So you can read my books

Wednesday, August 28, 2013


On Aug. 28, 1963, a quarter of a million people peaceably gathered at the Lincoln Memorial for the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

Attendant celebrities lent their Hollywood credentials. The media coverage was international.

More than 22,000 police officers, guards, soldiers, and paratroopers were placed on alert.

Yet all this has been submerged into the backdrop to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s words in "I Have a Dream."

The speech was an afterthought, one that King crafted in the final hours before the momentous convocation, working its rhythms like a poem.

It is one of the finest speeches delivered on American soil —

the distillation of Old Testament wisdom, Shakespearean drama, the Founding Fathers' vision, and King's own sermons and his emergent understanding of what it meant to be free, equal, and American.

"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Just ask any unpublished writer.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.

Thought for the day:

A man is like a fraction whose numerator is what he is and whose denominator is what he thinks of himself. The larger the denominator the smaller the fraction.
—Leo Tolstoy, who was born on this day in 1828



  1. Excellent advice.

    I've noticed that a lot of writers focus so much on the creative aspect, that they forget about the need to be professional.

    It's a pity.

  2. Misha:
    Yes, a pity. No one wants to deal with a prima donna. Professionalism indicates our craftsmanship. Have a great mid-week! :-)

  3. These are excellent points, Roland, (I was paying attention - help us bury them. . .?) It's good to laugh in the morning.

    Professionalism is important, and we are judged by how we present ourselves. I've worked in the business world, and first impressions do count. Publishing is a business.

  4. Important points all, put the ego aside, a task some fail to do. Not submitting to a professional edit is another big mistake!