Tag Archives | agents

Aiming High or Over-reaching?

Kenneth-armitage-sculpture-123578-lThis is one of those posts that I write because I don't know the answer and I'm trying to figure it out. (Ha! Like I ever know the answers.)  So bear with me as I sort it out.


–a writer, talented but still raw, without a lot of words beneath her belt, finishing a short story and submitting it to the New Yorker.

–an under-achieving professional applying for jobs–and assuming he'll get them–way beyond what his experience warrants.

–an entrepreneur starting a business from scratch–and setting a goal that she'll reach one million in sales by the end of her first year.

Or how about the emails I get on a fairly regular basis that go something like this: I've got an idea for a book, how do I find an agent?  Note, the writer has an idea only.  Hasn't written a word of said book, but he/she is already looking for an agent.  Or the writers I used to meet whose main goal was getting on Oprah, still without having written a word? (I still remember one such woman, who had seen herself sitting on Oprah's couch in a vision.  She was certain it was going to happen.  Writing the book that would get her there was just a pesky nuisance in between.)


What do all of these people have in common?  


But you could also call it aiming high.  Having confidence.  Who's to say it won't work out?  Who's to say that story won't be accepted, you won't get the job, you won't win the millions?  One of our enduring cultural zeitgeists is the exhortation to dream big, to reach for the stars.

And who am I–or you–to dash the hopes of our strivers by pointing out the reality of the situation?

Yet I'm certain all of us have heard such stories and rolled our eyes.  Tut-tut-tutted at the silliness of these over-reachers.  

Which is a terrible, toxic reaction that shows more–perhaps–about ourselves and how we're not going for our own dreams that anything else.  However, part of that reaction is grounded in truth.   And I think I'm starting to figure out why we bristle when we hear the unrealistic goals of these dreamers:

Because they want to skip steps.  They want to go from zero to 90 in one second, without any work in between.  

And those of us who've been working towards our goals for a long time know that doesn't happen. 


When it does–such as when a college student gets a big book contract, or an obscure blogger catapults himself into the spotlight, or, you fill in the blanks–we feel a bit like they've cheated.  And skipped the steps that most of us have to take.

There's also, I think, a sense of entitlement inherent in over-reaching:

–Give me this job because I deserve it, even though I've never done anything like it before, ever.

–Publish my story because I wrote it, even though I've not rewritten it and worked to get it right.

–Buy my product because I made it, even though I've not done the market research to know if you'll want it.

Aiming High

On the other hand, it's good to dream big, right?  It's good to imagine the job, the publishing contract, the massive business success.

Yes, it is.  We humans live on hopes and dreams.   So there's absolutely no harm in imagining the big payoff.   Think about it every day, and see it happening.

And then forget about it and get down to work.  Because that is what is going to make it happen.  

Those folks who get the publishing contract while they are still in school, or make the product that nets them a million?  Outliers.  And yeah, it could happen to you, or to me, but in the meantime let the universe decide and keep at what you're doing.  Behind most overnight successes you'll find years of toil.

Reach, match, and safety.

So here's what I tell my students and clients.   When you're ready to submit a story–after you've written and rewritten it, and then gone back and rewritten it yet again–make a list.  At the top, put your pie-in-the-sky places (The New Yorker and Tin House come to mind).  Then choose some middle-ground publications.  And then, opt for a long list of publications that will be most likely to want to publish your stories.  Send them out.  And keep writing.

This is much like the advice given to high school students applying to college.  Opt for reach, match, and safety schools.  I think it's a good policy for us as writers as well–go for reach, match and safety publications, or editors, or agents.  

(This list is a great starting point for those of you submitting to journals.)

This way, you can aim high and not over-reach.  Because as long as you continue to work and hone your craft, one of these days you'll get your ambitious goals, I'm sure of it!

Do you have experience with over-reaching and being disappointed?  Or are you a big believer in confidence?  Please comment!  And feel free to share on your social media of choice.

And don't forget–tomorrow I pick (by random selection) the winners of the blog birthday giveaway! You have until the end of today to enter, I'll choose first thing tomorrow morning.  (And, also, for a mere 99cents, you can buy my new short story on Amazon.)

 Image by kloniwotski.


Getting Your Work Out in The World: The Mindset

So, you're done with it.  You've gone through the rewriting and revising stages and your novel (or memoir or short story collection or romance or mystery or article) is finished.  Concluded, finalized, ended, done!

And now the real fun begins. Everystockphoto_197072_m

The marketing.

Otherwise known as getting your work out in the world.  Maybe you'll be seeking an agent, or sending it to editors at smaller houses, or submitting to magazines.  It doesn't matter what your plans are at this point (I'll be discussing the mechanics of getting your work out in the world on Friday).

What matters most is your mindset.

Before you research agents, ponder websites of publishing houses, peruse writer's market lists, before you do anything, you've got to get  your head on straight. 

Because if you've got any doubts about the project, are lacking in confidence about it, or believe in your heart of hearts that it still needs more work, you're going to face an uphill battle.  Our beliefs are what block us.  And they are also what set us free.  So take a look at the following handy Mindset Checklist.

Mindset Checklist

My book (or article) is the best it can be.  I've done everything I can on it until I get the professional advice of an agent who wants to represent me or an editor who wants to buy my project.

I bless the publishing world.  Instead of cursing the publishing world for its excesses, or lamenting the fact that its changing before our very eyes, I am ready to bless it for all its wonderful quirkiness instead.  Because this simple act alone is paradigm-changing.

I'm ready to put myself out there, too.  There's more to marketing than my book.  There's…me.  And I understand that I, the author, am a vital part of the equation these days.  I am ready to write a blog, sign up on Twitter, and create myself a page on Facebook.  I am ready to engage.

I don't take rejection personally.  I understand that a magazine editor might love my article, but have run a similar one last issue.  I get that an agent my love my novel, but not feel she can sell it.  I know that there could be a million and one reasons why I've been rejected, and not a one has to do with the quality of the work.

I am willing to do whatever it takes.  I'm going to hang in there for the long haul.  And when my hand-selected agent decides not to represent me, I'll send queries out to 20 more.  When I've exhausted every angle of the publishing world, I'll research print on demand options. 

I am open to all options.  Even though my vision of publishing a book includes a top-notch agent, a big New York publishing house, and a glamorous book tour, I'm willing to hold that intention while remaining open to other options.  Because, who am I to manipulate and control the world?

If you can say yes to all of these things, you're ready baby.  Go for it.  And come back here to report your success. 


Brain photo by jkt_de, fro Everystockphoto.




Organizing for Success

Please excuse the grandiose title.  I couldn't organize my way out of a paper bag.  My brain just doesn't think that way, does yours?  Because it is my experience that most of us creative types tend to be more towards the wafty, creative, big picture side than the down-to-earth groundedness I associate with being organized.


Last Thursday my desk was covered in papers.  The floor of my office was littered with piles of journals and legal pads, each of which had some ongoing project in it.  I was halfway in the middle of a lot of personal projects and I had a number of things going for clients and students as well.

And then I got an email.

From an agent. 

The one reading my novel.

She likes it.  Sort of.  She thinks I'm a fabulous writer and that the novel is very well done, though she has reservations about the relatablity (her word) of Emma Jean, the main character, and she thinks some of the minor characters are not well drawn. 

But she would be delighted to read it again if I revise.

And so revising I am. 

But first I had to clear a space in my brain for the revision.  And to do that, I had to get my office cleaned up.  And so, on Saturday afternoon, despite the fact that it was the first gorgeous day we've had here in Portland in ages, I worked for several hours on organizing for success.  I straightened and filed and consolidated.  And I printed out the most recent version of Emma Jean and put it into a binder.

And yesterday morning I started working on it again.

It is weird to be going back to a novel I thought I was done with.  And yet, it feels right, too.  The way the agent described her vision for Emma Jean made me hope I can rewrite her to that idea, because if I can, I truly will have written a kick-ass novel.

So, until further notice, Captain will be writing my blog posts.  He's taken up residence in the new office chair I just got on clearance at Fred Meyer for $60, and will be writing posts of great fascination to cat lovers.  No, actually, I'm kidding, in case you hadn't guessed.  I'm not taking a blogging vacation, but I am going to lighten up on my posting schedule a bit.  Instead of posting every week day, I'll be posting Monday, Wednesday and Friday for the next few weeks.  I anticipate being back to the full schedule soon.

What about you?  Where are you with your various projects?  And how do you organize for them?