Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Sage Advice

I was chatting with my Dad (affectionately known by my peers as Papa Sarno) yesterday about the publishing industry, trying to explain to him how things work. I tried to explain the slush-pile and the whole getting-an-agent thing, and how agents represent your work to find publishers. Ya know, all the shennanigans that most of the readers of this blog are dealing with right now. Papa Sarno is a very practical man, so he listened to all of this and he said:

"Well, you know I don't read. I haven't picked up a book in about 10 years."

Yes, I thought to myself, remembering that J.K Rowling not only inspired young people around the world to read, but also, in a jaw-dropping moment, Richard Sarno, who deemed "The Sorceror's Stone", a pretty good read. It is, to this day, the only memory I have of my father reading a book in my 29 years on this planet.

"But it sounds to me like you're a bit like a salesperson right now. Like you've got a sales pitch," he continued.

I told him that, yes, this was exactly right.

I could tell that this would lead to imparting some kind of wisdom.

My Dad likes to offer advice. For some reason, most of it revolves around finding places to sleep. I'm not sure where this stems from. But he works in the hospitality industry and has told me on more than one occassion that a hotel lobby is public property and, unless you are a public nuisance or causing a disturbance, they can not kick you out of a hotel lobby. Therefore, if you need a place to sleep, this is a good place to do it. He has also repeatedly advised that sleeping on benches is perfectly okay, but sleeping on statues is forbidden. This is all wrapped up in a story about backpacking in Amsterdam in the early 70's, so ya know, do what you will with this information.

He went on to say, "If you're throwing out a fishing line and people are biting, you throw out as many hooks as you can, ya know. And if they're not, well, you better step back and assess what you're doing wrong before you go out again."

I thought that this was very simple but sage advice. And very relevant to the query process. If you're getting a positive response, don't just sit on it and think you're cruising, increase your odds. And if you're getting a negative response, don't chalk it all up to 'just being a part of the process'. Assess what could be wrong and make it right.

Oh, and by the way, another good place to sleep is on a moped. I'm not sure if it's as comfortable as the hotel lobby or the bench, but renting a moped for a week affords you transportation AND housing. Two for one.


  1. As a former teacher, I've noticed another good place to sleep was in my classroom!

    I used to say the word "sex" loudly to snare their attention back to me every now and again.

    Your father's a wise man. But I didn't need to tell you that, did I? We, as unpublished authors, are sales people.

    "Why should I be interested in your book over the thousands oit there?"

    That's the agent's and publisher's question. Unless we have a persuasive answer to that question, we are dead in the water.

    I like your blog. Never, never give up, Roland

  2. I feel like a salesman as I get ready to go pitch my book next week. Not liking this part at all but it's part of the deal. Nice dad and wise!

  3. This is EXCELLENT Papa-inspired thinking. I go through it every single time. There are those cases we read of (like Paul Harding and Tinkers and no one wanting it and the Pulitzer), but often when we hear strong no's, three or four times in a row, we have to look at ourselves and our work and ask questions. I'm doing that right now. I do it all the time.

  4. Great Papa Sarno advice on where to sleep and on querying. I think everyone should be told to query widely, but slowly, so they have time to step back and assess feedback. BTW, just noticed I'm commenting after Beth Kephart. My friend just gave me one of her books. :)