Spiffy Up Before You Query

December 15, 2014

The time to tweak your manuscript is BEFORE you query any editor. I know it seems that editors have oodles of freebie time, lunching and laughing uproariously with lovely agents, who pick up the tab. It’s a myth. Really. Only lunching I do is with the Rescues, and their table manners are abhorrent. And they never pick up the tab.

In the real world, editors’ time is precious. I try to maintain some semblance of organization by apportioning tasks to certain times. Reading submissions has to fit into a packed schedule, but I pull time aside each month in order to fire all my working brain cells on those submissions.

When an author writes back to give me the “Hold on while I tweak it,” I can only gawk. I mean, they rushed to query, captured my attention, then pulled out the literary carpet from underneath me to do the work they should have done before “Dear Kindly, Benevolent Editor” was ever written on cyber paper. So the time I put aside is now tossed out the window, and I move on to other things…grumbling all the way because I know it’ll probably be another few weeks or so before I can return to the submission.

By then, I can usually count on getting a nudge-gram asking me if I’ve had time to read their manuscript. Double argh with a side of loud sighs.

I know I sound all ranty, but for years I’ve been bleating like a goat on crack about the importance of being the consummate professional. Pulling an “oops, I’m not ready” is the antithesis. I actually had one author give me the “oops, gotta tweak it” reply, then go on to explain that he’d only sent out the query to see if anyone thought it was any good. He never expected anyone to respond! Pissed me off, it did, and I suggested that perhaps he wasn’t quite ready for prime time.

Think that author would have told a prospective employer calling for an interview, “Oh, hang on while I spiff up my resume”?

It just ain’t good bidness…spiff before you query.


Challenging Ideas Need a Platform

December 11, 2014

If your book challenges traditional thinking, you MUST have the platform to back it up. I’m all for rocking the boat and making people think. That’s the cornerstone of Behler Publications. However, I can’t possibly consider anything based solely on the merits that it challenges traditional al thinking. Ya gotta be able to back it up.

Just because you can happily survive on $12,000 a year doesn’t mean everyone can.

Just because you lost weight eating pistachio shells doesn’t mean everyone else can.

Just because you found true peace living in a tree house doesn’t mean everyone will.

You need to have cred. You need to be a respected expert to advocate and prove your premise – whatever it is – is viable. After all, the world already has enough dreamers and nutters, and that doesn’t offer carte blanche on a marketable book.

Go for the different, but be able to put your platform where your mouth is. Or be prepared for lots of rejections…


Thou Shalt Not Be a Noob

December 9, 2014

I’ve written about noobs over the years – writers who don’t know what they don’t know…and don’t care. There are all kinds of noobish behavior; sending editors nasty grams over being rejected; not researching those they query; writing synopses that don’t cough up the plot…the list is long and depressing. Depressing because all these noobish symptoms can be so easily avoided.

So here’s another one:

One of the most overused sentences in back-cover thriller, mystery synopses: “Nothing is as it seems.” – though I have seen it in other genres as well.

Please, dear writers, this is a throwaway sentence that says nothing because it has zero power. Thrillers and mysteries are, by their nature, meant to mislead and keep the reader guessing whodunit, so stating the obvious is pedestrian.

It’s equally eye-bleach worthy with other genres because you’re telling, not showing…along with being cliché.

If I see this sentence in a query or on the back of a book, I will avoid,  avoid, avoid because it smacks of noobishness. Don’t be a noob.


Queries: Be the Coach Purse

November 20, 2014

It’s a small thing, I suppose, this ranty McRant of mine. I mean, it won’t cure world hunger or lower taxes. But it may…MAY…prevent soulless editors from rolling their eyes. What am I talking about? The maddening manner in which too many authors open their query letters with The Hypothetical Question(s).

  • Have you ever been trimming your toenail cuticles and wondered what it would be like to be confined to a wheelchair? No. Actually, all I’m trying to accomplish is achieving comfy toesie status. I’m shallow that way.
  • Have you ever sat in a bar and wondered what it would be like to dance on the bartop? Um. Yes. I’m equally shallow that way.
  • Have you ever sat in traffic and wondered what it would be like to have a giant skiploader clear out all the cars? Please. I’m from California. Traffic has been elevated to a fine art.

What’s really going on with these hypothetical questions is that you’ve taken me out of your query and into my own inner dialog. You want to avoid this. At. All. Costs.

And it’s simply annoying to boot. Rather than asking me questions that are sure to draw answers infinitely different from your story, simply start your query out with a statement that draws out the set up in one easy peasy slice.

  • While in the throes of trimming his toenail cuticles, Karl sliced too deeply, drawing enough blood to fill a thimble. Damn, he thought, I’ll have to wrap the toe, which will make my shoes tight, which will make me limp all day long. Upon reflection, limping would have been a fair trade-off for what Alice, his wife, had to endure every day. Life in a wheelchair…

See how much more engaging this beginning is than a hypothetical question? The author immediately sets the stage to engage me – soulless editor – to what the story is about. Not only am I getting a bit of thought process from the protagonist, but also his sense of shame for his minor inconvenience, and empathy.

This is how you pull someone into your web…like the adorably tempting Coach purse sitting in the store window. Come to Mama! Conversely, Hypothetical Questions are the icky, gluey seepage that traps victims in, just like a stinkin’ spider so they can bite the crap out of you. Don’t be a stinkin’ spider by taking the easy way out with a Hypothetical Question. This is your time to show your talent. Be the Coach purse.


About Those Log Lines…

November 5, 2014

big-Mouth

Whenever I talk to authors at conferences, they seem to be all about delivering their log lines, which is fine because time is short, and they only have mere nanoseconds to tell me the concept of their books. It’s an invite for me to say, “Tell me more.” I’m usually rushing down the hallway to a meeting, seminar, or pitch sessions, so brevity is much appreciated.

However, a log line isn’t your pitch – it’s a concept – so these aren’t helpful in a query letter. For that, you need to lead with your story’s plot.

If you lead with this:

Log Line: “Newly free from the rat race, Twist McPherson becomes the reluctant publisher to five saucy ladies in their seventies and an internationally famous legal thriller writer with a nasty case of writer’s block and urgent desire for anonymity.”

An agent may do the literary equivalent of hanging up on you and stop reading after one sentence. Yah. It happens. A. Lot.

If you want them to keep reading, just jump right in and belch out the plot:

Twist McPherson, on permanent hiatus from the rat race, moves to Palm Springs and sets about writing the Great American Novel. Her timing couldn’t be worse; the sour economy has publishers signing only the big blockbusters, like world class author Jack Crawford and his courtroom dramas. After one too many Harvey Wallbangers with her best friend Roz, Twist agrees to dust off her advertising talents and create her own publishing company.

During her weekly Mah Jong game with a group of saucy ladies, all in their 70s, Twist casually mentions her publishing plans. Before she can eat the olive out of her martini, Dirty Little Secrets, LLC is born, and Twist has a stable of five new writers who, under nom de plumes, have spent the past three years writing some of the hottest, yet refined erotica to hit the electronic bookshelves. As southern belle, Lucinda Du Pont, drawls over tea spiked with Jack Daniel’s, “Smut sells, dear.”

In the midst of cover designs and distribution, Twist—so named for her metaphorical gifts of rearranging the male anatomy during tough business negotiations—meets the mighty Jack Crawford, newly arrived to the desert to finish his faltering tenth book and meet his thrice-past-due deadline. He absolves his writer’s block by writing for Twist under the name Marcella de la Prentiss.

It wouldn’t have been so bad had Chicago Times book reviewer Carl Beckenham not smelled a story in the young new publisher who blasted onto the scene with her classy advertisements and sophisticated promotion. But Snarlin’ Carl’s nose for a hot story has him digging deeper into Twist’s business to find out the identity of her writers, which threatens Jack’s career and the ladies’ dirty little secrets.

It may seem a small thing, but I know many in the business who will stop after the first sentence. If that first sentence is cliché, the person reading it will roll their eyes in your general direction. And that’s the thing with log lines; they can be quite cliché, and that’s okay…so are lots of movie log lines. However, your job is to tell the acquiring editor or agent what your book is about, and a log line only offers up the overall scheme. Big difference.

Save the log line for racing down hallways with errant editors and your neighbor, who you really haven’t forgiven for borrowing your weed whacker and never returning it.


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!


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