The New Yorker got it so right…
Over the past few months, I’ve had cause to scratch my head at some of these “editing services” crowding cyberspace. For one thing, anyone can hang out a shingle and claim they’re a full-on editing service – ghostwriter, content and copy editor, and this elusive thing called “publishing services”…which I’ve come to learn is fancy schmancy term for “I’ll write and submit your query letter for you.” For a fee, of course. Problem is, these query letters are terrible. Beyond terrible, in fact.
They offer none of the mouth-watery stuff I need to determine whether it’s something I’d be interested in. Here’s an email I just sent to an “editing service” on behalf of their client. You be the judge.
If you’re acting on behalf of XXX, then it would have been helpful to have a stronger query letter that details the need for this particular book – the “gotta have it” aspects. There are numerous books on this particular topic, and the title comps you included in your query show that neither you nor XXX have a working knowledge on the true competition. This Won’t Hurt a Bit by Michelle Au is a wonderful book that already covers these topics. Any of Atul Gawande’s books are also a major go-to for those interested in this topic.
You also don’t provide an author platform, which is vital in nonfiction – especially in this sub-genre. Considering the popularity of Gawande’s books and Michelle’s book, XXX has some stiff competition, so it’s vital that I have this information. So sadly, since your query letter is so underwhelming, I have no choice but to decline to review this further.
So much went so wrong for the author because she trusted her book, query, and checkbook to this “editing service.” A paragraph or two of description does not a mouth-watery query make (channeling Yoda). Insisting the competition in this genre is very limited is query suicide because there is always someone who reads a lot more than you do…and they do this sort of thing for a living.
Platform. If you’re going to write nonfiction, you really need to have some sort of a platform by which we can promote you. This isn’t just me saying this, but every other publisher of nonfiction out there in Book Land. To omit this is also query suicide.
Here’s the thing; “editing services” have no stake in your success. You pay them, and they can be as right or wrong as they want…and they still get paid. That is a fact. In my experience, I’ve found that these “editing services” write some of the worst query letters because they don’t think like a publisher. They don’t understand the hook, or how to reel us in. They simply punch in a formula they think works, and blast it out. Easy money.
This is unforgivable in my opinion. If you’re going to call yourself “professional,” then you damn well better understand how to write a query letter and have a working knowledge of the competition. And these guys don’t. They can’t, because it’s impossible to be an expert in all fields. They can’t expect to know the comp titles for medical nonfiction AND pet grooming…which is why I’m not a fan of these guys.
I also question their editing abilities. For example, I read a manuscript about a woman who used rescued horses to help special needs kids. Fabulous premise. However, the thrust of the manuscript focused on her failing marriage. WHO CARES?? I want to read about the horses she rescues and the kids she works with. The author told me her original manuscript was all about the horses and kids, but her “editing service” suggested her failing marriage was a stronger storyline.
A failing marriage? The marketplace is busting at the seams with those stories, and these books simply don’t sell. However, rescue horses and special-needs kids is big and marketable. This was an “editing dis-service.”
There is no “one size fits all” in indie editing, yet authors pay out tons of money because these “services” are very good at one thing: promoting their services.
Any editorial service should be chosen with great care. Before you fork over money to hear someone make suggestions to change key elements of your book, you need to believe it’s a good idea. Ask yourself whether those changes make your book more marketable. Then again, in order for you to be able to answer that, you need to research your competition.
Remember: Anyone you’re paying has no stake in your success, so choose with great care.
What’s at stake? So many queries go wrong because authors don’t focus on what’s at stake for their characters. Instead, they focus on details and minutiae, like how Robby’s second cousin’s best friend is really good at math, which helps him with his fantasy football team. Meanwhile, Robby hits puberty and discovers he turns into a Minotaur during a full moon, which wreaks havoc on his attempts to woo Linda Lou, the head cheerleader and cutest little pie face of Salamander High. Mr. Second Cousin’s Best Friend has nothing to do with the main thrust of the story – so it’s insane to mention him.
But authors do. Well, they don’t mention Mr. Second Cousin’s Best Friend, per se, but they mention some disconnected facet of their stories because they’re too close to their own story to be able to parse it down.
So a quick, down and dirty guide to help you keep your query on track is to simply start with asking yourself, “Who’s my main character, and what’s at stake for him/her?”
And the stakes have to be high – not whether Bessie will manage to glue back her favorite teapot in order to serve her award-winning tea (which is only award-winning because she spikes it with Jim Beam) to the new town mayor, who she has the hots for. That’s just filler.
The stakes would be that Bessie is up against a stipulation in her father’s will that she must be married by May 15 or lose all the bucks to the Save the Ardvaark Society. Problem is, she’s spent her life being a disagreeable moonbat, and no one will have her…Jim Beam notwithstanding. So about now, the new town mayor could be an answer to her problem. If only he didn’t have that incurable sweating problem…
If we understand exactly what’s at stake, it’s easy to determine whether it’s a story we feel will be marketable. If you don’t tell us and give nothing but filler stuff, then we’ll scratch our melons. And hit the Reject Button. Avoid the Reject Button. Isolate what’s at stake for your character and barf it out.
One of the nicest, classiest, kindest men is now gracing and entertaining the angels tonight with the thousands of wonderful stories he gathered while covering the comings and goings of Los Angeles. Stan Chambers – KTLA’s Los Angeles news icon of many, many years passed away this morning at 10:30 am.He was 91.
It sounds dramatic to say that the world is a little less bright without Stan’s stellar smile and gentle laugh, but Stan was the exception to the world of newsies, who are often immune to the havoc they wreak in search of a story. Stan never went with a story until he had all the facts in hand, and everyone knew it. It’s why when a story was breaking, like the Rodney King beating, Stan was invariably the one to get the scoop – because everyone trusted him.
Stan cut his teeth in 1947 with the famous Kathy Fiscus story – the little girl who fell down the well. Stan stayed at the scene for 24 ground-breaking hours to report on the rescue attempt.
Virtually every amazing story that’s happened in Los Angeles, Stan was there, strong and steady. I remember him when I was a kid, during the Watts riots, scared half out of my mind (not realizing I didn’t live near Watts), but seeing Stan, with mic in hand, reporting in his calm, gentle voice, he made me feel that everything would be okay. He writes about this in great detail in his wonderful book, LA Times Bestseller, KTLA’s News at 10: Sixty Years With Stan Chambers, among other fascinating stories.
From that time on, I always watched for Stan on the news, because I knew if Stan said it, it must be true. Later, when I had the huge honor of publishing his book, I knew my faith in him as a kid hadn’t been for naught. He was the real deal, and we loved working with him.
He was always a gentleman, adhering proudly to a time gone by where gentlemen opened doors for ladies, and stood when a woman entered the room. He insisted on paying for our business lunches at Paramount Studios when we came to the studio during book production. Would. Not. Hear. Of. Letting. Us. Pay.
We had the immense pleasure of meeting his wonderful, supportive family and attending his many book events…and he was a huge hit at the BEA when it was held in LA. Hundreds of people patiently stood in line to shake his hand and receive an autographed copy of News at 10. Through it all, his gracious smile never wavered – and he was not a young man.
There was never any event Stan wasn’t willing to do. I remember sharing Stan at the LA Festival of Books with the KTLA booth. He’d sign a billion books over there, then come over to our booth and sign a billion more…all under a 90 sun…and he was wearing his classic sweater and tan coat! And never broke a sweat.
There are so many great memories we have of producing Stan’s wonderful book, which is a wonderful journey about a much more innocent time, when TV news was in its infancy, and Stan was there for it all. We were so fortunate to have him regale us with incredible, hysterical stories. I urge you to pick up a copy of Stan’s lovely book. It’s a walk through TV news history, a personal up close, behind-the-scenes view of what it’s like to capture ground-breaking stories while retaining a sense of honor and respect…and it’s all through the eyes of a very special, lovely man. As I’ve often said, Stan vibrated at a different frequency, and we always enjoyed being around this wonderful walking history book.
The Behler Publications team extends their love and sympathies to the Chambers family. Stan, we’ll never forget you and your kindness. Godspeed, my friend.
“Do I include my bio in my query?”
The classic question. Many tell you not to include it because your query is all about your story…and no one cares about your bio as yet. This is probably true about fiction, but I’m of a mind that a bio – a good bio – can’t hurt. Evah.
In fact, it can help a great deal.
Case in point is a query I received a couple months ago. The query was interesting, and I was definitely going to ask for the proposal and full, however my Wowza factor shot up when I read her bio. Instead of waiting to reply in a few days, I replied that very second. Yah. The author’s bio can zoomed her to the head of the class.
But that’s only if you have a braggable bio. Are you the woman commercial airline pilot with tales of struggling and steamrolling your way into the cockpit? Are you the first woman to ever be invited to try out for a professional basketball team? Are you the woman who latently discovers she’s the daughter of a sitting governor?
These are all bios that can launch a book into the stratosphere…and you may not even be aware of it. The author of the query almost mentioned her bio by accident. Meanwhile, I’m jumping on my desk screeching, “ARE YOU KIDDING ME??? MUST HAVE.” It may be that the story needs to be refined, but I’m seeing huge potential, where the author is only probably mildly aware of it.
So if you have something mouth-watery in your bio that relates to your book, I suggest including it. It can be the difference between “no thanks,” or a tepid, “please send pages,” to “OH HELL YES!”