Book Proposals

Be a Luddite, Not a Lunkhead

I recently read a letter to the editor in a writers magazine in which an aspiring writer of advanced years bemoaned those publishers who accept only electronic submissions (via email or website).

“Surely I am not the only soul who still works with a typewriter,” the correspondent wrote. “Possibly it’s because I’m eighty-eight, but don’t accuse me of being completely out of touch.”

Well, no. Not exactly. It has little to do with age. After all, I just finished reading William Zinsser’s lovely memoir, Writing Places, published in his eighties, in which he describes the limits of his technological advancement while still maintaining a prolific output in the age of computers, blogs, websites, and ebooks.

One can be a Luddite without being a lunkhead.

Luddite is a term borrowed from early 19th-century English workmen who destroyed laborsaving machinery as a protest. Today the word is used to describe someone who is generally opposed or resistant to new technologies.

Lunkheads, on the other hand, are people who (by my definition) expect the rest of the world—including agents, editors, and publishers—to accommodate their lack of technological adaptation.

Luddites can be published but lunkheads usually can’t.

James Michener typed his tomes with two fingers on a manual typewriter. He edited his drafts by literally cutting-and-pasting (with a sharp utility knife and Elmer’s glue) drafts together. But (after the advent of computers in publishing) all was eventually submitted to his publishers in electronic form. (By the way, I consider James A. Michener’s Writer’s Handbook a treasure, which very helpfully depicts his processes for writing and rewriting).

Robert Ludlum didn’t even type and claimed not to know how to even turn on a computer. He wrote his books in longhand on yellow legal pads. But he had his secretary convert his handwritten manuscripts to computer before submitting them to a publisher.

We can’t all afford to employ secretaries, of course. But we can employ good sense in writing for publication. So go ahead and be a Luddite, if you like. Write longhand. With a fountain pen, if you like. Or write on a 1922 Smith-Corona. Or an IBM Selectric. Or rock-and-chisel. Or bamboo pen and homemade rice paper. Suit yourself in the writing process. But when it comes to submitting your work for publication, Jack, join the 21st century and do so according to the agent, editor, or publisher’s specifications—even according to their preferences, if they state them. Otherwise, you’re just a lunkhead.

 

Leave a Comment

Ann’s Wise Advice

My daughter Ann works with analysts who are always being asked for materials to present to high-level executives. Often her conversations sound like this: Coworker: “I don’t have any idea what they want.” Ann: “Create something, show it to them, and let them tell you how to change it.” This …

Read More

Is It Ready to Submit?

You’ve poured out your soul. You’ve written your heart out. You’ve struggled and sweated over how to say what you want to say. You’ve paced the floor, clicked your heels, and now you think maybe it’s ready to submit. But how do you know? Good question. “Good question” usually means …

Read More

Your Comparisons Section Is Your Friend

An essential part of a good book proposal is a “book comparisons” section. It’s usually only a few paragraphs or so in which you compare your idea to successful, fairly recent books in the marketplace. Many writers hate the comparison section. And no, hate is not too strong a word. …

Read More

Our Favorite Typos

Writers aren’t perfect. This may not be news to you. But occasionally we read or create typos that stay with us. Some become favorites, prompting smiles and giggles (and maybe embarrassment) for years to come. I asked writers, editors, and agents to share some from their experiences. Here are their …

Read More

Is Yours a Book or an Article?

The title question, “Is yours a book or an article?” comes up on a regular basis with nonfiction authors. Someone has lived an interesting life, survived a horrible disease, lost a precious loved one, suffered terribly (emotionally or physically) and feels led to write their story. But is it a …

Read More

Letting Go of Your Babies

One of the worst mistakes writers can make is being too possessive of their words. They fight for each adjective, adverb, and conversation tag.

My early writing suffered from too many words. I once wrote an artist didn’t “really” understand the difficulties of making a living in his profession. The editor kindly cut all instances of “really,” “just,” “so,” “very,” and other weak words experienced editors call “weasel” words.

Read More

How to Hear “No”

In a recent media interview (yes, I am that cool), I was asked if as a literary agent I liked saying “no.” I answered emphatically—even a bit rudely, I’m afraid, as I started my answer before my questioner finished asking. “I hate it,” I said. It’s a part of the …

Read More

First Lines Are Kinda Important

“It was a cold day in April and the clocks were striking thirteen.” That arresting line begins one of the most famous novels of the twentieth century: George Orwell’s 1984. The first sentence of any article or book is kinda important, even if it’s borrowed, like the first line of …

Read More