able to tell. Maybe that's part of the reason why we are storytellers...not only do we tell stories to our readers, but we tell them to ourselves as well at times. If we don't, then those projects we aren't enamored with won't grab our readers and, well, that's the kiss of death -- or can be.

Kate said...

Let yourself write crap. And even wallow in it on occasion. You've got to write a phenomenal amount of crap before you really get a handle on the craft, and even then there's this lurking sense that you've screwed it up.

If you let yourself screw up you've got a really good learning example. If you're going to make a mistake, you might as well make it a doozy and get it over with.

Amanda Green said...

Kate, first off, welcome back. I am still jealous that you got to see PTerry.

As for writing crap, I've done my fair share of it. And I think that falls into the "let yourself make mistakes" bit. But I also think it goes one further. I think, as writers, we need to have that one story or world or set of characters we can write and not worry about submitting it. I have one that will never be seen by anyone else's eyes but mine. But it also is something that I can go work on as a means of just writing something when the muse isn't cooperating.

Anonymous said...

Oh Amanda! It's not safe to publicly claim to control your Muse like that. I said almost the same thing once, and the Muse put on her spurs, snatched up the whip and took control of the writing. My little Play Village will never be the same.

Of course, it did actually make a really nice story.

It's the other nine full first drafts I wrote before the Muse retired, triumphant, to leave me in rewrite and edit hell . . .

Rule #1 Always respect your Muse.

Amanda Green said...

Matapam, help! Why didn't you tell me that before I wrote it? My muse is now kicking my butt. Not on just one project but on three -- all at once and all demanding my undivided attention,

Help me, please!

Anonymous said...

It's too late. Something weird about how our subconscious works. Or the nonverbal side of the brain being afronted, maybe.

Enjoy! I love it when the words just gush out. Even if later editing piles up and up.


Amanda Green said...

Remember this, because those words --or at least a chunk of them -- will find their way to your slush pile again. BWahahahahahaha!