|Oscar Wilde, photograph by Napoleon Sarony|
The query process is understandably terrifying. In fact, I’m pretty sure they use it as a torture device in some countries. And that’s even before you jump online and find out that every agent has a slightly different idea of what makes a good query and every discussion forum has a different formula and next thing you know you’ll find yourself checking yourself into an asylum as a precautionary measure.
Lost in all of this is perhaps the most important element of the query: YOU.
You! The writer! The personage! The prodigiously talented talent!
A few months back, Jessica Faust at BookEnds had some terrific advice: don’t try and write a query that will appeal to everyone, write the best query you can that will appeal to many.
Not only is this terrific advice, it doesn’t just apply to queries – in fact I would carry this forward to the actual writing as well. It doesn’t work to write the book that you think you should write or that you think is what the market wants or that everyone in the world will like. Don’t try to write for everyone, write for many. And that “many” can be just as many people as you want.
And it doesn’t just apply to queries and manuscripts, it applies to how you conduct yourself and think of yourself as a writer. Sometimes I think people get so nervous about doing the wrong thing they button themselves up and hide away their real self. And sure, put on some nice clothes and put your best foot forward, but don’t lose yourself in the process. If someone doesn’t want to work with the real you, trust me, you don’t want to work with them either.
Queries, manuscripts, correspondence: the absolute best thing you can do is to just be yourself.
Graffiti on a wall: Killjoy was here.
Comment added underneath: It's Killroy, stupid.
The first comment is me being myself. The second is someone else being someone else.
Terin Tashi Miller says
Mr. Former Agent Man: Your best post ever, in my humble opinion.
Just read in "The War of Art," a book I highly recommend as it was recommended to me, that trying to pander to whatever trend or fad in anything, be it literature or fashion or literature after a fashion, is in fact the very definition of the one thing most of us don't ever want to be called: a "hack."
And Mira…ah, Mira. How could anyone ever interpret anything you say as other than adorable?
Terin Tashi Miller says
Oh, and @Marsha: Me, too! (Except the boots. Where can I get the boots?)
Ted Fox says
Great advice for writing. Great advice for life.
The Red Angel says
Excellent post, Nathan! Thanks so much for the motivation…too often do people write to impress others and please everyone, when such a feat is impossible. "Being yourself" won't just give someone a decent (but not great) audience, but it will also make you happy.
Matthew Rush says
Honesty really is the best policy. Even if you're writing Fantasy all you have to do is stay up long enough until you actually believe it.
So right. I love this post.
Re: Anon 7:33 & Nathan's comments about querying:
I absolutely love the research and work that goes into finding out about the editor or agent to whom you are querying. First of all, you learn so much along the way about the process; what to do, what to avoid, AND you are wasting less time by NOT submitting to people who are not interested in what you write.
Attending conferences is an excellent way of making a connection, and you will usually get the opportunity to submit to publishers that are normally closed to non-agented work.
Another great resource is Jill Corcoran's post:
She' very no-nonsense, and gives great tips.
Susan Kaye Quinn says
It's just too tiring to be someone other than myself. 🙂
And Claire Dawn got it first: blog you ! 🙂
[[Sometimes I think people get so nervous about doing the wrong thing they button themselves up and hide away their real self. ]]
Great words–thank you! 😀
Sorry to be off topic, but I've just this moment caught up on my email as I've been offline for three weeks. You're no longer an agent, Nathan? This is quite apocolyptic in nature. Wow.
Well, I'm glad you're happy and optimistic about it. I'm happy cos I can wax lyrical about the joys and wonder of this blog and you without worrying you'll think I'm sucking up because of your agently status. Now I'll just worry you'll think I'm trying to … the other thing. But if I inform that I'm old enough to adopt you, then we can all relax. And I can be as affectionate and charming as I
like without fear or favour.
Or something like that. 🙂
Good luck with your new endeavours. It's all very exciting. I'm so glad that this blog is continuing. One of my fave places to visit.
The Good Wifehold says
It's defininately terrifying putting yourself out there but I guess you can't be precious about it… just keep going…
I'm trying out blogging. It's a bit scary but then you realise you and probably your mother are your only readers (to start with) anyway.
J. T. Shea says
Queries as torture devices? Don't be giving them ideas, Nathan!
But I thoroughly agree we should always strive to be ourselves. Now, who am I again?
Tess Cox says
Nathan, would have responded to this earlier, but just got back from India and the data rates there are terrible!
This is a good reminder for me. While I've taken much of your advice about first chapters (still scared to submit one for comment) in writing my first fiction novel, I've struggled with keeping my "voice" while following the "rules" of writing a good story. It's much harder than I had imagined it would be.
thank you for this encouragement. Maybe some day I'll brave the Friday forum…
What a nice post, thanks Nathan
Web Design Firm says
@ Christine Macdonald
telling myself to get out of my own way working on my manuscript that is for too,wo In MY voice.
Is it bad it took me longer than is should to figure out why the Oscar Wilde picture is in relation to this posts? I should had a V8.
No Jim Varney? Whatever happened to the Importance of Being Ernest? ^_^
Ah, but I digress.
Re: the poster who wrote "if they don't like you, you don't like them" or something similar, well… what if you don't like you? 🙁 This is something I struggle with on a daily basis — it's actually one of the reasons I haven't bothered with social media because, to paraphrase FDR, I have everything to fear, including fear and especially…myself.
I really like your site, Mr. Bransford, and you seem confident enough to put yourself out there day after day and just "be you." I think people would be shocked if you were really the secret identity of one Ms. Snark. 🙂
Stu Ayris says
Having finished writing a novel, I am now trying to get it published. It certainly is a strange old world when our tens of thousands of words are lain at the feet of the judge and jury that is the agent/publisher who can dismiss those words with so few of their own. But what an impact those few words can make if you let them. It's just their opinion people – if you love your book, then it's a great book! I've started a blog just to track the journey of a poor unknown such as myself – you are not alone!! https://tollesburytimeforever.blogspot.com/