So you can read my books

Sunday, June 17, 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.

By the way, 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

Hope this helps in some small way. And here is a beautiful melody in an equally beautiful music video :


  1. Didn't even feel unique in my despair - almost funny except they are true.
    Good tips on query letters. Publishers and agents to want unique and to the point queries. I know mine was short. Probably the only reason my publisher read it.

  2. Alex:
    And the rest, as they say, is history. The postcards put out by your publisher with Amazon Best Seller had to look good when you first saw them! Thanks for visiting. It seems my idea for a soundtrack to our novels wasn't that bad of an idea, after all. LOL.

  3. This is fantastic advice! Everyone who is querying needs to read this! Looking at it from their point of view is so important! Another fantastic great post Roland.

  4. Yes, Neil's message was inspiring. Although, sometimes it can feel disheartening to know how alike writers are. Still - we're all writers. Thanks for sharing this Roland.


  5. I, like Alex, love the line about not being unique even with our despair. I kind of needed to hear that today! I'm not special. Quit whining and move on! Great advice.

  6. *Love* this post! So spot on ;)

  7. Heather:
    And I even mentioned you in the post! Name dropper me. :-) Seeing things from the perspective of the person from whom we are wanting something never hurts.

    We all are human and so share so much in our dreams and in our weariness. I'm glad you got something out of this post!

    Whatever was causing you grief I pray it soon is lightened in some way. Mother once told me that no one had the right to complain about something that happened to everyone ... she was quoting Hemingway actually. I just wanted one more minute to whine! LOL.

    I'm glad you enjoyed this post. If it helps one struggling writer to write a better query, I feel good about writing this one! :-) Have a great new week, Roland

  8. So nice to know that the great Neil Gaiman also has his low moments. Thanks Roland!

  9. Isn't though, Lydia?
    And since he is currently working on another book in another coffee shop, he is once again struggling with the same depression.

    May your new week be smooth sailing and better writing, Roland

  10. Great post! I'm not at the query stage yet, but I can't wait to get my first round of rejections...wait, what? (;

  11. Elise:
    LOL. At least then you will have finished a novel, right? But rejections do smart when you get them. But you might be one of the lucky ones to have lightning strike right at the beginning!

  12. Form rejections are just part of the game. Silence, now that is crippling. I sent out 9 well-researched queries for a pb on the 10th of May. Nada, not one response. What the heck, man??? (Not you, Roland!) A simple NO would suffice, so I could cross them off my spreadsheet.