EDIT: If you like this journal entry, check out The Sarcastic Guide to Writing ebook [link] for exclusive content on world-building, character, and dialogue!1. You will have to reduce your story to one page.
This is called the query letter, what you write when you try and land a legit agent or publisher. You basically say "Hey, this is what my story's about, how long it is, and why I chose you to look at it." It is, in my opinion, one of the most difficult things a writer will ever face. All your nuance, your subtle build-ups, your "yes, buts", and your "no, wait, there's more" all have to be condensed to three paragraphs or so. No query letter is really allowed to be longer than one page, because no one has tl;dr worse than a literary agents or his or her minions. Not only that, queries show off your writing style and what you value in terms of story. A good query gets somebody to simply look at your real writing. Sometimes places allow you to send your real writing right off the bat, but they are few and far between. For example, I sent out my urban fantasy to 45 agents and was only allowed to send immediate writing to about 10. Writing a query letter in its own right is an art unto itself. You think writing a rough draft is hard? Try boiling your story down to its absolute distilled essence afterwards.2. You will have to summarize your story's emotional stakes in 3 to 10 pages.
This is called the synopsis, and it is among the most hated of things I know of. (It's definitely got the top spot in my book.) At SCBWI, when requests for a synopsis are heard, we all hiss and seek shelter under the nearest rock. A query can sometimes have the "trailer" appeal to its writing; there's a definite sensationalist bent that can make things easier (more fun?) to write. A synopsis is just a summary that, while inherently bland, has to capture all the emotional stakes and critical junctures of the story. Except instead of being allowed to do it in 200 pages you have 3, or 10, or whatever an agent asks for. Again, this is tl;dr at its worst, and it's a hoop you have to jump through if an agent requests it. Synopsis are much rarer than queries; not all agents will ask for one. But, as another example, I got trapped when someone read the first three chapters of my urban fantasy and asked for a one page synopsis. (Then rejected me after I turned it in snatched bald.) Synopsis are difficult because they ask why things are important, and you might have two or three sentences at your disposal before you're moving onto why the next thing is so critically, world-endingly important to your protagonist. Again, I see people wringing their hands over just getting words on the page, and it's like "Oh, you poor bastard. You have no idea, do you?"3. You will have to rewrite, suffer critique, rewrite, and suffer critique.
Writing is rewriting, as they say. Yet again, the rough draft is the big deal to so many people, and there's a whole other mountain after that mountain. Putting a rough draft out for critique is begging to get your ass kicked. That's usually why I finish a rough draft, leave it alone for six weeks or more (what I call incubating) and then go back and fix things I have a problem with. Then, and only then, do I give the manuscript to another set of eyes. (With a rare exception, and she knows who she is.) I will fix things and give another round out to other people, and they'll find more stuff wrong. I fix it, send it out again, and more stuff wrong comes back to me. My favorite is when people tell me to fix stuff I've already fixed, or start asking questions that means stuff that has thus far not needed to be fixed needs to be fixed. Major fixes usually leave me on the floor, whining, but minor fixes I'm usually so relieved that they're small I'm too grateful to be indignant or egotistical. All of this is filtered through my own valuable critique sieve, so I have to sort out what I think has merit and what I think is blowing smoke, and the whole time I pray that I'm right and that I'm not being some terrible blowhard by refusing to incorporate someone's crit. The experienced writer can probably get away with one draft and one or two polishes before they'd ready to submit. I'm not there yet. (Although even among my SCBWI group I'm considered pretty picky about my own stuff.) 4. Someone will hate your work.
Everyone has their detractors. Even Stephen King and J. K. Rowling. The amateur writer, I suspect, has no capacity to tell the difference between someone who thinks your work needs work and someone who hates it because it's about such-and-such. Or, their egos and ability to write depend far too heavily on someone else's opinion. Criticism is fun and hatedoms are popular pastimes. The biggest demon roaring at someone from the keyboard is "Ohhhh, someone's gonna hate me." Well yeah. It happens to everyone. I hate Meyer and Paolini and Cassandra Clare and Erin Hunter. Obviously there are people out there who don't. I have people who hate my journals, who insist I'm a prissy, arrogant jerkface who thinks she knows better than everyone. (I do.) It doesn't stop me from saying what I have to say, because if there are people out there who can promote some kind of hatred, racism, classism, or what have you, and they are allowed to dedicate all their energy to it, then I can write about writing and about dinosaurs fighting each other. In the grand scheme of things, it's really not that bad. And yes, as much as I hate Warriors
, it's not the kind of crap the Westboro Baptist Church spews. And really, if I've busted my ass trying to make something the best it can be, I don't have to have to apologize for it. Not everything I write will be beloved by the world or everyone's cup of tea. Good thing I'm writing for myself first.5. You will hear "You're not allowed to do this."
I recently joined a writing group, and was surprised how much I heard things like "You can't have a prologue. Literary agents hate prologues, so just don't do it." "You can't have a forty-year old man in these scenes. Kids won't read about adults." "This is too controversial for your targeted age group. Kids can't read about stuff like this. Or at least dumb it down and fog it up so they can't understand what's going on." Perhaps because of DA's presence in my life, I was surprised to hear how lazy, insolent, and deprived teens and kids are when it come to literature. It was one of the few times I felt compelled to speak up to defend my writing, because I had seen books with prologues, adults as major characters, and with controversial subject matter. Once I realized that many members of my writing group were parents of young children, special needs educators, teachers, or librarians, it started to make a little more sense. Their environment was entirely different from my own, and the disconnect was that they had different ideas about what children's literature should be. (Lamentably, many had the attitude that low standards was the only way to avoid confusing or boring children and teens, and consequently probably didn't appreciate when I mentioned that America's poor global education standards should not be allowed to play tyrannical dictator over how challenging and complex children's literature is allowed to be.) There is a difference between ideas and critique, and you will have to learn to tell the difference. Good writing is good writing; it is not good because it lacks a prologue or has nothing but kids in it. Many, many people will tell you you can't do something because it doesn't fit with their ideas. The most aggravating thing about this is that it doesn't stop them from being able to make valid critique, and the game lies in separating ideas and opinions from crit that will genuinely help your writing.