Yog’s Law

“The only place an author should sign a check is on the back, when they endorse it.”

There is a discussion of this over at Making Light, a blog that I read. The reason is something about a group that charges $600 for the opportunity of novelists to pitch their ideas to actual agents and publishers. I guess the agents and publishers get a cut of the money from desperate writers.

Part of the problem here is that good novels often don’t get published. There are only so many novels sold each year and a publishing house has to make arbitrary cuts, often for silly reasons. A writer can’t know whether their novel sucks or is just undiscovered. An optimistic writer does not find it difficult to plop down $600 and spend the day trying to convince real publishers that his novel is good.

Someone I know actually did this. He didn’t sell the novel, but he did partake in the seminars and classes, which he found worth the $600. The classes taught the art of the pitch as well as how to present a novel and prepare a novel proposal. The last thing you want to do in a synopsis or pitch is describe the plot. You have to turn around and look at it from the viewpoint of the publisher. Answer questions like “Who will read this?” “What makes someone want to buy this book?”. Accepting a novel for publication is a marketing decision and has little to do with the quality of the writing or the plot of the book. A pitch must address the marketing concerns of the publisher.

That is what my friend learned. He hasn’t sold his book, but is still trying. It takes years for a book rejection. You can be sure that his synopsis now is about the audience for the book, the proven track record of the author and why the book will stand out from other books on the shelf.

Making Light is quoting Yog’s Law, but forgets that writing is not a talent but a skill that is learned. Selling a novel is a process not unlike selling a used car. One pays for the skills through writing workshops (one of which is run by Making Light people), and classes. Paying for a learning experience is not a waste of time if you get something out of it.

Yog’s Law – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


  1. J Erwine wrote:

    Actually, most synopses should be a plot summary. The pitch of who is going to want to buy it and such should be in the cover letter…at least when pitching to most SF houses…

    Tuesday, April 24, 2007 at 12:06 pm | Permalink
  2. Keith wrote:

    You’d think. The synopsis and sample chapters are what they ask for, but what they read is the pitch (or cover). Most often they will never read any part of the novel and reject based on the cover. Your 2 minutes of contact is the cover letter and it better be a compelling economic reason to publish the novel and not just a description of characters and plot.

    Now, this is what my friend learned from the conference and it may not be true. It makes much sense however. It is important to indicate that you connect with such-and-such Spec-fic subculture/subgenre where sales of similar books are such and such, than to praise the creative aspects of your work.

    If you have a YA novel, you need to convince the publisher that this YA novel is LIKE another successful YA novel and not different from any YA novel.

    The pitch should include the “High Concept” – that hideous classification tool that TV uses. “Harry Potter in Space”, “Blade Runner in Harlem”, “Gentle Ben on the Moon”, “My Favorite Martian in a Computer”. “Rock and Roll Dragons”. In other words, a 5 or 6 word simplification that shows the idiot reviewer how your idea fits in with other successful novels and suggests why the novel will sell.

    The readers at any large publishing house reject twenty or so novels a day. They don’t have time to think about why a novel is a good idea. You have to convince them that their boss won’t be mad at them for passing it up. They aren’t that smart or they wouldn’t be working as a reader so you have to dumb the decision making process down for them.

    Tuesday, April 24, 2007 at 1:48 pm | Permalink


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