Tuesday, August 17, 2010

I am JALTG heading toward E

With the advent of the internet, every person in the world has a bully pulpit for offering up advice. I'm not sure if other industries have the same problem publishing does, but we've got a lot of people shouting orders and issuing instructions who don't have a frigging clue what they're talking about.

How can you figure out if advice is worth the air it's shouted into?

First, remember advice can be right for one person and not another. Try something, and if it doesn't work for you, stop. Try something else.

Second, consider the source. Anyone who listens to authors tell you what works in a query isn't listening to the right source. Authors aren't READING queries. Agents, and in many cases agency interns, are.

This is not to say authors can't give you advice on writing queries. If however you get conflicting advice, remember who is actually doing the query reading when you decide which opinion deserves more weight.

Third, consider the advisor's experience, and expertise. I'm always amused to see people new to agenting offering up opinions like the Holy Grail. Saying you're an agent doesn't make you one. It's entirely possible what they say is correct but again, if you're hearing a variety of opinions, carefully weigh the experience of the person.

A lot of publishing information you find on the web is just flat out wrong. Thankfully this isn't rocket science or brain surgery and a mistake won't kill you. You might wish you were dead but you won't be.

There are no easy answers, or easy solutions. I'm wrong myself a good 3% of the time.

It's too bad agents don't come with ratings guides like movies do.

There could be:

TNTK: too new to know (much)

SBSO: Seasoned but still optimistic

HFAW: Helpful for (about) another week

JALTG: Jaded, and Looking To Gnaw

E: Exasperated


suzie townsend said...

"You might wish you were dead, but you won't be."

I think this quote might need to go on my bulletin board.

BW said...

Hey, what's wrong with rocket science? That's what I write.


I liked what you said about "Saying you're an agent doesn't make you one."

I hear people who say they are a "professional writer" when they really aren't. They may write, they may get paid occasionally but they are not paying the mortgage, the car, or any other bills based on their writings. Yet when I asked how they pay their bills, I get a different response.

Suzan Harden said...

Wow, Janet, that's the same percentage of failure as the birth control pill.

Thanks, now I've got Hugh Grant screaming "3% bloody ineffective" in my head.

Sabrina E. Ogden said...

"You might wish you were dead but you won't be."

I thought I was going to die when I first heard about GOOGLE ALERT!

Keith Popely said...

I thought "E" would refer to "Enlightened."

Sarah Laurenson said...

A whole 3%? Wow. That's like 2% more than I figured.


Meredith Barnes said...

@sztownsend81 Is that a threat? I can't tell if it's supposed to be a good thing.

Linda Leszczuk said...

3%? Hmmm. Good to know.

magolla said...

WriteOnCon gave attendees a chance to throw their query to the lioness, Joanne Volpe. Mine didn't make the cut, but she posted the ones that stood out. Seeing what did or didn't work was worth far more than the price of attendence . . . okay, it was a FREE conference, but sharing her comments (like your own Query Shark, which I'll be using after a trip to WDW) helps.

In fact, your office mates played a role in that conference *waves at Ms. Townsend, and Kortizzle (did a 5-pg eval--missed the cut on that one, too)*

Don't lose heart, some of us are old dogs trying to learn new tricks, but it's hard to scratch, bite our butts and type at the same time. And that doesn't count the times we wander into the other room and forget why we went there. Sorry . . .rambling again. You'll strike gold with a new author, and then all the bad stuff will be flushed from your memories.

amy said...

It doesn't fail to blow my mind that the short query escapes the grasp of would be authors. Going to other would be authors, up and coming agents, or simply wanna-be bloggers for advice seems akin to padding one's laptop with C4. How constructive would such advice really be? If you can really write a worthy, FULL LENGTH book, a few paragraphs of baldly bold text should not elude you.

#1Nana said...

3%...good one!

Susan M. Boyer said...

Okay, this is hilarious, and oh so true. Writers have access to SO MUCH information on the Internet--it's daunting. We have to do our homework and make sure we're listening to the right people. Like you, JALTG shark. :)

Stephanie said...

LOL! Great post!! I used to post my query for critique on a writer's message board that will remain nameless... I stopped becuase all I got was a different opinion from every person and the ones who tore it apart the most had absolutely no success in the publishing industry what so ever! They didn't have an agent or a publisher...nothing. I learned quickly where not to find advice and sought out better sources.

Ali said...

Okay, full disclosure: this made me a tiny bit nervous. I've given advice on my blog (on writing and researching agents). I did a small series on it, actually. However, I am always careful to say that these were things I learned and that different things work for different people. Personally, I've gotten some pretty rotten advice and some fantastic advice, but I have (I think. I hope.) learned to tell the difference.

But you're right: saying you're an agent doesn't make you one. I had an acquaintance who claimed she had an agent. I asked her a few questions about the woman and how their relationshiped worked. Without going into detail, that woman was NOT an agent. She was using that girl, and I told her as much.

Also, I want "You might wish you were dead but you won't be" on a coffee mug. That is the perfect amount of wisdom and snark.

Ronda Gibb Hinrichsen said...

A perfect mix of humor and meanness--I mean truth. Thanks!

wry wryter said...

How about,

SOB: Sick of books

SHITT: She hates intelligent tale tellers

I know they are stupid but I couldn't come up with anything for the F word.

I'm trying to think of some really good advice that sounds all writery and speaks to the wisdom and experience I have gained over these many years of writing.
With confidence I offer...

Keep your pencil sharp and you eraser worn.

Deb Salisbury said...

ROFL! Too true.

Janet Reid said...

Ali, there's a huge difference between posting something you describe as "your experience" and saying "do this, I know what I"m talking about."

I have no problem with writers talking about their experience and even answering questions from other writers.

Where I do raise the Whoa! flag is when writers erroneously conclude "my experience is is how it is."

Personal experience is the least replicable thing in the world. What worked, or didn't, for you is only for you.

I don't think writers should query in isolation: shared information is power and knowledge--but it needs to be tempered with wisdom.

(it took four tries and a trip to google to spell erroneously right--argh!)

Ali said...

Janet, I understand your point perfectly. I've seen a lot of that, too. It can be alarming, because some blindly follow bad advice, and I often want to shout "Danger! Danger, Will Robinson!"

I recently received an email from someone, which outlined how a person MUST promote his book. His incomplete book. To him, the words were gospel. To me...not so much.

But enough of my rambling (sweet mother of chocolate, I need more coffee) -- thank you. I appreciate that you took the time to write about this. :-)

The Zuccini said...

I see lots of writers giving advice. Every once in a while I think, "Maybe I have something to contribute." But then I think, what do I know?

The answer is nothing.

Malia Sutton said...

I offer a lot of advice with my big mouth about publishing, small presses, dealing with contracts when you don't have an agent, and how I've been screwed over because I was either too green or too eager to get published. And with the advent of e-books, I've been posting off the wall lately to vent my own frustrations.

But I try not to tell people what to do. I just try to give other authors information based on my own personal experiences...the good ones and the bad.

Being a career writer without an agent is a challenge at best. And trying to decide what is good info on the web and what is bad info is an even greater challenge.

Margaret Yang said...

Reason #435 why I do not have a blog.

Steve Stubbs said...

I would guess what your rating is, but even though I consider myself SBSO I may actually be TNTK, meaning if I guessed there was some significance in the word "Gnaw" (as in JALTG) I might leave you feeling E instead.

So I won't even guess privately. Consider my boundless curiosity swallowed (MBCS).

Helen DeWitt said...

Mhm. Then there's the other side? I tell an agent/editor/lawyer/other what I want and they blithely wave it aside because they know "what writers care about." I explain that I ain't people. I'm not actually interested in paying a commission/fee/other for what a lot of other people I don't happen to know happen to want, I want to pay for the things I want. Heh heh heh heh heh, is the reply. (I naturally can't be serious.) O Invisible Hand, where art thou?

jjdebenedictis said...

I'm not sure if other industries have the same problem publishing does, but we've got a lot of people shouting orders and issuing instructions who don't have a frigging clue what they're talking about.

While I was in graduate school, studying high temperature superconductivity, a fellow phoned our laboratory. He said he'd read an article about carbon nanotubes and was sure our lab could achieve room temperature superconductivity (the field's holy grail) by growing tube-shaped superconducting crystals.

Which is...a dauntingly problematic conjecture on several levels.

So, yes. You get those sorts of people in all fields.

Terri Coop said...

Hah! LOL! I am going to borrow some of these for my law practice. I gnawed on a client today because I suspected he had not been altogether truthful with me. So, JALTG is perfect.

When I did my time at Legal Aid, I explained the life cycle of a public interest lawyer to some of the noobs:

1. Gold - you are going to bring justice to the oppressed and misunderstood masses and change the world with your dedication and awesomeness.

Well, that starts to rub off PDQ and then comes,

2. Silver - Hmmm, most of our clients are not noble as they suffer in poverty, they use their checks to get tattoos. Well, what I do is still important because everyone deserves their day in court.

This layer can last a while, your whole career if you are lucky. However, most of us end up worn down to pure,

3. Brass - Self-explanatory . . . (I am firmly there).

Sounds like agenting has a similar lifecycle!


Julie Weathers said...

I feel like this one plopped straight on my head. It's kind of like when a cow somehow or another gets her leg through a slide gate and you're trying to get it shoved back through before she breaks it and right about then she graces you with a nice, fresh cow pie.

A few weeks ago, someone on Twitter linked to the greatest query letter ever.

For whatever reason, and I have myriad, I haven't queried FAR RIDER much. It's gone out to a few people who requested it from samples they've seen and one I ditched at Surrey to attend another workshop. Long story and it goes back to my lifelong nemesis, which would be most polite.

Anyway, I know the chances are somewhere around one in a hundred of finding you dream agent. Your definition of dream agent may vary.

I knew at some point I needed to start making the list and checking it twice. I needed to get serious about what the current trends/rules are for querying.

So, I'm been reading everything I can find about querying. I've paid hard-earned money to take workshops. I've joined in on every #querychat on Twitter. I've sent my query in to every author, intern or assistant who offered to do a free critique.

One intern advised, "Agents don't have time to respond to queries so don't expect any response."

"If your wip is over 100,000 words don't even bother submitting it. No one will look at it."

"Put your word count and genre first line. I know you think you're being cute by hiding them at the end, but we aren't amused."

"Put your reason for querying me in the first line. I want to know if you did your research."

"Forget about all that other crap, dive into the story. Hook me first then give me the bad news about the word count."

One of my favorite queries to use as a sample is on query shark #163. I love that query

At the other end of the spectrum is one someone recommended on Twitter as the perfect query. It honest to Pete had seven rhetorical questions in the first paragraph. I forced myself to read through this and the rest of the query was pretty good although it was far too long.

I just can't imagine any agent reading through that to get to the good stuff. The blog was supposedly written by a professional, but I didn't recognize the name.

So, Miss Janet is absolutely right. Be careful who you take advice from.

At the end of the day, I would up going back to the query I submitted