Bullet Wisdom

I am an Active Duty Officer in the US Army. I am a Husband, father, writer, hunter, gamer, and SOLDIER. This blog is a forum for my many hobbies as well as my random musings.

Friday, December 3, 2010

New Writer Seeks Advice

But I'm not the new writer. What? It appears I'm now an expert, or at least other people think I am. Personally, I prefer to think of myself as a student of the art. Over the last year, in the time I've gotten serious about writing and learning about the publishing industry, I've been very content to sit back, ask questions, and learn from those who did this before me, whether they were published or not.

(I think it's important to note that just because a writer isn't published, that doesn't mean an aspiring author should discount their wisdom and experience. This is a long journey; for a few, publishing happens, but for most, it doesn't. As we like to say in the military: it's the reality of the profession.)

Okay, back to title. I've blogged about this stuff in the past, but this is the first time it's hit me in real life. So, late last night dude walks up to me in that parking. (No, I'm not getting carjacked. We're both in uniform, so it's cool. I actually know the guy.) Here's how it went.

Him: "Hey, Ken, I heard you published a book?"

Me: (completely flattered) "Well, no. I'm working on it."

Him: "What do you know about publishing?"

Me: "Not enough, but I've learned a ton. What do you need?"

Him: "Well, I wrote a book. I've been working on it a while. I've tried to get it published, but I really don't know how?"

Me: "What genre is it?"

Him: "It's a series of humorous stories I've written down since I came into the Army."

Me: "Okay, that's interesting. How's your query letter?"

Him: "What's a query letter?"

Me: "How much time do you have?"

So he and I plan to get together and talk. He's a peer, so I'll do my best to help him out. The current problem is we're in the middle of a massive training event that will probably prevent us from getting together until after New Year's Day. To keep him occupied, I gave him a homework assignment:

First, find a writing group and ingratiate yourself with other writers. Second, Google 'query letter' and start educating yourself on how the publishing industry works. Last, go to a site like Querytracker.com and find agents looking for your specific genre.

Me: (military aphorism) "Know your enemy."

Him: (nodding) "Ah, target the right agents." (He meant for his book, not literally. Words matter. You have to watch yourself around Army dudes.)

All this didn't click until this morning. One of my favorite agents, Lauren MacLeod of the Strothman Agency, tweeted that about 60% of the queries she receives are, for lack a better phrase, a wast of time. Of that, she said, only 10% are good enough to seriously consider. I know the competition was stiff. I know there are a LOT of writers out there trying to get published. What I didn't know (and I'm using beer-math) was that the huge majority of queries flat out suck.

So, when I do get a chance to get back with my peer and try to pass on some of my limited knowledge, I'm going to do my best to ensure he falls more into the 10% category rather than that dreaded 60%. I have to wonder what that 60% does with their free time. Obviously not research.

Research, people, it's your friend.

...and, hey, I'm an expert!


Danielle La Paglia said...

Congrats on your new "expert" status! It's insane how much I've learned in the last year, but you really have to make a serious effort to get out there and research. I hope your friend puts the time in he needs to make it work.

And have him go to Bookends, LLC and read all the articles in the sidebar under "must-read". VERY informative.


Jessica Peter said...

I know just what you mean about suddenly feeling like the expert, despite actually being a newcomer yourself! I love the Bookends blog, but I'd also recommend for your friend (or any dreaming-of-publication writers!) to check out Nathan Bransford's blog (www.nathanbransford.blogspot.com) and Rachelle Gardner's blog (http://cba-ramblings.blogspot.com). Those are the three I've found most valuable for publishing lessons.

Angela Addams said...

I love it when that happens...it makes me feel like I haven't wasted the past three years learning all this stuff! It's especially great when someone is actually listening to me!

Pat Hollett said...

Well, I'm still learning myself, so I have no brilliant words of advice or websites like my peers do, and no one has approached me yet. But, I do have a comment on your blog. Somehow, you manage to find and write humorously about some serious subjects and always mangage a laugh or giggle from me reading your blog. I loved the comments like 'beer-math' and such, and find them so down to earth and funny. Good blog Ken, and good advice-research is key for a lot of what we do. :)

J.A. Campbell said...

Very cool. That's awesome that he would come to you for advice. Good luck to you and your friend!