Four Golden Rules

   Posted by: Faith   in Rye Thoughts

Last week on the Writer’s Digest Guide to Literary Agents Editor’s Blog, author Anne Fortier wrote a guest post about the “4 Golden Rules of Being a Writer”.

If you haven’t had a chance to read it, head over there and check it out. Then come back here and let’s talk about it!


Rule One was:

“Start at square one.”

The idea here is that there are no shortcuts in this business. You can’t spend all your time chasing down this connection or that connection, hoping someone will introduce you to an agent or editor known by a friend of a friend of a friend.

I’d add to this that it’s up to you to make those connections first-hand. Attend conferences, follow agents or editors on Twitter or read their blogs, and if by some chance someone does know someone who knows someone… it might be worth checking out, but don’t invest all your time and energy into it.


Rule Two was:

“Do your homework.”

I think this ties in nicely to Rule One, don’t you? It involves not taking shortcuts with your manuscript and query letter. Formatting, grammar, specific guidelines for each agent / editor / publishing house—all these things are crucial when you’re putting your work out there.

I’d also add to this that when you do your homework on these things, pay attention each and every time. It’s too easy to read five or six different guidelines here or there and then allow your eyes to skim over the requirements on other guideline pages. Yep, it’s tedious. Yep, it’s hard work. But think of it this way: This is your writing career, not some fanciful hobby (well, maybe it is… in which case, you’ve got it much easier than the rest of us!).

You wouldn’t hand in a half-completed essay to a professor and expect to get an A+, right? So why would you ignore important guidelines and expect an agent or editor to offer representation?


Rule Three was:

“Pitch your book before you write it.”

Okay, Fortier, what are you talking about? Aren’t we supposed to finish our manuscripts before doing anything with them?

What she’s saying here is: Write your query first, then write your manuscript. That way, you’ll be thinking about your book in terms of why you’re writing it and what the story needs to do as a whole, rather than ending up with a rambling mess at the end that you can’t seem to make any sense of. This is a “thinking through the story early on” piece of advice.

I see what she’s getting at… but I don’t think this always works. This type of thing is going to depend on whether you’re a panster or a plotter, and while each of us surely begins a novel with some vague idea of what’s going to happen, I don’t necessarily think writing a query letter before you’ve put one word down on paper is going to help, all the time.

What I do believe in is Holly Lisle’s concept of “The Sentence.” If you’ve never heard of this before, you’re missing out! This is a one-line summary that tells us what your book is about. Protagonist, antagonist, conflict + twist = the whole book. That, to me, is the kind of thing we all need before starting a novel.

How about you? Do you write a query first, or have you tried writing one first before?


Rule Four was:

“Don’t jump the gun.”

The point here is to be ready before doing anything rash. Be absolutely ready. And then make sure you’re not rushing things when you do put yourself out there.

Sure, I see her point here. Finish the manuscript. Polish it up and make it shine so brightly that no one can ignore it. Then polish it again. But one thing here that I’m not sure I agree with is her advice to not “send query letters to more than one agent at a time.” Er… I sure hope she means not to send the same letter to multiple agents, because if you’re not sending out plenty of queries when the time is right, you’re going to be spending an awfully long time in the query stage.

Some agents respond within 24 hours, some within a week, some within 6 weeks, and some take a few months. I don’t think waiting to hear back from each agent before sending another query out is the most practical course of action.

What do you think? How have you handled the query stage? Send them out in batches, or wait for each reply to come back in?



And those were the “Golden Rules” of being a writer in this article. Hmm… are those really the best and most important rules for writers? What would you have included instead? What wouldn’t you have put on this list?

This entry was posted on Friday, October 22nd, 2010 at 3:51 pm and is filed under Rye Thoughts. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

10 comments so far


I don’t think those are the most important rules for writers, per se, but most of them are important to remember when you’re querying.

Rule three is definitely one that I do BEFORE I get too far into the book, but not before I actually begin writing. I feel like I need to know a little more about the characters before I know exactly what’s going to happen to them, and the only way to do that (for me) is to start writing.

I would have included: Be true to what techniques work for you. Its okay to try something new, but don’t force yourself to plot (or whatever) if it doesn’t work for you.

Very interesting post!

October 22nd, 2010 at 3:59 pm

Just popped over to meet a fellow crusader. Love the look of your blog.
Great writing tips!

October 22nd, 2010 at 10:35 pm

I’m not a full plotter, though I’m trying to plot more these days. But I always write my query letter before I start writing my story (and after I’ve got a fair idea in my head of my main characters and where the plot is going). I find it so helpful to keep me on track and to keep my word count down, as I can refer back to the query if I find I’m starting to wander. The query letter will go through many revisions as my story evolves, but I wouldn’t want to write without having put a draft query letter down on paper :)


October 23rd, 2010 at 9:26 am

Hello. I’m dropping in from the Crusade. There’s some very useful advice there. Thank you.

October 23rd, 2010 at 2:09 pm
Kittie Howard

Hi! I’m dropping in from Brenda’s blog hop. Nice to meet you *waves*. Really enjoyed the points you made in today’s post. Thank you!

October 24th, 2010 at 9:05 pm

When I eventually get to the stage of having my mss polished enough to send out (they’re PB’s), I will send out simultaneous submissions to those publishers (I’m not querying any agents at this point) that accept them. Then I will query all those that require a query. Lastly, I will send the full ms to those publishers that will accept the ms. On this one, you HAVE to wait it out. They expect it to be exclusive. Gonna be a long process, I know. So do I send in batches? Yes at first, and then no later on.

October 24th, 2010 at 10:42 pm

I saw you mentioned on Su’s Cheekyness site and thought I’d drop by and say hello. Nice to have met you, I’ve enjoyed my visit.

October 25th, 2010 at 11:28 am

Tere – I definitely agree on “be true to what techniques work for you”. Not every approach is going to work for everyone, that’s for sure!

L’Aussie – Thank you! Thanks for visiting :)

Rach – Ooh! See, I knew there were people out there that did this, I’d just never met them before. Haha. But that’s really cool that it works for you. Maybe I’ll try it one of these days to see if it works for me. I find the “one-sentence synopsis” keeps me on track, but I suppose that can be somewhat limiting. Thanks for sharing your process!

Jenny – *waves* Hi! Nice to meet another fellow Crusader! :D

Kittie – Hi! Nice to meet you too! Thanks for stopping in :)

Christie – See, that I fully get! It makes sense that at some point, you really do need to wait… but initially, sending it out in batches is really the only way to ensure you’re not sitting around for weeks on end. That would make the process so much more tedious than it already is! Thanks for sharing :)

Petty – Hi! Thanks so much for stopping by, I appreciate it. Good to meet you!

October 25th, 2010 at 2:45 pm

This has nothing to do with your post. I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that I had a Christian-lit-related rant coming… it’s posted now. Feel free to rant along, disagree, or add something. :)

October 26th, 2010 at 3:01 am

(*bows*) LOL

Tee hee, will have to share when I write my synopsis sometime too :)


October 26th, 2010 at 10:27 am

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