Hello, potential author. Or relative of a potential author. How are you? I’m well, thanks for asking. Yes, sure I have time for a quest . . .
You want THAT. And that’s a no. I’m sorry. But it’s a very emphatic NO.
Not because I don’t like you or don’t want to support other authors. Not because I don’t believe that your work is that great, but because I went out and did it myself, and if your work is that great, you shall meet with success using the same, very public channels. No, I swear, that is how it works. Now excuse me. I have books to write.
Have a great day!
I’m going to talk about something a little tough today. Something a little cringe-worthy and awkward. Something all authors deal with, new and old, at various stages of the game. Sometimes it’s when they first get their agent. Sometimes it’s when they get their offer and the book is due out but it’s not here yet. Sometimes it’s when the book is on the shelf and they’re at a signing in some bookstore in the middle of Zimbabwe. Wherever they are, there will undoubtedly hear these questions:
1) Can you read my work (my uncle’s work, my kid’s work, my dog’s work)?
2) Can you refer me to your agent/editor?
3) Can you help me get published?
Look, I understand why people are asking. They want a foot in, and in my heart of hearts I do understand that a foot in is really, really nice because this industry is fucking scary when you’re on the outside looking in. But the answer to one up there? Is, “No. No, I won’t.” And you’re sort of being ballsy to assume that our mediocre (tepid, non-existent) association warrants me, the author, giving my free time over to your work or your cousin’s work. I love the fact that you love my stories or might love my stories one day. I DO appreciate that. But if you want me to continue making stories, that means my time must be spent doing just that. Putting words on the page. Editing words already put on the page. My time is still mine, and I opt to spend it making more art or perfecting the art I have. It’s nothing personal, but it’s still within my rights to do that. Just like it’s within my rights to go bowling on Saturday instead of reading for people I don’t know. Sorry!
As for that second question? Well, no. I don’t just lob names at my agent unless I know the person very, VERY well and I know their work and believe in it. Think of it this way: if every person that asked me for a referral got one, and now every other one of Miriam’s clients operated the same way, my agent would have no time to read my work, edit my work, position my work, and sell my work. I’d be shooting myself in the foot here because she works WITH ME to make me succeed. If we don’t have this lovely symbiosis, neither one of us get paid. And getting paid makes nice things like electricity happen. I like electricity. It helps me make the books. It helps me have food. Let me have food.
Please, please try to understand. There are many of you wanting referrals. I can’t just do that. No, I won’t make an exception this once because that’s how things go tits up, and no thanks, not interested in setting a precedent. Sorry again!
What I can do is address question three up there. Can I -help- you? Yes, I can. What I can do is spare you having to do the hunting around the internet to get your book journey started. Because honestly dudes? I did this from scratch. I had no referral. I was a slush-pile kid. And it’s not that I want everyone to dig their way up through the trenches to toughen up or some other bullshit reason. It’s that I know if you follow the rules, you can land on your feet. You need perseverance and talent. You also need reading comprehension.
Got those things?
Follow me, Kiddos. It’s about to get real.
1) Finish your book. Polish it until it gleams. NO AGENT OR EDITOR WILL LOOK AT A FICTION DEBUT UNTIL IT IS FINISHED. THEY DON’T CARE ABOUT YOUR FANCY FOUR CHAPTERS. THEY WANT THE WHOLE TAMALE.
2) Once you finish it, you write a query letter. Want to know how? QUERY SHARK. Read it. Absorb it. Live it. Janet Reid is a brilliant woman.
3) Once the query letter is perfected, research agents. Go to AGENT QUERY. Filter through the agents who represent your genre and query ONLY them. This is where the reading comprehension comes in. THEY ALL HAVE SUBMISSION GUIDELINES. FOLLOW THEM.
4) Select a handful to start – all from different literary agencies preferable. Provide ONLY what they ask for, whether that’s a query or a query and a synopsis or a query and 10 pages. Do not think you’re a special snowflake so you’ll just send your whole book because, “You’re the next Stephen King.” That makes you sound arrogant and incapable of following instructions. And who wants to work with arrogant people who can’t follow simple instructions? No one. Also, do not mass email them at one time. Take the time to send your submission to each agent individually. Spell their names correctly. Be professional. Do not ever answer a rejection with snark because HOLY CRAP EVERYONE IN PUBLISHING TALKS TO ONE ANOTHER AND YOU’RE ONLY HURTING YOURSELF IF YOU ACT LIKE A BUTTHURT ASSHOLE.
5) Wait. Wait for what seems like forever. And when it’s no longer time to wait, I assure you the agents will guide you from there. If they want partials, if they want fulls, if they want your first born – they’ll make it very clear.
Let me state one more time I am more than happy to answer questions about how I got where I am, how other people can get to where I am, and what new writers should do to get there. But my answers will never be, “Let me do it for you.” They will always be, “Here are your resources so you can do it for yourself.” Not because I don’t care or want to protect my position in the industry. Not because I’m a jerk. But because shortcuts are cheap and, in this case, presumptuous of my time. And ask any author, time is like gold around these parts. Precious.