No Longer Shooting Blanks

September 14, 2009 at 10:02 am (Random Thoughts, Virtual Gems, Writing)


When I was doing my agent vetting for Query Day, a singular thought kept popping into my head. It was the sex-education talk given to three brothers who were friends of my brother’s when I was growing up. It went a little something like this:

“Just remember, you’re no longer shooting blanks.”

test1It took me a little while to figure out why sex education was vying with my agent list in my head, but I did. I realized that querying an agent was like asking somebody out—you have to be prepared that they say yes and are willing to accept all consequences of said date. I think sometimes us debut authors get a little carried away when querying and tend to get a little sloppy with our requirements. This leads to what I think of as The Shotgun Approach—if you blast a list with a multitude of queries, you’re bound to hit at least one.

test2But we shouldn’t be doing it this way. There’s an amazing agency that handles a lot of romance, an agency  I’d be so very lucky to get, but there’s a little voice in the back of my head saying Not for you. So I’m not querying them. Because if something in me is saying no and I query them anyway, I could end up with them. They certainly don’t deserve a lukewarm client and I certainly shouldn’t shoot myself in the foot that way. (Sorry about all of the shooting metaphors. I did warn you I’m from Montana.)

But, there is a good lesson to be had from the live ammunition side of life, and it’s this: Put it into your writing.

Who of us wants to write with a lot of flash and bang, but no substance, no teeth? I want to write stories that mean something, that dig deeper and really carry a message, and I can’t do that if I’m shooting blanks. I want the spark and the heat, but I also want the emotional slug to the gut, so I need to make sure I’m loaded for Great Writing before I sit down at the keyboard. And then I can fire away.



* Follow up to the three brothers and the effect the sex-ed talk had on them—none are married and none have kids. Guess the talk worked.



  1. Heidi Betts said,

    You make me laugh, Pam. And you’re so right about following your gut when it comes to querying agents/editors *&* writing. There are lots of times when something might look or sound great, but it just doesn’t feel right, & if you ignore that feeling, you’re always sorry. Always.

  2. coffeegirl88 said,

    Good for you, not just on the being picky and realizing that’s not a bad thing, but listening to that little voice. I’ve learned (painfully) over the years that my little voice is always right and yes, the little voice gloats when I don’t listen.

    Continued good vibes on the querying and the waiting. I’m going to need some serious distractions when I get to the point of querying, I have zero patience and will be checking email hourly.

    And about that sex talk. Did you mean to talking them out of marriage and kids, or was that just bonus points?

  3. Pamela Cayne said,

    Heidi-yeah, it was a lesson hard learned, but it’s finally sunk in. Now, let’s hope it pays off! 😉

    Coffee-your voice gloats? That’s just mean! And I don’t know about the sex talk–I think it was bonus points at some point, but now there might be come craving for grandkids.

  4. Montana (curtbooks) said,

    I agree with you Pamela. It’s a tough lesson going with an agency where the fit isn’t right. You want so much to begin the process. As you know, I took that path and it took a long time to fix the damage. I’m a much more selective camper now. And about those three boys, I think I know who they are, and it’s just as well all they ever shot was blanks. 😉

  5. Robin said,

    Another great post, Pam. I think the little voice in our head is *always* right. The hard part is always listening. But you, oh wise one, have figured that out and I know it’s going to benefit you tremendously!

  6. L.A. Mitchell said,

    lol…….I hope to God I’m not shooting blanks with my submissions.

    This process is so backwards, anyway. It’s like asking someone on a date to get to the one you REALLY want to date. I guess if you look at it like a game, it won’t be nearly so frustrating.

  7. Marilyn Brant said,

    Ha!!! Pam, you just hang on to your originality and don’t go trying to fit yourself into anyone else’s mold. Your job is to shoot potent queries at potentially worthy suitors, I mean, agents… It will be a mark of their wisdom (and commitment-readiness) when they start noticing you, calling you all the time, saying, “Baby, I luuuvvv you…and your writing…” Montana will have some competition. 🙂

  8. Pamela Cayne said,

    Montana–yes, you know well of the knowing-what’s-good-for-you path. All the mistakes being made, however, it’s nice to finally be on solid ground. 🙂

    Robin–it’s easier to listen when you have friends who are supportive. Mwah! 😀

  9. Pamela Cayne said,

    L.A.–double Golden Heart nominee? I doubt you’re shooting blanks, you have hydrashocks loaded. But, I do understand your frustration. I think we all do. 🙂

    Marilyn–okay, you crack me up. As long as those booty-query calls come during the daylight hours, I’m fine! 😉

  10. Melissa Blue said,

    My first thought to the title of this post was exactly what you meant. I don’t know what that says about me. But you are right. I don’t think many writers start out thinking think beyond “Get an agent.” “Get the call/contract.”

    i know I didn’t, but I love gaining the experience, because the gut IS always right. There is nothing like trusting that part of you who doesn’t B.S, but never steers you wrong. As I have to keep telling myself, publishing isn’t going anywhere. I might as well have the long, right path. Than the short one that gives me nothing but heartache.

  11. Sandra Ferguson said,

    What a concindence! This was just the conversation we had at the month writers’ meeting. A newly pubbed had been doing the agent-dance, only to discover after being asked to send the full for review that the agent in question hadn’t sold a thing. Even on the agent’s website, there wasn’t a mention of clients. The agent did say no. Not because he didn’t like her writing . . . really liked the voice, but according to him, she’d touched on a subject to currently painful and wouldn’t work in the market. My writing bud was so relieved to get this rejection. She’s learned the lesson to do more research in front.

  12. Pamela Cayne said,

    Melissa–isn’t that a great feeling when you learn to trust your gut? Hard path to get here, but man, is it worth it! 🙂

    Sandra–we all have those stories, don’t we, either from personal experience or a close writing friend. Dang those growing pains! 😉

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