How To Frustrate an Editor – “Sorry, the rest isn’t written.”

September 29, 2015

I know, irritating an editor sounds like good fun, right? After all, we’re such a tetchy lot, so a good round of watching  editors pull their eyebrows out would be great sport. However, this frustration adversely affects authors, so it might not be worth the risk. Here’s how the scenario goes:

Me: I loved your first pages. I’d love to see the full manuscript. You may send it as a Word attachment at your convenience.

Author: Those pages are the extent of the edited chapters that I’ve written. Perhaps you’d be willing to sign me based on the strength of what you’ve read.

Me: <sighing loudly and demanding The Rescues go pour me some wine> I’m sorry, but we don’t sign authors based on partials.

And here’s why:

Reason 1: On the Fence

This is the most important reason of all. I won’t offer a contract with a partial because I may be on the fence about those first chapters. I need to see if the subsequent chapters turn into something wonderful. I’ve read terrific manuscripts where the first chapters weren’t as strong as they could be, but they finished up with such a bang that I ended up signing those authors. Slow beginning? Heck, I can always take care of that during the editing process.

But I won’t know how strong your manuscript is if it isn’t finished, and I’ll have no choice to walk away. And the author will have no choice but to keep on querying. Le bummer.

Reason 2: Gambling

I’ve been to Vegas many times, and I can’t stand gambling because I always lose. I look at the money the one-armed-bandit consumed with nary a “thank you,” and consider all the cool things I could have used it on instead.

We’ve gambled in the past and signed a few authors based on partials. To date, I canceled Every. Single. Project. The simple reason is that those manuscripts didn’t have the same quality as their first chapters.

And think about it; editors classically ask for the first three chapters, so those suckers get A LOT of massaging and tender loving care. Authors have the luxury of writing, putting it away, coming back later, re-writing, editing. It’s like getting ready for the prom. I remember spending horrific amounts of time primping for the prom. Just don’t ask me to repeat that same process the following day. Or any other day after that.

It’s the same for writing. Your first chaps are getting ready for the prom, and boyo, they look mahvelous. If I sign you based on how you look for the prom, then I’m basically contracting you to primp for the prom every single day until you’re crowned Prom Queen or King, and I’m giving you less time to look just as gorgeous.

Deadlines suck because most authors don’t realize how hard it is to bang out fabulosity while under the gun. Oh sure, you think you’ll be able to bang it out in time. Problem is, it reads like it. All the flavor and magic is missing because you don’t have the same amount of time you had when you wrote those first three chapters.

In my particular case, those canceled projects were victims of two separate problems: Insufficient time to do a proper job and/or the manuscript simply didn’t live up to its previous hype. I think of all the wasted time that could have been avoided if those authors had simply finished their manuscripts.

It sucks to cancel a project, which is why we no longer sign on partials. It’s heartbreaking to us and to the author.

But Aren’t Sales Made on Partials?

Yes, it’s somewhat common for nonfiction sales to take place based on partials, but these usually happen when the author has a solid readership based on terrific sales from previous books. There’s an identifiable track record. But if you’ve written in a different genre, say fiction, then you’re starting over again with no readership or track record in nonfiction.

Other cases where sales happen with partials is if the author has an amazing platform. A lot of your actor/actress/politician/public figure books are usually sold based on an idea: “Actress Debbie LaDouchbague promises to dish out the dirt on her years as the lead in the daytime soap, As The Stomach Rebels.”

But these cases aren’t the norm for the everyday author.

And may I just say that I’ve never quite understood the whole, “I’ll write the rest if I sell it.” I always wonder whether the author is truly committed to the project. “Oh well, if it doesn’t sell, at least I didn’t waste time writing it.” Hmm.

You want a sale? Finish the manuscript!

In the meantime, color me frustrated.

The Query Game – Are You Bantha Fodder?

September 27, 2015

Of late I’ve collected a lot of query letters where it’s obvious the authors lost sight of its actual intent – to the point where all I can do is shake my head and utter, “Wow.”

And not in a good way.

“Everybody Wants Me”

One query named every editor and agent who had asked to see pages. I understand the desire to make oneself look like they’re in demand because sometimes it actually works. That’s the stuff auctions are made of. However, they have a topic that’s worth fighting over because they know what the story is about. The one sentence she expended on her book had me looking around my office wondering if The Rescues had played another trick on me.

If she’d sent the same query to all those people clamoring for her work, how were they able they draw enough of a conclusion to warrant asking for pages?

The icing on the cake is that she never actually mentioned she was querying me. It was merely an email telling me about everyone who wants her. Her reply was that she “forgot” in all the excitement. Forgot. To. Tell. Me. She. Was. Querying. Me.

Alrighty then. I think I’ll let all those other agents and editors duke it out.


“I Did This and That”

One author offered up accolades from a play performance and being featured in the local newspaper twice, and only included one teensy sentence about the topic of the manuscript…which is in a very crowded category.

One short sentence. I’m pretty good, but the reception on my tinfoil hat doesn’t extend to reading author’s minds.



Humor is a tough thing because it’s so subjective. What the author may find utterly hysterical may put my teeth on edge. If you’re tempted to use humor in your query letter, ask yourself whether it fits with the flavor of the manuscript, and whether you’re trying too hard to be witty rather than simply telling me what your book is about.

One author’s query letter made me belly laugh – and I’m a very hard sell. So, of course, I asked for the full. Her manuscript is a humor piece, so the humor in her query was appropriate. She had me at hello, as the line goes…

Another author wasn’t as lucky, and had me dropping Pepsid OTC. Her first line begged me not to eat her. Eh? I’ll admit that I can have a bit of bite to me on occasion, but to actually consume another human being is beyond my capacity or desire. I’ll leave it to the bears ‘n gators. There was also an odd reference about hair-pulling which still has me scratching my head. But the ultimate killer was that her subject matter was of a serious nature, so the use of humor  fell as flat as my efforts at baking.


“I Thought the Manuscript Was Attached”

Another query was long on the braggy stuff – “I’m the coolest thing since sliced bread.” – and short on detail; also one short sentence. The kicker is that the author thought he’d attached the manuscript, which he hadn’t. But that wasn’t the bad part. The bad part was the author’s assumption that the manuscript would speak for itself, thus making up for a vague query letter.

The truth is that an incomplete query won’t compel me to open up an attachment…even if it is attached. Well, okay, yah, in truth I’ll open it and read a page or two. But if it isn’t even attached, thar be no way I’ll carry the conversation any further, other than to reject it.


“To Whom It May Concern”

This is always a favorite of mine because it instantly makes my intestines do a backflip. I know, I know, maybe it’s petty, but I view query letters like a job interview, and my mama always taught me that when job hunting, you always know the name of the person to whom you’re talking, and you’re familiar with the company. It shows due diligence and professionalism.


“How Much Do You Charge?”

This is another favorite of mine for the sheer humor of it. That simple question tells me buckets about the author’s knowledge of the publishing industry. And hey, what better compliment can one have than to be assumed as being a vanity publisher? Cracks me up every time because there are so many responses I’m tempted to write:

“A quart of your blood and any beagles you have stashed around.”
“If you gotta ask, then you can’t afford me.”
“I don’t charge, I lollygag. Slowly.”

Oh dear, the list of possible replies goes on and on…


“I Have an Agent”

Now this confounds me every time I read this – and yes, over the past 13 years, it’s happened more than I care to count. For the love of all that’s holy, why, why, why would you write a terrible query letter that’s on equal footing with bug repellant when you Have. An. Agent? Isn’t that why you have an agent?

I know of some authors whose agents will only query the Big Guns and permit their clients to query us “less worthy” sub-humans. This offers up its own roadblocks because I find it arrogant and offensive. So if those Big Guns don’t bite, and the author does all the dirty work of querying us peons, then how has that agent earned their 15%? Uh uh. Not in my book.

Double wow.

Do It Right or Go Home

The long and short of The Query Game is this: If I have no idea what your story is about, then it doesn’t matter how funny, popular, forgetful you are, who your unnamed and absent agent is, or how much money you have. Send a query that’s short on giving me the goods, and you’re bantha fodder.

A query letter exists for one purpose; to attract an editor or agent to the point of uttering “Wow” in a good way. My particular needs are the following:

  • What is your book about? – this means details about your personal journey and how it impacted/changed your life.
  • What makes it a “gotta have it”? Is there an identifiable audience? If so, what are the unique elements of your story that make it stand out from the herd? If you don’t have something unique and revolutionary to say, then I probably won’t bite.
  • Who are you and what kind of platform do you have? Furthering that idea of a unique message, you need to have a platform to back yourself up. This doesn’t mean how many people you know, but how many people know you. And how do they know you? If you’re known for being a painter, then I’m leery about whether your book on manic depression or cancer will carry much weight. Reason being, there are a jillion books on those topics, and the thing you’re known for doesn’t impact the subject of your book. Nonfiction is funny that way.

Conversely, Erika Armstrong, author of our upcoming release A CHICK IN THE COCKPIT, is known for being a pilot and writing amazing aviation articles in many mags. However, the fact that she’s a pilot is the compelling hook for her personal journey. Given the vast numbers of pilots, this is going to be a hot seller because her platform supports her book.

This is how you Wow an agent or editor. Don’t be bantha fodder. Go out and be fabulous!

You Rejected Me – Can We Talk?

September 23, 2015

The icky part of publishing is writing rejection letters. I reject projects for all kinds of reasons, and in a lot of cases I try to give the author a very brief reason as to why their work didn’t fit with us. I do this in order to offer some insight, because it’s frustrating to authors to receive the standby form rejection letter.

What authors should never do is instantly assume they’re being rejected because their work sucks stale Twinkie cream. Sometimes a work has great potential, but it’s either written in a crowded category, like Alzheimer’s or cancer, in which case, the author would need a large platform. Some manuscripts would simply be a challenge for me to market because I don’t specialize in that particular genre; like religion. These books have a whole different distribution outlet that we’re not a part of.

Whatever the reason, the one thing that makes me want to chew razor blades is the author who wants to engage me in further discussion.

Last past week I rejected an author and gave solid reasons as to why his project wasn’t right for us. But that didn’t deter him from emailing me twice more to convince me of the error of my ways. He offered statistics about his particular subject and told me how hard he’d work to promote his book. I politely reminded him to please look at the rejection letter, as I felt it spoke for itself. He wrote again with more stats. By this time I figured diplomacy wasn’t going to work. Feh.

A rejection letter isn’t an invitation to open up a dialog. A rejection is a shut-the-door-no-further-discussion-required. This author reminded me of the waitress who was determined to get me to order more food than I wanted.
Her: “How about fries with your sandwich?”
Me: “No thanks. Just the sandwich.”
Her: “Well let me recommend the coleslaw. It’s really good.”
Me <getting testy>: “No thanks. Just the sandwich.”
Her: “Our rolls are to die for. Want me to bring a basket?”
Me <contemplating hari kiri with my butter knife>: “Just. The. Sandwich.”
Her: “Pie for dessert?”


No means no. If an editor wants to further the conversation, they’ll say so, and happily, I’ve done this many times. In fact, I just did this a few weeks ago, which resulted in us signing the author.

But what will quickly tarnish an editor’s impression of you is if you can’t let go. There are many wonderful publishers out there, so don’t waste another second on someone who has said no thank you. Rather, go after someone who will say, Please send me more!”

Never Forget…

September 11, 2015

Gets me every time. Never forget.

The Reason Why Synopses Exist…

September 10, 2015

satan synopsis

Manuscript Request Quandary: Include Photos?

August 25, 2015

The short answer is NO. For starters, photos make the file too large to send. So then you’re faced with a dilemma of how to send the manuscript to the requesting editor. Many authors send a Dropbox link, which forces me to go retrieve it.

I don’t know, maybe I’m just an old crankie pants, but there’s something presumptive about my asking to read someone’s manuscript – someone who queried me – and being invited to go get it. I know I’d be more receptive if the author told me of their dilemma about the photos and ask how best to send the file. This gives me the opportunity to inform them editors don’t care about photos at this point because they don’t sell the story. The words do. Unless, of course, it’s a coffee table book.

At this point of the process, I don’t care about the photos, so they’re nothing but in the way, and I always just skip through them. First thing I have to ascertain is whether the manuscript is marketable. It’s a good idea to state in your query letter that photos are available, but don’t send them for a manuscript request because I won’t bother, and most other editors won’t either. Instead, I’ll write you back and instruct you to please remove the photos and re-send as a Word attachment.

Every editor has their method of how they want files to be sent, so if they don’t tell you how they want you to send your files, ask. For example, I always include a line about “At your convenience, please send me your manuscript and book proposal as a Word attachment.”

The idea is to make things easy for the person who has requested to read your brilliant tomes. So, great words, yes. Photos, no.


Bookstore Signings: Method to the Madness

August 24, 2015

Bookstore signing events are often the stuff that propels authors with the desire to toss themselves under a bus. Being the author of two books, I grok that. And nowadays, book signings are an even scarier notion, given the changes within the publishing industry. But keep in mind, authors aren’t the only ones freaking out. Bookstore event planners are doing their fair share of doing the freak-out mambo.

The first thing bookstore event planners have to consider is whether the author will bring in an audience, because they are in the business of selling books. It’s how they keep the lights on. They want attendees to not only buy the author’s book, but stroll around and buy an armful of other books. In many cases, it’s a great way to pull in people who normally buy their books online and give them a chance to see how groovy (‘scuse my 70s moment) it is peruse the shelves and lose oneself among the huge and wonderful choices.

Knowing what flips up a bookstore event planner’s Victoria Secrets is half the battle in strategizing your promotion plan. But first, it’s important to know where the author fits in this bookstore signing game – and it all depends on how you’re published.

Mainstream Pubbed Authors

These authors enjoy national distribution. Their publishers have regional and national sales teams whose job it is to get books into stores. They do this at the corporate level with the large national accounts like BN, etc., while the regional sales teams frequent the bookstores in their territory, which includes the chain stores and the larger indie stores.

What this means to you, the author, is that your book is already in library and bookstore systems. If you waltz in and tell them your title, they’ll find your book, who distributes your book (for example, Consortium is our distributor, and I love them more than chocolate. Well…almost). They know they can easily order your book, and that it has all the standard discount percentages attached. If it’s BN, they can easily order from their own warehouse (if the buyer picked up your title), or they can contact the distributor to order the books.

Self Pubbed Authors

For the self pubbed author, getting a book signing could be harder because this group lacks the distribution support afforded by their commercially published brethren. This means that you’re not in the bookstores’ database, which makes ordering a PITA because your book isn’t in their warehouse. If you can convince them to host an event, be prepared to provide your own books…and they will dictate the percentage terms. This is why it’s important to have a large enough print run. It’s a good idea to offer them a copy to read.

Print On Demand Authors

Not sure how many of these are still around (thankfully), but your concerns will be the same as the self-pubbed author. In fact, it will be more difficult because books are only printed when there is a demand. These “publishers” don’t do print runs, so these unfortunate authors will have to buy their own books (at often lame “discounts” that do nothing but line the publisher’s pocket. Gee, Pricey, how do you really feel?).


Okay, let’s talk how you can appeal to a bookstore, the first of which is changing your perspective. This isn’t about what they can do for you, but what you can do for them. It’s much easier to talk to an event planner if you feel you have something concrete to offer them, rather than pleading with them to host you. “You want to host me because I’ve taken the necessary steps to encourage a good-sized audience.”

Book events are time consuming. Good bookstores take the time to promote and advertise upcoming book events. Indie bookstores can be little goldmines of support if they like you.They’re smaller and can turn on a dime much more easily than the large chains. One that comes to mind is Tattered Cover in Colorado. Love, love, love these guys. And because they’re so full of awesome, you want to provide them with a product that will enhance their business.

Customer Base/Audience

A store’s customer base should be your first consideration. You want to match the store’s customer base with your book. Obviously, a store whose customers tend to lean toward nonfiction won’t be a good fit for your  YA distopia. I’ve called up any number of bookstores for my authors over the years only to have them tell me their core customers focus on topics other than what I’m pushing. And yes, good bookstores know their customers’ reading tendencies.

How to Bring in an Audience

Bookstores want to be assured you’ll garner an audience. One of the best ways of making an event planner smile is if you can show them you’ve put out feelers to the local area. Back when I was promoting my writer’s book, I told the manager/event planner that I had a list of all the local writer groups in the area, and would contact them regarding my event. I always got the event, and enjoyed a good turnout.

When I was promoting my novel, I’d do the same thing, with the exception of telling the event planner that I planned on contacting the local nursing associations, docs, healthfood stores, and integrative practitioners (the book has a heavy theme of integrative medicine). Again, I always got the gig, and a good turnout.

Seminar? Short Talk?

How you choose to plan your event gives it a definite face, and bookstores capitalize on that in their promotion. “Come hear Authoress Fantabulous discuss her book PUTTING THE ZING BACK INTO YOUR ROMANCE, where she’ll focus in on the finer points of the whistling belly button trick and how it’ll put the romantic jam in your jelly donut.”

Some books are filled with great seminar material. Our upcoming title A CHICK IN THE COCKPIT by Erika Armstrong comes to mind, and I could easily see her putting together a seminar about filing a flight plan for daily living.

On the other hand, this is easily a great book for a short talk, and there are a myriad of topics she can pull from to discuss.

What it comes down to is the event planner. They will tell you what’s more appropriate for their particular store – a seminar or a short talk. But the fact that you are giving them options shows that you’re not a noob (someone who doesn’t know what they don’t know).

For example, with my writer’s book, I always did a seminar because it was easy to pull in aspiring writers who were eager to learn the ropes of the publishing industry and how to circumvent the waters. I always provided a seminar outline to the event planner to let them decide whether this was something they wanted.

For my novel, I chose to do a short talk instead because I felt the readership would rather hear about the characters, the storyline, and how integrative practices are playing a larger role in mainstream medicine. I wanted to be sure I was appealing to my target audience. But I was always careful to have a distinct point to my short talk other than just focusing on the book. I brought in elements that apply to our lives, something that appeals to everyone.

Simple Booksigning

What I really avoid, and recommend to all writers, is the simple booksigning. No talk, no seminar, no nothing other than signing a few books, smiling, and pretending you’re having a grand time. This is the least plausible way to engage with the customer because so many of them are working hard to avoid eye contact.

Is there anything worse than going into a bookstore and seeing some poor author sitting at a table, alone in the corner with a small stack of books and the poster and candy that only kids will come up and eat in handfuls, looking like he’d rather be watching paint dry? Many shoppers’ first instincts are to walk in the other direction because it’s all sad and forlorn. The writers are almost always unknown, so there’s nothing to pull the buyers into the table.

Obviously, I’m painting a worst-case scenario, because I’ve seen authors who are amazing at simple signings, and sell a ton of books. But they’re the exception to the rule, as I’ve seen the former play itself out far too often. If you want to do a simple signing, then you need to figure out how you’re going to attract people to your table without making them want to call the cops.

Day or Night of the Event

Bring. A. Pen. It’s one of those “duh” things, but I remember having a stack of customers who wanted me to autograph my writer’s book, and I had NO pen. What a ditz. I quickly borrowed one, but geez…a total
WTF moment.

Food! Bring plenty of goodies for everyone – including special treats for the staff. It’s a simple thing, but it’s often overlooked. It can be anything, but it’s something that will keep people at your table after your talk. For example, for our author’s first event, we get them a sheet cake with their book cover on it to pass out to shoppers. Book parties are a blast, because it’s invariably where you have the largest crowd, filled with friends and family, along with anyone you can drag off the street.

One of the things we’re starting is Hershey bar labels, like this:

candy bar front



candy bar back




Just wrap ’em around a Hershey bar, and voila…instant marketing tool, and way better than a bookmark.

The important thing is to bring something, especially for the staff. After all, they’re the ones who are in a position to recommend your book to their customers. Make ’em happy. Plus, it’s simply good karma.

Promote Your Competition: It may sound counterproductive, but stores love it. But, mind you, it’s not for every book. For example, when I was doing a seminar for my writer’s book, I’d have the store employees pull some of their favorite writer-type books and put them out on a table next to my book (in hopes of selling more books than just mine.) I figured there’s enough fabulosity to go around. Obviously, it depends on the kind of book you have and how you’ve planned your event.

In the end, it’s all about making a store deliriously happy they hosted an event for you, and you do that by having the perspective that you’re there to help their business, not the other way around.

Now, go out and be fabulous.


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