When Not Writing my Next in the Sterling Novels, I Blog to Amuse...

When Not Writing my Next in the Sterling Novels, I Blog to Amuse...

June 25, 2011

Let's Talk Queries; Derivative Work

The word brings dread and beads of cold sweat to the armpits of every writer...Query.

I hate it; I hate doing it; I hate the format; I hate the explicit and pretentious nature of the agent receiving it; and I hate every person that I send one to.  Dramatic?  Maybe, but I think most of you are jiving to the same tune.

It begins with optimism: you send out fifty, a hundred queries, feel good, head to the coffee shop and wait while smiling over the wafting steam of your hot, frothy cappucino.  But then the day goes on...and on...and on...soon it ends with form rejection after form rejection - if you're lucky.  Rarely, one receives back an actual and personal response from the agent - rarely.

This might be my cynical, mean-side coming out, but I tend to find that most agents are MFAs that want to write a best-seller, but haven't, or can't.  Again, it could be that angry, frustrated side of me that believes that.

I tried the traditional approach - it never worked.  Here's what did.

Busting ass...


But first, what didn't work: I spent my own dough on print ads; have been interviewed for radio; newspapers have put me in their pages, and, sure, I saw some movement in sales, but it was all a waste of time.  These things do not get one a target audience, nor does an agent.

An agent only sells what the publisher knows will bring a return on investment (ROI).  Wrap your head around that.  What sells today? Patterson, Brown, Clancy, Bush, Palin, Athletes, Whore Hollywood Chicks, etc, etc, etc...

The common theme: known people that will bring a predictable ROI.

Are you an heiress whose hoo-hoo was caught on YouTube?  Well then, yes, you too can be a NY Times Bestseller!  Are you a right-wing, undereducated, wacko, bible-thumper who looks good doing the parade-float, 100-yard-stare wave?  Come on down!  Every publisher in the country will make you an "Author" and get good ROI!  The thought of this makes me want to wretch.  I, like most of you, actually write. I work on prose, sentence structure, grammar, pacing, character development, and so on...  I have a physical, wrenching reaction when I see a "Bestseller" and I know that they don't know shit about how to actually write!

So where does that leave real writers?

In a not so pretty place, I'm afraid.  Is the query dead?  I argue no, not quite yet - it did get me through a few front doors - but the coffin lid ain't too far from being closed. 

So how does one get into an agent's office?  For starters, your stuff had better be good and not derivative.  Most of us are not followed by papparazzi, so we need to separate ourselves from the pack.  Do you write about vampires because vampire books sell?  Do you write about time travel because you loved Time Traveler's Wife?  Do you often say your work is like a "stream of conciousness"?

Derivative.  Derivative.  Derivative.

Of course, there is a place and a market for these themes, so write 'em if you love 'em, but you have to accept the reality of the marketplace.  If it's oversold, overdone, overcooked, overburdened, overstated then you will be overly-frustrated.

Agents are not our friends (What, you say, how can that be?!) No, they are not.  They are sales people looking to make an income on what the market (i.e. Publishing Houses) demands.  Period.  You (we) must understand the market when writing our books; the agents certainly do.  Does than mean that you shouldn't write that book about all the places you've traveled, or that book about teenage vampires running the local high school?  Of course not: write what you love, but be realistic when it comes time to selling.

If you want to make money as a writer, it is imperative to understand the current trends of the book market; you must understand the business.  An agent's job is to sell work to publishers, who, in turn, commit capital (money) to edit, market, and distribute a piece of work.  The agent's only thought is: commission; the publisher's only thought is ROI.

Write your query, but know this: if it's for a derivative piece of work, you'll be lucky to receive a form rejection.

Soon, I will post my most successful query - would love to read your thoughts and to see yours - (your query that is.)

Take care,


1 comment:

  1. Very informative. Thanks for sharing. I have a ways to go before I get to this point, but the more I learn now the better off I will be.