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.


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.


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.

 


“To Whom It May Concern…”

February 13, 2015

You no spamma me...got it?Use this salutation at your own peril. I usually delete without reading further. Snotty? Maybe. But would you open your job application in this manner? I think not. Not a good idea to use it in a query, either.


Your Bio and Query

February 12, 2015

“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!”


Humor in a Query

January 28, 2015

laughing beagle

I’m the first person who loves a good laugh, and I’ve been known to snort for air when my funny bone has been properly massaged. But humor is a tricky thing, so writer beware.

Firstly, a query is a job application. Would you use humor when filling out an application to a job you really want/need? Is it appropriate? There are times when humor helps make a query stand out, but it’s also because the subject matter leans toward the lighter side of life, and the author uses it to enhance their pitch.

“I’ve often wondered how much force it would take to invert my belly button, or the impact of 100 escapee gazelles would have on a small midwestern town. I realize this isn’t something that will promote world peace or solve the current financial crisis, but random thoughts such as these do make my bride suspect my sanity. They are also what keeps my protagonist, Barry Wahler, from losing his mind as a day trader on Wall Street in my novel THE GORILLAS ARE LOOSE ON WALL STREET…”

As you can see, it’s wholly unnecessary, but it’s a nice transition to the actual pitch. I love these kinds of queries because it shows me the strength of the author’s wit and writing. This is a huge difference between simply sticking something “funny” into your query that is unrelated to your subject matter.

For example, I often wrote about my first secretary, The Beagle, who has since retired and is now soaking up the life in San Clemente with her real daddy – my son. Since then, I’ve hired on The Rescue Beagles, who are equally deficient in their phone manners and filing duties, but do, however, embrace their love of shredding queries that miss the mark. So as an example of the “unrelated funny,” I see many queries imploring me not to feed their queries to these two undependable employees. No worries. All queries are electronic, and The Rescues know full well that eating my laptop would put a damper on our relationship.

Trust me (holding hand over where heart should be); the Rescues reference has been done to ad nauseam…heavy emphasis on nauseam. It’s gotten to the point of being my own personal cliché.

Another attempt of breaky-the-ice-y humor is the salutation “Dear Kindly and Benevolent Editor.” I’ve used this with example query letters over the years, so when it’s parroted back to me, I also kinda groan. You read some of my blog posts or went to a writer’s conference seminar where I spoke. I get it. But it’s not professional.

It isn’t necessary to break the ice, since we have no relationship to begin with. You have a project to pitch, I’m open for queries. It’s a supply-side marriage that needs to introduction or hand-holding.

Now, will stuff like this earn an instant sudden death rejection? Of course not. It’ll simply make me roll my eyes. And no one wants to start out a query with rolly eyes. Be careful with humor. It’s subjective and should only be used where appropriate.


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