Blogger: Cynthia Ruchti
This was initially posted a couple of years ago, but it’s as evergreen a topic as a Christmas tree. We hear the resistance to “hoops” almost every day in the publishing world. Maybe this will strike you–as it did me–afresh today.
“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.)
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?
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.
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.)
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? What are some hurdles already behind you? What hoops should we talk about in future blog posts?
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