Recently I read two online articles in one morning from Writer’s Digest, and deep down I must admit it’s because I was stalling again in progressing past chapter six of book seven in my Other Worldly series, Aliens Watch. I’ve previously blogged about this, noting it has much to do with the publishing process, and my needing a change. Also, avoiding too much saturation of traumatizing TV news these days is critical.
Unfortunately, both articles left me feeling bummed. One was about pacing, something I’ve tried diligently to improve with each of my Other Worldly novels, yet still have angst about achieving.
As authors, don’t we always have something that causes self-doubt? The trick is to not let it cripple us. And yet, following the advice in this article might well cripple me, because it seemed to suggest a weed-whacking overhaul, including way too many steps as my protagonist Rowan Layne would lament—and eschew.
I understand it’s important to move the story along, but can’t an occasional chapter simply be fun and entertaining and bring a reader (and writer) joy?
For example, in my most recent novel Altogether Alien, Rowan and one of her love interests finally make it to a Major League Baseball game. It’s a feel-good read, and ultimately connects a loop from book one, Alienable Rights, wherein Rowan and Rauc make plans to attend a game.
It only took three years and six books to finally get them in a ballpark, so there I went. Because while the baseball scene had little to do with the plot arc of that particular novel, it has everything to do with the arc, and themes therein, of the entire novel series.
On a positive pacing note, the article suggested using cliffhangers and ending chapters in the middle of a scene. I frequently do both. But I don’t do it for all 83 chapters (my Other Worldly novels have the same number of chapters). To me, that would be tedious. Not everything can be a cliffhanger, and at some point a a chapter needs to wrap things up. Even short chapters, which most of mine are.
Hence, the WD article on pacing wasn’t a total bust, but the second article was. It’s my fault, really. Why would I read a piece on “getting your query letter out of the slush pile” when I have no intention of entering into the querying quagmire again?
Perhaps I’m hopeful there’s fresh ideas on the subject, some spark of information that might ignite a tiny flame of encouragement that the traditional publishing process is worth rekindling.
Nope. Not sparked one iota, as Rowan Layne would say. Sheesh.
The suggestions in this querying article followed the same old pedantic paragraph specification, beginning with “the hook,” and ending with info about the author’s writing background. No different than that read in countless articles and heard repeatedly from literary agents at conferences. It also included the tired subject of providing “comparable” titles, supposedly to tell them how to market your book.
As I’ve said ad nauseum, if agents and publishers are searching for writers with original ideas, why do they need comparative titles to come up with a marketing strategy? Shouldn’t they have to think outside the box if they expect authors to do so? Aren’t they supposed to be the experts on this? Plus, aren’t they also advising us not to follow trends?
But the real clincher for me involves the careful drafting of the query letter itself. It’s as if the author of this WD article and countless others have no clue of current realities. That being how too many literary agencies now require use of something known as QueryManager.com.
An online querying system that is a lot like applying for a menial job, answering inane fill-in-the-blank questions when you’ve spent many years building a career, and countless hours crafting a professional resume.
QueryManager.com squelches creativity and reduces an author to nothing more than someone who can click on drop-down lists—lists that often don’t actually include selections needed to describe one’s written work. And that’s the nicest thing I can say about this lazy-ass, impersonal, limiting excuse for a querying system.
This mode of literary querying is the absolute antithesis of the creative writing process, failing to offer an opportunity to showcase potential writing talent or ability. Which is supposed to be the point. After more than one experience with this demeaning electronic hellscape, I vowed never to query a literary agency that used it.
Fast forward to the latest September/October issue of Writer’s Digest featuring the “Annual Agent Roundup.” First, a positive note. Out of the list of 21 agents sharing “what kind of submissions they’d like to see in their inboxes and their querying preferences,” I was surprised to find quite a bit more diversity among agents via their accompanying photos. Although they all still look dauntingly young to this over-sixty author who is all-too aware that ageism abounds.
Now for the bad news. Out of 21 agents actively seeking queries, nine require the use of QueryManager.com (though one uses something similar called QueryTracking.com). Not quite half, but almost. To add insult to injury, some of these nine also request a traditional query letter.
I’m aware that there might be many who prefer this method of querying, but I was not one of them. It felt like an insult to my intelligence—and to the literary agent’s. Besides, what’s the point of crafting a thoughtful query letter if a generic impersonal electronic system is considered ideal by a literary agency?
Ideal for what? Saving time? And for whom? The agent?
Shouldn’t taking the time to read and evaluate carefully crafted query letters be an intrinsic part of the literary agent’s role?
And shouldn’t those writing and publishing articles on the querying process address this electronic elephant in the room instead of ignoring the harsh reality that many literary agencies require it?
P.S. I am in a writing whirl again, several more chapters now drafted for Aliens Watch, and remembering how very cathartic it can be to immerse myself in an other world.