SO YOU WANT TO WRITE A BOOK?

I’m sick and tired of election news. Constant, stupendous lies. Voting machines that over-heat. Deadlines that aren’t met. Votes not counted. Some counties and states certifying data within hours, some within weeks. Oy! It helps one understand Churchill’s gripe that  “Democracy is the worst form of government–except for all the rest…” So what to write about this week?

How about me?

The experts say that readers like to keep up with what’s doing in the lives of those they read, so I assume you’ve asked and I’ll tell you. I’ve just finished my third book, the first of a two-part memoir called tentatively, “The War of the Itchy Balls and Other Notes From Brooklyn.” Now comes a part of writing that is in many ways worse than applying to college. It’s the search for an agent or publisher. The rejection rate can be crushing. Here’s how it works.

There are two ways one can approach the search. Both require some study and some seeking of advice. One needs a query letter and a literary proposal. Basically, they need to be perfect. That’s perfect as in perfect, no errors–at all. One can write them first and shop them around or one can write the book first and then do the rest. A query letter is virtually 100% required to be one page long. That one page is supposed to have enough information about the book, the writer, and who the target merchandizing audiences would be for the agent to determine if there’s interest. And it all best be perfect as in….well you get the point.

The literary proposal expands on the above plus includes a marketing plan. Publishing is a cut-throat business. The book has to sell in the minds of the agent or publisher or that’s the end of that. Again the standard is perfection. And it makes sense. If a writer can’t get written a few pages without errors, imagine what the agent assumes he or she will find in 300 pages.

So where does one find these folks? The industry has a “bible” called Writer’s Market. It lists the vast majority of publishers and agents in the country, tells you their interests, and contact information. Then too there is my trusty Florida Freelance Writers Association. It keeps track of agent’s movements. If you are lucky an agent went from a publisher not in the book to another publisher not in the book. Net results? Two new contacts. But this is just the beginning.

First one goes through the book to find which agencies/agents deal in memoirs. Oddly enough a memoir is not a memoir (there are many different ways to frame a story) and many different kinds of people who want to tell their story. Next step is the target’s webpage. Why? There you read about the agency’s history and style and try to sense if you and they are a match, if you both are thinking of the same kind of memoir. If it seems so, then you look at each agent’s bio (sometimes there are two, sometimes 8 or 10) to find the one or several who read memoirs. Then, with nothing more than your gut to go on, you pick one of the several. Hanging over this choice is the seemingly universal strict rule that you can contact only one agent in an agency at a time. If you do, someone comes and cuts off your fingers. Just kidding, just kidding. So it is gut-check time again.

Having picked a pigeon, what is it to be fed? Again rules. Each agency webpage has a “submissions” section. It tells you what the agency wants from you. What you want to give them.? Forgedaboudit! Some only want a query letter. Some want both the letter and the proposal. Some want the letter and parts of the proposal (author’s bio, the proposed audience), some want those two things and a writing sample. The sample generally is one chapter for fiction, 10 pages for non-fiction. One agency wanted 30 pages. They want consecutive pages so that can judge your writing style and its flow. Every-so-often though–I cheat. I send, in my opinion, the 10, or 12, or 30 best pages. Since the draft manuscript is not paginated, no one but I know the stories are not on 10 consecutive pages.

At this point, one comes away with three understandings.

*Every agency represents a gaggle of authors who are famous, very famous; you can’t let that intimidate you.

*Secondly, one needs to be a crack expert at cut and paste.

*Finally, even if one hires a professional editor, which I did for this book, one needs to develop editing skills. The key to editing skills is understanding that every word you put on paper is not your child to be guarded and protected zealously. There comes a time, the 7th, or 8th, or 9th reading when you think, “If I read this one more time I’m going to pass out or throw up.” It is then that you can edit objectively. The love is gone. Neil Simon wrote his first play, “Come Blow Your Horn” fourteen times, start to finish while having to work as a waiter to survive.

So you’re diving into Writers Market, you’ve selected all the agencies that take your genre of work, you head to each one’s website and check if the agency’s philosophy/likes/dislikes match yours, gone through the list of agents, chosen one, nipped over to the submissions page and jockeyed back and forth between your file from which you pull what the agency wants and your copy/paste buttons, again  read what you’re sending and maybe once more after that, and finally hit send. Whew!

In the space of 2 1/2 weeks, I did this for a total of 68 agents and publishers, and like this election and its ballots, I keep finding an agent here, an agent there so the number is climbing. This process takes 30-60 minutes per contact x 68 (and climbing) contacts = a lot of time sitting at the computer checking one’s gut and seeking perfection.

Now comes more fun. Waiting. Some acknowledge receipt of your material; some do not. Some say they will contact you with a decision; some do not. Some say they will try to give you a decision in 4-8 weeks (or more if they are busy); some do not.  All say, “DO NOT CALL OR WRITE US ABOUT YOUR SUBMISSION!”  WE WILL NOT RESPOND–AND WE MAY SEND SOMEONE TO YOUR HOUSE TO SPANK YOU FOR NOT FOLLOWING THE RULES. (I’m just kidding about the last part…)

There are other rules too. Some, a rarity, only take postal submissions. Some, a rarity, will take attachments. Almost everyone, maybe 99%,  wants everything they’ve requested to be pasted into an email to cut down on the possibility of virus transmission. That submission instruction comes with a notice something like this: “IF YOU DON’T FOLLOW THE SUBMISSION RULES WE WILL \TRASH YOUR SUBMISSION WITH OPENING IT–AND STAND AROUND THE COMPUTER GLEEFULLY LAUGHING THAT WE’VE FOUND ANOTHER JERK WHO CAN’T FOLLOW DIRECTIONS.” (I’m kidding about the last part but it could be true…)  Now what?

I kept a list of those to whom I wrote, the specific agent, and the date of contact. So using their math, in 4-8 weeks, give or take I’ll be on medication to deal with the anxiety over the rash of responses, which if they follow the norm, will be at least 99% rejections. Again, “Oy!”

Oh yes, and there’s social media, a medium that gives me hives just at the thought. Again with the experts. They say you want as many friends on Facebook as possible both to impress agents that you have a platform (not the diving or suicide kind) for sales. I’m now told “engagements” are as important as friends. I’ve had a few but not of the social media kind. And of course, you want just as many connections on Linked-in.

The problem with this is that it is like keeping two mice as pets and thinking everything is under control. It is until the mice discover each other… So someone wants to friend you. You accept. Then a page pops up that says, “people you might know.” There are dozens of them almost all of whom you don’t know. But the game is on.

Having figured out in my head a rough idea from their two sentence bio of who might be interested in my writing, I have a rough invite/don’t invite formula. Now let’s say there are 60 names and I invite 40. Of those 40, 35 are as deperate as am I for friends and they accept. With each acceptance comes that field of “people you might know.”

I’ll shorten this a bit for you. I now have about 300 new acceptances each lugging with them dozens and dozens of new possible friends. It takes me about 45 minutes to go through each list of possibles and then each one, like our newlywed mice, produces others faster and in greater numbers than you ever imagined. Think Mickey and the broom in the Sorcerer’s Apprentice.

Basically, I will not live long enough to complete the task. But as an ancient and famous Rabbi (Tarphon) once wrote: “Yours is not to complete the task, but neither are you free to desist from it.” Say it with me now. “OY!”

Neil Simon wrote me a letter after I had sent him some of the material that is in this book. A letter I stupidly didn’t keep. Did I know I would lose him in my divorce?  Anyway, he said it was funny and it needed work. And after a few mixed pleasantries and wishes to the family, he said that writing was not fun. It was work, hard work and that no one in their right mind should take it up. Then he ended with a great line (not surprisingly). He said, “And if you take my advice, you shouldn’t be a writer.”

I’ll let you know in about 8 weeks when I’ll have gotten to the point of having to consider that last line. But at least the answer will be…from my perspective.

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Bill Gralnick’s work appears most every Sunday but probably not Sunday next (Happy Thanksgiving to all). All of his writings along with bits and snatches about him can be found on his website, \http://www.atleastfrommyperspective.net

And as Bill often says, “Read! It’s good for both of us.”

 

 

 

 

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