I sometimes get frustrated for being such a novice to the business of writing. I've only been on this publishing quest for two years, since I moved here to North Carolina and met Stacey, who showed me the ropes. Before then, the mere idea of querying agents and navigating the writer's market was not unlike the prospect of visiting a foreign country w/out any grasp of the language or culture (and not having gotten your shots, either...). I didn't even know where to check my bags.
But I'm not just visiting--I'm trying to live in this world, be one of its citizens, an active member of the community. And some days, I feel less than. I feel like an infant. I feel like an idiot. I feel like the guy who doesn't know the difference between the salad fork and the dinner fork (or, worse still, the salad fork from the soup spoon -- that's when you know you're having a bad fuckin' day...)
Here's what I've learned so far (some of this is on instinct, and some of this is acquired knowledge):
- I think it's better to query agents one at a time than in one big batch. Even 20 at a time is too much. Be patient. Take time to do the research on an agent. Be selective. More is not better.
- Ditto for the query letter. The one-size-fits-all just doesn't work. Apply the same principles to query letters as you would to cover letters for job prospects -- customized shows care.
- Think rhetorical situation: Who is your reader? How much do you know about him/her? What is your purpose? Is it to get representation, or is it to get them to read the manuscript? Which comes first? (I always tell my students that the cover letter gets you the interview--the interview gets you the job.) Think ethos, pathos, and logos: What makes you credible? What moves them to read your work? What makes you a worthy investment?
- You will stay stuck in neutral if you keep buying into the notion that the process is slow, complicated, daunting, that the competition is fierce, demanding, overwhelming. Those statements and commonly held beliefs don't do anything to support or advance my intention. I firmly believe that we attract that which we put our attention to. Is this process any different from finding employment? I've never had a problem with *that* process, afterall... As Wayne Dyer says, "Change the way you look at things, and the things you look at change."
- Building on that, Dyer also says to "act as if the thing you want is already here." Imagine my delight when I read the exact same thing in Tom and Marilyn Ross's book The Complete Guide to Self-Publishing (a must read!). It's not something that only the touchy-feely-i'm-ok-you're-ok-earthy-crunchy folks are saying. These two are sound businesspeople! It's more than a powerful visualization tool -- it's a way of being. I've learned that just because I'm not published doesn't mean I'm not an author. I've got to be an author. I've got to think and act as if I'm already published. One of the best pieces of advice my sister-in-law ever gave me was this: When it comes to your job, don't act as if you make five dollars an hour; act as if you make fifty dollars an hour (feel free to adjust for inflation). The moment I applied that, good things always happened; I'd win employee of the month, or get a raise or promotion. I'd suddenly get noticed by district and regional managers. So there: I'm already published. I'm already a best-selling author. I'm already in the business. (It may sound or feel silly at first, but get over it--the more it sinks in, the more you live that way.)
- Most important, keep asking why you're doing it ("it" meaning publishing). I don't want to be published because of the money (although heck, that would be nice). I'm doing it because it's part of the birthing process. It's the delivery, the bringing it into the world for all to see. Writing for the sake of writing is great -- I do it every day. But when an idea needs to be born, I'm not convinced that it's fully born just through the act of getting it on the page. I don't know. Maybe tomorrow I'll feel differently about that. All I know is that I've written things that I just knew could not stay in a drawer, or were meant to be read by more than my family and friends. And so, there's a way to bring it to full term. There's a way to bring it into the world. Find the way.
And I'm doing it because I can't not do it.
I'll let you know how it goes.