Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Writer Zen: Forest and Trees

Technique Tuesday

In geometry, you need two points to define a line, and a minimum of three points to have a trend. I sensed a trend when I came across theses three pieces of advice about queries in the course of a single day:

Holly Root, of the Waxman Literary Agency offers the following advice on what matters in query:
"Write the best book you can, then the best query you can. Submit written materials to agents. The worst they can say is no so don’t worry about fine-tuning that to the nanometer, just look for the right ballpark (i.e., alive, still in the business). Then press send."
Michael Bourret had a similar post titled, Queries: It's not about the details

And then Nathan Bransford (Curtis Brown) chimed in with Get the Big Stuff Right:
"I was thinking I'd discuss how if you just familiarize yourself with agent blogs and use your best judgment and act in good faith and send the best query you can you're going to be fine and there's no need to sweat the tiny details."
Nathan goes on to say,
"It is about the details in the sense that we are actually making a decision based on a short letter and maybe some sample pages and so of course it's about the details."
Here's his list of things to sweat:
  1. "Overall look - Around the right length, a reasonable font, 10 or 12 point font, broken into reasonable paragraphs, no fiddling with margins, pictures, indenting, colors, etc. Just a clean, professional-looking letter. Don't sweat if it's a little long or a little short, and definitely do not start messing around to try and make it look creative or different. When it comes to letters, "creative" tends to look "insane." It's like showing up to a job interview in a clown costume. When you're formatting your query: wear a boring suit."
  2. "The description of your work. Get. This. Right. Get it right. Get it right, get it right, get it right. Get it right. Sweat this. This is what we care about. We're looking for a good story idea and good writing, and you want both to jump out in the query.
  3. Annnnd, we're done!
One of the things that sets us apart as novelists is our ability not to lose sight of the big picture. We may agonize over a word or phrase, but we (the ideal we) keep in mind the role of those words in the scene and the role of the scene in the larger story.

In a similar vein, we need the ability to see the bigger picture on the business and marketing side of the endeavour. (Or we need an agent to do that job.) I suspect that one of the subtle differences between a pro and a wanabe is that pros don't lose sight of the forest and obsess about a particular tree.

What do you think?


Image: luigi diamanti / FreeDigitalPhotos.net