Hoops Jumping for Writers: Another Perspective

Blogger: Cynthia Ruchti

“Jumping through hoops?” the writer said. “I’m so over that. No more. There are other ways to get published.”

The writer specifically referred to agents and their “hoops” in his/her self-proclaimed rant.

(Note: If you recently ranted on Facebook and are now reading this blog post, please know you’re not the only person to ever say this. No offense intended. You inspired a great opportunity to discuss hoops.)

“One agent wants the proposal sent this way. Another wants different information. I’m done jumping through their hoops.”hoops for writers

What’s the truth about hoops?

Hoops exist in every meaningful experience or venture.

Can you imagine an NBA player complaining that he’s tired of the rules and sees no purpose in them? He wants his basket to count even if he used a stepladder to reach the hoop. The player wants the basket he scored yesterday to count for today’s game. He prefers throwing the ball up through the hoop, not down. What’s with all the senseless regulations, like shot clocks and fouls and out-of-bounds lines?

hoopsA high school student wants a scholarship, but feels that taking the SAT is a waste of her time.

A woman in the second half of her life starts her own cupcake bakery, but wants to do it without all that cumbersome paperwork of having her facility pass safety and health department inspections. So the electrical inspector thinks an extension cord strewn across the sink is a hazard. It’s never given her any problem before. Why can’t everybody just let her bake?

No hoops exist for the purpose of creating trauma. Or drama.

There’s a reason behind each one. My kids can probably repeat one of my mom-isms from years ago. “Trust me. If I made a rule, there’s a reason behind it.” Agents and editors don’t have time to lie awake thinking up clever ways to mess with writers’ minds. If they ask for the proposal in Times New Roman 12-point font, synopsis single-spaced and sample chapters double-spaced, it’s not a whim. There’s a reason. Readability and consistency come to mind. A fancy or tiny font is more tiring to read. And if an agent is fascinated by the font but not the story, the writer has lost his or her opportunity.

hoop handcuffs

A hoop is a hurdle, not a handcuff.

The so-called hoops writers are asked to jump through–following guidelines (the gall!), listing platform numbers (built-in audiences), locking into a specific genre–may feel confining at first. But if a writer can’t conquer those hurdles, choosing another path to publication won’t eliminate hoops. Every path has its own set of hoops. You can trade one for another, but you can’t escape parameters, requirements, guidelines, and formats.

Hoops do help define a writer’s skill level and teachability.

Because securing an agent is about relationship as much as it is talent, how a prospective client responds to direction, coaching, suggestions, critiques, and the process says a lot about how easy or difficult they will be to work with long-term. The hurdles aren’t there to test the prospective client. But the client’s response is revelatory.

And hoops are our friends.

I remember trying to negotiate a muddy, slimy portage between two lakes in the Canadian wilderness with my husband years ago. Carrying a sixty-pound pack on my back (don’t listen to him if he tells you it was lighter than that), I was tasked with making the quarter mile trek, downhill, without breaking a bone or losing what little sanity I had left. My chant became, “The rocks are our friends. Rocks are our friends.”

They were obstacles on the path, but they also lifted me above the mud to provide more solid footing. The hoops we’re required to jump through in publishing lift us above the slush and provide solid footing on our way to publication. (Frankly, I think that’s a perfect metaphor. Argue if you wish. I became an official tree-hugger, literally, that day.)

hoop hurdles

Hoops are more progress markers than they are barriers.

They’re not unconquerable. Clearing hoops/hurdles takes effort, but the act of conquering them strengthens a writer’s muscles.

Anyone can run– Scratch that. Many can run in a straight line. Few can run hurdles. Fewer still can run hurdles well, fast, and clean. They’re the ones who make the Olympic team.

Publishing is literary Olympics. If we fear or resent the hurdles–the equivalent of publishing hoops–we may need to choose a different race. Many who resist the hurdles will linger at the starting blocks.

What publishing hoop did you once view as a barrier but now understand its purpose? Are some hurdles are behind you? What hoops should we talk about in future blog posts?

Click to Tweet: Publishing is literary Olympics. It comes with hurdles.

32 Responses

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  1. Daphne Woodall says:

    Cynthia as a reader I’m glad there are hoops. I’ve read the books that skipped the hoops and hurdles. I usually didn’t get past chapter one.

    Having run a few races even a ten miler as a young mom I didn’t enter races the first week I took up running. I had to start with a mile and run for months practicing endurance. I needed the right equipment and proper nutrition with hydration. Eventually when I had the experience I entered the race.

    Did I get first place or even 10th? No, because the numbers were large and competition was tough. But my reward was in running to improve my times. It was not without pain or sacrifice. But I finished all those races including running 10 miles which I had never done before that race.

    I think I just reminded myself to not give up or grow weary on this writing journey. I need to lace on determination and just hit the road. Those who have passed the finish line before me didn’t give up. There is still room on the road if I follow the race route as outlined I’ll get to The End.

  2. Cynthia, I get it. What “it” you may ask? Both of them. When I first began looking at traditional publishers/agents, I had no idea that plethora of distinct requirements I would be encountering. Yes, it was frustrating – very frustrating. But it was not that there were, or are requirements, but that they vary so much from one agency to the next, and sometimes even from one agent to another within the same agency. Some requirements are extremely rigid, while others are there, but more loosely defined. The frustration was found in keeping track of which requirements went where, and with that reality in play, I found that I “mis-submitted” some proposals. One agent even returned it with a message along the lines of, “Yeah, I’m liking this so far, but resubmit it according to the guidelines.”
    On the flip side of that, I can see how a framework for submissions makes your job, not just easier, but actually achievable. When you have an insurmountable stack of proposals on your desk, it is much more likely you will get through them if there is a consistency to formatting, rather than having to determine how each submitter decided to lay out their proposal elements, not to mention which they opted to include and exclude.
    Nothing of great value comes easily. That is is simply the reality of life. You have something I want. I need to endure whatever literary gymnastics are required to obtain that.
    The end.

    • Cynthia Ruchti says:

      And that is indeed why Books & Such has standardized guidelines. And each of us as agents do have our own tweaks to that standardization–minor points that we have found personally helpful in making our decisions and seeing the project on the publishing stage. Although, we can say the same about trying to checkout out at store. Is this the one where I still have to swipe? Or do they have the chip reader? Do they take Amex or not? Is this no returns ever or full refund within 30 days, 60 days, they pay shipping? No, I pay shipping. And though those stores have their reasons for those decisions, and have the right to set those parameters, the customer may not ever hear the back story.

      • Indeed, Cynthia. We can find parallels all over the place if we simply look for them. The grocery checkout, the fueling station, the concert or theater venue, the sports arena, the government (gulp), name any life-activity and you will find “hoops” through which we must jump.
        I can always find a reason to whine or rant if it is my inclination to do so.

  3. Angie Arndt says:

    When I tried to put together my first proposal, there were so many terms that completely buffaloed me. My biggest bugaboos were marketing, comps, and target audience (otherwise known as most of the proposal). However, many of posts here on the Books & Such blog were a great resource. A precious multi-pubbed author helped me, too. (One of the great things about writing Christian fiction: there’s always someone who is willing to help.)

    At first, it was difficult to understand why y’all needed all that information, but now that I know the hoops help you sell our stories, I’d say they’re worth jumping through. 🙂

    Thanks for explaining, Cynthia!

  4. Carol Ashby says:

    Even if you’re indie publishing, you had better put yourself through the hoops the agents and trade publishers would, or your book will plummet below the 320 that show up in a keyword search at Amazon.
    *You still need excellent writing to get 5-srar reviews by readers who actually paid money. You need a platform to create awareness and curiosity about your current and future book. You need a marketing plan that you actually execute.
    What you don’t have to do is convince someone you have a guaranteed following to produce 5000 sales the first year. That’s a big hoop I don’t think I would have cleared in the foreseeable future, but I feel called to write novels that encourage believers in their faith and stir nonbelievers to consider following Jesus, too. My sales the first 11 months are less than half what trade pub needs, but each book is a heart touched by the message in the story God has given me. I’ll keep jumping the hoops I hold myself.

  5. I had to take matrix algebra and calculus in my healthcare administration graduate program. I told the professor, “If this is supposed to teach me math I will use on the job, it is a failure. If it is teaching me to logically work the problem, it is a roaring success.”
    * I appreciate your perspective, Cynthia.

  6. Nice analysis of the hoops, Cynthia.
    * Hoops and hurdles are there for a reason, and I was tempted to say that great worth is only achieved through great effort, but that’s patently untrue.
    * You can try and strive and struggle for salvation all you want, and it won’t get you there. The only road is the simple one; holding out your open hands and accepting the gift of Grace.

  7. Hoops in the writing industry become familiar in time. It’s like exercising for the first time in a very long time (I might have recent experience with this) … you have sore muscles and can hardly walk or lift your arms at first, but then, you adjust. You get stronger, wiser … familiar. If you keep going, keep pressing forward. And it’s so much easier the next time around. It just gets easier.

    • Cynthia Ruchti says:

      Another thing to mention about hoops. Let’s use hula hoops as an example. It’s a challenging task to master keeping a hoop twirling. But those who diligently practice soon accept a stiffer challenge–two at a time. Then four. Some use hoops in dance moves–so artistic! Some roll hoops down a driveway and keep it upright. Some twirl hoops overhead. Some light theirs on fire and play jumprope with them. (That may not have been the best idea.) The point is that even hoops can be used artistically.

      • Cynthia, I had thought the same thing. 🙂 And when we stop practicing, when we stop working it, the hoop falls to the ground. And you have to start all over again. Or if you don’t start over again, you get out of practice. And everything’s harder. It’s best to keep that hoop going. 🙂 I have to tell you, when my grandmother was really struggling in her health, while I could still get her to Wal-Mart … I talked her into getting into a wheelchair and letting me push her. I strolled her to the toy aisle. I put on a hula hoop and got to trying … she laughed so hard. I’ll always treasure that memory. I think my girls will, too. 🙂

  8. Carol says:

    Andrew needs prayers for high fever (104).

  9. Hooray for hoops! Cynthia, I’m noticing more and more the benefits of literary hurdles. One hoop I now appreciate–instead of hate–is the need for critiques and professional editing. Last night I was happily reading the first few pages of a novel when I suddenly found myself editing it in my mind. I put the book down because I hadn’t picked it up to be reminded of missed hoops; I craved escape my “day job.”
    Thank you for giving us eyes to see our need of hoops.
    Blessings ~ Wendy Mac

  10. Pat Iacuzzi says:

    First of all, we are praying for you Andrew! May Jesus touch you with His healing hand.
    Hoops may appear as restraints until we learn how to work within them. We’re far better off working with rules & principles we can write (or live by) than taking our own arbitrary paths with no guides or understanding.
    Pet peeve: When someone in a crit group says it’s their story and they don’t have to follow any writing rules after the rest of the members spend time offering to improve the work.
    Thank you, Cynthia for reminding us that hoops are a blessing!

  11. One good thing about hoops is it gives me a guideline. I would hate to spend a ton of time on a proposal—hoping I did everything right—only to discover I missed some key elements. I look at hoops as a good sort of guideline. When I know what’s required, I can aim to provide my most excellent work.
    *Great post, Cynthia!

  12. Ah, I remember the first time my highschool creative writing teacher suggested that I revise a passage. I was horrified! This was my raw emotion on the page, how could she! It took an entire two year writing class before I finally saw the incredible value of critique. A writer can’t truly grow without it. I’m so so glad for those lengthy lists of improvements from my crit partner and those amazing rejections that have revision suggestions. Pure Gold. It just took me awhile to see the shine of it.

  13. One of the girl’s gym teachers in my high school was on the Canadian Olympic track team. Every September, the number of prayers sent by high schooled aged females from the area near Churchill High School increased dramatically.
    Thank the Lord, and I mean that with the utmost sincerity, I never got Mrs. Wright.
    ‘Taking several years to polish a manuscript’ was a hoop that I thought entirely ridiculous. Now? Oh please, DON’T make me read anything I wrote in the early years!!!
    And I am SO proud that you survived our wilderness!!

  14. Loved the post Cynthia. Such a wonderful correlation. I’ve had to learn hoops all my life, some for work, some for education, some for being able to do the various volunteer work I do, and most importantly as a nurse. If I had refused to learn or jump through the hoops and protocol of physicians, care units, phone triage, dealing with hospital safety and risk situations I know people would have died, including infants and children. I came to understand the immense importance of navigation and hoop jumping many, many years ago. Once you respect the presence of hoops and the reason they are there a person can learn to navigate through them and accomplishing what they need to, which by the way doesn’t always have the ending you hoped for, but you keep on because sometimes it does and that can mean all the difference in the world. Most hoops are present to sift out what is not meant to make it further. Be glad for hoops. I would rather have hoops I’m told about than to be given the same blank paper or space. It gives me guidance and direction. For a person who is highly creative hoops can help me to keep focused and finish in a manner that is helpful and purposeful. God is a God of order and not of chaos. Hoops help give order to each agent, and each publishing house. Everyone of my patients had different meds, treatments, therapies and patient education. It was specific to their individual need to achieve the nest outcome. I think of it like that with agents.

  15. Ronnell says:

    Love this! Thanks, Cynthia, for the reminder that hoops are our friends. I can just imagine you hiking through the woods muttering about rocks. Makes me smile (nope, that wasn’t a chuckle).