So you can read my books

Tuesday, August 23, 2011


Be sure to read Wendy's gracious spotlight of me on her fascinating blog :

"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Just ask any unpublished writer.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.


  1. A great post on what should be common sense (well, except for burying Prima Donnas!) but isn't always :)

  2. Great post and fascinating interview with Mr. King.

  3. When put that way it doesn't make our climb to being published seem all that terrible after all. There are others that have fought so hard, climbed so far, and accomplished so much. Thank you for this inspiration. It is not the fighter who hits the hardest in the fight, but the one who gets back up the most. :)

  4. Sarah :
    I've gotten emails from burnt writers that were actively thinking, "Bury the Prima Donna!"

    I'm glad you got something out of my post.

    Michael O. :
    Wasn't that interview snippet from Mr. King excellent? I'm happy you liked my bit of support in our joint scaling of Mt. Olympus!

    Heather :
    You're so right about the fighter who keeps getting back up. Sam McCord keeps reminding me that it isn't the first gunslinger to clear leather that wins the fight, but the one who hits the target.

    I wish us both luck in our publication and sales dreams!! Roland

  5. Reading has more power than we give it credit. LOL, I'll bring my pink shovel. No shirt, not shoes, no service? You mean I shouldn't get nasty if they ask me to get rid of one of my babies? Curses. I read something wonderful once. "Be the change you wish to see in the world." These wonderful words can be applied to almost anything. Play the part well to success. Good luck to you too, Roland. :)

  6. What about the dreaded synopsis? Those are tough to write.

  7. Good advice Roland. I just hope I'll get to use it someday with an Agent :)


  8. Terry :
    The ghost of Samuel Clemens has answered your question in Wednesday's post.

    Donna :
    I've given up hope that an agent will find me acceptable. The economic climate of publishing is against me. Have a great day and I am glad to see you here, Roland