2.01.2006

Trick questions

Dear Miss Snark:

I've prepared my 500 word synopsis and perfected my query letter.
But in the query letter, the paragraph about me, the author, has me stumped. What is the best way to say that "this is my first novel for which I am seeking your representation"? The agent I will be querying requests that in the author paragraph I discuss how I started writing and what my accomplishments/credentials are.

Well, I've learned to write on my own - without college classes, writing groups or critique partners. I did take one on-line writing course. And I have had one article on humor published in a nursing journal. Do I mention that? It was 18 months ago and while it wasn't a bad article, my writing has improved leaps and bounds in that time.
I'm hoping you can shed your usual bright light on the subject.

This is a trick question. It's designed to weed out people who haven't written enough. I'm sorry to say, you're probably in this group. That's ok though, it's not a permanent designation. You can write your way out of it.

As you write, you learn to write. By way of example, I had to learn how to write a blog. Yes, I knew how to write. Yes, I knew how to rant. But, how do you write a blog that will get people's attention, keep them coming back, provide useful information, and not kill you with work? That I had to learn, and I learned it by writing. I didn't know I was learning it till I had learned it and had some perspective.

I learned how to generate interest by inviting people to ask questions. I stole that directly from Agent 007. I learned that people will write back in the comments section more readily if you pose a question at the end of the post--I learned that by stumbling upon it. And I learned that posting a lot late at night allowed people to comment first thing in the morning, and thus build comment momentum during the day, and I learned that from Ron at Beatrice.com

So, when someone asks you how you learned to write, the answer is I learned by doing, and by reading these authors, and here's what I learned from whom.

The reason I know you haven't written enough is cause you think you learned it only by doing. That's only done half the job. Every good published writer I know can tell me what they learned for their own writing from reading other people. Jeff Parker's riff on reading Tom McGuane motivated me to go read all of McGuane again..and I'm glad I did.

If you think you learn to write on your own, you haven't learned to write yet.

Write more. Read more. You'll know how you've learned when you've learned it and used it.

11 comments:

Tribe said...

"learned that people will write back in the comments section more readily if you pose a question at the end of the post--I learned that by stumbling upon it. And I learned that posting a lot late at night allowed people to comment first thing in the morning, and thus build comment momentum during the day"

Do you mean to say that we've all been tricked and deceived into being regular readers of this blog?

Why I never...!

Mark said...

I like McGuane, interspersed with Hemingway. That way I get out the bar scene much quicker than EH did.

Chesya said...

This is good advice. Good writers read a LOT and write a lot. Period.

Miss Snark said...

yes tribe, you've been tricked, and deceived. At least you didn't have to include an SASE for the experience!

waylander said...

I review fiction for a reasonably well-known online review site. Would that be worth mentioning in a cover letter?

Existential Man said...

i modestly suggest that all writers from now on, when wishing to indicate(in speech or writing ) that they've been "tricked and deceived" simply say the've been
"freyed." As in:

"Yanno, Editor Schlemiel at Tandom House freyed us on the cover rights--I thought we were offering on hardcover but it looks like they are now only interested in mass-market."

Or: "We'd been dating for awhile and I was starting to trust him...but then he freyed me by getting me drunk and grabbing my boobies while we were still in the restaurant."

Or: "Stop trying to frey me! You know very well that used computer isn't worth $300!

Or:"That BMW salesman was trying to frey me on the 645i, conveniently forgetting to mention there's no spare tire in the trunk."

Or: "Bush and his team freyed the whole country in their rationale for going to war with Iraq, claiming Sadam had WMDs."

Bernita said...

What keeps me coming back is the delicious personna, the wit, the honesty, the advice.
Don't need no damned rabbits.

Sha'el, Princess of Pixies said...

The process by which people learn to write interests me. When I was a child, I read Franklin's Autobiography. As I recall, all these many years later, he learned to write by trying to improve on Addison.

I chose Agatha Christie. (Hey, I was 11. What did I know?) I rewrote parts of ABC Murders. Unlike Franklin, I wasn't able to do better than Christie, at least not at that age.

Thoughtful reading does much to improve writing.

Milady Insanity said...

"And I learned that posting a lot late at night allowed people to comment first thing in the morning, and thus build comment momentum during the day, and I learned that from Ron at Beatrice.com"

Agreed. :) Though I stumbled on this because I usually post in the night, US time, because of the time difference5

Dhewco said...

I learned to write by doing. But I've also have wide ranging tastes in what I read. Suspense, thrillers, literary works, fantasy, Star Wars/Trek, other scifi, survivalist (apocalyptic), and nonfiction works are just sample of what I mean.

I've bought three writing how-tos with threen grammar-punctuation books. They've been helpful.

I also attend online writing workshops and crit groups. I've learned a lot by hosting one of those.

archer said...

I steal. I steal all the time. I steal Tom Wolfe's let's-snap-into-his-head italics. I steal I.B. Singer's use of "seemed" to preserve the feel of omniscient voice. I steal the rhythms of E.B. White's endings. I steal Marjorie Rawlings's dialogue transitions. I haven't had the nerve yet to steal Dickens's direct stare into the camera ("Dead, Your Majesty--dead, and dying all around us, every day") but I'm just waiting for the chance. I steal and I steal and I steal. There are days I think I am nothing but a thief. But I know I'm not. What will someone say? "You stole this from Dickens, you thieving scum-- this POV shift from omniscience to the viewpoint character using an inanimate object as a transition point"? Yeah, right. They'll really say that. Or if they do, I'll say "Yeah, and I'd do it again."