The Universal Book

So what happens when all the books in the world become a single liquid fabric of interconnected words and ideas? Four things:

First, works on the margins of popularity will find a small audience larger than the near zero audience they usually have now. It becomes easier to discover that labor-of-love masterpiece on the vegan diets of southern Indian priests. Far out in the long tail of the distribution curve – that extended place of low to no sales where most of the books in the world live – digital interlinking will lift the readership of almost any title, no matter how esoteric.

Second, the universal library will deepen our grasp of history, as every original document in the course of civilization is scanned and cross-linked. That includes all the yellowing newspapers, unused telephone books, dusty county files, and old ledgers now moldering in basements. More of the past will be linked to today, increasing understanding today and appreciation of the past.

Third, the universal networked library of all books will cultivate a new sense of authority. If you can truly incorporate all texts – past and present in all languages – on a particular subject, then you can have a clearer sense of what we as a civilization, a species, do and don’t know. The empty white spaces of our collective ignorance are highlighted, while the golden peaks of our knowledge are drawn with completeness. This degree of authority is only rarely achieved in scholarship today, but it will become routine.

Fourth and finally, the full, complete universal library of all works becomes more than just a better searchable library. It becomes a platform for cultural life, in some ways returning book knowledge to the core. Right now, if you mash up Google Maps and monster.com, you get maps of where jobs are located by salary. In the same way, it is easy to see that, in the great networked library, everything that has ever been written about, for example, Trafalgar Square in London could be visible while one stands in Trafalgar Square via a wearable screen like Google Glass. In the same way, every object, event, or location on earth would “know” everything that has ever been written about it in any book, in any language, at any time. From this deep structuring of knowledge comes a new culture of participation. You would be interacting – with your whole body – with the universal book.

– from ”The Inevitable” by Kevin Kelly

“Platform is not a stepping stone. It is the finish line.”

That’s a powerful-and powerfully counterintuitive-way to think about your work. And the reason more people don’t think in this manner is because they are afraid. They’re afraid of carving their own path and finding nothing at the end of it. They’re overly concerned with the vanity and status consciousness of fans who are comfortable in the traditional system. They want the validation that comes (supposedly) from being given a deal or signed to a contract by an established institution – whether that’s a publisher, a studio, an agency, a gallery, or a Fortune 100. Many of us are afraid, to borrow James Altucher’s phrase, “to choose ourselves.”

The great Stoic Marcus Aurelius once admonished himself to be a “boxer, not a fencer.” A fencer, he said, has to bend down to pick up his weapon. A boxer’s weapon is a part of him – “all he has to do is clench his fist.” In developing a platform, we eschew the promotional apparatus that must be rebuilt and picked up anew with each and every launch. Instead, we choose to bind ourselves to an audience, to become one with that audience, and to become one with our weapon.

– from “Perennial Seller” by Ryan Holiday

Hurry is not a proper posture for a writer

Good writing takes time.

“Words not only convey something, but are something,” observes Frederick Buechner. They “have color, depth, texture of their own, and the power to evoke vastly more than they mean.”

Good writing needs time for the texture of the words to develop, for the momentum to build, word upon word, sentence upon sentence, scene upon scene, story upon story. A little air between sessions at the writing desk allows for each day’s work to be greeted with a fresh eye and a full tank. Allowing the words to live there on the page for a while without being rushed off to the next stage too soon can help the writer when he comes to the pages again.

Time is the actual currency of the speed-worshipping age in which we live and write and have our being. And time is the currency with which we write our sentences and stories.

Hurry is not a proper posture for a writer.

– from “Dancing on the Head of a Pen” by Robert Benson

Who Are You Aiming For?

In the raw, conceptual phase, it was essential that you had some idea who you were making your work for – an unaimed arrow rarely hits a target.

The intended audience is the final blank in “This is a ____________ that does ________ for _________.”

I’ve asked a lot of people that question over the years, and the list of wrong answers would fill volumes. A few particularly egregious ones are common:

• “Everyone”
• “You know, smart people”
• “The kind of people who read Malcolm Gladwell”
• “Myself”

The problem with those answers is not just that they are vague (“smart people”) or ridiculous (“myself”), it’s that such audiences don’t exist. There is no convention where Malcolm Gladwell fans get together. They don’t all read the same website. Just as every politician has to create his or her own coalition in order to win, no creator can magically inherit the audience of another. Whatever you’re making is not for “everyone” either – not even the Bible is for everyone. For yourself? I know you’re not going to be satisfied selling just one copy.

At least those answers are plainly wrong. The most common response is even more alarming. It’s the creator who answers the audience question with:
“I don’t know. I haven’t thought much about it.”

If you haven’t thought about who you are trying to reach, then what have you thought about? Presumably you have some vision of people purchasing or using this thing you’ve spent all your time making. How could you not know who they are? It’s not going to happen by accident.

– from “Perennial Seller” by Ryan Holiday

How Do I Query a Literary Agent?

– by Christopher Ferebee

 

“How do I query an agent?” is a common question I hear from prospective authors. It is one of the easiest to find the answer to and, to the frustration of many agents, something most authors completely ignore.

query is simply a request to a prospective agent to consider you and your work for representation. It universally entails a single-paged letter and often includes a proposal for your work. Beyond that, the specific agent or agency you are sending your request to often, but not always, has additional information they would like you to submit as well. For an example of this, you can review our Submissions page.

How you craft a query letter is pretty straightforward and a simple Google search of “how to query an agent” will lead you to a multitude of examples. Some of the best, in our opinion, are herehere and here.

Your proposal, likewise, will follow an almost universally agreed upon format. The reason for this is that the majority of publishers your potential agent will work with all require the same information for purposes of considering a project for their publishing program. Hence, regardless of your agent, they will be required to submit the same basic information for the publishers to consider your work, and will require the same from you. Again, this has been covered in a multitude of places, both for free (herehere and here), as well as through highly valuable and worthwhile paid guides (here and here).

The absolute quickest and surest way to entice an agent to reject your query is to ignore the basic guidelines of a good query and proposal, or to ignore the agent or agency’s specific guidelines as laid out on their website. A recent query to our agency involved a hard-copy mailing (even though our submission guidelines clearly indicate that only submissions through our email process will be considered) of a completed manuscript (even though our submission guidelines clearly indicate what to provide, and a completed manuscript is not on the list). The author did include a query letter, wherein they stated that “submitting a small segment of [the manuscript] via e-mail would not provide a proper exposition of its thematic presentation.”

Here’s the deal: All agents face an almost insurmountable “slush pile” of unsolicited author queries. We are all in this business because we love books, we love authors, and we love finding fantastic new ones. But we simply cannot read a complete manuscript from every author who might submit one, even if we wanted to. What’s more, we can’t simply submit a completed manuscript to potential publishers for acquisition. The proposal process is so well defined because it is used by everybody, agents and publishers alike. If you as a potential author cannot adequately describe your manuscript in a proposal, we can’t represent it or sell it.

So if you want to be taken seriously at the query stage, follow the agent or agency’s submission guidelines. Otherwise, you have an almost 100% chance of being completely ignored.

The Healthy Creative Life

The healthy creative life is an intentional life…
• How intentional have I been about my creative development?
• What options are open to me now?
• What opportunities am I looking for?
• What do I perceive as necessary in order to move forward in my creative life?
• What are my desires telling me?
• What choices should I be making at this juncture?

– from “The Soul Tells a Story: Engaging Creativity with Spirituality in the Writing Life” by Vinita Hampton Wright Loyola Press

Screening

In ancient times culture revolved around the spoken word. The oral skills of memorization, recitation, and rhetoric instilled in oral societies a reverence for the past, the ambiguous, the ornate, and the subjective. We were People of the Word. Then, about 500 years ago, orality was overthrown by technology. Gutenberg’s 1450 invention of metallic movable type elevated writing into a central position in the culture. By the means of cheap and perfect copies, printed text became the engine of change and the foundation of stability. From printing came journalism, science, libraries, and law. Printing instilled in society a reverence for precision (of black ink on white paper), an appreciation for linear logic (in a string of sentences), a passion for objectivity (of printed fact), and an allegiance to authority (via authors), whose truth was as fixed and final as a book.

But today more than 5 billion digital screens illuminate our lives. Digital display manufacturers will crank out 3.8 billion new additional screens per year. That’s nearly one new screen each year for every human on earth. We will start putting watchable screens on any flat surface. Words have migrated from wood pulp to pixels on a glass surface in a rainbowof colors as fast as our eyes can blink. Screens fill our pockets, briefcases, dashboards, living room walls, and the sides of buildings. They sit in front of us when we work – regardless of what we do. We are now People of the Screen.

This has set up the current cultural clash between People of the Book and People of the Screen. The People of the Book today are the good hardworking people who make newspapers, magazines, the doctrines of law, the offices of regulation, and the rules of finance. They live by the book, by the authority derived from authors. The foundation of this culture is ultimately housed in texts. They are all on the same page, so to speak.

But today most of us have become People of the Screen. People of the Screen tend to ignore the classic logic of books or the reverence for copies; they prefer the dynamic flux of pixels. They gravitate toward movie screens, TV screens, computer screens, iPhone screens, VR goggle screens, tablet screens, and in the near future massive Day-Glo megapixel screens plastered on every surface. Screen culture is a world of constant flux, of endless sound bites, quick cuts, and half-baked ideas. It is a flow of tweets, headlines, instagrams, casual texts, and floating first impressions. Notions don’t stand alone but are massively interlinked to everything else; truth is not delivered by authors and authorities but is assembled in real time piece by piece by the audience themselves. People of the Screen make their own content and construct their own truth. Fixed copies don’t matter as much as flowing access. Screen culture is fast, like a 30-second movie trailer, and as liquid as and open-ended as a Wikipedia page.

People of the Book favor solutions by laws, while People of the Screen favor technology as a solution to all problems. Truth is, we are in a transition, and the clash between cultures of books and screens occurs within us as individuals as well. If you are an educated modern person, you are conflicted by these two models.

– from “The Inevitable” by Kevin Kelly

Pay Attention!

by Frederick Buechner

In just the same way faith could be called a kind of whistling in the dark too, of course. The living out of faith. The writing out of fiction. In both you shape, you fashion, you feign. Maybe what they have most richly in common is a way of paying attention. Page by page, chapter by chapter, the story unfolds. Day by day, year by year, your own story unfolds, your life’s story. Things happen. People come and go. The scene shifts. Time runs by, runs out. Maybe it is all utterly meaningless. Maybe it is all unutterably meaningful. If you want to know which, pay attention. What it means to be truly human in a world that half the time we are in love with and half the time scares the hell out of us – any fiction that helps us pay attention to that is as far as I am concerned religious fiction.

The unexpected sound of your name on somebody’s lips. The good dream. The odd coincidence. The moment that brings tears to your eyes. The person who brings life to your life. Maybe even the smallest events hold the greatest dues. If it is God we are looking for, as I suspect we all of us are even if we don’t think of it that way and wouldn’t use such language on a bet, maybe the reason we haven’t found him is that we are not looking in the right places.

Pay attention. As a summation of all that I have had to say as a writer, I would settle for that. And as a talisman or motto for that journey in search of a homeland, which is what faith is, I would settle for that too.

Eternally Linked

Creativity activates imagination, and imagination is one of our most valuable spiritual faculties. Every aspect of the spiritual life requires some imagination. When you make a leap of faith, you are imagining as real whatever faith declares as true. When you find wisdom through reading a book or hearing a story or attending a workshop, you must employ imagination in order to visualize how that wisdom can be applied to your own circumstances. When you love another person through forgiveness or a listening ear or helping hand, you must first empathize, which requires the ability to put yourself in that person’s place. When you pray, you imagine the help that you need. When you make plans for the future, you construct a vision of what that future might be. When you must finally forgive yourself and move on, you can do so only by imagining a love that is bigger and more powerful than the normal sort of love of which you are capable.

You might think of the spiritual as intangible reality and of creativity as the means by which the intangible is made concrete so that you can experience it. However you think of spirituality and creativity, practice visualizing them as eternally linked.

– from “The Soul Tells a Story: Engaging Creativity with Spirituality in the Writing Life” by Vinita Hampton Wright Loyola Press

Get in touch!