For whom do you write?

If you’re a writer and you’ve been following my blog for any length of time, you know I’ve become a strong proponent of self-epublishing with a cost-free and easy to use platform like Kindle’s Digital Publishing or PubIt! from Barnes & Noble, or Smashwords, which allows you to publish in a broad variety for formats but doesn’t seem to have the traffic the other two sites do.

My last post depicted a literary agent who got her undies in a knot because she wrote an article about how critical it is to write a successful query letter. Not how important it is to write a good book, tell a good story or have solid, likable characters. Nothing like that – no, the focus is on the query letter. When this commenter remarked how this is one of the reasons traditional publishers are going the way of the Great Awk, the blogger became defensive and rude, claiming she was NOT ABLE to avoid being rude and sarcastic in replying (When did “snarky” become a suitable substitute for sarcastic, anyway?)

My point in showing that is to demonstrate how the traditional, mainstream publishing establishment reacts to the idea of authors being able to go directly to readers. How the traditional publishing establishment ridicules the idea of suppliers filling demand without middlemen, basically. How the traditional publishing establishment justifies the use of its screening tool to keep writers out of the traditional publishing establishment while telling them they must support the traditional publishing establishment. They’re holding us out but telling us we have to side with them, because they are, after all, the gatekeepers of good fiction. If just any author can self-epublish without having to go through an agent (who probably won’t even see their work unless the query letter is written in just the right pitch, the right tone, the right hue and nuance.

This person maintains your query letter has to be like an ad copy, direct response letter, one that elicits a response from every set of twenty queries. That is, no fewer than one response should come from every twenty queries sent out and if that’s not happening, your query isn’t strong enough.

Oh! Is that all?

This is a heinous lie. No author I’ve ever heard of, read, or met got a minimum of one response for every twenty queries. NONE. This person, this “gatekeeper”, just found (created, frankly), another hoop for the writer to jump through. Write the magic query to draw a minimum of one response for every twenty queries! That’s your new goal! There is Nirvana of the Literati! Run for it, faint not, rise up on wings like eagles and soar to those lofty heights!

Balderdash. Bollocks. This isn’t truth. It’s a ploy to get authors trying to write direct response advertising,something they never wanted to do in the first place. They wanted to write stories, not direct response ads. There’s a magic and a mojo in doing that. There’s a special juju for that, and like it or not, not everyone is cut out to be a salesman.

I’ve worked in sales. I’ve worked in it several times over my career. I always fail at it because, no matter how many people tell me “Oh, you’re going to be GREAT at this!”, I’m not. I’m not, period. I don’t do it well. I don’t have the personality type. And I’m willing to bet most authors don’t either. This is why, in part, we write: we’re not extroverts, we’re introverts and our characters let us live and do things vicariously. But traditional publishing establishment members and those who are sycophants for them – or apologists for them – are trying to make us writers believe we not only have to be salesmen, we have to be direct response ad copy writers too. See, they don’t write the blurb on the back of your book anymore. Nope. You do. And that needs to go into your query letter. If it’s not good enough, you go down in flames and will not see the light of publishing day.

Who, then, are we writing for? A writer has become a two-headed monster. Or, is made to believe they have to be a two-headed monster. One head is the creative genius who writes incredible, riveting stories which are unique and well-told and yet not too quirky and hard to categorize. Brilliant bucolic stories, right?

The other head has to be a marketing genius, willing to chase wherever and whenever the publisher tells us to go, IF we’re lucky enough to be published at all. But we have to develop those skills now because we need them to write that catchy, winning, hook-sinking query letter to catch the agent. If we don’t have the agent, we can’t get any farther. And I have a couple of friends who can tell you how having an agent doesn’t guarantee anything more than being agented.

Who, then, are writers writing for? Are they writing the stories they have to tell, in the best voice for their characters and drawing readers into their world of wonder and fantasy, or are they writing to the publishing industry, reduced to boot-licking from one to another until they are finally, maybe, possibly, graced with a nod from first an agent and then, if the stars all align, the publishers?

What do you think? How long does it take to write a good query letter? I have one acquaintance who worked on no fewer than six drafts, another with a similar draft count, trying to find the magic combination, the silver bullet, to do what they so desperately wanted. But the cruelest joke is, there isn’t a silver bullet. The one which would work with one agent won’t with another. The one which would with the big agency does nothing for the independent shingle-hanger who decides to branch out on their own.

And really, what does an agent do but provide you with “contacts”? But they don’t, do they? Not always. Why is that? If they like your book enough to look at, accept for representation, and supposedly offer to their “contacts”, how is it so many books from agents are turned down? Why aren’t all represented books published? That’s what the agent is supposed to be doing, after all. If they weren’t sure their “contacts” would love the book and want to publish it, why did they offer to take it on? There’s a huge disconnect here.

My agent didn’t fool around. When he agreed to take me on as a client he sent me work within three weeks. He told me what to do and how to do it and who to contact and put me together with the publisher. I wrote the book and less than 90 days later it was finished. A couple months after that it’s on the shelf. My agent gets things done. I ask for information, he gets it. I have a question, he finds the answer. Period. He does his stuff. He vets his writers. Then he lets them do their stuff.

Why do so many agented writers find out the hard way their book isn’t being published by someone? This is the entire reason they needed the agent in the first place! If I have a friend and I know the friend and I tell him my mechanic is good, my friend will use the mechanic I recommend at least once. Or a plumber, or a landscape architect, or what-the-hell-ever. People use the person I recommend or I stop making recommendations to them. This is what agents are supposed to do, isn’t it?

But they can’t recommend anyone unless they see a great query. Writing doesn’t matter; if you don’t have an amazing query getting at least one response in every twenty queries, you fail. And your manuscript languishes in something which shouldn’t exist in the first place – the slush pile.

Who are we writing for? agents and editors? traditional publishing establishment members? or readers?

Who would you rather write for?

I can tell you who I’m writing for, and I’ll say that even if it means I never sell a single book, or make a living as a writer. I will offer my wares to the reading public and their all-powerful wallets and let them decide whether I’m any good or not. They will determine my fate. Because that’s how it should be, ladies and gentlemen. The ones who read our work are the ones who should be letting us know if we stink or not.

The gatekeepers must go. Full stop. And I, for one, am sick of writing for them.


Copyright 2011 DarcKnyt, All rights reserved


7 thoughts on “For whom do you write?

  1. Awesome post! I followed all the top advise and wrote my query letter every which way but bad and several times over and I was still getting no responses. It’s the story’s concept. It’s not “high-concept” at first glance. The unspoilery summary just doesn’t sound that special or unique. It’s the discovery of what’s really going on that makes my book a cool read.

    Thanks! It’s a crying shame the hoops these people make writers jump through, just to make them jump through more or different ones when they manage to get through THOSE hoops. And it’s all for nothing because they don’t want to accept, they want to REJECT.

    Plus, my novel is not one that’s easy to shelve. It equally combines suspense, mystery and romance. And the closest, YA suspense, is just not a hot market right now. So, having the perfect query letter, I know, is not everything. You have to have the right book at the right time and have it land in the right hands. Like Twilight.

    UGH. Don’t go there. Dan Brown’s POS is another example too.

    It has decent guts, but no one bothered to take the time to edit the thing and make it great. They just put it out as is. That kills me. Because it could’ve been actually worthy of its popularity with some spit and shine. That’s the real kicker, when I know so many writers who take a year or two to make sure their work is as close to perfect as they can get it and they still largely go unnoticed.

    It can happen in self-epublishing too, but there you have an equal chance. You can at least get your book UP there, in the place where readers might find it.

    I have a friend who’s had two of her books on the tables of the biggest publishers for years and she decided to withdraw and just publish it herself. So, even having an agent and the right connections AND a foot in the door doesn’t mean publication.

    No, it doesn’t, and that’s a major issue, IMO.

    Oh…and I always write for me and other lovers of suspense. So far, I haven’t really made that clear distinction that I’m a YA writer. My novels just happen to have teens, like many of John Saul’s books. I usually adapt them later so they appeal more to the market, but I don’t set out to write YA or adult, I just write.

    Yeah, just write! That’s the best way. SOMEONE will want your work, Courtney. You just have to put it where they can find it. 🙂

  2. Darc, Darc, Darc.

    I’m in an alternate universe, reading one of my blog posts from three years ago under a different masthead.

    Every word the truth, my friend.

    Thanks, Shawn. I’m just so sick of the lies, deceit, and CONceit.

    The gatekeepers are becoming irrelevant, the same way the music industry execs are becoming irrelevant and a girl from OC California who can’t sing a note is making a mint on her song.

    Well then GOOD FOR HER. I love hearing this kind of stuff, and I can’t wait to see a new day dawn in music too. Almost, with that whole Napster thing, but not quite. It’s coming though. New media changes everything.

    The medium is breaking down the barriers-to-entry.

    Amen. Let them fall, and atop those who erected them, I say.

  3. Well, more sparkling brilliance. The thing I would pick out in particular is this: “incredible, riveting stories which are unique and well-told and yet not too quirky and hard to categorize”.

    You know, I do too. I like things different, off the wall, and I’m sick of the same-ol’ same-ol’. Oh, and thank you. Saying I’m brilliant will get you ANYWHERE with me.

    That’s the crux of my irritation with the prevailing system. As a reader, I want quirky and hard to categorise. I want different. It’s damn hard to find those books in the sea of sameness; because there aren’t many of them being published in the first place, and they don’t get pushed and marketed.

    It’s flustering on both sides. On the reader side, it’s impossible to find what you want; you have to take what you’re GIVEN. And what we’re GIVEN is whatever the publishing industry decides will “sell” (but Publisher’s Weekly’s numbers show some startling facts about that). Then, what we’re given is altered, re-vamped and digested until it BECOMES the same putrid, textureless, flavorless mash everyone else is churning out. And to make it all worse, writers are told NOT to write to “trends” — and then are passed over because things outside the trends aren’t selling. So it’s all cyclical and dictated by the publishers. They decide what will sell by offering nothing else, and they make writers WRITE nothing else to keep selling it.

    I want to write quirky and hard to categorise, too, and I guess I’m writing for people who are tired of reading the same three stories told ten thousand times over with a name change or two to make them ‘different’.

    I would love to read some quirky hard to categorize fiction from a fresh young author. You sound like just the right fit.

    The tricky part is reaching those people, but I know they exist, and in greater numbers than probably appears. We’ve grown used to accepting what we’re given because there hasn’t been much choice otherwise. I am looking forward to when more people find they can step outside of the box.

    Oh, the Internet is vast, expansive and far-reaching, Charlotte. You can find them, and it’s not that hard. I know a clever young writer will find a way and share it with old, decrepit codgers like me. 😉

  4. You know where I think fiction agents still have a use? Negotiations for film/tv rights, foreign language pub rights, and stuff like that. Which only come after you have a successful book…

    Exactly. And, to use Hollywood’s own dumb-ass terms against it, I think a “re-imagining” of that process is in order, too.

  5. All of the above nicely covers why I decided not to pursue writing for paid publication. I love to write, and I didn’t want to start hating it, or hating the process associated with it. I didn’t want to be judged and rejected. There is so dang much of that going on in the writing world, it’s just sad. Thank goodness for blogs where we can just be ourselves without anyone’s permission.

    That’s true, Spark. I think for those of us obsessed with making sure the world sees our work, the li’l ol’ blog ain’t gonna cut it, but it is nice to have a slice of the cyberverse all to oneself, isn’t it?

  6. Agreed on all points.

    And I write for me, for people who like what I like. Never will I give a f**k about what’s trendy or about what some person who wants to shove my book into a simple copy and paste system thinks of my work.

    End of story.

    EDITED FOR FAMILY-FRIENDLY PRETENSE: Hehehehehe. I don’t know what will happen with “trends” when the READERS are deciding them. I think it’s funny how we’re told not to write to them but they PUBLISH to them. So up theirs; let readers choose. 🙂 I never cared for what was “hot” either until I started following industry blogs. It’s a fast way to get screwed up, that’s for sure.

  7. I find myself agreeing with a lot of the stuff you’re saying here, Darc. So far, I haven’t met the query monster, so I can’t make any realistic comment. But I do have to say that self-publishing involves selling to the readers all by myself, and I’m not sure I’ll be quite good at that.

    I’ve only queried once myself Damyanti. Everything I have to say about it is from sheer observation of industry blogs and other writers.

    I’m keeping an open mind though, and just read this article:

    Though the issue is slightly different from what you’re discussing here, the article itself and some of the comments gave me a lot to think about.

    And this is another post I read: . You may have already come across it.

    Nope, sure haven’t; but I’m willing to bet the Internet will fairly buzz with the new media word for a great while now.

    I’m really thinking a lot about this whole thing now, more so cos today I’m signing a contract for one of my stories in another traditionally published anthology. Thanks for discussing this whole gatekeeper situation–it added to everything I’ve already read this morning.

    Hey, congratulations! You’re really doing well with those anthologies and magazines aren’t you? Very good news, Damyanti! So happy for you!

    Also you e-published a book, what was the experience like? I’m sure you’ve blogged about it, only I can’t find it.

    Oh yes, I blogged about it. Do a tag search for ebooks, publishing and the like. I enjoyed the experience. The whole thing was really just formatting, and that’s simple. Once the formatting is done the uploading is a cinch and the rest is history. 🙂 Give it a try with something you wouldn’t try to publish traditionally, see what happens. I think you’ll be surprised. 🙂

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