Sunday, August 21, 2011

I'm Lazy

It's true. But don't assume lazy is bad.

I think our schools and teachers have taken this perfectly good state-of-mind and have applied all types of bad connotations to it.

At it's core, I suppose being lazy is being averse or disinclined to work. One of my favorite non-fcition books is Timothy Ferris's Four-Hour Workweek. He asks, "Are you being active, or productive?"

I've never appreciated people who work hard and produce nothing. I appreciate people who work smart, and work on the right things. Work in and of itself is meaningless. Work should produce something. The question is, what is it that you're producing by working.

The high school years
When I entered 10th grade, everyone was yapping about college, applications, letter's of recommendation, GPA, SAT, blah, blah, blah. I needed expert advice. And no, Google was not an option back then. I'm not sure if we even had electricity yet.

I spoke with my Math/Physics teacher who I greatly respected. I told him I thought engineering would be good for me. I liked creating things from nothing. I loved solving problems. And I had a natural curiosity for why things worked the way they did. So he told me to skip the big schools where I would be one of three hundred students in each class. He pointed to the local university--Cal Sate University Northridge. I thought this was brilliant. My older brother had just started there.

I grabbed my brother's CSUN catalog and flipped to the back. I wanted a shortcut. It turns out, any SAT score would do if you had a GPA of 3.00 or above (not the case anymore by the way, but this was during the Jurassic era--less competition). For my international readers, 3.00 basically means you're getting a B (85%) on all your subjects. Maybe an A (95%) here and there offset by a C (75%) somewhere else.

Perfect. I had the solution. I knew how to maximize the result by minimizing the work. If I maintained a 3.00, I wouldn't need to study for the SAT. Suffice it to say I graduated with a 3.01. Yes, I've always been good at doing just what I needed to get by. The thing is that high school was somewhat irrelevant. College mattered and so would graduate school. But seriously, high school? High school was the time to fall in love, play the guitar, go to the beach, and live life. Tell me, honestly, what would create better stories and memories? Junior-Senior prom or the mating patterns of squirrels? Okay, bad example. It would be interesting to learn about a squirrel's mating pattern, but hopefully you get the point.

Back to wasting effort. Some of my high-school friends had higher GPAs than I did. They also planned on applying to CSUN. But they, for some ungodly reason, were enrolled in SAT classes. They were nervous, they had flash cards, you name it. Why? I didn't get it at all. That was wasted work. They would produce nothing by doing that. This is what I mean when I say, if the work produces nothing of value or of consequence, then don't bother.

In fairness, I knew that I would do well in the math section of the SAT. As for the English section, since English was officially my fourth-language, I knew it would be a tougher nut to crack. So, I read close to 1,000 comic books and probably close to thirty novels the summer before 12th grade. In the end, although I didn't "study" for the SAT, I did something else that helped me indirectly. I did the things that helped fuel my imagination and more importantly, my passion for stories.


Fast forward to this past January when I completed Aces. My mentor was so excited about it, that when I asked him to give me some guidance with the query letter, he told me to hold off on that. He took my manuscript and approached agents that he knew--agents that he had worked with in the past.

My lazy-gene kicked in. Why work on this horrible thing called a query letter, if I really didn't have to. However, I decided that some effort would probably make sense. After all, as much as I appreciated the desire to help me, I didn't know what would or could happen. But frankly, beyond a half-hearted attempt at the query, the months of January through March were just that--half-hearted. Instead, I worked on a new novel.

So what happened? From January until July of 2011, three amazing agents were considering my manuscript. The third agent sat on it for three months. I know it's easier to say no than it is to say yes. The maybes are the worst. But I got valuable insight from three great agents.

As I mentioned in my last post, I knew it wouldn't end well. None of them represented my genre, short of an author or two who were house-hold names. So to pick me up would be very very irregular.

In early Feb, the first one passed. In late March, the second one passed.

In April, when I finished the first draft of my new novel, I woke up from my lazy stupor and started reading on the topic in ernest. Some of my twitter friends, specifically @KatLovesBoho (Kathryn Sheridan Kupanoff) and @IamJPRoth (Jo Perfilio) gave me the type of feedback that helped me get it to a point that was closer.

In July, the third agent finally said no. That's when I got guidance from the great James Scott Bell, which got my query letter to the 90% mark. Then I reached out to Writer's Digest, 2nd Draft service. And finally, when I got more feedback from new agent Lauren Ruth, I knew that I was finally ready.

At this point, each and every word has been looked at, dissected, and washed with a toothbrush so many times that I can't imagine a query letter that would do a better job of capturing my story. And even then, it may not be enough. *Le sigh*

"Wait!" you must be yelling. "Nearly five stinkin' months on a one page letter. Five months to create 250 words? And that may still not do it? This sure seems like a lot of work for little value."

I think the math points to less than two words per day. Not very efficient. But this is a case where the work you put into the query letter is directly correlated with the improved probability of landing an agent.

Here's the thing about the publishing world. To get published by a major publisher, you need an agent. To get an agent, you need to query them. Each agent gets an average of 200-300 query letters a week. Some into four digits digits. If they like the query letter, they will ask for pages from your manuscript. No agent, no major publisher. So how do you get noticed by an agent? No, spraying perfume on the email query letter will not do the job. And even your keen insight into the mating patterns of squirrels will not do it.

The way you get noticed is two step process: (1) write an amazing query letter then (2) hope and pray.

I've got the hoping-and-praying bit down. And for once, I feel good about the query letter.

Fight the good fight!


  1. I'm lazy too. It's the main reason I ended up as a manufacturing engineer. I'm all about the most efficient way to produce an end-product/result, and that's what ME's (theoretically) are supposed to help a company do.

    It's one of the reasons I'm so dismayed to find that I'm not--and probably never will be--much of a plotter. =(

    I've always hated the environments where the bosses care more about how much time you're at your desk than they do about how much you produce. That's what I love about writing. It's all on me.

    As far as the query letter goes, it *is* really important. Without a decent query letter to get you in the door, it doesn't matter how great your book is, no one will ever see it. Good luck!

  2. :) Seems to me that both you and I have an engineer's mind, yet we write in a very non-engineering way. There must be something there. Must speak to my therapist about this

    As for the query letter, what I've learned is that even if everyone in the world says they want to help introduce you to so-and-so, and get your manuscript to this-and-that, the responsibility of getting things done is still yours. The story is yours, the marketing is yours, and the future is yours. And that... is pretty cool.

    Thanks, as always!


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