Avoid the Kablooey

September 23, 2014

whahuh

It’s hard to believe that in this day and age of readily available publishy information that people still don’t understand the query process, but it appears peeps either believe the rules don’t apply to them, or they have no clue there are any rules. Whatever the delusion, these aren’t authors I want to rub elbows with because time is money, baby chops, and the learning curve is steep. These are the Kablooey Authors.

Here are a couple examples I’ve seen fairly consistently over the years – and they really need to be tossed under a dump truck where they can be mashed, smashed, obliterated, and mutilated.

“My Publisher Has Gone Kablooey”

These aren’t so much query letters as they are a tale of woe. Lots of publishers are going kablooey these days, and they leave a lot of authors wondering how expensive it is to hire a hit team. First instinct is to immediately try to find another publisher. So the usual Kablooey query goes something like this:

“I haven’t heard from my editor in over five months, and I’m tired of waiting. Wanna take a look at my book?”

or

“I hate my publisher. They’re trolls who are little better than Bantha fodder. Wanna take a look at my book?”

And unfortunately, they don’t include much more info than that. Head, meet desk. If you’re in a Kablooey situation, you need to provide some things in your query, or face instant death rejection, or worse…deletion without reply:

  • A reversion of rights letter: Without it, I won’t touch it because I can’t. Until I know differently, the Kablooey publisher retains those rights – so my interest is about as expansive as my attempts at baking.
  • State the condition of your book – is it published or still in editing?: If your book is still in editing, then it hasn’t been out on the marketplace. This makes a big difference when entertaining a project. For example, I won’t accept published works. A number of publishers will; I’m just not one of them.
  • Does it have an ISBN?: If it’s been assigned an ISBN, then your title is in the system, and it’ll need to be canceled out. Nothing is a bigger mess than a title with two ISBN’s. I’ve seen Amazon nearly stroke out because they have the wrong ISBN listed on a book. ISBNs are assigned to publishers, so if Amazon, for example, gets the wrong ISBN, the wrong publisher will be listed. Then when sales go through, the money isn’t going to the right publisher. If that’s not enough to put a publisher off its feed, nothing is.
  • A synopsis: I know, it sounds simple, right? But you’d be amazed at the number of Kablooey queries I’ve received that failed to tell me anything about the book! Merde! If I have to ask…well, I’m not going to bother. I may simply delete the query – which is rude, I totally grok that – or fire off a quick form rejection letter.

Kablooey situations suck stale Twinkie cream because you’ve already been screwed once, and you’re not in the best frame of mind. But you have to be smart about your subsequent moves. First move is to figure out if your book is free and clear. If it isn’t, wishing and cussing about your Kablooey publisher isn’t going to alter the fact that you’re stuck. Don’t waste your time or the time of those you want to query.

“Look At My Website”

Oh, if there were a place of suffering and pain, I’d send authors a one-way ticket if they dare insist their websites are far more effective than writing a query letter. Just the other day, an author urged me to look at her website in order to “get a better feel for my book.” This was in response to my informing her that she’d done a marvelous job talking about her circumstances, why she wrote the book, and that her entire family lurved her book…but failed to actually TELL me what the book is about.

Look at your website? You mean, stop what I’m doing and do your work for you because you can’t be bothered to write a proper query letter? Nah, I don’t think I wanna play. Instant, Sudden Death Rejection.

Head bangy stuff. Here’s the thing; I don’t need all the blabby stuff – why you wrote your book, the fact that people find you utterly hysterical, and that your cats sleep under your chin (god help me). I simply need to know what your book is about. Period. Nothing more, nothing less. If you have a website, absolutely include it, because I definitely go check them out on projects that look interesting. But for the love of all that’s holy, don’t tell me to go look at it to “find out more.” If your query don’t gots it, I ain’t gonna go huntin’ for it.

If you come off as a professional, you’re going to attract a quality publisher. If you treat your query with the sincerity of a politician, you’re going to attract sleazoid publishers who may turn you into a Kablooey author. Avoid the Kablooey.


A Word About That Incomplete Manuscript

September 22, 2014

ScribbleSince we publish Memoir, it’s not unusual to get queries on incomplete manuscripts. Can I be honest? I really don’t like this practice. An incomplete anything equals WAIT to me. And I’m an impatient soul. When something rocks my world, I want it NOW!

Wanna hear an even scarier confession? I currently reject every query that only has a book proposal and offers no sample chapters. I learned this the hard way, because every single contract I offered based on a book proposal ended up with my canceling the project. Every. Single. One. The problems were that the proposals rocked, but the manuscripts didn’t deliver. Didn’t even come close. And the reason for that was because the writers were up against a deadline, which meant that I got what read like first drafts.

I don’t want anyone’s first draft. My heart simply isn’t that strong.

First Draft or Polished?

But my impatience isn’t the only factor. It’s also about quality. A book proposal isn’t enough for me. I need to see the first three chapters so I can see how the writer organizes her thoughts, and get a feel for the writing style. If the author is busy still writing the manuscript, how polished are those first three chapters…provided they have chapters to offer? If you send me chapters that aren’t really polished because you’re still in the writing phase, then you’re probably going to receive a rejection. And that just sucks, right?

Changey Mindey

There is real danger in trying to pitch an incomplete manuscript based on the first three chapters – namely, those first three chapters aren’t gonna look the same when you’re done. I don’t know of a single author who hasn’t changed the beginning of their stories, be they fiction or nonfiction, because of how they ended it. Finishing a manuscript influences all kinds of possibilities that you didn’t have when you first started out…even if you’re working from an outline. And those changes often turn a so-so story into something much bigger and better. Now, imagine trying to pitch the story with its original three chapters.

When I think of my own novel’s humble beginnings, my intestines want to explode.

I Want More

Then there’s the case where your first chapters rocked and I want more. But, alas, there isn’t any more. I gotta wait, which gets me back to my impatience issues. I’ll remain on the fence about the project because three chapters does not a rockin’ story make. I’ve had many, many cases where the first chapters were fabulous, but the rest of the manuscript fell apart. I have to weigh that against the possibility that the writing will stay strong throughout. When I consider how much $$ we sink into every book, I’m usually pretty leery of going forth with the project. It may hurt to see the sale go somewhere else, but my gamblin’ days are behind me.

Do You Know WHO I Am?

The case can be made for offering a contract based on a proposal only when the author is experienced and has a good following. They have published work I can refer to. They’re a known quantity.

The debut author doesn’t have that, so it’s important to consider what elements about the author and their story will encourage a publisher to take a chance on nothing more than a proposal.

What’s Da Rush?

Back in the day, authors sold proposals all the time, and the idea was that the advance would give them the financial stability to write the book. But those kinds of deals are few and far between for the average writer…especially a debut author. The world is a different place, so trying to adhere to old-time practices will yield little more than frustration. Most writers can’t give up their day job. Because we have so many more books and writers and publishers in the world, sales are a lot more spread out, and publishers don’t have the capital to spend like drunken sailors.

The idea is to put your best foot forward, and having a complete manuscript is the surest way to capture a deal. Life is too tenuous to dally with a lot of unknowns. Finish your manuscript. Take your time. Do it right…and conquer the world!


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…


Is Your Story Unique?: Beating The Proverbial Smooshed Spider…

June 17, 2014

stepped onI hate spiders and simply stepping on them isn’t enough satisfaction for me. I have to smoosh them into the pavement with sweated brow, gritted teeth, and a “take that, you hairy six/eight-legged biting bastard.” Reason being, I’ve had more than one spider beat feet for cover after I’ve stepped on him. Gah! The horror! Any spider that’s survived one of my stilettos is bound to be pissed off and seek the immediate services of every poison-fanged arachnid this side of the Rockies. I’m certain of this.

So for me, it’s overkill in spite of my hub’s admonishments: “Babe, you spread him all over the patio. I’m pretty sure it’s dead.”

Which is what brings me to the point of my post: Being Unique

It’s been said a million billion times at writer’s conferences and writer’s sites on the ‘Net…IF YOU WRITE IN A CROWDED CATEGORY, YOU MUST MUST MUST DISCUSS THE UNIQUE QUALITIES OF YOUR STORY.

It’s not enough to talk about your personal issues with infertility, because, well, um, no one cares. This is a discussion that’s crowding store shelves in every bookstore and online store.

The only way to capture an editor’s attention is for you to show the elements that make your story different from everything else out there. I’ll yawn hearing about the lengths you went through to have a family, because I’ve read this before, and you’ll become the proverbial smooshed spider. Many times over, in fact.

However, if you tell me that inverting your eyelids while doing the Hokey Pokey in a biker bar got those eggs and sperms doing the mambo, I assure you that I’ll read further.

Platform – Who You Be?

Yes, yes, I know. Much has been made of author platform, so I’ll continue to belabor the point. You may be well known in a particular field – say advertising, or website production – but that won’t transfer over to your topic of infertility. So the question for me is always, “Who are you? Do you have a big enough presence that I can promote you?”

Let’s face it, a national figure can pretty much break wind in church, write a book about it, and have it hit the NY Times bestseller list. But we mortals can’t. It’s incredibly helpful if your platform complements your subject matter. It’s incredibly helpful if LOTS of people know you.

There are many good books that die an unnatural death (much like any spider that dares cross my threshold), and it’s because the authors’ platforms aren’t large enough to attract an audience. No one knows them. Those books get caught up in the white noise of every other title clamoring for a readership.

So, once again, I bleat on like a yak strung out on crack…please, dear writers, if you write in a crowded category, do your homework and read your competition so you understand what makes your book different. Then ask yourself why someone would buy your book instead of the well-known actor/researcher/politician/expert in the field. If you’re not sure, then you need to work on finding a way to carve your own niche.

And speaking of carving niches, I think my friend, Sonia Marsh, is a prime example of doing an amazing job of creating one’s own niche. She took her story, Freeways to Flip-Flops, a wonderful travelogue about living on a tropical island, and turned it into an industry of what she calls Gutsy Living. She’s worked her apostrophe off promoting her book and ideaology into the mainframe, and it’s heartening to see the response. There are many travelogues in the marketplace, but Sonia added a twist of Gutsy Living, which is something that everyone can mumble, “Hell yeah, I’d like to live more gutsy.”

I’m sure Sonia would agree that creating her platform was the hardest thing about publication – and she’d be right. You can write like the wind, but if you don’t have a unique message and an established footprint in the marketplace, you may find yourself the goo under someone’s shoe.

Don’t be the spider. Tell me what makes your story unique and how your platform supports/enhances your story.


It’s an Either/Or Kinda Thing

June 8, 2014

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Words that don’t incite a lot of confidence when reading a query letter:

“My story is 60,000 words and counting…”

Um. Either you’re done writing, or you aren’t.

I rarely have my tinfoil hat on these days (messes with my hair and gives the Rescue Beagles too much mirth), so I have no idea what “and counting” means, other than you’re still tinkering/rewriting. This makes me wonder why you’re querying. It’s a small thing, but you can see where it may put an editor’s mindset.

Only query if you’re done done done. That way, your word count will be a finite thing – 65,000 words. Not “and counting.”

Thus endeth today’s tidbit.

 


The Collision of the Unholy Cinquinities and “Holy Crap!”

May 14, 2014

holy crapitude

I appreciate a good story that says, “Holy crap, Pricey, wanna hear what happened to me?” But the operative is “holy crap.” It’s like when jan-storyBarry Petersen’s wife, Jan, was diagnosed with Early Onset Alzheimer’s while he was still CBS’ Asian correspondent. How do you care for the love of your life and still maintain your career? JAN’S STORY oozes “holy crap!”-itude…by opening a vital discussion about the unique problems of Early Onset Alzheimer’s – which include love, working, saying goodbye, all while trying to maintain a job. There’s nothing else like it on the marketplace and there’s a huge readership, so it’s easy to see why it’s a bestseller.

And I reject many, many other Alzheimer stories because they lack those qualities.

Now, I realize “holy crap!” stories are subjective, and what I perceive to be a “holy crap!”-tastic story and the author’s perception of “holy crap!”-tastic could be as far apart as my bank account and retirement. Since we pour time and gobs of money into each title, I have to depend on the marketplace. What’s already out there? Is what you’re saying unique? Will they buy it?

Using that as a litmus, I’ve been going through my latest round of query letters, and nearly all of them lack that “holy crap!” element that will merit the marketplace’s attention in numbers large enough to blip the reader radar.

I know – I can hear you screaming from here: “What the hell, Pricey, what makes a memoir “holy crap!”-worthy?? It’s all so subjective.” Well, here’s my take on it: We all experience life in a myriad of ways. Some get debilitating diseases or have the motherlode of Bandini drop in their laps. The thing with memoirs is that Life happens to us, not through us…and it’s how we choose to deal with that crap that makes a story.

Or not…

Ye Olde Cancer/Addiction/Death/Divorce/Life Change

These are the members of the Unholy Cinquinity tribe – so named because there are 5 instead of 3 – get it (oh the cleverness abounds)? These are the hot buttons that usually melt my brain before I finish reading a query letter. Why? Because they’ve been Written. To. Death. Unless you have a huge platform or have an incredibly unique message, these books are next to impossible to market.

But don’t despair…be aware.

FSO - lo RESFor example, when Amy Biancolli’s lovely agent sent me her proposal over Christmas vacation – I wanted to reject it outright because it’s about losing her husband. In my mind’s eye Joan Didion already sailed that ship with THE YEAR OF MAGICAL THINKING. But her agent prodded me, so I huffed and puffed and committed to read the first chapter. Well, a few hours later I finished the entire manuscript because I couldn’t put it down. Not only is Amy’s writing some of the best I’ve ever read, but her story is unique when compared to all the other books of the same genre.

Of course, it details losing her husband, but it’s also about putting the pieces back and FIGURING SHIT OUT. It’s irreverent, poignant, honest – and carries the universal theme that we all have shit that needs figuring out, and we don’t always have to do it with dark-cloaked-respectful-whispers-knit-eyebrows seriousness. Sometimes gallows humor is the closest thing to sanity, yanno? I see Amy’s book as an inspiration for anyone wallowing in their own shit.

That is a “Holy crap!” story I know I can sell.

Conversely, I’ve rejected two other “death” books in the past two weeks that were, indeed, sad, but basically rode on Joan Didion’s coattails. Heartbreaking, yes, but there was no hook.

  • “My husband died.”
  • “I have/had cancer.”
  • “I suffered from addiction.”
  • “My husband left me after 30 years of marriage.”

I feel horrible for all of these stories, but what makes it marketable? These same experiences have happened to many others, so I always have to ask mysel, “Who cares?” Sure, it’s cutthroat and heartless (I have no soul, remember?), but so is publishing. If you don’t have your Big Girl/Boy panties on and objectively pre-screen yourself, then you’re going to suffer a lot of rejection. Which sucks.

I see many stories that are more like therapy sessions than marketable books. They’re too personal, so I sometimes feel like a Peeping Tonya. Many times, the stories are a rehash of books that are already crowding store shelves, so the “holy crap!” elements already exist…in someone else’s book.

If you write in one of the Unholy Cinquinites, you have to be able to defend your story’s viability:

  • What specific elements make my book unique?
  • Why would readers read and recommend my book?
  • Who is my direct competition – how does my book compare and contrast?
  • What specific kinds of people will read my book (intended readership)? –  I get a lot of, “This is a book that will appeal to everyone,” which makes me reach for the bottle. I can’t market to “everyone,” but I can market to cancer groups, bereavement groups, addiction groups, etc…so if you have a platform within those kinds of groups, it makes it easier to get bookstores interested in writing a big fat purchase order.

Writers of the Unholy Cinquinities who have a grip on these questions are in a better position to understand the “holy crap!”-ness of their stories and highlight those elements in their query letters so a heartless, soulless editor won’t reach for the bottle before hitting the Reject button.

Like I said, Don’t despair…be aware. Now go out and embrace your “holy crap!”-ness.

 


Query: Editors Respond Far Better to Positive

December 11, 2013
beagle-smile

Yes, Gertrude, beagles smile

Nabbed from a query letter:

“I self published a book last year on Amazon to great acclaim, but I realized it’s best to leave publishing to the professionals.”

This isn’t a positive statement, and doesn’t make me excited about asking for pages. Rather, this infers that for whatever reason, the author self-pubbed and didn’t do well promoting it – checking Amazon bore this out. So I have to ask myself whether the author would be equally unsuccessful in promoting a book with us. I understand the uphill battle of the self-pubbed author and that promotion is much more difficult, but I’ve seen plenty self-pubbed authors kick ass and take names. They’re an asset.

Whether it’s a fair assessment or not, I see the author as a liability. It sucks to have to make snap judgements, but publishers have no choice but to weigh the pluses and minuses of an author’s platform because it’s a vital element to publishing nonfiction.

The take away here is that if you don’t have anything positive to say, then don’t mention it. Instead, focus on your book, what it’s about, why it rocks, and why readers will clamor to buy it. It’s a better idea to play up your platform than divulge how poorly your self-pubbed book did. Keep it positive because that’s far more infectious.

And when you’re talking about your book, don’t forget to include the most important elements of your story:

  • Who is the protagonist?
  • How did he/she come to this story?
  • What does s/he want?
  • What does s/he discover?
  • What choices/decisions/changes does s/he encounter?
  • What terrible thing will happen/ would have happened if s/he chooses (chose) A; what terrible thing will happen/would have happened if s/he doesn’t/didn’t?

Now go forth and be brilliant!


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