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Writing For Your Life Today

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 Writing Life When Life is Happening 

 

Author:  Myama M. Locke

 

Most writers who have “day jobs”, families, and other obligations find that making time for completing writing projects and freelance writing opportunities quite the challenge.  How do you find the time to entertain the muse, much less to produce quality work?  As a writer, adoptive mother of two children, Social Worker, photographer, and facilitator, I have had to be very intentional about time management as well as what I will say yes and no to.  I have also had to make the most of my writing and giving my best attention to the page.

I am currently working on two books within two separate genres.  This requires quite a bit of intentionality and focus.  I also spend a lot of time reading, which while it is helpful can be distracting.  I choose to map out specific times and locations to write throughout the week, versus trying to write every day (which for me is virtually impossible).  I choose mostly weekends to spend time at coffeehouses or in my office at home, finishing projects and hitting the writing process hard.  Throughout the week, I free write so I can keep myself on track with both books and to satisfy the desire to write.

My children understand that quiet time is part of our home life, which helps them to tap into their own creative endeavors while I am working on my own.  I have heard many writers talk about the challenges of maintaining a family, while living a creative life.  I believe that being intentional with your family will help them understand and contribute in many ways to your writing life.  I don’t shut my girls out of the writing process.  Instead, I try to encourage them to work on self-expression through creativity.  This helps me to stay focused and teaches them the importance of creativity in daily life.

Having a “day job” can either be viewed as frustrating to the writing life or par and parcel to the writing life.  I choose to view it as fuel for what I am writing about.  I work as a Social Worker, and many of the topics in my novel and in my non-fiction work centers around what I do in that field.  When writers use their observation skills, they will find that even in the most mundane daily jobs, there is much to glean from to use in their projects.

Life happens to us all; however, so does good writing, when you are serious about paying attention to it.  It is truly about intertwining the two.  Let’s be intentional about our writing!

Culture and Community

by Natasha Sistrunk Robinson

 

When the people and values that shape my diverse communities are in conflict with each other, I must consider: Will I remain true to my God or true to the native land or continent in which my ancestors were born, or will I remain true to the native land or country in which I was born? My native land wants me to remain true to the American philosophy that I have been taught in my formative years. On the other hand, my people—the black community—have a history of being oppressed by the land in which many of us were born. Where should my loyalties lie, knowing all of that? The black community has also been stripped of our African culture, history, and traditions, and I want to learn what values have been lost from that culture and to understand what values are important to hold on to.

 

Discernment for the American Christian is determining what is actually of God and what is true only to our native land. Believe it or not, American Christianity looks quite different depending on where and how you worship on Sunday mornings, what stories you read, what voices you listen to, and who you call friend. Our various community shapers can be in conflict with each other, so remaining true to God requires that we analyze the sacred community—the shaping grounds, including what or who is missing from those spaces. Affirming our identity in Christ means that we must wrestle with our community shapers to accept, celebrate, cultivate, and then share what individually makes us unique.

 

Community is about the places that shape us. Orangeburg, South Carolina, is where I come from. Community is about the people who shape us. When I had the opportunity to deliver the student address at my graduation from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary Charlotte, I told my family and friends, “I take you with me wherever I go.” Community is who you roll with on this journey called life.

 

Community is also the environments that we intentionally cultivate and the people we invite to form and shape them. Creating culture and cultivating community is a continuous act of discipline. If you desire to have lasting influence and to implement real change, this is an internal wrestling you must be willing to do, a risk you must be willing to take, and a skill you must learn. Your life may look very different from mine or that of Moses. You have your own stories, relationships, and experiences. The work of spiritual formation requires that you pay attention to how God wants to shape your community.

 

*Taken from A Sojourner’s Truth by Natasha Sistrunk Robinson. Copyright (c) 2018 by Natasha Sistrunk Robinson. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

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.

When Does A Book Proposal Come in the Writing Process?

– by Angela Scheff

A reader asked: How far along in the book writing process should you be before submitting a book proposal?

The answer to this is in the form of another question: Are you able to articulate the complete book idea in a sentence or two?

While you technically only need a few chapters complete when submitting a nonfiction book proposal, you do need to know exactly what your book is going to be about, including an overview as well as a chapter-by-chapter synopses. Basically, a complete book outline with the big ideas articulated is needed.

And while the proposal describes the book and author, the sample chapters are helpful to evaluate how the author is going to get to the ideas, including the tone and style used. It doesn’t hurt, especially for new authors, to have more than a few chapters written. This way, if a publisher/agent is interested in seeing more from you, you already have additional chapters ready to send.

Also keep in mind that you will need to be able to articulate in your proposal when the book will be completed. This helps the publisher evaluate if they have space in their list for your book.

A good proposal is not easy to put together and is a significant investment in your time, whether you have two chapters or the entire manuscript written.

Art Can’t Be Hurried

I was reading a work by the great writer Stefan Zweig. In it, he recounts a youthful conversation with an older and wiser friend. The friend was encouraging him to travel, believing that the experience would help broaden and deepen Zweig’s writing. Like me, Zweig believed he had to write right now and that he didn’t have the time to wait – he was feeling the urgency of a first-time writer too. “Literature is a wonderful profession,” the friend explained patiently, “because haste is no part of it. Whether a really good book is finished a year earlier or a year later makes no difference.”

Art can’t be hurried. It must be allowed to take its course. It must be given its space – and can’t be rushed or checked off a to-do list on the way to something else.

– from “Perennial Seller” by Ryan Holiday

It Isn’t Easy

Sometimes people say they are not sure they can be creative on paper every day. I tell them with all seriousness I am not sure I can be creative on paper each day either. Most of the time, writing a book more closely resembles digging a ditch then participating in some transcendent creative experience.

A pen and a keyboard and paper and ink are nothing more or less than the tools of a writer. They are to be regarded the way a construction worker regards a well-worn set of boots and a well-loved shovel. The tools simply remind the worker to get up each day and go back to work no matter how much or how little progress was made the day before. I became better at the craft of writing sentences on the day I finally understood I was engaged in a construction project as much as an artistic pursuit.

Writing a book is nowhere near as easy as it looks and heaven knows not as easy as some claim. Writing a book is seldom easy, even for those who have written some of them.

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

The Four Stages of Flowing

What has happened to music, books, and movies is now happening to games, newspapers, and education. The pattern will spread to transportation, agriculture, health care. Fixities such as vehicles, land, and medicines will become flows. Tractors will become fast computers outfitted with treads, land will become a substrate for a network of sensors, and medicines will become molecular information capsules flowing from patient to doctor and back.

These are the Four Stages of Flowing:

1. Fixed. Rare. The starting norm is precious products that take much expertise to create. Each is an artisan work, complete and able to stand alone, sold in high-quality reproductions to compensate the creation.
2. Free. Ubiquitous. The first disruption is promiscuous copying of the product, duplicated so relentlessly that it becomes a commodity. Cheap, perfect copies are spent freely, dispersed anywhere there is a demand. This extravagant dissemination of copies shatters the established economics.
3. Flowing. Sharing. The second disruption is an unbundling of the product into parts, each element flowing to find its own new uses and to be remixed into new bundles. The product is now a stream of services issuing from the shared cloud. It becomes a platform for wealth and innovation.
4. Opening. Becoming. The third disruption is enabled by the previous two. Streams of powerful services and ready pieces, conveniently grabbed at little cost, enable amateurs with little expertise to create new products and brand new categories of products. The status of creation is inverted, so that the audience is now the artist. Output, selection, and quality skyrocket.

These four stages of flowing apply to all media. All genres will exhibit some fluidity.

– from “Inevitable” by Kevin Kelly

The Power of Words

by Frederick Buechner

IF LITERATURE IS a metaphor for the writer’s experience, a mirror in which that experience is at least partially reflected, it is at the same time a mirror in which the reader can also see his or her experience reflected in a new and potentially transforming way. This is what it is like to search for God in a world where cruelty and pain hide God, Dostoevski says-“How like a winter hath my absence been from thee”; how like seeing a poor woman in a dream with a starving child at her breast; how like Father Zossima kneeling down at the feet of Dmitri Karamazov because he sees that great suffering is in store for him and because he knows, as John Donne did, that suffering is holy. And you and I, his readers, come away from our reading with no more proof of the existence or nonexistence of God than we had before, with no particular moral or message to frame on the wall, but empowered by a new sense of the depths of love and pity and hope that is transmitted to us through Dostoevski’s powerful words.

Words written fifty years ago, a hundred years ago, a thousand years ago, can have as much of this power today as ever they had it then to come alive for us and in us and to make us more alive within ourselves. That, I suppose, is the final mystery as well as the final power of words: that not even across great distances of time and space do they ever lose their capacity for becoming incarnate. And when these words tell of virtue and nobility, when they move us closer to that truth and gentleness of spirit by which we become fully human, the reading of them is sacramental; and a library is as holy a place as any temple is holy because through the words which are treasured in it the Word itself becomes flesh again and again and dwells among us and within us, full of grace and truth.

– from Listening to Your Life

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