“Writing is easy. All you have to do is cross out the wrong words.”
- Mark Twain
The letter was simply put. My finger hovered over the mouse and then withdrew. I read the email one more time, remembering the tips—do not over-embellish, stick to the point. But as it often turns out, keeping something simple is often terribly difficult. The letter still sounded right so I committed. I hit send and the email disappeared into the web. My thirtieth query letter and my last. I figured thirty was a good even number and I should be able to say, at least, I tried.
Query letters, which are necessary when trying to find an agent or publisher, vary slightly in their content depending on who you are sending it to. They tell the publisher/agent what your book is about and, to some extent, who you are. The recipient of this letter then determines if they are interested and want to hear more. Many publishers and agents tell you on their website that it will be weeks before you hear back, if at all. Some of them tell you to expect to be rejected.
That’s one of the main reasons why most writers’ I know self-publish. Finding a publisher is, in a word, difficult. When asked, “What are the odds of getting published?” Literary Agent Chip MacGregor comments on his site:
…there were about 65,000 new books traditionally published last year, and that there were, I don’t know, maybe ten million proposals sent to agents and editors, and do that math… Or figure there are a couple thousand literary agents in this country, and if they all get 10,000 queries per year on average…
My emails joined the other thousands hoping for a reply. Responses did come eventually—twenty-nine replies that read something like “…unfortunately this is not the best fit for us at this time….” Each one hurt a bit, even though this was expected. The odds that my first book would find a publisher are pretty slim, I kept telling myself.
Then one response arrived in my inbox that was different. It said, “We have read your sample chapter and would like to read more.” I had to read it more than once to make sure I understood; they hadn’t said no. I quickly sent the entire manuscript and waited. All along, I couldn’t get it out of my mind: Someone is interested in my book. I told myself to not get my hopes up—they hadn’t said yes yet, after all—and to be happy enough my letter attracted a positive response.
I waited anxiously as they read the book. Then my cell phone rang—it was the publisher and they told me they wanted to publish my novella!
“This is how you do it: You sit down at the keyboard and you put one word after another until its down. It’s that easy, and that hard.”
- Neil Gaiman
Reading is something I really enjoy. I like to read books, magazines, and websites. The type of book varies a lot but the magazines and sites are almost all video game related. I enjoy reading articles about upcoming games, new technology, and other peoples experience in the business. Gamasutra is a mainstay of my reading material.
I never thought I would be a writer. For over 20 years I have been in the video game business working on all types of games—at various companies, on all platforms. As a producer, the most writing I usually do is a long email to the team or text for my PowerPoint presentation. Creativity was focused on the game. I would have ideas for stories but that is where they ended, with an idea.
Three years ago, I had an inspiration for an industry story that I felt would make a good article. I sent my idea to Gamasutra and asked if they thought their readers would like to hear this tale. The editor responded and told me that it was something Gamasutra visitors would most likely enjoy reading. I followed up and asked if he knew someone who would be a good writer; someone I could share the details with and then they could put it into words for the readers. The response from Gamasutra changed my thinking and outlook. The editor replied with, “Why don’t you write it?”
This thought hadn’t occurred to me. I never thought of myself as a writer. Nevertheless, I took the suggestion to heart and I wrote the article. One article led to another, and then several more. That was my first of many stories I wrote for Gamasutra. I realized I had experience that others would find interesting. And I found writing fun and addictive. It was exciting to share my many years of experience in the games industry with others. Ideas continued to come to me about articles to write. The team at Gamasutra were very helpful and provided great feedback. I kept writing.
Then I began to feel that I was running out of inspiration. But I was hooked on writing. I couldn’t just stop because I didn’t have any more ideas for Gamasutra articles.
So I asked myself: why not try writing some fiction? Perhaps even a book? Until I get my next Gamasutra article going, I could keep busy writing stories. So I sat down at my computer and started writing my ideas. After starting down that path, I found writing even more enjoyable and more challenging. I wrote stories, went to writer’s groups, solicited feedback from every person I knew, and kept writing. It took years to hone my craft, writing stories, starting over, learning more, and practicing before I started feeling I had some grasp of storytelling.
Finally, I finished a book—the first writing I was really proud of. And sent off thirty query letters.
“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”
- Maya Angelou
Almost everyone is a writer. Some are more prolific than others, some have more to say, but just about all of us can all write. If you don’t write currently, give it a try, find out if it is appealing. You have a tremendous opportunity right in front of you. Reading this means you visit Gamasutra. This is a community of writers and readers all working together to share experiences and learn. Everyone has knowledge others don’t—why not take the opportunity to try writing about your knowledge and share it with others?
You may not think of yourself as a writer. You might not think people are interested in what you have to say—there is only one way to find out. You don’t need to write a book. Just write about something you have learned in your career. Start writing and see where it takes you. Perhaps you’ll post an article on Gamasutra, maybe even write a book. Gamasutra is a community of interested readers and most of you reading this is a writer inside.
“Writing isn’t about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid, or making friends. In the end, it’s about enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and enriching your own life, as well.”
― Stephen King
Honestly, if it weren’t for Gamasutra I would not have started writing. The Gamasutra site and the Gamasutra team helped me get started on the writing path. Now I have a book being published and many ideas for future books.
I visit the site often. I enjoy reading all the contributors and continuing to learn. I continue to try and think of ideas for potential stories to submit to Gamasutra. And then recently I asked myself, what about telling readers of Gamasutra about how this site started me down the writing path? Will people want to hear about how I went from writing articles for Gamasutra to writing a book? Would readers be interested in a brief article talking about how Gamasutra started my passion for writing? Can I motivate others to write by telling my story? I don’t know, but there is only one way to find out.
If just one person is inspired to write after reading this story, then I have been successful. After all, everyone is a potential writer inside.
“If my doctor told me I had only six minutes to live, I wouldn't brood. I’d type a little faster.”
- Isaac Asimov
You have rewritten your story over and over and finally claim it to be finished. Just when you think you are done-there is always one more draft.
The hardest part is writing the book - then there is still more to do after that. In my instance, after I signed with the publisher, we continued editing the book (two more drafts), sent it through a proofreader, settled on a cover, delivered advanced reader copies to beta readers, and then one more edit pass(another draft). Finally, the book is done.
Then attention turns to preparing to sell the book. The publisher has the bulk of the heavy lifting but there is still plenty for me to do. I created a web page: www.ghostsofmanorhouse.com
I created a FaceBook page: https://www.facebook.com/GhostsofManorHouse/
I’ve told my family, friends, and everyone I could think of about the book.
And now, one of the hardest parts, waiting. I wait, and hope that others will find my story and read it.
I do hope you enjoy my book, and just perhaps, start to write your own story for me to read someday.
“The scariest moment is always just before you start. After that, things can only get better.”
― Stephen King
Matt Powers has been making video games for over 20 years. Currently he is a Senior Producer at Zynga. If you liked this article or have any questions about it, please leave a comment.
You can find more articles on Gamasutra written by Matt here: http://www.gamasutra.com/blogs/MattPowers/951858/
If you would like to contact Matt you can email him here: [email protected]
You can also find him on LinkedIn where he would be happy to connect with you.
Matt’s book is "Ghosts of Manor House" and is scheduled to be published soon. For more details follow the Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/GhostsofManorHouse/