Thou Shalt Not Be a Noob

December 9, 2014

I’ve written about noobs over the years – writers who don’t know what they don’t know…and don’t care. There are all kinds of noobish behavior; sending editors nasty grams over being rejected; not researching those they query; writing synopses that don’t cough up the plot…the list is long and depressing. Depressing because all these noobish symptoms can be so easily avoided.

So here’s another one:

One of the most overused sentences in back-cover thriller, mystery synopses: “Nothing is as it seems.” – though I have seen it in other genres as well.

Please, dear writers, this is a throwaway sentence that says nothing because it has zero power. Thrillers and mysteries are, by their nature, meant to mislead and keep the reader guessing whodunit, so stating the obvious is pedestrian.

It’s equally eye-bleach worthy with other genres because you’re telling, not showing…along with being cliché.

If I see this sentence in a query or on the back of a book, I will avoid,  avoid, avoid because it smacks of noobishness. Don’t be a noob.


Multiple Choice Queries: Eeny Meeny Miny Mo

May 14, 2012

You and Mom are at the pound, looking for the right puppy to rescue. Mom rests her hand on your six-year-old head. “Go ahead, sweetie, pick one.”

You scan all the precious furry tail-waggers wearing their best “Come Adopt Me” faces. You’re conflicted. “Noooo! I want them all!”

And of course you do; they’re all so adorable, right?

So it goes for authors who not only write a bunch of manuscripts, but query them. Together.

I don’t know what’s going on, but lately I’ve been getting quite a few “You Chose” queries where authors list their entire repertoire of completed manuscripts. Just yesterday, one scooted into my inbox that offered no fewer than four manuscripts; each covering different subjects:  addiction, divorce, gardening zen, and driving cross country. Each title had a brief blurb and ended with the invitation that I could request one or all four. Lucky me!

It’s sweet of you to offer, but I think I’ll have to pass; and here’s why.

Jack of All Trades, Master of None

When I see these multiple choice queries that cover completely different topics, I suspect the author is tossing out a bunch of arrows, hoping one finds a target and sticks. I’m not that target because I’m looking for someone who is an expert in their topic and has the platform to back it up. Few have that ability.

I could see it with with the achingly talented Kim Kircher because she is a master at two things:  skiing and dealing with  a husband living on borrowed time waiting for a transplant while fighting bile duct cancer. If she had approached me with two separate books, I would have seen the logic. Luckily, she combined the two and the result is a fantastic book that goes to the heart about how vital it is for caretakers to have someplace where they can go to find their own inner strength in order to fight the good fight.

Most don’t have that kind of crossover, so these multiple choice queries books are totally unrelated, and the author is unsure of which book to pitch. So they pitch all of them and ask us to make the decision.

No Noob Zone

By querying your multiple books, you project the idea that you lack confidence in any particular book, and don’t know enough about the industry or the marketplace to know which book has more commercial appeal, or the widest readership. In short, it reveals you as a noob (someone who doesn’t know what they don’t know…and doesn’t care).

You’re basically saying, “I wrote all these books and have no clue as to what’s better. Since you know more than I do, you chose.” And we won’t do that.  I’m more likely to reject the whole enchilada.

Of course, you *do* care, so you need to do some research in order to find out which book has the most potential in terms of marketability and where you have the biggest platform. I can promise you one thing; we will not do your job for you.

There’s nothing wrong with being a debut author, but it’s really hard to work with authors who don’t know anything because they tend to have unrealistic expectations. It can be like herding cats…something the beagle would love to attempt, but gives me the shivers.

Is It OK For Fiction?

The same can be said for fiction writers as well. If one manuscript is romance, and two others are SF and crime, then you’re talking about three totally different audiences. Most writers write in one genre because it’s what they read; they’re familiar with the plot structure, the tone, the style. For instance, the writing style for romance is completely different from a political thriller, and I’d doubt that any author could write in totally different genres with the same efficacy.

Even if you have four different manuscripts that are in the same genre, you should have one that stands out from the rest. Go with that, and let the others play together in the sand box.

The idea is to do things that will enhance your chances for success, and Eeny Meeny Miny Mo is a bad idea. Really.


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.


Just a few reminders…*noob alert

November 14, 2010

Pretending to be friendly after a seminar

* You don’t need to put the little copyright symbol next to your title in your query letter.  Being in the biz, I know that your work is copyrighted the minute it spits out of your brain. Telling me is insulting and makes me think you don’t trust me. The beagle, I understand. I barely trust her myself. Besides, you look like a noob.

* If you don’t tell me whether your book is fiction or nonfiction, you force me to guess. This forces me to get out my tinfoil hat – and sometimes it clashes with my outfit. The question is, will I bother, or will I reject it outright because you’re showing your noobness? I know…sounds incredibly lazy and snobby, but let’s remember that you contacted me, so I don’t see it as my job to basically do your job for you by asking you to send me the genre…and the freaking word count. You either know how to submit a proper query or you don’t. If you don’t, then I wonder what else you don’t know.

* If you tell me that your book will be a bestseller, you’ll make my baby blues roll. In my experience, all our bestsellers came as complete surprises to our authors. Oh sure, they realized they had a quality book – and I think that given the right promotion it could hit the bestseller list – but making a bestseller list is left in the hands of the readers, and they’re more fickle than the beagle when deciding over brands of tequila. In truth, you aren’t in the position to actually know whether you have a bestseller or not, so telling me makes you look like a noob. It’s like telling me your book is hilarious. Usually, it isn’t. Best advice is to let the agent or editor decide whether your work has bestseller written all over it.

* I don’t mind being proven wrong. I welcome it with open arms because it means that I’m human after all. Living with no heart or soul for so long does make me wonder at times. But when I reject something, I don’t do so lightly. I take my time – yes, even when I’ve rejected something within minutes of it dumping into my Inbox. I know exactly what I’m looking for and what I think might find a better home elsewhere.

If I offered a reason for rejecting your work, I’m not doing so to open up a dialog, but to let you know why it’s not right for me. If I say something feels too mainstream for me, then that’s how I really feel, and there isn’t any amount of pleading that will get me to change my mind.

It doesn’t matter if your previous book won an award. Of course, I’m thrilled for you, but my focus is on your current work.

It doesn’t matter the reasons you had for querying Behler. I go on the assumption that anyone who queries us does so because they feel we publish what they write. Telling me that you chose us because you want to write about transformative characters is telling me something I already know. These things make you look like a noob.

*  If you need your friend/wife/husband/errant beagle to write your query letter for you, then you’re not ready for prime time. No one – and I do mean no one – can advocate your book better than you, the author. If your friend/husband/errant beagle wrote your query letter, then for the love of verbs and nouns, DON’T SAY SO. Besides, it doesn’t matter. But if you tell me, then I wonder what else you can’t do for yourself.

* I’ve said it before but it bears saying again; if you worked with an indie editor, then I wonder whose words I’m reading. It could be simply a personal thing with me, but I’ve been burned a couple times, so I’m admittedly wary. I’m not saying don’t work with an indie editor – but I think it’s important to figure out how heavily you’re leaning on them to produce a marketable work. If you find yourself relying on to a huge extent, then you need to consider whether your literary grapes are still too green. If they are too green, then are you really ready for prime time?

Mind you, if your story is so  huge, you could have written it on toilet paper and I would snap it up – regardless of how raw it is – because I see the hugeness of the final product. I may not like doing massive editing that borders on rewriting, but I’ll jolly well do it if I think there’s a bestseller in it.

I mention this because I’ve had a couple cases where the stories were adequate enough and I believed we’d make some decent sales. They weren’t megabusters, but serviceable. They had mentioned they’d worked with indie editors, but it wasn’t until we got into the editing process that I realized the  extent of that reliance. The authors literally couldn’t stand up on their own two feet without the editor’s help. You can imagine how confusing it is to me. I’m wondering how they wrote a very good book, yet couldn’t develop the character or scene in the manner that I requested. That’s when I realize the magnitude of the indie editor’s literary imprint.

So it’s a risk for you. You could say nothing about working with an indie editor and hope for the best – while bloody well learning how to write. Or you could get busted.

By me.

There is nothing that makes my blackened soul rage more than feeling like I’ve been conned. And yes, I do see this as a con. You’re telling me that you “wrote” this book. But if you can’t perform the most mundane of edits, then we both know who really wrote that book. I will be very cranky because I’ve lost faith in you and your book. This is when I reach a fork in the road; do I continue the project or do I cut my losses? After all, I’m not going to rewrite a book that I think is merely adequate. I don’t have that kind of time.

I can’t urge this enough – consider whether you are  relying on someone else to make you look great. If you are, then are you ready for prime time? Because I guarantee that at some point, you’re gonna be found out. Then how will you feel?

So that’s the Noob Alert for today. Tuck it into your literary tackle box and go out and be brilliant!

* Noob = someone who doesn’t know what they don’t know…and doesn’t care.

Noobs out in force…it’s the little things

June 3, 2010

What I do to noobs…

As I always say, no one minds new writers. We love ’em. But we do mind noobs. Noobs are writers who don’t know what they don’t know. And they don’t care. They just soldier on, clueless, contract-less, collecting rejections like the beagle when she’s in sock-stealing mode.

So for the record…

  • Spelling: It’s spelled “Query,” not “Querry.”
  • Multiple Choice: If you’re querying an editor, don’t say, “I am seeking a Publisher or Literary Agent.” I don’t do Literary Agent, so the fact that you’re seeking one has no bearing on me whatsoever. And no, I won’t forward it to an agent that I “really, really like.”
  • Keep it Straight: In that same vein, editors don’t “represent.” They publish. When your query says, “I’m seeking representation…” I think that you have a one-size-fits-all query, or your modifiers dangle at a different frequency.
  • Oops: The time to peruse a publisher’s website is not AFTER you’ve been rejected and told that your book doesn’t fit the publisher’s lineup. You save everyone’s time by doing your homework FIRST. And you don’t need to email telling me you oopsed. Just learn from it and don’t make the same mistake again.
  • Read carefully: If you tell me your novel is just like Kim Petersen’s novel, I’m going to wonder if you need glasses or have reading comprehension problems. Did you not notice Kim’s book is listed under “NONFICTION”? And, psst…Kim’s book isn’t out until July 2010. Your query is dated May 2. If you’re going to rip off a big fat one, at least choose a book that’s already in the bookstores.
  • Reading Comprehension: And speaking of reading comprehension problems, what is it about “we are looking for socially relevant Personal Journeys” that you don’t understand? This means your philosophical/Wayne Dwyer/Louise Hay/Find your way to Nirvana self-help book isn’t going to be of interest to us UNLESS there’s a big fat PERSONAL JOURNEY controlling the story.
  • Failure: Don’t tell me you flunked out of grad school, or any other school. The idea is to sell yourself. Stating that you failed, for whatever reason, doesn’t incite confidence. It tells me that you’re accomplished at being unsuccessful. Really, how is this helpful?
  • Salutation: If you address me as Dear Editor, I’ll address you back as Dear Author. Yes, I can easily see your name on your email. And guess what? You can easily see my name on our submission guidelines, so kindly save your righteous indignation for something really important, like running out of tequila.
  • The Big Hairy Eye: Be warned: If you tell me that you read ALL our submission guidelines and still addressed me as Dear Editor, I’m gonna give you the big fat hairy eye. And so will the beagle – except she’ll snarl.
  • Contact: If you’re in query mode, the last thing you want to do is have that irritating pingback email stating how you don’t allow  unapproved email and that I need to apply for your approval – and only then will you get right back to me. Ah, this is absolute  noobery at its finest.
  • Fees: No, we aren’t a vanity press and don’t charge fees if you find a mistake [gah!] in your book. We effing fix it before we go to the next print run. For. Free. Why do we do that? Because we make our money by selling books, so we care about their quality.
  • Whining: I know querying sucks stale Twinkie cream and you don’t need to remind me this is a tough business. Trust me, I already know. So that means you don’t have to say things like: “… agents are so intense on looking up their own anus, that they miss good storylines that go past their noses, they approach each manuscript as an academic excercise, and miss the fact that the “great un-washed” in our society, the majority of people in the country, wouldn’t know a good “penmanship” manuscript if they fell over it, all they want is a good “STORY”. I’m an editor and don’t need the 411 on what body cavities you mistakenly believe agents peruse instead of reading manuscripts. And I won’t even go into the poor sentence structure and spelling mistakes.
  • Confidence: Why do you feel the need to state that you’re wasting my time by querying me? Your lack of confidence tarnishes everything in your query letter. If you don’t think you rock, then how are you going to convince me?
  • Hobby: Whatever you do, do NOT ever tell an editor that your writing is a hobby.  We don’t live on cheap tequila, employ snarly beagle secretaries, and work long hours on crap pay so we can publish the hobbyist. That’s what Publish America is for.
  • Good Housekeeping: If I rejected your manuscript on 12-3-09, and again on 2-15-10, it is a guar-an-tee that I’ll reject it again. Keep a good record of those you’ve queried and heard back from. At the rate you’re querying me, you could drive over my son’s stereo and never hear it. S-L-O-W down and maintain good housekeeping.

In short, there are all kinds of things an author can do to reveal their ultimate noobery. The best defense I can pass along is this: If you want to be taken seriously, then you need to know how to conduct yourself.

Jumping into a vat of boiling oil wearing your bathing suit and carrying a parasol ensures one thing – you’re gonna get on heckuva burn and look like a…noob.


I hate >

March 10, 2010

Wanna know why I hate >? Because it’s attached to the text of an email. Which means that you forwarded your query to me. Which means that you thought yourself achingly clever and efficient. And you also addressed me as Acquisitions Department. So now that my name has been changed, I have to get all new business cards. And driver’s license. And my friends? Oy, the headache that will be reminding them that my name is now Acquisitions Department – though I think I’ll let them call me Acqui for short. Or Dept.

Let’s all say it together, kiddies, A QUERY LETTER IS A JOB INTERVIEW, PUT YOUR BEST FOOT FORWARD.

This is noob stuff. Don’t be a noob.

-Acqui


How to lose an editor in ten seconds

August 4, 2009

Number 1:

The book have been partly edited and is in descent shape, however there are parts that I have intentionally left unedited, in their raw form.

If a manuscript has only been “partially” edited, then I submit that it’s not in decent shape, as the author insists. This author lost major goodie points for sending inferior work. He made the beagle want to contact her hit team for admitting it.

Number 2:
Sending a full manuscript with your query. Major bad news beagle biting no-no. Authors should never send a manuscript – or pages – unless invited to do so. Upon opening up said manuscript [let’s not go into the reasons why I didn’t just delete it. Sometimes there is no reason behind half the things I do. I blame the beagle for this.] and see that the author failed to turn off their Track Changes feature in Word. That means I can see every weency editing change they made. Actually, it proved to be pretty entertaining.

I cannot urge this enough; before you attach a few pages, a few chapter, or your entire manuscript [and only because you’ve been invited to do so], open up those pages and take a final spin through the pages. Make sure you’re sending only your very best. And for the love of all that’s holy, turn off the darned Track Changes.

Number 3:
Sending an improperly formatted manuscript. Instead of indented paragraphs, double spacing, and TNR 12 point, the manuscript is formatted like an email – single spaced, no indentations, paragraph separations are done with an extra carriage space. And they used Comic Sans! This is instant death for me because there is no excuse for this. All a writer need do is turn on their computer and google “manuscript formatting.”

It’s like working in a fine restaurant. Your customer orders the most expensive meal on the menu and upon presenting him with the bill, the customer says, “sorry, dude, no can pay.” First thing out of your mouth would be, “what the hellcats is this?” This is not what you expected right? You’re in a fine restaurant, and you expect that your customers are well-heeled enough to pay for their meal. Well, I’m a fine little publisher, and I expect my “customers” to be equally well-heeled in the art of submitting manuscripts. This is a noob mistake, and unlike the waiter – who will probably call the cops – I will run in the opposite direction. I don’t mind new writers. I do mind noobs.

Number 4:

My book is literary action/adventure

The hell you say. This is another genre bender, and this is never a good idea. Especially when you try to bend literary fiction with anything remotely pretending to be action/adventure. My dear friend Sally Zigmond defines literary fiction far better than I.

Good literary fiction, whilst not intellectual and pretentious navel-gazing, isn’t meant to tell a plot-driven adventure story. It’s like mixing barbecue sauce into your chocolate mousse.

Sally, remind me to keep the barbecue sauce/choccie mousse idea away from the beagle. She’s given to trying new things in the kitche. But Sally is right. Literary fiction is about as far away from action/adventure as I am from wearing spiked heels and a beehive hairdo. Resist the temptation to add “literary fiction” to your work unless it truly is literary fiction. Many bungle the definition of literary fiction and think it means that the writer uses big words. It goes beyond big words – literary fiction is a lifestyle, so classify your work accordingly

Number 5:
Ok, this won’t lose me in ten seconds, but it does make one eyebrow yank toward the ceiling. It’s a silly thing, really, but it all goes to behaving as the consummate the professional. I’m talking about your email address. Many people share an email address with their significant other or – God forbid – the entire family.

There is nothing more Wal-Mart-ish than receiving a serious query letter addressed from TheFrumpyCrowd.com or ChicksDigMe.net. Ew. It’s even more confusing if your email address is in your hubby’s name, but you are the writer. I’ve sent countless rejections to a writer’s husband because I was in a hurry and didn’t look at the person signing the email.

Dudes. Dudettes. Get your own email account. It’s the professional thing to do. The beagle has a fire sale going on right now for cheapie email accounts.

I’m sure there are other things that can make me run for the hills, but these are the big ticket items for this week. Next week could promise a whole new set of luggage.


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