So you can read my books

Wednesday, January 4, 2012


"Dear Author :

Thank you for thinking of us. Unfortunately, this is not quite right for us. Better luck with it elsewhere.

Your day will come. You can watch it from heaven.

Your lucky numbers are : 9 - 12 - 21- 35 - 42 -54."

Form rejections.

You hate them. I hate them. We all get them.

Basically, it's silence from the agent's end.

And when you receive only silence from someone important, you're left to guess why. And we guess with our fears.

And I've usually noticed from other areas of my life, what I fear usually isn't even in the same galaxy with the truth of the situation.

I would wager that is true with the silence of form rejections. But a wager is just a fancy word for a guess. And we've come full circle.

We've heard the truth before : it isn't personal. And it truly isn't.

You're not paying the agent a cent. She is under no obligation to teach you how to write a letter or a novel. We're job applicants. Period.

Play turnabout.

What would you want in a query if you had to read hundreds a week?

No brainer. Short ones. All right, then. We have our first requirement : make that sucker short.

Short means no fluff. No Hamlet introduction. Just straight to the point.

What would you want next if hundreds of queries surged in a rush of cyber-diarrhea into your inbox?

Something different. Something catchy. Written by someone who didn't have a chip on her/his shoulder. And the tone?

Not misleading. Not written in a funny vein if the novel is a tragedy.

O.K. Write the query short, with a hook up front, and in the tone of the novel you're submitting. We've getting a better idea now on how to write our next query.

What else would you want in those thousands of emails a month? Short paragraphs. Well-written ones without errors that grate like nails on the blackboard.

Ones easy to reject in a second :

Ones that are illiterate. Ones that query for genres you don't handle. Ones that query for carbon copies of hit sellers. Ones that whine.

All right. Now, we have an idea of what NOT to do.

What do we do next?

Look at your query. Does it do your novel justice? Would it make a total stranger want to read your novel with

"Wow, that sounds neat! I gotta read this."

Is there building tension in your summation?

Are the stakes primal : threat to survival, sex, or family?

Is your hero likeable, clever, funny? He/she better be.

Even a detailed letter of why your query was rejected would still leave you wondering, without a true direction to follow.

One agent's take is not gospel. Trust your instincts.

You are a reader. Try reading your query as an agent would. Try reading your novel as a stranger would. Then, as my friend, Heather, suggests :

read it aloud. You'll hear flaws you never would find otherwise.

And now a word from Neil Gaiman {courtesy of }

"By now you're probably ready to give up.

You're past that first fine furious rapture when every character and idea is new and entertaining. You're not yet at the momentous downhill slide to the end. You're in the middle, a little past the half-way point.

The glamour has faded, the magic has gone, your back hurts from all the typing. You don't know why you started your novel, you no longer remember why you imagined that anyone would want to read it, and you're pretty sure that even if you finish it it won't have been worth the time or energy.

Welcome to the club.

That's how novels get written.

You write. That's the hard bit that nobody sees. You write on the good days and you write on the lousy days. Like a shark, you have to keep moving forward or you die. What matters right now are the words, one after another. Find the next word. Write it down. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

Writing is a continual search for the word that will fit in the text, in your mind, on the page. Plot and character and metaphor and style, all these become secondary to the words.

The search for the word gets no easier but nobody else is going to write your novel for you.

The last novel I wrote (it was ANANSI BOYS, in case you were wondering) when I got three-quarters of the way through I called my agent.

I told her how stupid I felt writing something no-one would ever want to read, how thin the characters were, how pointless the plot. I strongly suggested that I was ready to abandon this book and write something else instead, or perhaps I could abandon the book and take up a new life as a landscape gardener, bank-robber, short-order cook or marine biologist.

And instead of sympathising or agreeing with me, or blasting me forward with a wave of enthusiasm---or even arguing with me---she simply said, suspiciously cheerfully, "Oh, you're at that part of the book, are you?"

I was shocked. "You mean I've done this before?"

"You don't remember?"

"Not really."

"Oh yes," she said. "You do this every time you write a novel. But so do all my other clients."

I didn't even get to feel unique in my despair.

So I put down the phone and drove down to the coffee house in which I was writing the book, filled my pen and carried on writing.

One word after another.

That's the only way that novels get written and, short of elves coming in the night and turning your jumbled notes into Chapter Nine, it's the only way to do it.

So keep on keeping on. Write another word and then another.

Pretty soon you'll be on the downward slide, and it's not impossible that soon you'll be at the end. Good luck..."

- Neil Gaiman

Here is Stephen King on writing :


  1. Hey Roland.Great stuff. The most disappointing thing about a novel is unlikeable characters so I can see that as a valid reason to reject a story. Very helpful post.

    Mine's up too.


  2. Thank you, Denise :
    I'll be there on the 13th. Haven't a clue right now what the post will be, mind you! LOL. Thanks for being the first to visit! Your visits mean a lot to me, Roland

  3. Just what I needed to hear. It's so hard not to take things personally when you put yourself out there and you get that form. Well... let me rephrase, it's hard AT FIRST, but then it gets easier and each rejection is a step closer. Writing is a process after all, and it gives us the opportunity to learn and answer the 'why' question ourselves. :)

  4. Thanks Roland. Just what I needed to hear because that is exactly where I am in my writing as well. One word at a time, yes...Just wish they were not so heavy :)

  5. Everything about this post makes me happy! It's informative, but even more than that, it's UPLIFTING, and that is so important in the midst of so much potential negativity! I would almost say that staying positive is 50% of the battle for writers. Thanks for a post that made me smile!

  6. Okay, references to LOST will make me click over from google reader. :)

    This post has perfect timing. Querying is SO subjective. I'm about ready to jump in again myself. I feel like I just moved through Neil's process. Almost gave up, but now I'm back to realizing I can't. It's just not in my cards.

  7. Sorry for following you practice blog by mistake :) You are almost at 1000 followers! You should throw a party when you get there!

  8. Don't even get to feel unique in the despair. Isn't that the truth? Especially when we are trying so hard to be unique.

  9. Great post. I like the advice on query letters. I would hate to be on the receiving end of those emails. I've been in the position of reviewing hundreds of resumes for one job - not fun...until you find the one that's perfect.

  10. I've been struggling with my next book and like you wondered why I thought anyone would ever want to read it. Also like you, I've been here before. Duh! How easily we forget.

    Thanks for the smile and the realization this IS writing!

  11. Wonderful post Roland- I love how you break it down in almost question form- as if the answer was that easy all along. :)

  12. All very true. I love how you point out that we guess with our fears. Very insightful!

    Thanks for the blog visit!

  13. It's so easy to fear the unknown and replace it with what we fear. Great post, Roland. :)

  14. OK, I needed to hear (read) that! Great post! I really like the look of your blog by the way! I really want to read your books. Is there any chance they'll be available for the Nook e-reader? Or am I going to have to get Kindle for my pc?

  15. Cassie Mae :
    We grow more from wounds than from slaps on the back, right? Thank you so much for visiting & writing, Roland

    Siv :
    Struggle makes our writing sparkle. I wish you the best of prose from your pen this year!

    Rachel :
    YOUR comment makes me happy. I am so glad you appreciated and were uplifted by my words. It makes my morning!

    Charity :
    So now, I know the secret to make you cross over! LOL. Yes, we all go through Neil's angst and dismay. Not even unique in our suffering but comforted in a way because of that, right?

    BragonDorn :
    Thanks for following at all! Yes, a party does seem in order, but what kind can a weary blood courier throw? I will have to think!

    Alex :
    We can be unique in other ways though. To suffer something common makes us feel quite not so alone. You are a great friend! Thanks.

    Tonja :
    Like you, I have to do the selecting, and it is no fun to say NO to so many. Sigh. Thanks for visiting. Have fun outings this 2012, Roland

    Anne :
    Yes, if it were easy, everyone would be doing it. And sometimes it does seem like everyone is saying NO! Thank you so for commenting. Come again, Roland

    Summer :
    Comes from being a teacher I guess! I always smile when I see a comment from you.

    Nisa :
    It came to me during one of my blood runs, when I realized so few of my fears had come as I had visualized them. I had been guessing, doing myself no good! Thanks for visiting and commenting. Do come again! Roland

    Thank you, Cherie :
    I always like when I see a comment from you here. I would visit more, but my supervisor just called, bringing me in four hours early! Now, to dash off bringing rare blood to those in need, Roland

  16. Sherri :
    Kindle for PC is the route. But it is free and you see my covers in color! How cool is that? And all the royalties for all my books are going to the Salvation Army this January. You get a neat read and help the hungry. Double fun, right? Roland

  17. OK then! I just got Kindle's Cloud Reader and downloaded The Legend of Victor Standish. I'll start reading that as soon as I finish reading K.W. Jeter's Morlock Night. That shouldn't take long since Morlock Night is only 167 pages or so. Thanks again!

  18. Great blog! I love the vids, and today's post is especially poignant. Sounds like you've got some great tips on crafting a killer query:)

  19. Sherri :
    Thank you so much! If you post a review on Amazon, you get 5 entries into my contest where you can win a Robert Downey, Jr. autographed IRON MAN mini-poster among other prizes! If you like it, tell your friends. At least the Salvation Army comes out ahead like that!! LOL.

    Mark :
    Thanks so much. I tried to make a post that would speak to every writer. Neil Gaiman and Stephen King helped! It means a lot that you liked my trailers. Wendy Tyler Ryan did a fantastic job with them, didn't she? Come visit again, Roland

  20. This is awesome advice Roland! I've never written a novel, it's a dream right me, anyone who can carry a story through that many pages and keep it interesting is talented beyond anything I can do! And you're so right that what we fear most usually has no basis in fact..makes me think about a lot of things, thanks!

  21. Great summary post on queries! and encouragement for writing in general. Nice to know from Neil that there is "that" stage in which we want to wad everything up and kick it into the trash can. :)

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  23. Thank you, Roland. I needed this today. But, I must admit, there are times when I long for the elves to come in the night and write a chapter or two for me.

  24. Fabulous advice as always!! Thank you Roland and I like the clip - I've never heard Stephen King speak!

    Take care

  25. A very interesting post jam-packed with solid information.
    Well done.

  26. A very interesting post jam-packed with solid information.
    Well done.

  27. A very interesting post jam-packed with solid information.
    Well done.

  28. HA! That bit by Neil Gaiman made me laugh, "I didn't even get to feel unique in my despair."

    Great post, really. It's very comforting to know that even though we are all very different, we go through a similar process when writing a novel.

    Followed you over from Alex's page, btw. :)

  29. Thank you, Jasmine :
    I followed your blog, too. Hope you have a lovely 2012 Roland

  30. Glad you found me through Alex, Roland. Nice to meet you.
    I love Neil Gaiman too. Very wise fellow.
    I think your ghoulish Alice is very scary.

  31. Great post Roland. Nope, no elves live in my house either (I wish). I just received a form rejection yesterday. These days I cherish those who have the curtsey to reply at all. Glad I found your blog through Alex.

  32. Great words of advice! Love the Neil Gaiman quote. When I'm submitting things, I keep in mind the words of someone I don't remember now about never being a true writer until you have been rejected a few dozen times.

    Allison (Geek Banter)

  33. This is perfect. Thank you so much for your post - can't wait to see what else you have to share. New follower :)

  34. Kristen :
    I'm glad we found each other's blogs through Alex as well. Yes, Alice is a ghoulish beauty. And when she says she's in the mood for finger sandwiches, it's time to put your hands in your pockets! But Victor is smitten. Teenage hormones! LOL.

    Marta :
    Like Stephen King did in his early years, I kept a wall papered with form rejections. It got depressing even reminding me of Mr. King's eventual success! LOL. And I am very happy we found each other's blogs through Alex's, too! :-)

    Allison :
    We FIREFLY fans have to stick together!! Like you and Neil, I want those elves to come in the night -- but you know faes : their price would be steep -- perhaps the ability to see my favorite color! Brrrr. Can you believe Truman Capote sold the very first short story he wrote as a young man? Wouldn't that be nice for us, right? Roland

  35. Tasha :
    I'n so happy you followed and got something positive out of my post. Friday, the ghost of Mark Twain visits and tells all of us how to do a blog right! Humility isn't one of his problems! LOL. Roland

  36. Hi Roland, thanks for the great advice. I'm still not at the querying stage yet, but I think a lot of what you said can be applied to my situation- especially Neil Gamain's words about getting on and writing. You are right that most of our fears as writers are based on complete guesswork and usually the truth is not nearly as bad as we imagined. We need to be kinder to ourselves.

  37. Tizzy :
    Yes, most fears are baseless. The truth evaporates them. I want Neil's elves or brownies to write my chapter nine for me!! Thanks for visiting and staying to chat.

    Mary :
    I'm glad you got something good out of this old post. Please come back again, Roland

  38. Thank you for leaving that great haiku on my humor blog. The ku and comments were very encouraging. We have a Monday contest every week. You and all are invited.

    I'll have to check out your blog more. It's very different than anything I write, and I need some diversity as I get stuck in ruts easily.

  39. Good old Neil Gaimann, and good old you. Inspiring.

  40. haha. Yes, Firefly fans unite! Actually... I don't think I want the world to read my very first story. It's kind of terrible.

    Allison (Geek Banter)

  41. Curmodgeon :
    In one of my early YA urban fantasies, HELL VISITS WELLINGTON, I had a New Zealand character, Sergeant-Major Curmudgeon! I'm glad you liked my hiaku. Do come back.

    Deborah :
    I certainly feel old some nights after long rare blood runs! I am very happy you got something positive out of this post.

    Allison :
    Yes, like Alex, I still mourn FIREFLY and hate that Mr. Wheldon killed off several characters in the follow-up movie, SERENITY. My first story went up in smoke when my home burned -- one of the few good things attributed to that disaster! Please come back, Roland

  42. Inspiration at last.... Do I dare.... Send out that query? The one I have been putting off form months since my first publisher rejection. Might I? It is at all possible?

    Should I jump right back into the arena? This post has given me the kick in the you know what I need!

    By next week I will have a query in an agent's in box. You encouraging words helped tremendously.... as they always do.

    What would the writing community do without our mentor? He who advises with style, comedy, tragedy, sense of humor, sense of soul, and a sense of true heart.

    Thank you, Roland from the bottom of mine.

  43. Roland, I'm your newest fan! Thanks for your comments on my blog yesterday. I've enjoyed reading through your posts. Have to say, Stephen King's book On Writing, changed my life two years ago. Absolutely changed my perception on writing. Thank you for posting this video clip.

  44. This post is just what I needed, to get my butt back into querying. I just have to reread my query like you suggested. Thank you so much for the wake up call. Also, thank you for stopping by my blog.