Mainlining Drano

March 31, 2015

There are a number of things that make me want to drink/mainline Drano. I’ve talked about them over the years…and wouldn’t you know, but I have a new batch of goodies.

  • Font color: Write your query letter in light gray, so that my weary eyes strain to the point of crossing.
  • Begin your query by admitting your work probably doesn’t fit our guidelines: (actually, this is a benefit of sorts, because I can delete that much faster without having to read the entire query). For crying out loud. If your work doesn’t fit a publisher’s guidelines, then why in the name of all that’s holy are you querying them? Editors are busy folks, and they’ll simply delete without replying – so you’ve wasted not only your time, but the editor’s as well. Not a smart idea.
  • Word Count: Make sure your manuscript is miles under the minimum word count. For example, the sweet spot for most mainstream publishers is between 50k – 100k words. They will usually specify that they publish shorts. But if you’ve written something that clocks in at about 30,000 words, it becomes more of a pamphlet than a book. This is especially irritating with nonfiction because, really? A nonfiction pamphlet on how to survive getting laid off/leaving a cult/dealing with falling in love with your best friend’s boyfriend…How much depth can you attain with 30,000 words? Puhleeze.
  • Request Help: Ask me for help in directing you to a publisher who does publish your kind of work. Um. Yah. Nothing would excite me more than to do your work for you.
  • Query Length: Just today I had a query that went on for six pages. SIX. Deleted without reply.

After thirteen years in this business, I still remain gobsmacked at the ability of authors to shoot themselves in their own feet and guarantee instant, sudden death rejection…especially since it takes so little research to understand how this crazy business works and the most beneficial ways to approach an editor or agent in a professional manner.

Okay, pass me the Drano…

 


How To Get an Editor to Hit the Delete Button

March 23, 2015

confused1

  1. Send two proposals for two different manuscripts, because we love playing “hey, if this one doesn’t work for us, maybe the other will.”
  2. Pull the ultimate laziness factor by not removing the little > marks in your email, so I can tell that your email has been sent to others – like this:

> I would be interested in publishing my book with you because I want to impact the world by bringing >important facts to the audience…

…because nothing says lovin’ like knowing I’m reading a retread query.


Your Manuscript Should Do a Striptease

March 11, 2015

No, no, I’m not talking about you…but your manuscript. Naked is the only way to go. I can hear you now: “What the hellfire are you talking about, Pricey?”

When you submit your manuscript – whether it’s an editor request, or you’re a contracted author handing over your darling to begin the editing process – it’s tempting to want to “help” your editor by formatting your manuscript. This is different from the standard formatting – 12 pt. Times New Roman, standard paragraphs, double-spaced. THIS is all editors want. Keep it simple. Keep it as naked as the day it was born.

No, the make-me-scream-like-a-banshee “helpful”formatting I’m talking about is the stuff that makes editors want to scream for a quick death:

  • Formatting the chapter headings, maybe doing about 10 carriage returns, so the new chapter begins about halfway down the page.
  • Formatting chapter breaks into sections (this one alone has been responsible for my drinking late into the night).
  • Formatting the page numbers, inserting your name on one page, and the book title on the next page.
  • Formatting the first letter in every new chapter so that it’s twice the size of the regular font.
  • Doing artsy fartsy line spacing.

Three words: DON’T DO IT. Don’t do any of this. All that formatting adds a ton of code into the file, and it wreaks havoc when some poor shlub (me) has to go in and undo all of it. Instead, submit your manuscript naked as a jaybird. Bare-assed. In the buff. Sans clothing.

You may think your manuscript looks all pretty, but all publishing houses have a standard way of formatting. And it all has to be undone before editing begins. Wasting precious time removing all the unwanted clothing makes me want to mainline engine grease. If you want to be helpful, send a box of Twinkies. Or Girl Scout cookies (those coconutty caramel things are to die for). But leave your mitts off da manuscript. Your finished product will look really pretty. Scouts honor.

You can keep your clothes on, but let your manuscript go skinny-dipping.

 


Character Development – Make Me Care

March 6, 2015

Generally when I give a crit regarding the need to fully develop the character, it’s because the author failed to let me into the character’s head enough. If I don’t care about a character, then I won’t give a rip about what they’re experiencing. A lot of writers over-think this and wonder what they’re doing wrong.

Don’t sweat this – it’s a lot easier to fix this than you think.

Think about what it’s like to meet someone new. You don’t know anything about them, so when they say they’re going skiing for the weekend, you’re probably making a mental note to go buy dental floss. Who cares? However, when a friend tells me the same thing, I instantly know that she’s freaking out about it because the last time she went, she broke her leg. Since I know her very well, she’s a fully developed character to me. I know what makes her happy/scared/excited/worried/etc because I know what’s inside her head.And more importantly, I have a good idea how she’ll react.

In this same fashion, it’s the author’s job to introduce the reader to his character(s) and expose enough about that character so we care what happens to her. But this means that you need to know your character very well – something I blogged about in How Well Do You Know Your Character?

In getting to know your character, you may think about The Dangling Carrot, which will help you flesh out your character on a deeper level.

The mechanics of how this is done can be through dialog, inner dialog, and deftly used exposition…

Speaking of dialog, it’s a cool way to show your character rather than tell your character. What I mean is this:

Telling your character:

Jane was the quirky sort who looked at the world through a skewed lens. She was on a few degrees off plumb.

On the face of it, the sentence is fine, but what if her dialog never reveals these characteristics? Then I have no choice but to take your word for it; and I won’t. Ah, the beauty and importance of excellent, smart dialog!

Here’s an example of showing your character through dialog:

“What’s the fun of attending this stuffy tea if we can’t have a little fun? I say we spike the teapot with cheap gin and watch those university wives get down with the funk. With a little bit of luck, they’ll hike up their skirts and splash about the marble fountain. It’d be the most fun they’ve had since having their braces removed.”

The dialog makes the first example sentence (tell) unnecessary. The reader already has it figured out that the character is a few degrees off plumb…and someone I instantly care about. In just that one paragraph, I want to know what else this crazy character is going to do or say.

In truth, it actually takes very little to make a reader care about your characters, but you have to know what you’re doing, and you have to do it consciously.

I always appreciate authors who show rather than tell because this adds an extra layer to character development. You’re getting the idea across about your character by letting her speak, rather than giving your readers a menu. As I always say, you can tell me something ’til the cows come home, but until you show me, well…I’d rather go cow tipping.

Make ’em care.

 

 

 


Rejections – Oh, the temptation…

March 5, 2015

When you receive a rejection, a personal rejection that outlines the specifics as to why an editor or agent is making the pass, it’s very tempting to reply…to justify, defend, or to simply explain.

My recommendation?

Don’t. Just. Don’t. When I reject something – for whatever reason – it’s a signal that I’ve moved on. I’m no longer thinking about that query because, well, I rejected it, and my pea-sized brain doesn’t have enough room to mull over something I let go. I have far too many other queries, chapters, or full manuscripts that require my attention. The last thing I need is for an author to continue a conversation in order to plead his/her case.

To put it succinctly, I’m. Over. You. I’m sure you’re lovely, and we’d have a blast over wine and cheese. But I have a business to run, and your constant emails begin to make my teeth itch.

It’s true that oftentimes I’ll write personal comments in my rejection letters, but I do this in order to help the author improve their query. Whether the hook is missing or I see a serious lack of a platform, I reject for lots of different reasons. A personal rejection isn’t an invitation to open a dialog. I’ve moved on, and so should you.

There are millions of wonderful editors out there, so wasting time emailing me to defend your work doesn’t get you any closer to your objective. Instead, I get a wee bit creeped out.

Be professional. Act professionally. And keep your dignity.


Editing Services or Editing Dis-services?

February 18, 2015

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.

Dear XXX,

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?

February 16, 2015

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.

 


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