So you can read my books

Monday, November 22, 2010


Here is Gypsy helping me edit my YA urban fantasy, THE LEGEND OF VICTOR STANDISH.

She is a harsh critic.

Swipes from those claws sting!

Now to my post :

"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Just ask any unpublished writer.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.
During these past eight work days straight, I've been listening to this Enya tune. She released a single of this during the time of 9-11, its profits went to the surviving families of those killed in the Twin Towers. Thought you might enjoy it as well :


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


  2. Flying High In The Sky : I've always liked that quote from Frederick Douglas. I'm glad it meant something positive to you, too. Have a great tomorrow.

  3. Great post!

    I've read part of Fredrick Douglas's autobiography. Gut wrenching experiences. Hard to actually read. But as you pointed out, he climbed out of it and took what he learned and passed it on.

    Good lessons to remember as we journey down the road to publication. A lot of writers forget about that in order to climb out of the slush pile we have to be in it to start with and take our lumps just like everyone before us did.

    Rejection makes us better writers because it make us better at self critiquing. Accepting the rejections for fact is to fail as an author. To be an author you have to brave the rejections, not only from agents but our audiences too.

    What pleases one agent/audience member will inevitably displease another. It's balance. The world would stop moving without it.


  4. Jodi : The lives of most great artists and authors reveal that much of the time their best works were unappreciated in their time. Sad but true. As you say, we must believe in ourselves, our dreams, and persevere. Have a smooth sailing week.

  5. Hi Roland - All true! As usual, you've nailed it. I love your "adverb stalker" comment. I've taken to using the find/replace option in Word to hunt down all the -ly words and obliterate them. It is a quick way to spot them. Thanks for another great post!

  6. Wonderful advice, as usual. And I love Enya, she's one of my all time faves.

    THanks for the inspiration, and cold hard facts. Oh, and I've always thought Gypsy would be a cool cat name. ;)

  7. SUCH A BRILLIANT POST! I fell in love with it from the off, thanks for this, you totally inspire me to carry on!


  8. I don’t feel that an agent should ask a writer to make too many changes. If so then perhaps that is not the right agent for the writer. An agent is just one person but when that book goes on the market, millions may love it just as how the writer created it- perhaps it is the agent who needs to be more open minded.

  9. Awesome advice! Answered some questions of mine anyway! Thank you!

  10. Great advice ... thanks Roland.

    Finally made it to Florida .... Yah! Weather is gorgeous today. Plan to relax by the pool for a while then bop around.

    Wizarding World planned for tomorrow ... can't wait!

    Love Enya too.

    Hope you're surviving your crazy week.


  11. Man, that bank analogy is so true, isn't it? And credentials can be darned hard to come by at first. I wish I were better at short stories, as I have several friends building their credential wall that way. And it would be easier if I liked to write a nice, simple, easily summarized plot. Alas. I am twisted. But I think you have a sound strategy to shoot for...

  12. That's excellent advice. I'd never thought of a connection to banks . . . but it's true. It is like approaching a bank for a loan.

  13. Great post and excellent advice. Thank you, Roland.

    ~that rebel, Olivia

  14. This is excellent advice on getting out of the slush pile! It seems simple, have your manuscript complete before querying, yet so many don't! I love your way of looking at it like a bank loan. This is a business after all!

  15. You've pretty well said everything about the subject that writers need to know. Excellent post, as always!

  16. I love the idea of being Hemingway in the query!

    Frederick Douglas was a great man, all right. He teaches perseverance.

  17. Gypsy is so cute! But I bet those claws do sting. :)

    I agree that it is really important to get out there and network with professionals and other writers. These are all great tips!

  18. Sweet Gypsy! and gorgeous Enya tune. I keep forgetting I have the piano music to learn that song. Been too busy social networking and writing....

    Great summary post ya got here. Definitely, being professional is very important. And I've finally gotten to the point that I am REALLY conscious of adverbs, and only put them in when absolutely necessary. Now if I could just do the same for adjectives! LOL

  19. Carol : Yes, Gypsy thinks she's sweet, too! Any more so, and I'll have to give her insulin.

    We do have to prune our work as if it were a prose garden, looking for modifying weeds!

    Jessica : Networking with fellow professionals is so important. Alas, I have no time or opportunity to do so.

    Ann : You always make me feel good about myself. Thanks.

    Heather : Thanks. Since we sit behind our computers and type to our own screen, it all too easy to forget that a real human being with their own agendas are reading our words. Flesh and blood people who live, not in our fictional worlds, but in harsh ones that they must impress with quality product.

    Terry : Yes, Hemingway is one of my great writing models. His way of dealing with people left a lot to be desired -- and yet, his life could be considered an anti-lesson, I guess you could call it!

    Olivia : Always good to see you drop in. Don't be a stranger, hear?

    Golden Eagle : Yes, to me a bank loan interview is pretty close to what I believe it is. Nothing personal. Just business. What we can do for the agent - not the other way around.

    Hart : I have a hard time with credentials myself. I've tried to submit short stories, but no editor liked what he saw. But then I only submitted to the major magazines like HARPERS or ESQUIRE or PLAYBOY or THE MAGAZINE OF FANTASY AND SCIENCE FICTION.

    Michael : I'm glad you made it safe to Florida. I envy you your visit to the WIZARDING WORLD OF HARRY POTTER park.

    Colene : I'm glad I was able to answer some questions of yours. Now, do you know the Lotto's numbers in return? No. Sigh. Me either.

    Annie : You're right. Not every agent is for everyone. I just hope I can be reasonable should my agent ever ask me for changes -- or the editor.

    Mia : Glad I gave you a little light to go by. You liking my writing really lifted my spirits.

    P K : Yes, Gypsy is a great name for a cat I always thought. Enya has always been a favorite of mine. I also enjoy listening to her sister, Maire Brennan (especially OUR WORLD)

    Lisa : Thanks for your own excellent advice on how to adverb-stalk. Have a Happy Thanksgiving, everyone, Roland