On Monday I wrote on my blog, Flogging the Quill, about beginning an effort to expose ideas for dealing with gun violence. The ideas are in a novel of mine, We the Enemy. I’ve been trying to market it for years, and had a literary agent who pitched it all over hell and half of Georgia. No luck.
But all the pitches were about the story, the plot, the characters, the genre. I’ve kept mum about the underpinnings that make it more than a good suspense read—it’s a novel of ideas.
Woven into We the Enemy is innovative thinking about the right to bear arms, and what to do about lethal weapons, the ones that a madman used to slaughter young people at Northern Illinois University. If those thoughts can spark new debate and ideas about how to solve the problem, then I HAVE to get it out there. God knows our progressive politicians are too scared to even talk about it.
First, I’m offering a free PDF of the novel. Just e-mail me and give me your name: wetheenemy at live dot com.
Unboxed queries to agents
I e-mailed 11 literary agents who have read my writing, liked it, and with whom I’ve had some correspondence. But it was not an ordinary query. For one thing, it began with this:
Because of the tragic shootings at Northern Illinois University, I’m going to take a chance on breaking a couple of querying rules. I know what the rules are, but this is important. You know me a little, and have found my writing to be professional. I’m angry, I’m sad, and there’s something we can do, you and I.
Okay, so I think it’s pretty clear that this is not your normal query, and that maybe I know what I’m doing. Here’s the next part:
I have a novel that takes on our country’s problems with lethal firearms in a prescriptive, thought-stimulating way. I’m writing to you because I think it can actually be of service above and beyond its entertainment value.
This is not about getting me published. It’s about doing something for all of us. I’m going to give away an e-version of this book, but finding a publisher for it will multiply its impact.
You are an agent of books. Maybe you can be an agent of change, too.
I urge you (or an assistant) to read the manuscript for my novel, We the Enemy because an ordinary query, or synopsis, or even the first few chapters won’t tell you what you need to know.
Are we clear so far? An ordinary query, or synopsis, or chapters will NOT tell them what they need to know about this book.
So one agent responded with this:
“Before submitting to other agents I would suggest you do more research on how to write a proper query letter. I’ve written a great deal about this on my own blog and you’ll also be able to find information on writing message boards and through writing organizations and groups.
“A strong query letter, one with a strong pitch for your book can make all the difference in getting a request or getting a rejection. As you’ve written it here, your query doesn’t give an agent enough information to make a really informed decision.”
Some agents don’t read
Okay, how could someone have read what I spelled out write a response like that? Someone who didn’t get it.
Now, this is a smart and good agent. Or maybe it’s the smart and good agent’s assistant. Whoever it is, they’re skimming e-mail queries focused on a very few triggers, the standard elements of a query such as genre, plot, characters, etc. If those few paltry switches aren’t thrown, they issue a boilerplate lecture on proper query writing—the in-the-box kind, don’t you know, ‘cause there isn’t anything outside the box. If there were, then it can’t be worthwhile because it’s, well, outside the box. So I’ve run into numb indifference. Trudge, trudge.
And some do.
But a second agent got it. She wrote that she was going on jury duty but to e-mail her assistant and she’d have him read it. Ah, a human being. The assistant now has a Word doc of the full and it’s his assignment to read it.
And then some got it, but couldn’t do it.
Three agents returned nice notes but declined. One was repping a non-fiction book in the area of gun control (the novel ranges far wider than that), and didn’t feel it would work for him, seeing as how “issue” books are tough. A couple of others expressed sympathy for the cause, but it was not good timing for them. That’s okay.
Six to go.
I’m serious about this
I’m doing everything I can think of to either give this book away or get it published. I hope you’ll help in some way—at least read the book, if you have time. Spread the word. E-mail me at wetheenemy at live dot com.
I’ve written to a small-press publisher with a similar unboxed pitch. He’s out of the office until the 25th.
I happened to read an article about a senior at the university where I work who was a member of the Students for Concealed Carry on Campus, a 15,000-strong association of college kids who want the right to carry weapons. I e-mailed him and asked if he’d read it, and he agreed. Y’see, part of the novel is about a way to arm those of us (all of us?) who need to defend ourselves in this dangerous world. Who knows where that will lead?
I’m not sure this post has a point. Maybe it’s about how some of us are so engulfed with the trudge of life that we can’t see a unique opportunity. And I’m teaching myself a lesson about carpe diem—after years of working and hoping to contribute by conventional means, I’m seizing the day and jumping out of the box.
Can’t hurt, right?