An Interesting Thought on “Rules”
- By: Jessica Faust | Date: Jun 20 2008
A lot of comments lately have blasted agents and editors for all of our rules. We stifle authors, we cause nothing but problems, and we’re rude to boot. I debated a discussion on rules because I have a feeling I’m going to get blasted for it, but a client of mine pointed out that what makes my blog work are my honest answers and the honest comments I get from my readers. So here goes . . .
There are seemingly a lot of rules in publishing, but if you’ve ever heard me speak or read enough of my blog posts I think you’ll know that I’ve repeated again and again that those rules are not rules and should not be seen as such, but should be looked upon as guidelines. One of the most frustrating things for me about being blasted for all of our rules is that so many of them are created because authors ask for them, and so many more are not rules I’ve put out but rules authors impose themselves.
I am constantly asked for more clarification, for more rules. Authors want to know a secret to getting in the door. How do you write the perfect query letter, how do you write the perfect synopsis, and how do you write the perfect book? I cannot tell you that. I can give you hints, clues, examples, and critiques. I can do my best to help you along the way, but there are absolutely no rules. You’ve said it yourself, agents impose rules but then sell books that break them. When asked how to write a query letter or a pitch I can give you tips on what I’ve seen that’s worked for me. Does that mean it will work in the same way for another agent? Not necessarily, because it’s all subjective. This is the same for resumes and resume cover letters. You can read a resume book and see hundreds of examples. They might all work for you or they might not. Ultimately, when reading the advice of agents you need to pick and choose what resonates with you.
Reading our blogs should be done in the same manner you read revision letters from critique partners, agents, or your own editor. You need to see what worked and didn’t work for other people and see how it resonates with you. Then you need to make your own decisions. Making smart, professional, and personal decisions are in the end what the only rule should be.
Part of this entire rules thing is that authors often take what we say as an absolute. My comment last year on saying thank you in a query letter is a perfect example. In trying to help one particular reader tighten her thank-you (and granted, I should have used a different tone) I was barraged with criticism and read all over the Internet that if you thank me in a query it is an automatic rejection. What?!? Come on. Do you really think I’m that narrow-minded and obtuse? I will take the blame for the tone I used and I guess I should have explained myself in a kinder, gentler manner, but to have it so blown out of proportion is crazy. I’ve learned as the blog goes on what voice works best for me and my readers and tend not to be snarky anymore (or not much). However, that was certainly not a rule. It was a piece of advice relating to one particular query letter.
So my advice to you . . . take what you read on all agent, editor, and publishing blogs with a grain of salt. We give the best advice we can from our own knowledge base. We have few rules and only guidelines. And while we’d prefer you email a query letter, there are plenty of you who include a page or two of your work, and, you know what, I do read them.
This business is hard enough. Coming up with amazing ideas and writing them with near perfection is not easy, and I know that, I really do know that, so to let these so-called rules get you down is crazy. There are plenty of other things about publishing to get us all down.