K is for K (Strikeout)




We owe the "K" for representing a strikeout in baseball to an early sportswriter named Henry Chadwick. In fact, Chadwick and another writer named M.J. Kelly are largely responsible for the scoring system used today. But whence the K? Chadwick already had "S" slated for "sacrifice." So a strikeout became a "K", after the last letter of the word "struck." The reason a strikeout isn't a "T" is because "struck" was the preferred term of the day. By the way, a backwards K means the batter struck out without swinging (looking).

What do you think it is in the writing world that correlates to the term strikeout? Yep, you got it, the rejection letter. The dreaded reply you receive after you queried an agent or publisher whose meaning can be summed up in four words…thanks, but no thanks. The first one you receive is like a badge of honor because everybody…and I mean everybody…receives one at some time or another. It’s when those rejections start to pile up that it begins to sting, ultimately reaching a point where the affect becomes cumulative. But just like a major league hitter, there are ways to help minimize the number of K’s you experience…just by studying the pitcher.

First rule when you step up to bat…don’t query an agent who doesn’t represent what you write. Instant K! Read the agencies website first to make sure somebody there is actively seeking your genre.

Second rule, follow the agencies submission guidelines to the letter – which means possibly modifying or customizing your letter. If you send the same exact letter to every agent you query, along with the first three chapters (solicited or not)…more K’s. Agents (or more importantly, their minions) have little patience for a writer who doesn’t follow the rules.

Third rule, and this one goes for all agents, instant K if your novel is 100,000 words or more. That number is not firm, with some agencies fluctuating on either side, but the point is most publishers are unwilling to take a risk on unproven talent and won’t commit the resources for a large book.

Final rule, do not “carpet-bomb” a large number of agents at one time. A bunch of K’s might result if you do. Are you really that confident in your query letter? What if an agent responds with some really helpful advice about your book which will require time to revise? The best approach is to pick out 5-6 agents at a time and when you’ve heard back from them, pick out another batch.

My favorite MLB team is the Atlanta Braves. What about you? Did you realize that I’m holding a contest during the Challenge? No? You can read all about it HERE.

51 comments

  1. Yeah had by fair share of 'Strikeouts.' Some great advice and points to remember DL, especially about reading submission guidelines properly.

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  2. Excellent advice on finding an agent. BTW living in GA I'm a Braves fan too.

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  3. Good advice, enjoyed the post.

    Yvonne.

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  4. Nobody wants to 'K'. But, following all of the rules is hard, especially that word count thing.

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  5. Excellent tips. No one wants to strike out. Have a great weekend!

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  6. Excellent, excellent advice. Thanks for sharing.

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  7. Writing is all about getting up to bat no matter how many times you strike out. Sometimes you even get to walk to first, only to get caught stealing second and have to start all over again. It's good to know what to do (and what NOT to do!) to improve your chances of staying out on the field. GREAT post!

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  8. oK...very helpful and well done with the comparisons to baseball...a game I understand, thanks to being a scorekeeper. One of these days, I will look forward to receiving at least 'One Writing K'. Glad to see back you back to hitting HomeRun Posts!

    Sue CollectInTexasGal
    AtoZ LoneStar Quilting Bee

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  9. All good tips. I've never heard the term " carpet-bomb". :)

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  10. I didn't know that about baseball - even though my hubby is the hugest fan. :) Atlanta Braves huh? I'm a fan of the Red Sox myself!

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  11. Thanks for the good advice and the baseball information. I know nothing about it as I live in South Africa and it's not a popular game here.

    For the rest, the word count is where I'll 'K' for sure. My novel is probably going to be 120,000. What to do? What to do?

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  12. I did know about the K although I had forgotten since I got rid of satellite and haven't watch baseball in a few years. I know, very sad :(

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  13. I'd seen the backward K, but when I asked what it meant, none of my friends knew what it meant. Thanks for clearing that up and thanks for the great pep talk. We can always use one of those, just a team before a game!

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  14. I feel a little bit smarter now. Thanks!

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  15. I've heard that word limit as well. Something I was never in danger of going over!
    I like the Yankees even though my wife calls them the Evil Empire.

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  16. (And I never watch baseball...but by geographical default, I'm a Pirates fan.)

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  17. Had to comment when I saw the Atlanta Braves as your MLB team. We like them too. Hubs is a big baseball fan and we only have the Blue Jays now in Canada. I'm originally from Georgia, so have to support the Braves. Vistited Turner Field in 2005 when rellies and us and our kids saw them play for the first time. I'm also a dyed in the wool NY Yankees fan and have been since I was a kid. My little brother and I collected baseball cards.

    Good K post - I didn't know about the backwards K. . .

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  18. Great advice and kudos for the baseball analogy on the day 42 hits theaters.

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  19. I love how you tie all sorts of different concepts with writing.

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  20. I'm a D-backs fan myself. Thanks for the info about striking out!

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  21. That's why I don't bother with agents. If I wanted to play a game, I'd play baseball. Okay, no I wouldn't; I'd play Magic.

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  22. These are terrific tips, Don. When I get down because of rejections, I look for the silver lining: at least I'm finishing what I write and submitting! Rejections still suck though, haha. :)

    I'm a Phillies Phan!!!

    Happy A to Z-ing! from Laura Marcella @ Wavy Lines

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  23. I wrote a 150,000 word masterpiece, sat back, admired it, and said to myself, "Well, that's not going anywhere." Current WIP (close to querying) is 82,000.

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  24. I'm over that 100,000 word limit at the moment. Part of my editing will be focusing on trimming that sucker down. Uggg, not as easy as it sounds.

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  25. Great analogy, DL, especially at this time of year. And I never knew what that backwards K meant!

    I've just recently started querying for the first time, and I queried three agents a week for a few weeks, waited for responses, then queried some more. I modify the query every single time. I'm spending more hours researching agents than I am actually querying them.

    And my word count's a lot lower since I'm writing middle grade. :)

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  26. I didn't know that K represented a strikeout. As you might have guessed I don't actually have a favourite MLB team. Used to be the Montreal Expos, team of my birthplace. Alas, they are no more.

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  27. Love the term "carpet-bomb"! Great tips, especially the word count. Loved how you tied it with b-ball concept.

    Chontali Kirk
    chontalikirk.blogspot.com

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  28. I love how you tie baseball to writing. I've never heard of K before.

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  29. I'm very slow and picky with who I query and send work to so I can avoid dealing with the dreaded strikeouts. Fortunately, writers who get a lot of strikeouts have the comfort of knowing they're still in the game even after they get three strikes.

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  30. Didn't know about the backwards K - I always assumed the people posting had imbibed a few too many brewskies! :)

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  31. Greetings human,

    A clever analogy using baseball to correlate it all together. You have hit it out of the park. A grand slam home run. You really stepped up to the plate with this one. Of course, in England, baseball is not exactly a well known sport. Although, strangely enough, certain folks do purchase baseball bats over here. Yes and not for baseball. Be well, human and have fun with the amazing alphabet challenge.

    Pawsitive wishes,

    Penny the Jack Russell dog and modest internet superstar!

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  32. Really good, informative blog, as always. I think you gave excellent advice. I'm a Yankee fan, but also like the Indians. Other sports are fun too. I love horseracing, figure skating and gymnastics as well.

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  33. And it's a home-run on the querying points! Well done!

    I had no idea K represented a strikeout. Someone says baseball and I zone out, shut-off completely. For me, baseball is no more than the filler between football seasons. Yes, I may need therapy.

    ~VR Barkowski

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  34. I had no idea where the k came from! Great post about studying the pitcher when querying.

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  35. I'm with VR, above. I fall asleep during baseball games. From the Superbowl, I count the months until it's September and I can watch the NFL again. But I sure have the K problem. I have literally hundreds of them. It's quite depressing when I think of it -- so I won't think of it!! :-)

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  36. Didn't know that about where the K came from. As for Ks... I've had my share.

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  37. Interesting factoid about K...and good advice, too! Thanks! Braves, huh...Red Sox. My dad was recruited for their farm team way back when, but then life got in the way.

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  38. Although I'm a St. Louis Cardinals fan, I never knew K was the sign for strike out.

    As for rejection letters, I've had quite a few. Many of my rejections tell me I have a great voice, but they don't want to represent me. I don't know how many times I've heard staff at conferences say, "If voice is good, they will work on other things." I no longer believe that.

    http://joycelansky.blogspot.com

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  39. Very cool tidbit. I'm not necessarily a sports fan, unless I'm on the stands watching live, and then I'd rather be watching an amateur or kids team, because there's so much more chance for action--and the families involved, their energy is palpable.

    Querying stinks. Just saying it like it is. Most agents report picking up 1 to 3 manuscripts a year from cold queries--and that's with thousands of received submissions. It's an important step--being able to pitch and get attention, but agents aren't looking at their inbox for the next big thing. They're looking at conferences and contests. If you want a real chance at getting out front, you have to make an appearance somewhere other than the slush pile.

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  40. Your k's are good. The info you share in valuable to wannabe's like me.

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  41. Some great tips DL!
    Love the term "carpet-bomb"! It's a new one for me!

    Writer In Transit

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  42. Great selection of K topic! I finally gave up on K and moved on to L. I didn't know about the K in baseball and the query tips were interesting too.

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  43. According to my Kids, K is also a way to show kontempt when texting. LiKe when I text, "Made a great dinner, your favorite, thinKing of you. ♥" and they text back "K." Some of the komments I get in my big writer's group may as well be, "K." For example: "What's the premise?" "It's the aftermath of a cyberwar, stranding a small rural kommunity and leaving 13-year-old Lena Ladimer burning with a revenge that almost konsumes her until a very strange konnection between her and her father's killer komes to light." Silence. Then, "K." By the way, I don't quite understand the kontest. Do we help you by kommenting on your blog?

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  44. I still haven't gotten to that point, but these are great points for when I do! I'm mostly writing articles for now, and have only just started my novel.

    #atozchallenge, Kristen's blog: kristenhead.blogspot.com

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  45. I think most of us have querying down to a science, but remembering how ridiculous I was in the beginning makes me cringe. Had I scoured the web for instructions prior for posts like this one, I wouldn't be so embarrassed thinking about it. lol

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  46. Was internet distant due to my 10 year college reunion, so I'm catching up!

    I am not a baseball fan at all, so no team to contribute to the discussion. Loved the term for carpet bagging, but you're absolutely right about why we shouldn't do it... even if we're impatient.

    Thanks!
    Lyre @ Lyre's Musings

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  47. Thanks for sharing this interesting and educative information. I think many writers will find your contribution very helpful, I have equally learnt something from it.
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  48. Great rules! They actually work if you follow them.

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  49. Great tips! I drafted a query letter some time ago, but never got around to sending it because, well, I was/am insecure. I am also not fully prepared to delve into the process that is required. Maybe once I have my MA behind me...maybe...

    Cheers
    B from http://brandysbustlings.blogspot.ca/

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