My Horse Has To Work For A Living

Years ago, our Quarter Horse and stock show was one of the big stops on the show circuits. Many world champion horses won classes here. These are no longer the glory days, but we still have a sanctioned horse show in January.

Most horses you see coming into the arena have obviously been kept under blankets in heated barns to keep the coat from being quite so shaggy. They shine like new pennies from their well-groomed ears to their sparkling hooves.

One of the classes in the horse show is working cow horse. This is similar to cutting, but with more features.

I don’t remember when this took place, but a friend of mine who shows horses was telling me about it.

A man rode his horse into the arena for his run. He looked like he was going out to work cattle on the ranch. He didn’t have a fancy show saddle covered with silver trim or a custom-made bridle. His horse was as shaggy as a yak because he spent his winters outside.

The judge looked his horse over and said, “Your horse is a little rough isn’t he, son?”

“Yes, sir. I suppose he is, but he has to work for a living.”

So this working cowboy and his shaggy horse went out and won the class.

I’m sure you’re wondering if this story has a point.

My point is that at the end of the day, I believe our manuscripts have to work for a living. High grade paper, quotes from writing professionals, meeting people at conferences and all those other things that might help us open doors are nice. They make us think we have an advantage over the rest of the field and in some ways we do.

However, when the agent starts reading the query and, hopefully, the manuscript, the query and manuscript have to work for a living. They have to stand up to someone who is looking for a reason to say no. They have to resonate with the reader, whether it be an assistant, the agent, an editor or the public. All the shinies in the world will not replace writing that sings.

Taking that extra bit of time to polish the work is not only preferable, but it’s imperative. Having those extra eyes looking it over isn’t a waste of time or effort. It goes with the territory if we want to succeed.

Agent culling update.

Five are on the short list. I may have shot myself in the foot with one of them, however. I make it a practice to not discuss politics or religion in public, but I violated that rule this morning.


  1. Excellent analogy!

    Although one can’t help wondering if the somewhat-shaggy-but-working-by-God! manuscripts might get tossed way too often. I respect agents and editors more than I can say but they too are human, and after looking at thousand manuscripts it must be hard not to be easily distracted by silver trim, custom-made bridles, and sparkling hooves. I know it would drive ME nuts.

    Looked for your supposedly foot-shooting commentary in a few places. So far no luck, though — which may be a good sign. Maybe it fell into that black hole labeled “Comment deleted by a blog administrator.” 🙂

  2. John, I do think we need to make the presentation as good as possible. Neat, clean manuscripts are a must.

    I was more referring to people who seem to be looking for that quick fix solution to getting an agent. I don’t believe there is one. I think the writing has to do the work after the introduction. As much as I am hoping for good results from the networking if I make it to Surrey, I know the book has to do the work.

    The Fine-Lit blog by Peter Rubie. Mr. Rubie was one of my top picks on my list so it was not terribly smart of me to comment.

  3. We’re talking at cross-purposes here: I, too, wasn’t rattling on about presentation like the way the manuscript looks. I meant “shaggy” in the sense of rawer less polished story, prose, etc…. and sparkly (etc.) in terms of trendy things like plotting gimmicks, weird and apparently random combinations of existing genres, and so on.

    Oh. *That* blog. And oh: *that* comment. Hrmm. Well, there’s culling and there’s culling. 🙂

  4. Oh, John, you are absolutely right. I worry about people rushing something off to chase some trend.

    I guess that’s one reason though I often wonder about my ability to write, when I kick the little beast Doubt out, I have confidence Paladin will sell. Yes, it will always be Paladin to me. I think the story is solid and I have confidence in my critiquers.

    I know there are going to be plenty of rejections, but I also know it will find a home.

  5. Tony, from what I have seen, most agents kind of gloss over those kind quotes. The reason being many authors are really trying to be helpful. Now, a letter of introduction from an established author the agent knows is a different animal.

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