One, two, three…you’re out

Let’s say you have this friend who grabs you in the middle of eating your McBurger and McFries to tell you some fabo news: “I”mwritingabook!”

Cool, thinks you, finally he’ll make enough money to pay you back for that trip to Vegas. “What’s it about?”

Manny Mumbo is about a kid finding his way through life in San Francisco during the summer of 1967.”

Crickets fill the mall. Crikey, you think to yourself, this is a chap who owes me money; act like you care! “Hey, wow, sounds riveting.” Not. “So tell me more.” Please God, tell me this will get better.

Manny Mumbo concerns the adventures of a 17-year-old boy which are depicted with broad realism and satire.”

WTF? This doesn’t tell me jack didley. You force the words out of your mouth. “Hey, wow, um, really, ah, cool. Tell me more.”

“It’s a fictionalized memoir of my life.”

By this time, your interest is about as high as that colonoscopy your doctor has been bugging you about. You’ve given him three chances to gather your interest, and here’s the bottom line; You. Don’t. Care…no matter how much money he owes you.

Now, pretend an editor is eating the McBurger and McFries, and that is your query letter she’s reading. Your first sentence is a non-starter.

Manny Mumbo is about a kid finding his way through life in San Francisco during the summer of 1967.”

So what? What element in this opening sentence grabs anyone’s attention? Lot’s of people lived in San Fran in 1967, so what makes your story so special? You need to make that first sentence compel me to read the second sentence. So let’s say he said instead;

“It’s 1967, the Summer of Love, and San Francisco is awash with 100,000 hippies in the height of cultural and political rebellion, yet all 17-year-old Manny Mumbo wanted out of life was a briefcase, business suit, and cordovan loafers.

Now this makes me want to read sentence number two because the author introduced tension in the very first line. Tension = curiosity; that “what happens next?” feeling.

Sentence two:

Manny Mumbo concerns the adventures of a 17-year-old boy which are depicted with broad realism and satire.”

This is a scary way to use up your second pitch. You’re at bat with three chances to hit it out of the ballpark, so those first three sentences must be home runs. Telling me the story is broad realism and satire tells me squat. Contrary to the beagle’s claims that I lack a firing synapse, I really will figure out the story has a satirical bent – provided you get me that far. Let’s go for a home run:

Manny Mumbo is a satirical journey of a kid who, at all appearances, seems to have been born in the wrong generation and has no desire to delve into the world of the hippie revolution, a melting pot of music, psychoactive drugs, sexual freedom, creative expression, and politics.

See, again, there is tension in this sentence, which propels me to read further. You have kid who appears to have the mindset of the fifties, trapped in the Summer of Love – in San Francisco, the very heartbeat of the movement. I want to know more.

Sentence three is a washout:

“It’s a fictionalized memoir of my life.”

Because the first two sentences were non-starters, it doesn’t matter if aliens from Mars lived this life. I. Don’t. Care. I don’t care to be told that the dialog isn’t contrived; I can figure that out for myself when (if) I read your work. But I have to have some idea what this story is about. And like my imaginary friend with his McBurger and McFries, he’s looking for the escape hatch. Mine is simple; a form rejection letter.

Sentence three should have been a launch into the actual plot because you’ve given me two good sentences that set up your character and the overall idea. Now’s the time to get specific. Is Manny hassled by the hippies as he goes to high school in his varsity letterman’s jacket and short hair? Is he in great demand for a job because he’s the only one who is seen by “The Establishment” as being hire-worthy, and the hippies are hassling him for money? Is he in love with a hippie chick with long blond hair, headband, and hairy armpits – a star-crossed love story? Now is the time to give me the specifics.

The bottom line to all this is that you’re authors, and this means you’re supposed to be good with words and communication. We don’t have the luxury of rummaging around in the flotsam called your brain, so you have to communicate effectively in order to make us see your world. And more importantly; care about your world.

The realities are that most agents and editors are looking for reasons to continue reading because most of us have already rejected this in our minds. Sick? Twisted? Totally. But it’s a result of the vast number of poorly written queries that flood our offices. We do read every single one of them, but we’re looking for queries that spit it out and make us care.

If your first three sentences aren’t home runs, duuude, you’ve struck out.

3 Responses to One, two, three…you’re out

  1. Love it! That, combined with Jane Smith’s today on How Publishing Really Works are all I need to remind me why I’m so glad I’m not an editor or agent but “just” an author.

    Fictionalised memoir of his life? Sounds like someone who is neither a novelist nor has an interesting enough life.

    Wouldn’t be surprised if you turned to drink one day.

  2. lynnpricewrites says:

    Wouldn’t be surprised if you turned to drink one day.
    Sweetie, I’m already there.

    As for the “fictionalized memoir” bit, you’d be amazed at how many people write this in their queries. I tend to have a linear thought process, and that remark always makes me wonder if it’s a conundrum or they’re being contrary. If these are events based on your life, then say so. ‘Course, if they do, I’m still going to say either, who cares? or why didn’t you just make it a memoir?

    Ach, we editors are such brainless nobs.

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