Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Rules

I hate rules.  Because I am doomed to always follow them.  To the letter.  I always walk the straight and narrow.  I do not stray.

In the publishing world, particularly for those querying, there are a lot of rules.  There are #pubtips and #querytips.  There are how-to's, explicit contest rules, and inflexible submission guidelines. My research is both extensive and exhausting. I take caution.  Follow instructions exactly.  I tread carefully.  Try not to make too much noise. 

I try to (but of course I can not) do everything right and then I wonder if that means I'm doing it wrong.

Because there's a lot of that out there.  Have you noticed?   A lot of You're-Doing-It-Wrong rants.  You're sending your work too soon, too late, too often, too little.  You have the wrong greeting, the wrong subject line, the wrong word count...the wrong book. You, my friend, have not followed the rules.

And so, I've become a little fanatical about them.

In a dance class the other day-- yes, I have to learn how to slow-dance now, for this wedding, so we don't embarrass ourselves or my parents on the dancefloor in front of all of their friends-- the instructor asked, and he was dead serious, if I might be obsessive compulsive?  Because I quickly make up for a too-little step with five big ones, that I'm ahead when I should be behind.

I didn't know how to answer that.

Yesterday, I reached some kind of turning point.  If it can be called that.  After three hours of extensive agent research, I finally felt ready to send one new query.  Just one.  I read it over roughly 36 times and then I pressed send.

And there it went.  And as it went...I froze.

It is not clear to me how a person can read something 36 times and not realize that she has failed to copy and paste the first word of her query into the email.  Meaning the first impression of me, of someone who calls herself a writer, will be that she is missing full words, that she starts in the middle of a sentence instead of the beginning.  I mean, it's common knowledge, isn't it, that you have to start there?

So I stared at this mistake which can't be fixed.  And sighed.

Because I've read the rules.  I've been following them since I learned red-light/green light, hide and seek, seven-up.  Since I shook my head if the opportunity to skip a high school class arose.  Since I eyed my friends and pointed to my watch as we neared a curfew.

Something about this first-word-loss put things in perspective.  Like finding a typo in a published work.  Of course it must-be-done a certain way.  But, the truth is, it isn't always, and not for lack of trying.  For all those making rules, I'm pretty sure that's a rule.


  1. As a rules follower I feel your pain . . .

  2. Dear god! It sounds like something I do everyday, except it's not a query, it's the website copy I'm writing everyday. You get too close to it. In the end the mistakes and typos you make slip through because your brain knows what's supposed to be there and fills it in without notifying you. My trick to avoiding simple mistakes is reading it out loud. Your brain can't fill in the holes when you're reading. You're forced to hear every single word that is and isn't on the screen. Just keep telling yourself you're human.

  3. You are human and not a robot, right? That's what the mistake proved. Now, would I probably be upset at myself and want to cry a tiny bit? Yes. But it just proves that no matter how hard we try to be perfect, we can't be. And if the rest of the query is as AMAZING as I think it is, the agent will still want to request from you. ;0)

    I am about to hit send for the first time in a few days. If I'm lucky enough I will not make a huge mistake, but if I do then I will remember what I just told you. (I hope)

  4. No, no, no! Melissa, I have learned from experience just to use the rules as a guidline and then deviate as I wish.
    My father always said that when filling in forms not to see them as sacred and to change the wording or whatever so that you are sending off what you want to say and not what someone else dictates that you say.
    ¿¿I think that he may have influenced me???
    Anyway, I think that you should just be who you are and try to bend the rules to suit you rather than allowing them to tie you down ... you are too much of a creative spirit for that. However, I do admit to being scared and freaked out inside when I have sent off something, so I suppose that(but for my Dad) I could well be a 'dedicated follower of rules' deep within!

  5. Ugh. I do feel your pain And yet, it is eye opening to know that no matter how careful you are, things can still be missed...I'm glad you've decided to use this fact as a reason to take it easy on yourself:)

    One rule I'm glad I broke was that I sent queries to certain top lit agencies even if there wasn't someone there who was a perfect fit for my genre...one of the head people at FinePrint gave my query to an intern about to turn agent...and I became her first client.

    So, you never know...some rules are meant to be broken. Too bad it's not always clear which ones;)

  6. I feel your pain, Melissa, but I hope the following story helps.

    I queried an agent, then went to my sent mail and saw that a bunch of garbage characters had found their way into the sample. I worried about what to do, so I tried resending the email to my different email accounts to see what was going on. And sure enough, the wacky characters were there.
    So, I politely emailed the agent from a different account and told her what had happened. She said it was fine. Then I noticed that I had used the wrong word in the query: "worst" instead of "worse". Aarghh! But alas, I also noticed that I had truncated the sample in the second email also...another reason to resend the query. So I did, explaining how the "email" had truncated my sample, but I also sneaked in that change.

    Okay, now the result:
    A few days later I got a rejection from that second query, or third, I should say. Oh, well. I thanked the agent and moved on. Then...

    I few days after that I got a request for a partial from the same agent on the query with the wacky characters in the sample and the typo in the query.

    I swear I went back and read that query a million times trying to figure out why she would request material from a query that was all screwed up, but reject the query that I thought was perfect.

    To sum it all up, Melissa: If it's meant to be, it will happen--whether your query is perfect or missing a word.

    I hope this helps. :)

  7. I think with writing, the eye for perfection with editing is good. However, unfortunately, typos do slip through the net.

    Being writers, we can't let every worry about being perfect, stop us from being creative. As someone said, things happen if they are meant to be. I hope you find an agent.

  8. I think we've all made mistakes like that in queries. The very stress of writing the query predisposes us to make mistakes, I think. Try not to beat yourself up over it.

    Forget the rules as much as you can and follow your instincts. It's like reading too many pregnancy books when you're pregnant -- they will freak you out; the "right" information is constantly changing; and the worst thing you can do is get yourself all scared. Better not to read any! ;)

  9. Oh no! Those darn first words :)

    I'm with Jen though. People make mistakes and if the rest of your query is spot on, the agent will overlook it.

    It can be said that I'm too much the other way. The little things don't bother me, but then they add up and they become a big thing :) haha.

    Not sure if one is better than the other. Probably not. :)

  10. Yes, so many rules - and each agency has a different one...ugh. Querying is a full-time job! Sorry about the mistake, but you wrote about it brilliantly!

  11. Oh man! Let's hope that agent doesn't even notice.

    And I am a total rule-follower, too. All the time. To a fault.

  12. I'm such a rule follower, too. And maybe this mistake is a good thing - maybe it will cause the agent to do a double take and really read through your work at which point he/she will become totally hooked. :)