Queries – Stop and Think Logically

September 2, 2014

star-trek-spock1

The idea of my cozying up to a logical suggestion would send my dear dad into a fit of giggles, because when I was a kid, logic and I were mutually exclusive entities. While I bumped along every possible distraction that would ensure my doing the dumbest head-scratching thing known to the free world, my dear dad would patiently sit back and hope I would marry well.

Then something frightening happened, and I grew up. I got involved in business…and suddenly logic and I became bestest buddies. In fact, I learned to hang my hat on it. While I can still pull some real barn burners that make my family wonder if my dental appointment turned into a full on lobotomy, I do rely heavily on thinking like Spock wherever possible. Which brings me to a frustration with query letters.

If authors could separate themselves from their artsy side and gaze upon their query letters with a dispassionate unbiased eye, they could see the flaws that yield rejection after rejection. Today’s example falls in the category of “Oops, I forgot.”

The first paragraph outlined the author’s bio. This is a terrible lead-in because – deep apologies for sounding grouchy – I don’t care about you. Yet. For now, I only care about your story. “Oops, I forgot.”

The second paragraph outlined why the author wrote her book. This is a terrible second paragraph because – deep apologies for sounding grouchy – I don’t care about the circumstances of writing your story. Not yet. Tell me about the friggin’ story. “Oops, I forgot.”

The third paragraph was short and sweet, and said nothing more other than to invite me to request the manuscript. Wha’? WHAT ABOUT THE STORY??? “Oops, I fogot.”

Dear authors, this isn’t someone thinking logically. If you’re trying to sell a story, then doesn’t logic demand that you actually tell the poor dolt reading your query a little something about your story? It doesn’t matter if you’re a famous actress, or a nobody. It’s about the story. That is your lead-in. Trying to wow me with your bio or the reasons why you wrote your story is nothing more than bells and whistles. The story is what has to pass the smell test. Your small bio and brief reasons that led you to write your story can go at the end…like a tidbit.

Publishing is a business, so authors need to take off their Creativity Bonnet and put on their Business Bowler…and think like a business person. You can be sure we do. Look at your query and ask yourself whether your query reflects selling you or your story. What topics are your lead-in? If it’s filled up with fodder about you and your reasons for existing with a quill in your hand, then you can look forward to “Thanks, but no thanks.” A lot.

You may have a fabulous book sitting on your desk, but unless you communicate it clearly and logically, it’ll do little more than gather cyber dust. And that sucks.

In the words of the ever-logical Mr. Spock, “Live long, and prosper.” In the words of the Overworked and Underpaid Editor, “Think logically, and sell like a mo’ fo.”

As for Dad, the first time I used the word “logic,” I think he fell out of his chair…


Two Words to Remove From Your Vocabulary

August 29, 2014

“I can’t.”

Ugh. Those two words put my Vickie Secrets in a wad because it’s so defeatist. It’s not unusual to hear these words in the publishing industry, and it makes me want to scream because it normally follows a conversation like this:

“I never thought publishing would be so hard.”
“I’ve had a ton of rejections.”
“My editor doesn’t understand me.”
“My agent won’t get return my calls.”

“I can’t.” Blah.

Here’s the deal; publishing is hard. Damnably hard. If it was easy, everyone would be doing it. It’s why vanity presses and self publishing got their claims to fame. But there is a ton of money and time put into publishing a book and getting it out to the marketplace. Does anyone really believe that every single cancer story/divorce story/addiction story is meant to be published? Sorry, but no. If publishers are going to sink tens of thousands of dollars into producing a book, they’re gonna be sure it’s a book they’re pretty darn certain will sell.

We’ve gotten to be a society of victims, so facing tough challenges invariably elicits a tossing up of the arms and uttering, “I can’t.” Publishing isn’t for the weak, and thar be no crying in publishing, except when penning your name across a contract.

Instead of looking for ways to say “I can’t,” look for ways to say, “Yeah, I can do that,” or “Damn the torpedoes, full steam ahead!” Perspective is the lifeblood of happiness. If you’re drawn to writing, then accept there will be challenges – big challenges – and be determined to enjoy the journey.

There is only one instance when you may add “I can’t” to your vocabulary: “S’cuse me, would you like to put your glass of wine down?”

Here’s a beautiful woman who never let the words “I can’t” invade her life. Huzzah. Now go out and be brilliant.

http://youtu.be/CPdmXsQMmBc?list=FLvUoGCwtiMUdiNPZ2DOHYTA


Reading Addiction: A Healthy Vice

August 29, 2014

image

We guarantee that life will stop the minute you crack open one of our books. Otherwise, the Rescue Beagles will pee on your shoes.


Your Horrible Life – Do You Have a Point?

August 8, 2014

Scared_Dog

Of late, I seem to be the recent recipient of every addiction/abuse/life nightmare story ever written. I realize people have tragic lives, and writing about them can bring about a large measure of emotional release and comfort. And yes, I do publish memoir – so I understand I’m a non-moving target. But for crying out loud – so many of these stories are simply too horrendous, and I find myself reaching for mouthwash and eye bleach. Many of these, I simply want to unsee.

Many of these queries have no other purpose than to horrify (mission accomplished) and cluck one’s tongue about how gruesome humans are to one another. My concern about these stories is…do you have a point? It’s one thing to flood the market with “Read About What Ghastly Shit Happened To Me” stories before readers tire of the sameness of it all. It’s the literary equivalent of the National Enquirer…and sure, they do have a large readership, but where those stories are sandwiched between the covers of a known quantity, your Lurid Lucy story stands all by itself – without benefit of a ready audience. And the queries I’ve seen seem intent on out-grossing each other.

“My story is about how I was abused at 7.”
“Oh yeah, well I’ll up that by telling my story about how I became a prostitute at 10 and addicted to cocaine.”

Oh dear GOD!!! Enough! I can’t handle it.

My problem isn’t necessarily what happened to these people (and my soulless heart breaks for them), but where they put the focus. If the nucleus is about detailing every inch of each horror, then what’s the point of the story? Is this violence for violence’s sake? Is it self therapy? Is it both?

I can appreciate anyone who comes through a tough life and finds unicorns and rainbows on the other side, but in order to get my attention, these stories have to have a point. A message. And that’s the problem with Gruesome Gandys…the messages always seem to be the same: Believe in yourself.
Never give up.
Praise God.

Whatever it is, it’s already been written about. A lot. And since there’s nothing unique about the message, it’s very hard to get readers’ attention, let alone an agent or publisher’s. The media and reviewers will invariably yawn because it’s a Been Thar, Done That kinda book.

Of course, some stories are very tough to read and a literary masterpiece. I think of our own book MOMMY, I’M STILL IN HERE. Kate McLaughlin unflinchingly writes about the ravages of bipoloar disorder that afflict two of her kids. I spent much of the book with my fist in my mouth. But I was also blown away because Kate never keeps the sole focus on the horrors – but about finding the light at the end of the tunnel and that bipolar disorder isn’t a death sentence, and people can go on to live happy, healthy, productive lives. I cheered. I huzzah’d. I jumped on furniture and fist-pumped the air. It was because of those horrors that I could rejoice in the sweetness of success. But the vital element was that the message was unique, and she had a clear point to make.

If you’ve had a horrid life, you have my blessings and hugs. If you want to write about those horrors, ask yourself why you’re writing it. Is it a form of therapy, or do you have a concrete message? If you have a concrete message, is it the same one that’s already been written about thousands of times already? If so, then how are you going to interest an agent or editor?

Lastly, the only way to know whether you have something that’s been done to ad nauseam or unique is to read books in the topic you’re writing about. You have to go from victim to analyst in order to determine whether you have a point, or whether you’re simply talking about your horrible life. And if it’s solely about your horrible life, please, please, please, don’t query me. I’m on heart medicine, yanno…

 


Hey…Who You Callin` Weird?

August 8, 2014

image


How to Determine if You’re a Writer…

July 24, 2014

writer-yourThus endeth the lesson…


Are There Too Many Painters in Your Cave?

July 14, 2014

alien

It’s been going on since the first cave scratchings back in Troglodyte days…unsolicited advice from “Helpful Friends.”

Trog: Dude, awesome rendering of last week’s Wooly Mammoth hunt…but you might want to re-draw Blorg’s broken foot mishap when the Wooly stepped on him.

Grog: Really? Hmm…okay. [artistic editing ensues]

Krog: Dude, cool drawing, but you might want to re-think those bushes. Looks more like green hornets.

Grog: Really? Hmm…okay. [artistic editing ensues]

Wog: Dude, amazing wall painting, but the sunset was more purple than orange…

Grog: Really? Hmm…okay. [artistic editing ensues]

Slog: Dude…what is that you painted on the wall?

Grog: I have no fecking idea.

And this is what happens when there are too many painters in the cave. The original version is now an unrecognizable rendering that doesn’t reflect the painter’s vision.

I’ve seen this many times over the years, and it never ceases to send me running for the tequila bottle because these “Helpful Suggestions” tear away at the author’s confidence.

It usually starts small…“Oh, I loved your book, but you might want to change the _______(fill in the blank).”

Once the author gives power to that suggestion, the “Helpful Friend” realizes he/she wields some power, and offers more “Helpful Suggestions” to “improve” the book. It’s about this time when emails come to me asking whether these “Helpful Suggestions” have merit.

Hmm.

Here are some things to remember:

  • You and your editor spent countless hours poring over your manuscript, discussing intent, nuance, pace, flow…the whole enchilada.
  • No one knows the inner workings of your book or your soul better than your editor. She is your head cheerleader, chief bottle washer, and overall den mother.
  • There is no better, stronger advocate than your editor, and the last thing she wants to change is your voice or your story, or have you wake up one day wondering, “Holy crap, who wrote this?” Eeeek.

Your “Helpful Friends” didn’t take this journey with you. They’re imprinting their version of what they think you should have written…and here’s the thing: Opinions are like belly buttons…everybody’s got one. It’s a fact that you’ll never satisfy every reader, and if you give weight to every critique that comes your way, you’ll be special ordering a designer straightjacket post haste – along with changing your book into something that didn’t come from you.

I know it’s hard – because you adore your friends – but resist the temptation to listen to their every comment. By the time they read it, that book of yours is in granite. It can’t and won’t be changed. The time to elicit offers of critique is when you’ve just completed your manuscript, and you’re asking for beta readers – not when they’re reading your galley proofs!

If you run into some “Helpful Friends,” and believe me, you will, smile politely, grit your teeth (because unsolicited critiques are a pain in the ass), thank them, and put those comments where the sun don’t shine. The literary ship has sailed, and you don’t need the aggravation of wondering if what you wrote is good. It is. Have faith in yourself and your editor that you got it right.

Don’t be Grog. Don’t allow too many painters into your cave.

 


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,189 other followers

%d bloggers like this: