Monday, October 14, 2013

Heinlein's Fourth Rule

Continuing the discussion of Heinlein's Rules of Successful writing (First, Second and Third rules.)

So, now you've written something, you've finished it, and you've stopped fiddling with it.  This can only mean it's time for one thing:


This rule ties into the third rule a lot.  Because when it comes down to it, you've got to push the baby bird out of the nest and see if it's going to fly.

Because everything you've done up until this point is darn we'll useless if you don't.  They aren't going to beat a path to your door to see if you've concocted some brilliance that they might want to publish.

This includes the ever painful act of querying an agent, which may be the most dreaded act a writer has to face.  But let me tell you, querying in and of itself is pretty easy.  It may almost be too easy.  It's so easy that many agents receive over 500 queries a week.  However, a good portion of those queries are more or less the equivalent of shouting baboons hurling their feces at an agent.  So you've got to work extra hard to make your query be the thing that can be noticed above the din of baboon screeches and feces.  There are only two steps to accomplish that:

1. Follow the submission guidelines.
2. Write a brilliant query.

Step one is very, very easy if you just pay a modicum of attention.  Do not get lazy or sloppy with it.  Every time.  Or you might send a query addressed to "Dear ".

Step two is harder, I won't deny it.  Research query letters.  Polish the hell out of it.  This is the calling card for your novel, and you need to make it as strong as possible, clean and concise.

Concise is a big thing.  I've had the opportunity to read many query letters, and many times I see-- especially with genre-- writers who want to explain EVERYTHING in the query.  It really isn't necessary.   You want to entice the agent to read the book, not summarize it. 

Also: avoid negativity.  Especially in regards to a. the genre you're querying and b. other writers in that genre.  Apparently this sort of denigration ("Sci-fi is stupid, so I wrote a better sci-fi novel which will blow everyone away.") is common. 

So: LIMITED TIME OFFER.  Want to test the waters on your query letter?  Send it to me at maresca at  I'll give you my take on it, either privately or publicly (aka, here on this blog).


Unknown said...

Yeah, getting it out there is key and requires courage and a thick skin. There will be rejection letters, notes, and generic rejection form letters.

I think query letters, to agents or to publishers, are harder than writing the novel. Not sure why.

I'm enjoying Hienlein's rules.

Marshall Ryan Maresca said...

I think query letters are harder because they need to be so condensed: reducing the 100K or so of words you've crafted and polished into about 250 words. Like I said, my experience with unsuccessful query letter involve trying to overstuff them with every element of the story, instead of boiling it down to its pure essence. But that boiling is painful.