Say the Right Thing

Writers use words well.

That may seem obvious, but—judging from some of the submissions I get from aspiring writers—it’s worth stating. Sure, one man’s métier is another man’s poison, but I’m regularly amazed at the ability of some writers to write the wrong word, so to speak, in submitting work to a literary agent, even one as gracious and forgiving as I am. That last part was meant to be serious. Did you not catch that? 

Anyway, here is a top-ten list of fifteen recent submissions (see what I did there?) that managed to say the wrong thing:

  1. (salutation in cover email) “Dear Ben Hostetler”
  2. (salutation in cover email) “Dear Bob Harrison”
  3. (salutation in cover email) “Dear Mr. Hostetzer”
  4. (salutation in cover email) “Dear Steve Hostetler”
  5. (salutation in cover email) “Dear [Mr. or Ms. Last Name of Agent]”
  6. (in the email subject line) “just so you know, I will be deleting all my social media in a few days!”
  7. (first sentence of a cover email) “Sadly, some publishers today will hate this book.”
  8. (first sentence of a cover email) “I am an empath, and I am the reincarnation of Joan of Arc.”
  9. (first line of a cover email) “I have written the first transgender crime novel.”
  10. (second sentence of a cover email) “I realize it needs some work but I’m not usually one to write.”
  11. (third sentence of a cover email) “This book was wrote two years ago.”
  12. (in first paragraph of a query email) “This is my first fiction story in English. It … is somewhat similar in tone to E. L. James ‘Fifty Shades of Grey.’”
  13. (last line of a cover email) “Please, reframe from the stereotypical smug remarks literary agents are too bold to often espouse toward people like me on the other side of their screen. It’s getting old.”
  14. (comparison section of a proposal) “The three books comparing to this novel are Oliver Twist, Don Quixote, and Crime and Punishment.”
  15. (first words of a fiction submission) “It was dark.”

Obviously (again with the obviously, Bob?), some of these are more revealing than others; and some may not be immediately disqualifying. However, as I wish to reframe from the stereotypical smug remarks literary agents are too bold to often espouse toward such things, I will simply let the reader decide how decisive each was or should have been and perhaps (one can always hope) heighten your vigilance against similar choices in your own submissions to even the most gracious and forgiving of literary agents.

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Diligence Is Rewarded

by Steve Laube

The ease of today’s social media communication brings a casual layer to the task of writing. Careful composition is trumped by the need for speed. For most “throw away” emails and posts that is the new normal. But it should never leak into the business of writing, either in craft or in delicate communication.

The other day I received an email query/proposal. There was a very large file attached and the body of the email read, “Here is my book. Please take a look.” No signature line, that was it. At least it rhymed. This was not a friend, a client, or someone I had ever met. But the casual, even flippant, nature of the note all but says, “I’m not serious about the craft or business of writing.”

The best writers are those who take their ideas and their words and run them through a gauntlet of critique and reformation. They pour their words into a garlic press and slice and dice them into bits that can flavor their entire book.

This takes time. This takes hard work. And it is a process that seems endless.

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When the Gloves Come Off

Fist Slams Table in Anger

The publishing experience is rarely done in isolation. This means working with other people. And if their performances or efforts do not meet your expectations, conflict can occur. Over the years I’ve seen more conflict than you can imagine–of all types and variety. But the majority of issues boil down …

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Misunderstanding the Written Word

Back on June 8, I wrote “Barriers to Effective Communication,” attempting to look at some things that get in the way in relationships, business, and writing. I’ve continued to reflect on this topic, particularly with regard to the written word. Not only in books and articles, but also in our …

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Barriers to Effective Communication

By Steve Laube

It has been said that ninety percent of all problems in the universe are failures in communication. And the other ten percent are failures to understand the failure in communication. In the publishing business, or any business for that matter, this is so true. There are a couple common barriers to effective communication, assumption and expectation.

But I Assumed

Often one party assumes knowledge that the other person does not know. Or someone without knowledge fails to admit their lack and try to fake their way through the situation for fear of being found ignorant. Simple to fix. Just ask if you don’t know and alternatively make sure the other person knows what you are talking about. I learn something new nearly every single day and hope to continue that streak for the rest of my life.

But even  worse, and more common, is assuming the other party is mad at you for some reason. The fear of that “assumed anger” prevents an open dialogue or at least delays it.

Much of our business comes down to relationships and fear or anger prevent them from being healthy.

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How Can You Manage So Many Clients?

by Steve Laube

I am frequently asked this question. It is perfectly understandable as many agencies carry a sizeable list of clients. A prospective client or even an existing one wonders, “Will this agent or agency have time for me?”

We post a list of our clients on the web site because we are honored to work with so many gifted people. Not every agency makes their client list public. It is neither right nor wrong, it is merely a preference. As of this morning we have over 150 clients on our roster.

Proper management of a client base is all about communication and work flow. The best metaphor I’ve been able to use to describe how a literary agency works is “We are like a major airline that is always overbooked but never flies full. But if everyone show up at the gate at the same time, we would be in serious trouble.”

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Never Burn a Bridge!

The sale of Thomas Nelson to HarperCollins and last week’s sale of Heartsong to Harlequin brought to mind a critical piece of advice:

Never Burn a Bridge!

Ours is a small industry and both editors and authors move around with regularity. If you are in a business relationship and let your frustration boil into anger and ignite into rage…and let that go at someone in the publishing company, you may end up burning the bridge. And that person who you vented on might someday become the head of an entire publishing company.

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Why I Left My (Insurance) Agent

The number-one complaint I hear from authors about their agents is that they don’t communicate with them. My understanding of this was renewed when I was on the side of needing an insurance agent to respond to me. I needed an adjustment to my policy that will mean I’ll pay …

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Creative Boundaries

Creative people usually don’t like being told what to create or what not to create. Similarly, explorers and researchers don’t like being told, “Don’t look there,” or “Explore over here.” By nature, they follow their training and instincts from place to place and thought to thought. As a writer, while …

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