Take time to deliberate, but when the time for action has arrived, stop thinking and go in.
- Napoleon

Monday, April 7, 2008

Some Info About Yourself

Or, in other words, a bio. :shudder:

The only thing I hate worse than a synopsis is when agents ask me to put some info about myself in my query letter. Not that I don't like to talk about myself. I'm great. My life just isn't all that pertinent to my books, and aren't we supposed to be putting only pertinent info in our query letters?

Part of it is that I haven't sold a damn thing yet. (Mostly from lack of trying, I like to think.) I have a half dozen shorts that I think are publishable, but other than a handful of lit journals, they aren't really out there. I have four completed (as in through all the editing levels) novels and one novel I've written all the way to THE END that I haven't finished editing yet (because newer, zippier ideas keep pushing it aside). Of the four finished books, I've only really queried for the first two, and frankly, I didn't know what the hell I was doing at the time. I sent out five queries for the third book, and then stopped because the fourth book was demanding my time and effort. Now I'm beginning the query process for #4. (Hence, the four years, five books and nothing published thing - but let's leave all that for another post, eh?) Can you tell I'd rather write than query?

The point here is: What the hell do I put in a paragraph about myself that will make the agent in question think I'm the bee's knees?

Don't get me wrong. When I first jumped into the fray for Spectacle, I talked about myself. And then as I learned about the business, I learned I was saying all the wrong things. Read the net and you'll find instance after instance where the agent doesn't really care when you say you're committed to the process (everyone says it, and not everyone means it). They aren't really interested in the fact that you've spent your life teaching yourself everything you can about anything that interests you. And any writing you did for any corporation you worked for doesn't really count for selling a novel because that isn't fiction.

From what I understand, you can say you spend x-number of hours writing every day, and studying the industry, and perfecting your craft, but so does everyone else, and we come back to the point that not everyone means it. If you say it, are you going to sound like you're peddling another cartload of buffalo bagels - even when it's the truth?

Of course, it helps if you have a platform. But how many homeschooling, ex-salesmen, former boozehound books are gracing the shelves these days? I don't write about my life. I write about other people's lives, and for the same reason I wouldn't read a book about my life (except for the whole brain-damage memoir thing, which is still floating in the back of my head with a dozen other ideas).

Let's face it, folks. Right now, I live in the middle of nowhere, and my life is rather bland. I like it this way because it minimizes distractions and helps me focus better on my work. But it doesn't help sell my books. On paper, I look like a hermit or a hayseed. Looking at me now, you wouldn't see the high-powered sales meetings held in the suites at the top of the Las Vegas Hilton. (Some day, remind me to tell you the story of the green semi-formal suit and how it got me more attention than any sales executive wants.) Listening to me talk about my life here in BFE couldn't possibly show how I inherited my gift of gab from my father or my ability to blend into any situation from my mother. Nothing I could tell in a query letter would show you who I am, and what having me in your stable of talent would do for your agency.

Put me in a book signing, and I'll show you who I am. Get me a gig on CSPAN's BookTV, and you'll see what I can do. (Which reminds me, I've also been on TV before, so it's no biggie. True, it was public television, and I was 17, so if the cameras didn't freak me out then, they won't freak me out now.)

But please don't ask me for a paragraph about myself in a query letter. I'll come off flat, and you'll walk away bored - and then we'll both miss out on a wonderful opportunity. For now, let's forget about the chick behind the writing and concentrate on the writing itself. Trust me, if you like the manuscript, you'll love her.

So the question today is: If you don't have publishing credits or an MFA or a platform, just what do you put in your 'some info' paragraph?

(And before anyone says it, I've thought about using the whole 'brain damaged author' thing, and dismissed it. I'd rather not be defined by what I've overcome, and it's not pertinent to anything but the memoirs I may or may not ever write.)

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