Ah, the New Year, and I’m back at work. And so are you lovely authors, judging from my inbox. One thing keeps popping out at me in this newest batch; lack of empathy. I know, I know, why should anyone give a flying pig’s tail what I, specifically, think? Well, if you’re querying me, you should care a great deal since I’m the slob sitting on the other side of the desk trying to decide whether your work scratches my literary itch and rolls my marketable marbles.
Since I’m not fortunate enough to know each of you personally, I have to rely on this pesky thing called communication. Hey, we’re all writers – communication is a piece of cake, right? WRONG. We all understand the ease in which we bang out an 80,000 masterpiece, but run like a girly girl at the prospect of condensing our stories down to a paragraph or a page. But it’s gotta be done, and there is no clever way around it.
I am not much for query letters or boring you with long details about the manuscript…my book is like The Kite Runner
I so don’t want to see this, yet this is far from a first date for me. For starters, look at the attitude this author portrayed – probably innocently. I think that you’re too lazy, cool, rude, clueless, or “e;” all of the above. This screams “I don’t care enough about you or my work. If you don’t magically see my brilliance in this one sentence, then you’re an idiot.”
Well, ok, I’ll cop to being an idiot. In reality, my only real blunder was leaving my tinfoil hat at home so I could channel this author’s golden words. What aspects compare to The Kite Runner? Who are the characters? What is their dilemma, how do they work that dilemma out? Does it work out, or does something happen to prevent the resolution?
Clearly this author didn’t consider what Lynn would think. Had he done that, he would have realized that his query told me nothing and was a wasted effort. Happy New Year, hello instant rejection.
Another lack of empathy is where the author can’t nail down his story. It’s like a chameleon, and every time we try to catch it, it changes color and becomes something else. Is it a self help book? Well, no. Um, well, that’s what your query sorta indicates. Is it a story about you or someone else? Well, sorta. Um, well, that’s what your query sorta indicates. Is this a quest for finding peace and equanimity in the chaotic world of college finals? No, it’s a lot like Marley and Me.
ARGH! Quit changing colors on me, and tell me what this darn story is about. I need to know the marketable qualities of your story. If you can’t get it out, it’s not my job to pry it out of you. I suck at 20 Questions, and I just lost the tinfoil hat to the beagle in a card game.
Before any of you wonderful folks hit the SEND button or mail your query out, ask yourself one question; what would Lynn think? Or preferably, what would anyone who has no clue about your story think? Is your pitch mouth-watering and clear?
Does this tell me the compelling issues that make this a “gotta have it”? Does it properly intro the main characters, their dilemma, how they plan on resolving their problem (conflict), and how it gets resolved? Did you remember the word count? I have no idea how the author who didn’t want to “bother me with query letters and synopses” intended on capturing my attention, but he failed miserably.
Print your query out and have someone who knows nothing about your story read it. If they can understand exactly what the story is about and says, “Oh, heck yeah, I wanna read it,” then perhaps you’ve done a proper job of it. Don’t forget, the idea of the query is to get the agent or editor to ask for more.
I’ve worked with several authors who queried me over the weekend, trying to help them understand how and where they’ve gone wrong with their communication skills. Most agents and editors won’t do this; they’ll just send out a form rejection letter. I usually do the same thing, but in the goodwill and cheer of the New Year, I felt compelled to provide some help, in spite of my fears of the past where I’ve been invited to do all kinds of interesting things with any number of barnyard animals. So far, I’m four for four in the Grateful column, so I imagine the holiday spirit is holding out.
Dear, dear authors, think about the overworked, underpaid dolt sitting on the other side of the desk, and ask yourself whether we’ll understand and care about your story and your characters. Avoid the common pitfalls of boring and vague. Be clear, be knowledgeable, be brilliant.
Happy New You! Happy New Writing!