It’s the little things – #color-me-annoyed

August 27, 2011

#color-me-annoyed:  When I see three different fonts in your query letter, I know you’ve cut and pasted – which is no big deal – but boy, is it ever annoying and unprofessional looking. It’s the literary equivalent of your bra strap sloughing down your arm.

#color-me-annoyed:  When you write your pitch, you don’t need to litter Wikipedia links throughout. Truly, I know what a Japanese woman is, I know where Belfast is, and I do know what happened at Dunkirk in WW II. Not only do these ridiculous links make your pitch hard to read, but I begin to wonder if you’re trying to sell a story or give a history lesson. Avoid this. Really.

#color-me-annoyed:  “My book compares to Eat, Pray, Love…” Shoot me now and blind me with eye bleach. In the past week, I’ve had no fewer than fifteen manuscripts use this as a title comp.

Note to authors:  Avoid comparing your books to  JKR’s Harry Potter series, Dan Brown and his DaVinci Code, or Elizabeth Gilbert’s E,P,L. They did it. In fact, they own it. You do not compare. Really.

#color-me-annoyed:  You put this in your query – “I would like it printed in standard memoir size (6” x 9”).” Guess what? The trim size isn’t your call – nor is 6 x 9 “standard” memoir size.

#color-me-scared:  “I plan on querying you the minute I finish writing my book.” Noooo…please, Oh Holy and Wise Cosmic Muffin, let this not be the case. Please intervene and let the book marinate for a spell, and then let the author go back and revise. The only fresh thing I want is a margarita…

Really.


Things that make the beagle and me drink heavily

November 9, 2010

“I met her, and she was sooo nice!”

The beagle and I hear this a lot. Well, I do. The beagle normally stays home and drinks without me. I’m referring to meeting editors at writer’s conferences. Now, I have nothing against being nice. Even I mentally prepare my own bad self to be charming and witty. But wit and charm has squat all to do with a company’s viability.

At one of the conferences I attended, there was a vanity press, and the owner couldn’t have been nicer. And boyo, she was out there charming the verbs and nouns off the conference goers. I had a lot of writers asking me during our private pitch sessions whether her company was a good idea – after all, she was sooo personable. Eh, how to answer that, right? My insides are screaming, “HELL NO! Save your money!” But what I said was that nice is as nice does, and it should never be a consideration when making a publishing choice.

Now that’s not to say personality doesn’t come into the mix. A number of our authors tell me that they clicked with me. Odd, considering I have no soul. But I do have the nicest authors in the entire world. And you do hope to click with your editor because that relationship becomes more like a marriage. It really is the difference between a good publishing experience and a nightmare.

But nightmares come in all sizes and shapes, and just because someone meets and greets well doesn’t mean they know what they’re doing and can do the very best for your book. Don’t get sucked in by someone’s winning smile or great personality. Ask yourself WHY you want to choose that particular publisher. Do they have great distribution? Do they have award-winning books? Do they market and promote their books? What does their final product look like? How much editing do they do on their titles? Have you seen them in the bookstores?

And yes, I can’t recommend this enough: buy or look at their books. Many of them will have their books in the conference bookstore. I’ve seen publisher’s books that, at first blush, sounded like a solid company. Then I looked at their books and ran for the hills because the interior design looked like drunk gophers did the work. Margins were skewed, the layout was sloppy – all the simple, yet vital, things that make a pristine product were missing. There is no excuse for putting out a shoddy product.

So the fact that they’re nice and make you feel good should be the last of your concerns. Utmost thoughts in your cerebral cortex should be whether they can get the job done. And that takes research, not a free drink and some pats on the back – though I’ve never been one to turn down the free drink.

“For two payments of $2499, you can join my 21 hour marketing seminar at my lakefront home!”

We received an email from one of the gazillion marketing gurus that skim around the sidelines of the industry, waiting to sell their “OhmygodlookwhatIcandoforyou” pablum.

Give.
Me.
A.
Break.

Of course marketing and promotion is important. Vital as breathing, in fact. But for the price of a great conference, authors can get a far better education about the ins and outs of effective marketing because conferences always invite a marketing expert to give a seminar or two. And it doesn’t cost the equivalent of one or two month’s mortgage payments.

The reason Mr. MarketingPants has a lakefront home is because he excels at one thing – marketing and promoting HIMSELF to gullible writers who think that paying five grand will give them the keys to the kingdom. It doesn’t. I’ve seen how these guys work, and they’re all the same. They make it all sound sooo easy peasy and anyone with a heartbeat can be as successful as they are. Much of their advice is stuff we’ve all seen since dinosaurs roamed the land. And much of it is plain hokey pokey stuff that only someone not in possession of their brain would try. That leaves a portion that may actually be useful.

You cannot fill up 21 hours of marketing info. Not without the fervent desire to take your own life.

The truth is that promotion takes a lot of work and planning and organization. It also has to be tailor-made to the book because not all promo plans were created equally. Idon’t often get the opportunity to sit in on a lot of seminars because I’m busy giving my own, but I the one time I played author and attended Antoinette Kurtiz’s seminar at her La Jolla Writer’s Conference, I learned stuff that I use to this day. She was brilliant. And there are plenty of great seminars at  writer’s cons all over the country. And they cost a fraction of the money AND you get to network with all those lovely people.

You do not need to spend a fortune at someone’s lakefront home learning the ins and outs of marketing and promotion. This isn’t a deep dark secret where only a few “know the truth.” It takes ingenuity and guts – and a very good product. Besides, you have to consider how many books you need to sell in order to justify that $5k outlay.

And really…wouldn’t you rather pull up a beach chair with the beagle and me and have a margarita?


First impressions

September 19, 2009

wetcat

I taught my kids that, right or wrong, first impressions are important. I taught them to consider how they present themselves when confronted with a new meeting. Like job interview. Or a teacher. Evidently payback is a bitch because I got the same eye rolls I gave Mom back in high school when she suggested that my skirts were too short. She feared I’d make a bad impression at school. Ma, everyone’s skirts were that short, remember?

Only now that my kids are older are they realizing ol’ Mom wasn’t such a dingbat after all, just as I did when I grew up…last year. First impressions are hard to overcome.

The same can be said for your first paragraph. I’m reminded of those street repair signs that are currently crowding a street where I go to pick up our mail – “This site reserved for future construction.” I think manuscripts should have a similar sign hanging on the blank page: “This site is reserved for future opening WOW paragraph.”

Readers, as a whole, tend to lean toward ADD (attention deficit disorder). If the first paragraph is slow or overwrought with prose, they put the book down and keep moving. As an editor, I’m equally guilty of this. If that first paragraph doesn’t grab and intrigue me, it’s a red flag. Yikes! A red flag on the first para? Is it really that tough?

Yup. It’s really that tough.

Now that’s not to say I’ll stop reading, but I’ll do it with less excitement. Especially if your second paragraph is equally dismal. So what constitutes a great opening paragraph?

A Great Line

I love a story that begins with a great first line. In my novel, Donovan’s Paradigm, my first line was, “Wake up and get your ass out of bed!” It was my MC’s alarm clock. I happened to really find a clock with that very alarm and thought it would grab the reader with something fun. Fun = hooked. The responsibility with a great line is that you have to back it up with a good paragraph. And then a few bazillion more good paragraphs. But at least your reader won’t put the book back on the shelf. They’ll keep reading. And that’s the point, right?

Simplicity

There are plenty of us writers who tend to get lost in our verbosity because we can visualize what we want to say – only it comes out in a long and confusing paragraph. Everything we saw in our brain looks on paper like my spaghetti casserole surprise. Here’s a prime example of what the mind visualized went terribly wrong on paper:

When Alice looked in the mirror, one day before she was to leave for college, when the birds were singing, a gentle breeze wafted into her room, and she listened to the distant sounds of lawnmowers, she decided the dress she put on made her look frumpy.

I uttered a few Whiskey Tango Foxtrots under my breath before reading it five more times. This was a poor choice for an opening paragraph, and I’m sure it broke a few laws on its way to Writer Oblivion. If you want to say a few things about the setting, may I suggest that you break it up? The comma is a lot like the beagle; it’s useful, but it can’t be expected to carry a lot of weight. Clearly, this sentence required a comma that could bench press my car.

Remember the KISS rule: Keep it simple, sweetheart.

Action

Lots of us love our first paragraph to open in the middle of action. It has the natural tendency to pull in the reader. It doesn’t have to be thriller action, but any kind of action – as simple as throwing a dart:

The dart went wide and hit the mahogany paneling.
“Shit.” Kim Donovan squinted through one eye at the picture taped to the dartboard’s center, took aim with her last dart and let it fly. “Oh, hell yes, she throws, she scores! That’s a hundred points for the pissed off surgeon.” The dart stuck between the eyes of the gaunt, late-for-a-shave mug. “So, you pathetic windbag, how’s it feel to be wearing a dart? That’ll teach you to tell me how to care for my patients.”

Action makes us sit up and pay attention because it exposes the character to react in a proactive manner. Proactive = interested reader.  The reader already begins wondering what the “windbag” did to the MC to have her throwing darts at his photograph. They instantly see she’s full of piss and vinegar because why else would she be throwing darts in her office? At lest that’s the intent I hope to achieve since this is my current WIP. But I digress.

Dialog

Dialog is another attention-getter because you have characters interacting with each other. Where there is interaction, there is something going on. Like Action, you’re creating a proactive environment.

Overworked and Underpaid Editor looked at the empty blender and glared at the beagle. “Did you really need to drink all the margaritas?”

“Sorry,” the beagle said through a small burp. “You were on the phone and the ice was melting. So sue me.”

“I may. Better yet, I’ll let you take your next vacation at the city pound.”

Going the literary route

Be very careful here because going the literary route can be a snoozefest or be of such wonderful quality that the reader is sucked in. I feel that Douglas Light’s beginning paragraph of his award-winning East Fifth Bliss is the Great Yoda of “Grab thy reader by the jugular.”

There are two theories.
The first:
After brothing up a world with water and soil and fish and plants and beasts that stand on two feet and talk and would eventually want credit cards and cell phones and satellite TV, God dipped his finger in the wetness between New Jersey and Long Island and summoned forth the rock called Manhattan. By doing so, He set in motion His austere plan: one day, there’d be an island replete with towering steel buildings and shabby brick tenements, dying trees, and co-ops with monthly maintenances more than most Americans’ mortgage payments. It’d be a paradise filled with hundreds of concrete parks littered with losing lotto tickets and fried chicken bones. Rats would frolic on doorsteps. Dogs would defecate on the sidewalks. Squirrels would charge at the passing people, having no fear.

When I read this, I shoved everything off my desk – including the beagle – and read his manuscript in one sitting. I am giddy over getting the Kindle/iPhone version of his book up very soon.

Set The Tone

Many authors forget that the beginning paragraph sets the tone for the entire book. No wonder many first paragraphs shiver in fear and drink heavily. It’s a big responsibility. So, dear authors, take care to treat your first paragraphs with extra respect. They are the first impression of your story and you, as a writer. And besides, is there anything worse than an inebriated first paragraph?


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