So you can read my books

Thursday, May 27, 2010


"You are not judged by the heights to which you have risen, but the depths from which you have climbed."
- Frederick Douglass

And the 19th century abolitionist should know. He began life as a slave to become the "Lion of Anacostia." And how did he begin that climb?


The wife of his owner taught him the alphabet, then the beginnings of how to read. His owner put a stop to that, saying that if he learned how to read, he would become dissatisfied with his lot.

"The first anti-slave lecture I ever heard," wryly said Frederick later in his life.

Later he would learn how to better read from the white children in the neighborhood and from the writings of the men with whom he worked. Reading opened a whole new world of thought to the young boy. He read newspapers, political essays, books of every kind, and the New Testament -- which he taught other slaves to read at a weekly Sunday school.

It lasted six months before other slave owners, armed with clubs and stones, broke it up. Why? They feared their slaves being able to read.

To read.

It is an awesome ability we often take for granted.

And writing? We who take up that task must understand its power. The power of the word to touch one human soul, beginning a rippling effect whose end none but The Father knows.

But before we can do that we must climb out of the dreaded slush pile.

And Scaling Mt. Everest was a cinch compared to climbing out of the slush pile.

Just ask any unpublished writer. Ask me. Ask the marines.

So how do you climb out of the slush pile?

You tackle the task like a professional. Agents are business men and women. You must approach them as such.

In essence, approaching an agent for representation is like approaching a bank for a loan. Mark Twain said that banks were like those folks who were willing to lend you an umbrella when it was sunny.

When you don't need the money, banks will loan it to you. Why? Because they know you can pay it back.

Often it feels as if agents are silently saying with their rejections, "If I don't want your autograph, then I don't want your manuscript."

If you're Stephen King, agents will kill to represent you. Well, maybe not. But then again, one never knows.

But you're not Stephen King. So what do you do? No. Identity theft is out of the question.

Think bank loan. What do banks want from you? A good credit rating for one thing.

And what does an agent want from you? Credentials. Like what you ask?

Awards or achievements. Professional associations. Education. Related work experience.

How do you get those?

Attend local writers' workshops, taught by professional writers. Politely get to know as many professionals there as you can. Very, very diplomatically ask them if you may use their names when inquiring of an agent.

Hey, all of them were where you are now. Most of them are quite kind. I will help you bury the rest. {Just checking to see if you were paying attention.}

Have your novel FULLY completed. I saw a friend lose her shot at a great agent because she submitted it only half done. He wanted to see the full. She had to tell him the truth. End of a wonderful window of opportunity.

Have the first 30 pages so polished and suspenseful you would bet your life on them. You are certainly betting the life of your career and of your novel on them.

Write a killer query letter. How? Show her something that she very seldom sees.


Be Hemingway in your query. Give yourself three sentences to convey the plot, characters, themes, and emotional impact of your 400 page novel. IMdB is a good source to see how summaries of classic movies are written in three sentences.

Be an adverb stalker. Stalk them and send them packing. No adverbs allowed. Or darn few. No first names for your target agent. No self-depreciating comments allowed either. People tend to take you at the value at which you place yourself.

We are drawn to confident people because we unconsciously accept that they have something about which to be confident. If they are sure, it sets us at ease. They are competent. And who doesn't want a competent person at their side?

You're applying for a loan here. Be professional. Be aware of the requirements of the specific agent that you're approaching. See you from her side of the desk. What is she looking for?

For one thing : a novel that is unique but born of what is selling for the publishers. And what sells? Primal. Primal appeals to the unconscious mind of the reader, including the agent.

Primal hungers. Primal dangers. Primal drives.

Sex. Money. Safety. And threats to all three.

Give the agent the first three lines of your novel. Make sure they are great hooks. Sentences that reach out and grab the reader.

They will more than likely be the only sentences any agent will ever read of your submitted manuscript before coming to a conclusion of the attractiveness and saleability {is that a word?} of your work.

Submit to the agent EXACTLY as she requests. This indicates that ... 1.) You are literate and can follow simple instructions. And ... 2.) You are a professional and are in this for the long haul.

If the agent asks you to change the ending or get rid of a character, remain calm. This may simply be a test. Use some imagination, some deep-breathing exercises, and do what the agents requests.

She wants to see how you handle criticism. She doesn't want a tempermental prima donna on her hands. The one she sees in the mirror is quite enough, thank you.

{Just checking if you're paying attention again.}

How you handle these requests will show her your degree of professionalism. These requests are a good sign. She's interested. She's been around a lot longer than you in the business. Try it her way.

Write it her way. Then, if the ending or character is pivotal in your thinking, present a reasoned, item by item defense. But be flexible. It is better to bounce than to break.

I know. I have the bruises to prove it. Good luck to all my fellow climbers out there.
I am beginning what will be probably turn out to be 18 work hours straight - which is why this early post. I will be listening to this during some of the stressful times. Thought you might enjoy it as well :


  1. Thank you so much for writing this. Rather insightful.

  2. hi

    I love how you've put all these very important lessons in one easy read here! Thank you!!

    It's always true to think of publishing as a business - it's never personal! And it is so like asking for a loan from banks - I really like that metaphor!

    I'm horrified to read about your friend who could have had a great agent. I hope she's not given up and is still being onwards and upwards with her writing - good luck to her!

    I'm also horrified to read that you are going to start an 18 hour work shift? Oh dear!!

    Good luck and hope Enya helps in making the time fly by!
    Take care

  3. I could listen to this song all day and not get tired of it. Then again, Enya is my favorite artist to listen to when I'm writing.

    I'll keep this in mind while I'm (politely) stalking agents and publishers the next couple weeks. I liked L. Diane Wolfe's advice on small press querying also.

    Be cool today; have a good shift.


  4. Slammed at work right now Roland, don't have time to read the whole post, but great pic, great quote!

  5. It is always nice to visit your blog, for sure read and write is a great gift, it gives you access to information, and it will make you less vulnerable to manipulation from other people, I like the way you write, and i think your advices about writers getting published applied for everybody in almost every career.

    Thoughts of a Career Woman

  6. Good advice. Thanks for checking out my blog!

  7. Informative and smoothly written, as usual.

    Great stuff.

  8. Thank you so much for this packed a lot into a fairly small space...inspirational and cautionary, informative and humorous... I loved this. I think I'm going to bookmark this for future reference.

  9. Your examples of what writers need to DO are reminders that it IS hard work. Can't just write and submit. Don't skips those steps in-between.

    I love the quote. Thanks for a great post!

  10. Another wonderful post! Love the bank analogy and Twain's quote.

    I'm so glad for the day you stopped by my blog, so I found yours.

  11. Don't underestimate professional networking and clean manuscripts.

    For publishers and paid agents and editors, this is a business, not a hobby.

    - Eric

  12. Great post, Roland, I'll keep those in mind as I begin my hunt for agents! :D

  13. gotta learn the business end of the writing art/craft... cuz it is a business, first, entertainment second, if you wanna survive

  14. Good post!

    (See - I'm practising brevity)

  15. Hey Roland,
    Thanks for the post. All good stuff and so true. I'll second the writers conferences. They are an amazing, relaxing way to rub shoulders with those who have accomplished what you're trying to. It makes the goals you're trying to reach feel more attainable.

  16. ...great advice as always, Roland.

    Reading & brevity. Brings to mind something funny from the other day at work.

    In a nutshell, was caught reading a novel while "on the job," by my superior. He says, "You're reading a book."

    I say, "Huh, is that what this thing is?"

    He scowls, (I've seen it before a time or two,) and says, "Why are you reading a book on the company's dime?"

    And I say, "So I can remain smarter than you."

    ...have a great weekend, Roland:)

  17. This was great! The quest for an agent is such a struggle, and it's always nice to see other people's take on it.

    Brevity is something I pretty much fail at, especially with a book that's so hard to explain in a few words. But I've done okay with my query, I think. Still. What a struggle.

  18. Love that song. And thanks for stopping by the other day. I'll check out the link regarding querying an agent this weekend when I have time to focus in a quiter setting. Have a great weekend.

    Stephen Tremp

  19. Jaycee : Thanks for dropping by and enjoying what I wrote.

    Kitty : I survived, more or less, that horrific shift. Glad you got something useful out of my post.

    Donna : you dropping by and leaving those insightful comments mean a lot.

    Matthew : Don't let them catch you visiting my blog while you work -- I'd feel guilty is you got chewed out on my account.

    Laura : I'm alway happy to see you've visited. I really glad you like the way I write.

    Betty : Thanks. A lot.

    Travener : You're always welcome here.

    Tessa : Your praise makes my evening.

  20. J. Leigh : That you're going to bookmark is high praise. Hope it helps.

    Theresa : I love quotes, too.

    Terry : Always find something neat on your blog, too.

    Eric : It is a business. And it's never a bad idea to be professional in all we do, you're right.

    Elizabeth : When you search for an agent I wish you luck.

    Diane : You like Enya, too? Great.

    Laughing Wolf : Maybe we could buy our own publishing house?

    Jemi : Brevity R U!

    RaShelle : I envy you having gone to those writers conferences.

    Elliot : Be careful. I'd hate to see you get in trouble for reading on the job. We writers have to stay together.

    Sangu : I have faith that you will make it in your search to be published.

    Stephen : I'm glad you're an Enya fan, too. Have a great Memorial Weekend