When I first got more active with Twitter, I was particularly excited to see how many opportunities existed for writers.
There were contests that allowed writers to pitch their manuscripts directly to agents and editors–and get requests for partials and fulls–in 140 characters or less.
Literary chats, along with the chance to network with other writers and readers, make Twitter an awesome–and distracting–place to spend some time.
And then there is #tenqueries. If you follow this hashtag, you get to regularly see agents wade through ten query letters, say a bit about them, and explain why they’re passing on projects. (There are some requests, but very few and far between, of course.)
When I first discovered #tenqueries, I loved it. What a great idea, I thought. An inside glimpse into what agents are really looking for!
Except, with this industry being as subjective and speculative as it is, all #tenqueries tells you is what those particular agents are looking for. Or rather, what they’re not looking for.
The problems start when big sweeping statements are made: “Paranormal isn’t selling,” instead of “I can’t sell paranormal,” because if you look at the top e-publishers on Amazon and what’s selling like crazy, paranormal still tops the list. But how many writers are seeing these statements and losing hope? How many have already put their manuscripts aside and given up? It worries me.
This hashtag first started to bother me when a writer tweeted that she was afraid one of the query letters skewered on #tenqueries was hers. That’s when it really hit me–how awful it must be to see your novel, this thing you created over hours, days, weeks, months, and years, lambasted for the public’s entertainment. In 140 characters or less, of course.
As writers, we’re not supposed to talk publicly about agents. Those of us who’ve had really bad experiences are supposed to stay quiet, because apparently speaking out will mark us as difficult to work with, and no other agent will ever want to represent us.
I get that. I may not always agree with it, because I think writers should be able to warn others of our bad experiences, but I get it.
This is another reason why it’s so difficult to watch agents publicly trash writers. Yes, I get that receiving queries from misguided writers who get your name wrong, pitch something you don’t represent, and send attachments is irritating.
Still, these aren’t the painful ones. It bothers me when a well-meaning query is publicly torn apart for everyone’s entertainment. Everyone except the author, and every other writer who is thinking, “My god, is that MY submission they’re talking about?”
Here are two universal truths about the writing industry:
1) Query letters are very difficult to write. Most authors will tell you the same. Reducing a 400-page novel to a few paragraphs that are well-written and enticing is a skill that takes a lot of time to develop. And, ironically enough, writers are usually the worst people to sum up their own work in a few neat lines.
Many writers take rejections as a sign their work isn’t good enough for publication. Or worse, that they aren’t good enough. When what it probably means is their query letter sucks, along with 98 percent of all query letters. Or they got their genre wrong–determining genre is another thing most writers are not great at, especially with all the sub-genres out there. For instance, I’m currently writing a novel where a modern-day Egyptologist winds up in ancient Egypt. While she’s there, she will fall in love. A ton of creepy, scary, perhaps even paranormal things will happen. So should I call this a scifi novel, because of the time travel? A horror? Historical fiction? I know enough not to call it a romance, but you see what I mean. Standing in similar shoes, writers have thrown up their hands and settled on “Horrific historical science fiction with paranormal and romantic elements.” To which most agents would respond, and rightly so, with “Wtf?”
I wish there wasn’t so much focus on genre. Just read the damn book and judge it on its own merits.
2) Where you’re going, there are no rules. This is why I cringe when I hear sweeping statements like, “Paranormal isn’t selling.” Or “If your manuscript is over 100,000 words, forget it.” Um, I guess it’s a good thing no one told Diana Gabaldon that. (Or if they did, she thankfully didn’t listen.) They had difficulty figuring out her genre too. Didn’t stop her from becoming an international best-selling author.
There’s a line of thought that says that it’s easier to follow the rules. That you’ll find success quicker if you write books that aren’t too long, in genres that are easily defined. To that I say: BULLSHIT.
This industry is never easy. Most writers know this by now. And the only way to keep going through the rejections and the bad reviews and the terrible experiences is to write what you love. Write the books you believe in. If you love vampires and want to write about them, I certainly hope you won’t let anyone tell you otherwise, just because “paranormal ain’t selling.” Bullshit. Write a good book, and you will find your people. This is truer today than at any other time, because writers no longer need an agent or a publisher to reach readers.
Anne Rice and Stephenie Meyer both found enormous success writing about vampires when vampires weren’t popular. There’s an exception to every rule.
I think #tenqueries and the like are fine if you’re taking them for what they are–the very subjective opinions of a few agents. It becomes a problem when you take what they say as gospel and apply it to your own career, letting it discourage you.
Sometimes a simple form letter rejection is a blessing.