Query Letter: There’s Disagreeing and There’s Being Unwise

July 22, 2013

A recent email responding to my rejection:

Thank you for your comment regarding my story, but I have to disagree.  I don’t think my book lacks a plot or specific message.  Please let me know if I can rewrite my query and send it to you. You’ll find that if you read my work, that your conclusions are all wrong.

Um. Here’s the thing; I base my decision to ask for pages on the strength of your query letter. If your query letter lacks pertinent information, then I’ll normally say something so you may consider revising your query letter. I don’t offer critique in order to open a dialog or entertain a difference of opinion, so it does you little good to disagree with me.

It could be that your story rocks the Earth and Moon, and I’d be a simpleton not to immediately sign you. But unless you communicate that fabulosity in your query letter, I’ll be none the wiser. I understand author frustration and the desire to lash out, but rather than blaming me for the fact that you didn’t do your job in your query letter, try standing outside yourself and viewing your query letter objectively. Remember that I didn’t have the advantage of sitting next to you while you wrote your story, so I’m literally blind.

The Art of Objectivity

When authors fall into this trap of “What the heck, Pricey, why don’t you love my query?” it’s usually because they’re too close to their stories. Objectivity allows you to look at your query letter with fresh eyes and answer those pesky questions:

  • Is there a clear intro to my main characters?
  • What situation have they gotten themselves into?
  • What choices are they facing?
  • What do they stand to lose if they don’t take action?

Being too close can get you into trouble. You react defensively rather than taking a step back and allowing your cooler self to take control. This is when you publicly lash out at a bad review, or invite editors to make merry with barnyard animals if they reject you.

Of course there are times when authors have been unfairly rejected, and the editor was simply a cranky pants. But so what? You can’t argue your way back into their inbox, so why bother? Best line of defense is to avoid being like the author above.

Have there been times when you really wanted to bite back? What would you have said, and would it have been right?


How To Guarantee Yourself a Rejection

April 8, 2013

frustrated

Psst…here’s a hot tip for those of you who want to waste your time and the time of those you query; make sure that you send a very long query letter that mostly talks about your fabulosity…and dedicate one – yes ONE – sentence about your book.

I guarantee that you’ll be able to wallpaper your home in rejection letters.

Actually, I don’t want you wasting anyone’s time – especially your own – because you’ve worked long and hard on your stories. I want you to be successful, and I’m continually dismayed at what you think we blood-sucking editors want to hear. Lots of you include stuff that isn’t important.

For example, if your main character finds herself in Hell and discovers the Devil isn’t as bad as she’d been taught to believe, then it’s not necessary to include the circumstances of your character’s demise. If the manner of her death isn’t the crux of the story, but merely a vehicle to get her into Hell, then don’t include it because you’re wasting time, along with confusing  an editor. We’re fairly simple creatures, and we’re going to wonder why you included it. Stick to the stuff that explains the plot and your character.

I happened to read Query Shark the other day, and I loved this query letter. So did Janet. So did the commenters. It’s a prime example of what works. The author didn’t waste any time on the superfluous, but kept it tight and on point.

Platform

And speaking of platform (was I?), I know many of you are worried about including your platform – or pointing out that you lack one. Platform is important with nonfiction, but it should NEVER be the main dish. It’s a side dish. It’s secondary. You’re trying to sell your book – and that’s where you must put your focus.

Rarely does an editor sit around with her submission committee and say, “I don’t care about her book, she has a platform the length of my legs!” Someone with a great platform can still write a really lousy book. And a lousy book is going to get panned by readers.

So if you’re looking for fresh wallpaper or birdcage liner, then I recommend proceeding incautiously. For everyone else, be mindful because it’s all about being successful, baby.


“Loved Your Book, Can’t Publish It”

December 27, 2012

love-book

A murderous look was spreading across my friends’ face…or I imagined it was, since we were talking on the phone. She has the propensity to develop a tick in her her right eye when she’s pissed off, and her latest rejection letter offered plenty fodder for an entire body twitch.

They freaking loved my story,” she spat out. “The story is well written, characters are well formed, terrific pace, great voice…and they still rejected me? Argh! And here’s the worst part; they say they can’t do it proper justice. What does it takes to get a bite? How can I keep hearing how much agents love my book, but won’t take it on? What am I doing wrong?”

Boyo, she has my sympathies because it’s possible she’s not doing anything wrong. And what’s worse, is that I’ve written those very same rejection letters over the years. I realize how frustrating it is because, believe it or not, I’m equally frustrated. The author has all the right ingredients of talent and story, but I don’t feel confident that I can sell it to a wide enough audience.

Sales are our proving grounds…if we can’t sell enough books, then we’re gonna lose money. So I tried to give her my thoughts from my own experiences in hopes that she wouldn’t toss herself under a garbage truck filled with dead Christmas trees.

Audience

I want the author to know how much I loved their work, but sadly, I don’t think it has a big enough audience. You can write like the wind, but I’m dubious of there being a huge demand for books on whistling belly button tricks.

Or perhaps, you’ve written something that has been written about to ad nauseum…like Dystopian YA, or vamp/romance, or addiction, death and bereavement. I could go on for days. My point is that your writing may be brilliant, but the marketplace simply can’t handle another space odyssey, or a book about midlife crisis – especially if the author has zero platform.

I know it’s little consolation to the author, but I think it’s important they know there’s nothing wrong with their writing…but the subject matter.

And just because I don’t believe I can do it justice doesn’t mean another editor won’t feel differently. The time to sit up and listen is if you keep hearing the same thing in your rejection letters.

Recognizing market trends:

In between beating your head against a wall, you might be wondering how to recognize market trends, and whether that would increase your success for a publishing deal. Here’s the thing; you can’t. If authors paid strict adherence to trends, then it would mean that while you’re busy defining the trends that exist, someone else bucked the system altogether and decided to write something new and different. Look at the Twilight series. Stephanie Meyers bucked the trend by breaking the entire mold.

Then there’s the concern as to how long that trend will remain viable. I remember when Dan Brown’s DaVinci Code came out. This was back when we published fiction, and nearly every query I saw was some sort of DaVinci Code knockoff. Drove me and every other editor nuts. Thankfully, the trend burned itself out. Nowadays, I hear my editor buds groaning over the vamp/romance genre.

Dystopian YA has been really hot, but even now, I see that trend slowing a bit. So how long before it gives way to something else? My point is that once you’ve recognized it, it may be on its way out by the time you find an agent, they sell it, a year or two before it’s published…

Exploiting opportunities to create audience demand:

Okay, so it’s near impossible to recognize and depend on market trends, so the next thing you may think about is creating demand for your book, and how do you go about it. For nonfiction, which is my domain, this is more easily defined. Either you have a ready audience for say, Early Onset Alzheimer’s, or you don’t. There are a million Alzheimer’s books out there, but very few on Early Onset, so we saw a huge opportunity for Barry Petersen’s book, Jan’s Story. The Alzheimer Association got on board almost immediately, and the book just exploded from there. Exploitation to the extreme. Cha-ching.

Fiction is harder. Stephanie Meyers already knew there were huge audiences for romance and vampires, so she ended up blending the two and creating a whole new sub-genre. Fiction takes an editor who believes in your story and feels there is a large enough audience (or crossover, like Twilight) to create a marketing and promotion plan around your book.

But the responsibility also lies with you, the author. You need to be well read in your genre so you can figure out if your plot is a Been There, Done That, or if it’s unique. Think about the kind of reader who would read your book and why they’d read it.

We all know publishing a book is a crapshoot, and we know that our investment may pay off big time, or circle the toilet bowl…no matter how much money we toss at the book.

Financial Restraints:

I often hear authors complain that the reason their work is rejected is because publishers have their eyes on the bottom line. Well, sure, that totally exists. We put tens of thousands into each title, whether it sells or not, so we’d be insane not to worry about our bottom line.

Money has dried up, so large publishers are afraid to take chances on the fringe book – like Twilight was. But that doesn’t mean a really good book isn’t going to see the light of day. It’s a matter of finding that one editor who sees the brilliance in the work and feels it’ll sell well.

Sadly enough, there are no easy answers when it comes down to who gets the publishing deal and those who don’t. We’ve all read books and wondered what the editor was smoking when they signed that book. There’s no formula for an editor having faith that a book is en fuego. We look at the sales of books that fit within that genre, and analyze whether we can adopt a viable promotion plan that will sustain the book.

In the end, I told my friend to pick herself up, dust off her jeans, and keep on keepin’ on because , frankly, the alternative sucks stale Twinkie cream. It does no good to give in to bitterness or paranoia. The system isn’t against you; it’s just trying very hard to give readers what they want to read and make a few bucks to keep the beagle in tequila.


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