With a (mountain) of salt
I was at the Backspace conference this week and the South Carolina Writer’s Workshop a couple weeks ago and as always happens when you lump a group of writers in one place, I met a ton of fascinating and talented people. And yet time and time again so many of these smart, talented writers I met expressed relief bordering on elation when I or another agent said I don’t care if it’s Helvetica or Courier, I don’t care if there is one typo on page 219, I don’t care if your email and mine collude to strip the formatting, I don’t even care if I’m addressed as Mr Root–it’s clearly by accident, no really we won’t autoreject it, so long as the writing is amazing.
There’s a ton of ink spilled online over do’s and don’ts for writers, and while I am a firm believer that knowledge is power and all, too much information can be paralyzing, and some of us on this side of the desk are guilty of making it seem much harder than it already is. If you really read and adhered to every.single.thing. every agent said online you would never finish a book or a query letter and if you did it would probably be a bland groupthinked mess, which actually will get you rejections.
Learn what you can from the resources available online, absolutely, particularly with regard to craft. The best writers are always growing, changing, improving. But oftentimes the industry stuff gets overstated or misunderstood then passed along as fact, like a game of telephone except with your career.
Perhaps even more distressingly, I have heard from so many writers who are terrified of “offending” agents or breaking some rule. Nothing about this process should be anywhere near that scary, and shame on those of us professionals who have made it so. It’s publishing—not nuclear disarmament. I am an agent, not Emperor Palpatine. Of course agents are busy, but after all you are too, and why are we even in a busy-ness arms race to begin with?
There are a million different ways to end up with a book in your hand with your name on the cover. But guess what? Without you, yes you specifically, there in the blue shirt—none of those roads, or those books, would exist.
So here’s what you can take away from the bajillion bytes on the subject: Write the best book you can, then the best query you can. Submit written materials to agents. The worst they can say is no so don’t worry about fine-tuning that to the nanometer, just look for the right ballpark (i.e., alive, still in the business). Then press send.
Take the rest as it comes. And never, ever let any of the voices on the internet, no matter how helpful or authoritative they aim (or claim) to be, take away from your ability to hear your own unique authorial voice.
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