2.14.2006

Writing Credentials Dipped in the inkpots of Academe

Dear Miss Snark,
I have been working on a novel for several years and I think that I am finally ready to seek representation. All my publications to date--and they are few--are academic. Is it worth mentioning them? Would an agent care about an article on an obscure topic in an equally obscure journal?

I am also in the slightly odd position of being an extremely mediocre academic at a very prestigious university. My mediocrity might not be apparent to anyone outside my field (touch wood); would the name of the institution carry any weight? I realize that this is shameless. And I am ashamed of my shamelessness. But should I mention it? A google search would, of course, turn this information up. Would it seem strange if I HADN'T mentioned it? Am I obsessing over nothing?


Well, you're a writer, you have to obsess over something. Soon enough you'll be obsessing over form rejection letters.

First, about those academic journals. Frankly, I'd leave them off. Usually when I see a query letter that talks about academic or legal writing my first reaction is "uh oh" cause what works in academia and legal briefs is NOT generally what works in a novel. When you're writing for those audiences you spell everything out; you don't want your readers "filling in the blanks" with their imagination, far from it. The best examples of this kind of writing are the Perry Mason novels. Even when I was ten I recognized that ESG was not a master prose stylist. Didn't keep me from reading every last one of them but you get the point.

As for mentioning your post in the halls of academe: this is up to you. No it's not weird if you don't mention it.I have a client with a fistful of degrees from Harvard but the only thing publishers cared about was whether he could write (answer: you bet your effete eastern seaboard snob boots he can).

Mostly though quit worrying about this. Worry about world peace for awhile. Just send your novel out - good writing trumps all.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Oh no.

The query letters I've sent off have quite clearly mentioned my academic non-fiction writing. I mentioned these credits because a) I have no fiction credits, and b) I thought it would at least imply some familiarity with working with an editor and making manuscript changes.

So I've just shot myself in the foot? Excuse me, I need to obsess over this.

Sha'el, Princess of Pixies said...

Oh, I don't know who asked this question, but if your name just happens to be Barbara, mention your credentials. You're not mediocre. You're PDG. That'd be "Pretty Darn Good."

If you're not Barbara, follow Miss Snark's advice.

Lizzy said...

"what works in academia and legal briefs is NOT generally what works in a novel."

But I thought that legal briefs were fiction. Go figure.

Eva said...

I'm grateful for this question and the advice. I've been mentioning my articles of literary criticism and my academic career thinking that the fact that I've studied, taught, and analyzed literature might make an impression. Oops. Time to redo the query letter.