The Book’s the Thing
I’ve been thinking about all the information for writers available now on the internet. It’s great for writers because although getting published has never been more challenging, there has never been so much information available about how to do it. But there are so many people giving advice that it must get overwhelming sometimes.
Getting published today involves more than writing your book (as you know), so blogging and Twittering agents are constantly giving tips about queries and proposals and marketing your book. But here’s the thing: All that stuff is irrelevant without a good book.
It’s your book that matters most.
Not your query or your proposal or your marketing plan. Your book. It has to work on every level. It has to appeal to a lot of people, and it has to be saleable.
Agents talk a lot about queries, and we give plenty of tips to help you get it right. But the query boils down to making a clear and concise presentation of your book. Just tell us enough that we get a feel for it and want to read it. Be polite and professional and try to avoid coming across like a crackpot. It’s worth putting some effort into, but 99.9% of your effort should be in your book.
So if it’s all about the book, then why are we constantly giving you advice on so many other things, especially queries? Well, we have some really good reasons for doing that. And by “we” I mean all of the agents who blog and Twitter.
Here’s why we do it:
1. We’re trying to set you up for success. Honestly. We want to give you the tools to get it right.
2. If your book is really good, we want to be able to recognize it. If your query doesn’t shine, we might miss it. We really want your query to give us a glimpse of your book.
3. We harp on submission guidelines because we’re trying to avoid wasted effort—yours and ours. Let’s face it, we are all overloaded with too much to do. We need to streamline our processes. When you write your query properly and send it only to appropriate agents, it makes the best use of your time and ours.
4. We want you to know what it looks like from our end of the desk. The world of publishing and literary agents used to be shrouded in mystery, but we don’t want it that way. We’re trying to help demystify the business.
Don’t stress out too much about all the advice you find online. Learn what you can from it and enjoy being part of the writing community (because that’s what all this blogging and Twittering is about anyway). But focus mostly on your book.
Q4U: Do you find you’re distracted from the writing by all the trappings the publishing biz?
>Great post!! I've notice lots of agents now are blogging and basically giving us the answers to the tests, so to speak. Now if we would just listen!!
>Great quesiton and helpful post.
I find since I started following industry blogs, my writing has suffered. I'm trying to find balance on this and maybe read them less often.
>What distracts me from writing is publishing-related blogs, Agent blogs, writer blogs, writing advice blogs, etc. There's so much to read, and so many comments to post – who has time to write?
>It doesn't distract me from writing, but it gets right in the way of my sleeping!
>I find that I become overwhelmed and often discouraged by all the negative forecasts and demands put upon us in order to become published. It seems that the query letter is more important than the book for without it, however good the story and writing may be, it will never be read by an agent.
I end up returning to the peace of writing another novel.
>Absolutely! It is overwhelming. Sometimes I feel like I'm on information overload just trying to keep up with everything out there these days. Slowing down to process it all is another challenge. Thanks for the insight and giving us as many tools as you can.
>It reminds me of Lance Armstrong's book, "It Not about the Bike". Ultimately it's about riding the thing!!!
>Thank you for the timely reminder Rachelle. I sometimes forget that in the whole "perfecting my query" stress!
>Happy New Year, Rachel – and thank you so much for this post.
My first book is ready to submit and I have been overwhelmed by the advice available. There is a lot of it, which I am grateful for, but it makes me fret over getting those peripherals right. Much of this advice is also contradictory and I can get quite stressed by it, if I'm honest.
Thank you for pointing out that the most important thing is the book. Phew!:)
>For me I find a little information extremely helpful but too much can be paralysing.
I have to constantly remind myself that not everything I read on the internet comes from an expert.
>Count me in for feeling overwhelmed, as well as feeling blessed by all the advice but totally stymied by it in some ways as well. Boy Rachelle, thanks for thinking of this aspect of it, and for reminding us this is supposed to be fun…AND…about our story mainly. Sometimes we just need that outside perspective. I feel like I can take a big breath again and just let it go for a while…glad I stopped by!
>Great post – it's nice to hear these reassurances. I'm still on the upward slope of the learning curve, so it's not so much distraction as education still 🙂
>Thank you for the post. It is easy to be overwhelmed by queries, agents and rejections. The story is the heart of why we present the book in the first place. We wouldn't do it if not for the story. The story is the blood, and the reason I write.
The book is what matters in the end, I refuse to believe anything otherwise.
>Since my day job is being a high school English teacher, during the times school is in session, I'm not writing as many posts for my blog (which is my book). Keeping up with the blogs that I'm reading and with Facebook and Twitter is a nice contrast to the interactions I have with my students. I do have a timetable, however, and I am on track to complete my book by mid-summer.
Fortunately, I read all the requisite books and articles about writing when I first started honing my skills in the early 1990's. So,after my book is finished, I will be able to concentrate on building the audience for my blog.
>I disagree. Easy Marketability is the thing. Sadly, the book need only be passably literate.
This has been proven time and time again.
>I think people are letting themselves get distracted by the whole publishing aspect because they don't want to face the fact that, maybe the book they are writing really isn't that interesting. I know if my book does not get published it is simply because it's not that interesting. We need a wow factor and I think that's what should encourage writers most! Dare to be unique and different! Create more drama and excitement! Then when it comes time to publish it won't be so scary because you know you have a great and interesting story!
>I used to be until a few months ago when I started NaNoWriMo. It made me realize how little writing I had actually gotten done before November, and how I had let blogs, twitter and reading about how to sell my novel take over my time.
Then I got a little gun shy and didn't read a blog again (with a few rare exceptions) until the new year.
Now I miss the community. So I'm jumping back on board with the blogs and social networking, but I'm limiting it. And I'm only reading what gives me that feeling of community.
Time to cull the RSS Reader! 🙂
>if been on your website for a long time and i know your a goods agent happy new year.
>Not any more…and once I stopped getting bogged down my writing improved significantly. I was working on my first novel and a very super successful writer gave me some advice that I've never forgotten. He said write your book. Learn your craft and write your book. Once it's written look around and decide who you might want to publish it. Look around and decide who might best represent it and make sure the agent matches the work. That is your starting point. There is much time to learn how to do all the rest AFTER the book is written. So that's what I've done…my novel will be published next year so it worked for me.
>Yes. I've come to think there's an inverted curve in relation to time spent on the business of publishing vs. writing. When one first decides to write, there's something to be said for simply going for it, but there's more to be said for taking the time to gaining an understanding of the industry. Who's the market? What are they looking for? Basic writing craft lessons/tips.
But then, there comes a point where much of it becomes repetitive, and the writer should probably begin to focus more on writing, at least until contracted with an agent or editor. Not go away all together but idle down. At that point, it's time to ramp up again, to reconnect, to learn what's changed, get the latest info, etc.
>I can't say distracted as much as discouraged. I'm not published (yet, I hope), so I don't worry too much about all I read about the state of the industry. I'm aware of it, and it's filed away at the back of my mind so I know where to look for it should I get a contract and need to know these things.
It's discouraging because I have a nagging feeling that getting a contract may not be as nice as I had hoped. I don't expect to get rich from writing, or even be able to quit my day job. I also don't want to lose money on the deal, either, after what I'll be expected to do for marketing is figured in, and many of the frustrations I've read about lead me to believe there's a definite possibility it could be more of a pain in the ass than a pleasure.
Hopefully, I get to find out I'm wrong.
>It's the marriage of art and business, and it's just the way it is. Writers must adapt to it if they want to become published.
>I get so inspired reading all the information out there, learning how to make my writing better, all that jazz…and I sometimes end up overwhelmed by everything and lose out on writing time.
But I'm really grateful for all that info!
I become sidetracked from writing at times, listening to so much conflicting material and wondering if I have a chance of ever being published.
I am very thankful for all of the tools available for aspiring authors and have learned so much about the publishing industry. But, I decided that I would write my best novel and when ready, find a compatible home (publisher)for it. I will follow their rules to the letter and submit. And then I will pray. 🙂 If that doesn't work, I will try to learn more, for by then, I'm sure the rules will have changed. But, I will keep trying.:-)
I love the information on your site and have learned so much from you and look forward to learning more.
The Best in 2010,
I'm right there with you. I try my hardest to write something that isn't worth reading, but every time it comes out great and I am so disappointed.
>The Internet writing community can be a distraction, but it can also be a motivator. I always know when I need to pull back and refocus.
It's something published authors have to deal with too, the balance of promotion and actual writing. I don't mind learning it now.
>YES! AT first I told myself I was doing research by reading everything blog, tweet and article I could find about queries or publishing.
Then I realized I was using it as an excuse not to finish editing my novel.
Plus I ended up going on information overload. Now I only read a handful of agent blogs and have tried to cut my twitter time down considerably.
Being informed is good- but too much can make your head explode.
>Am I distracted? Every now and then I have to take a week hiatus from the blogosphere just so I can really focus on my writing. The blogs can definitely get in your head and interfere with the creative process, but I also want to learn about the business. I don't want to miss a chance just because I didn't know how it all works. But it can be very overwhelming and I'm still trying to put it all in balance. The book comes first, but there is so much pressure to know the ins and outs of publishing.
>Okay, that should have been "isn't worth reading" what's the point?
>No, I'm not, but only because I put forth a conscious effort not to be distracted by it. When I'm in the midst of a first draft, I try to stay off agent blogs and writing websites. I want to concentrate on getting my story out. When I'm at the revision stage or querying stage, all of the writing resources are fair game! 🙂
>The writing should always come first. You can jump through all the hoops and do all the marketing and promotion correctly, but if what you have written is worth reading what's the point?
The best case scenario (IMHO), is to have someone help you with some of the promotional stuff and concentrate on writing.
>I wish I could do nothing but write all day, but an enormous amount of "business" work needs to be done as well. Thanks for reminding all writers not to forget their real goal… to write a great book (or screenplay). What good is getting it read if it fails in its execution? Thanks, Rachelle! I will remind my #sriptchat writers of this…
>Well, here I am reading your blog while the house is quiet and my children are outside playing. See you later! I'm going to go write 1000 words while the sun still shines.
>For now this issue is dictated by my work schedule. I write in the wee hours of the a.m. on an off-line laptop. Blogs and such provide a nice break (thank you Rachelle, et al) from the day job at lunch time. Once I get that best draft, querying will take priority.
>As a published author I find the biggest distraction to sitting my butt in a chair and writing is all the marketing/publicity/platform-building stuff I have to do. I only have so many minutes in a day to write and it's hard to get all this other stuff in and WRITE at the same time.
Because writing the book is the hardest thing, I tend to put that off for the easier things, like blogging and Facebook.
Sometimes I feel like a little dinghy boat puttering around the hulls of much larger, more overwhelming yachts. Yachts with shine. Yachts with attitude.
All the yachts know more than my little dinghy boat can hold. Soon, I start to sink.
I feel very alone sometimes and the joy of the writing community evades me. But your post gave me perspective. Thanks again!
>I must admit, it's the community experience that makes this bearable at times. Writing is a lonely effort, throw in a couple dozen rejections and the experience goes downhill quickly. I'm thankful to have met such wonderful people to share the ride.
>Distracting? Definitely. For a while I even stopped reading writing blogs because they were all so negative and harped on nothing but platform and marketing. Those things are very important, but if I don't have a book, what good is all the blog followers in the world going to do for me? Thank you for posting this, Rachelle. As always, you are encouraging and truthful.
>They can definitely be distracting for me. I am a stay-at-home-mom of three children. One is just now in kindergarten. When I get a few minutes to write, it's always hard for me to get started and often times I'll find myself using it all to look at blogs instead of actually writing.
Plus, sometimes, I find it all a bit overwhelming, or scary. I have a blog, but I don't post on it very often because I don't enjoy blogging as much as I enjoy writing fiction. I haven't yet had a chance to figure out twitter and I'm not really into Facebook. But I worry that I need to do all this or else my book won't sell.
>Yes and no. I give myself certain days of the week to read blogs. To do so everyday would cut into my writing time. But I'll admit that when I'm not reading the blogs, I'm wondering what I'm missing. I agree with what so many other commenters said: If you spend too much time working on the promotion/platform, you'll never have a finished book to sell and promote. Finding a balance is difficult but key.
Thanks for an interesting post!
>I have a pretty small, consistent list of blogs I read every day (including this one) and don't do Twitter (yet).
But I DO find that, with all the good advice out there about authors having to market themselves, I am easily distracted from actually writing my book by marketing tasks that are smaller and more approachable than the book is. For example, I have two blogs, one of which was started at my publisher's suggestion as a tool for marketing myself as an expert in my subject, to help with book sales down the road. Writing a blog post is so much easier than writing a chapter, and I get instant gratification. There's my writing up on the Web,ta da!, and I get comments on it, or e-mails from friends who liked something they read. Or I'll come up with an idea for an article or guest blog post I can write that will help get my name "out there," and I focus on writing that for a few days. Meanwhile, my book is not getting written! I'm working on dividing my time so that it's something like 20% on marketing/smaller writing tasks, and 80% on the actual book I've been hired to write.
>Yes, sometimes I am distracted by all the "trappings" of the publishing biz.
OK, not sometimes–probably much more often than I should let it.
Anyway, thanks for the post today–the writing is what matters most. 🙂
>"Paralysis by analysis" sums it up quite well.
>The attempted platform building is what distracted me. I must twitter, FB, blog, etc., etc., to build my platform. Now I seem to be going "Platform for what? You don't have a book yet!"
I think all the query info and book proposal info is good solid advice and much needed to make the final product shine. It's the "resume" for our book.
>There really is a lot of information out there. Good, valuable information. I got sucked into it all and developed paralysis by analysis. Remembering that the effort should go into the book much more than the Stuff would seem to be a good cure for that condition.
>Great post – thank you! Love the clarity. It's so easy to get confused, and think the problem is with the query, rather than there's a need to work on the writing.
I've committed to myself that when I'm ready to query, I'll write a query that's good enough, and let it go. The writing is the real, true thing, and if I write something good, an agent will find it. If I don't, no matter how good the query is, it won't be selected – hopefully! I can't think of any worse scenario where I get a book published because my query is good but my book is mediocre, even bad. What a nightmare that would be.
I love it when agents talk about this – I really hope you return to this topic – it's so helpful to put things in perspective..
>That WAS a rhetorical question, of course …
>I wrote a lot over the holiday when I had no work, no blogs to read, and it was too cold to go outside. Now I'm back to not writing again. The advice on the blogs is great. Every week I learn new things I can incorporate into my WIP–but I need to find a balance.
>It does get overwhelming. There are so many sources online and in books to "help" you decide where to send your manuscripts. Then when you are reading blogs you get more information. I find myself in a pile of notes everytime I try and decide where to send a manuscript. Thanks for the reminder to focus on the writing.
>Keep repeating it Rachelle, because sometimes it takes awhile for some of us to really "get" it.
Thank you for another informative post.
>Possibly a little (well, here I am when I could be writing)… But at the same time, there is so much useful information out there. I have found so much that has really helped me improve my writing as I go. So in a way it's a distraction but in another way, hopefully, it's setting me up for success.
>At first I found myself paying more attention to everything but my writing. I recently joined a writing group and found a mentor/ editor/ critiquer that has slowed me down and re-established my focus on producing a quality manuscript. It is an investment, but has been well worth it.
>I think it's very easy to obsess about the helpful tips writers receive. I sometimes find myself focusing more on the rules more than the creative process.
>Depends on what day it is. I'm extremely focused, so writing all consumes me (most of the time).
The rules and guidelines, etc.. are what drive me.
Like anybody, I have times too where frustration hits and my writing bottoms out – but I always hit the mark again (usually the next day).
>Yes! It is overwhelming and distracting. It can make you feel completely inadequate. You forget why you're writing in the first place. If you start to think about all the networking you should be doing, books you should be reading, blogs you should be writing and reading, and all the other shoulds, then you think how you can't possibly do it all or understand it all, and isn't there too much competition anyway, so you schlump around and think you don't have what it takes.
Then, the call of the writer comes back, you shut it all out, and write, because it feels so good.
>You nailed me. I'm distraction-prone from head to toe.
>I tend to claw my way through first drafts, but as soon as I have something down and can go back and do a second pass… that's when I lose track of time, surroundings, even my physical self and I'm living those other lives on the page. That happened yesterday, and as I came out of that state I heard myself exclaim, "This is FUN!" And I remembered why I do this. So yes, the book is the thing. Totally. If I had to choose between being published and losing that beautiful immersion, or keeping it but never seeing my novels on a shelf, I'd have to choose the latter.
>It looks like I may be in the minority here, but I can honestly say no, I'm not distracted. Every project has certain steps. For example, when I'm in "first draft" mode, I don't give a second thought to query letters, synopses, platform (aside from what I've already got going), etc. For each project, none of those things matter until the book is perfect. Then I redirect my focus.
I read agent and industry blogs daily (I won't go near Twitter), but can only soak in so much. If it isn't applicable to what I need at the moment, I know how to access the archives later.
>Yes, absolutely! The blogs and tweets and whatnot are completely invaluable but they can be distracting. There are days when I just skim my google reader and days when I don't check it at all. I know the advice will be there when I have time to read it but if I don't actually get the book written it wont matter anyway.
>When I first signed up for Twitter I was excited to read all the tweets from as many agents as I could. I quickly realized that I could waste a lot of time and wondered how so many people could spend so much time on there and still get any work done.
One of the best parts of Twitter is that it eliminated quite a few agents from my "list of possibilities." I felt there were some who maybe were "popular" but I didn't get a good vibe from and knew I wouldn't want them representing me. Why waste their time or mine? By wheedling down my list I have more time to read only those people who contribute constructively. I really appreciate those who take the time to give good advice, via their tweets or blogs, such as yours. Their time is valuable, but so is mine.
>Yes, but the truth is that if I am a disciplined writer, then I will be disciplined with those distractions, as well…and sometimes I am more disciplined than others.
The old cliche "you can't have too many friends" might not apply to social networking for some of us. It doesn't for me. Knowing that too much information is not good for me, I've purposely kept my FB and Twitter friends lists short and have added only a few people in the publishing biz…for now.
The same applies to blog subscriptions. If I find that I am spending more time reading about writing and publishing than I am writing, then I know it is time to remove some of those subscriptions, as well.
I'm grateful for all the helpful advice I receive here, Rachelle.
>For a time I thought life was distracting me from writing, and even blogging, but then there came a time where hubby was out of town and I took a blog break and guess what? I still procrastinated with my writing. LOL
So I don't think I'm easily distracted, I think I can just be really lazy.
I love that industry professionals give so much advice. Not only that, but other authors are SO generous with unpubbed writers, sharing advice, etc. This is a wonderful industry to be a part of, imo.
>Not particularly, no. If I am querying, I’ll read the guidelines on an agent’s website (if they list any), modify my form query and send it out. But I don’t get much heartburn over it. I figure agents see this as more of a business than I do and inflexibility seldom works well in a business venture.
But I start with the query letter and even if I don’t actually right it, I have a good idea of what I’m going to say about the book, even before I type “Chapter One” at the top of a blank page.
>Yes, sometimes. I go through sprurts. At the moment I'm making a couple major plot decisions on my WIP, and to be honest, I'm procrastinating a wee bit. I find that's when I get the most distracted, when I'm in indecision about something in my book… but ya know, sometimes the time away from it helps. I come back after a week or so of blog indulgence and my mind is fresh and I can look at it more objectively.
Then other times, I just need to slap myself on the wrist and get back to writing.
As far as querying and working on proposals and things, I don't think they distract me. When I'm done with the book, I work on the proposal… then I edit a ton, then work on the query. Then I edit some more, then think about actually sending said query. It works for me.:-)
>Just this morning my better (for which, read smarter) half told me that he was concerned that I was spending too much time querying agents, blogging and tweeting and not enough time writing.
I pointed out that I'd written 70,000 words in the past three months, so I thought my scales were still tipped in the favour of writing, but it is always a great reality check.
I sometimes feel overwhelmed by all the advice but never ungrateful.
>In my situation, yes.
But having spent a good chunk of time mildly distracted from the actual manuscript, I've found avenues to strengthen it and the query, as well as receive a sound reality check regarding what it will take to make it happen.
Before, in my naivety, I was uncomfortably close to being one of the often somewhat embarrassing individuals who sends first, and then finds out all of the information that should have been considered months (and years) beforehand.
So yes, but the temporary distraction has lessened and was worth it, in my opinion.
I am absolutely 100% distracted by the biz from writing. I need to focus on the book and get it finished. I have allowed too much to distract me from my dreams. But I have enjoyed the conferences and educational/helpful information I have found thus far.
>it's not the writing part that gets me as much as it's the other aspects, like queries, synopses, building platforms. i hold tightly to what you've said, which is actually what nathan bransford has said, too–it's the book that counts at the end of the day.
i've read so much on synopses in the past week that my head is spinning and i'm no closer to writing one than when i started reading.
>It doesn't take long to lose half my day reading blog posts regarding the proper skills of a writer. I've read so much already – what to do, what not do to – so many conflicting opinions and suggestions.
Don't get me wrong, I do appreciate and value each and every article I read, each blog posted by an agent or published writer I come across. But the information can be overwhelming.
I find myself forgetting the most important principle of all – to finish what I've started. After all, nothing good can ever come of my work if I don't first focus on the writing part of writing!
>Hi Rachelle, and Happy New Year.
That is great advice, as usual. I've had several agents like and dislike the same things after reading partials, it very much depends on personal opinion, I think, as well. So blog information will differ.
Before the internet, I used to get bogged down with reading all the creative writing and 'how to' books out there until, finally, I realised I just had to write. Get it down, stop thinking about it. I'm still writing, still trying to get published and, more importantly, enjoying it far more now.
>It's tempting to spend way too much time gathering useful information and not enough time putting it into practice. I have to set limits to ensure I move offline, put away the how-to books, and buckle down to work or I'd never get anything written.
>That's one of my main problems – I'm easily distracted with the trappings of life, I mean publishing, I mean writing – what was I saying. . . ?
Chalk that up to a yes. Now I need to re-focus and get back to writing, or reading, or whatever it was I was doing.
>De-lurking to say yes, sometimes.
The online world — whether that of agent blogs or other educational, interesting, or just plain fun offerings — can be so addicting.
I appreciate the reminder the book's most important.
Thanks for a great website, Rachelle. Everything you do is quality!
Cheers from Sydney.