If you want to succeed, this isn’t the way to do it

May 8, 2009

This was how I spent my morning with one particular angry soul:

Your web site is truly condescending.

My offense? Pointing out to a new author that looking at the submission guidelines is a good idea. There, he would have seen that we don’t publish mainstream fiction that doesn’t have strong socially relevant elements.

youre a bore and a waste of time

My offense? Telling him that responding to a rejection is tacky and offering up some inside advice. Yes, I realize I could have simply deleted this offensive creature’s email, but I thought I could impart some information that would help him in the future. Evidently some folks don’t want help because the already know it all.

are you the bitchy professional

My offense? Wishing him luck with that chip on his shoulder. I have to chuckle; his website professes “award-winning communication skills.” Yes, I believe it. He also professes “Commitment to Professionalism.” Hmm.

If there is a definition for noobs in the literary guides, this author’s picture would be prominently displayed. Really. Avoid this. Publishing is tough enough without having to fight your own bad manners. Agents and editors have long memories, and we talk amongst ourselves. You want us talking about you, for sure. But you want those conversations to be complimentary. The beagle has already hired a hit team of rabid dobermans.

“But…but…I’m special!”

May 7, 2009

There was a question posted on the Query Guidelines page, and I wanted to bring this to the forefront because I see this same question/complain often enough.

I do wonder, however, about those rare times when someone is overlooked due to rules and procedure.

The short answer is yes. Agents and editors have submission guidelines up for a reason, as I’ve mentioned plenty of times, and it’s not to keep the tourists out. Authors ARE the tourists. We do this not to be difficult, but to streamline our jobs. We have hundreds of queries either lining our office floors – where the beagle often finds a comfy bed – or packing our inboxes.

If an author somehow missed those guidelines, then it sucks. They won’t make that mistake again, will they? That they did miss them reveals how little they know the industry. Again, lesson learned, and they won’t repeat the blunder again.

Where I lose my patience is when the author insists that I accommodate them anyway because, golly gee, the work really is fabo, and I’m missing a real gem. That may very well be the case, and it’s a risk I’m willing to take. Remember, a query is a job interview, and the way you formulate your “application” tells me the type of author I’m dealing with.

Authors who submit nine page queries in a genre we specifically state we don’t publish can draw my ire because it’s obvious they skipped the Submission Guidelines – even though it’s a pretty big tab on  our blog. It’s a noob thing to do. Redemption is unlikley to anyone who can’t read simple instructions.

Publishing is not a matter of “if I write it, they will come.” It’s not enough to bang out a manuscript and expect an agent or editor to drop everything and see the brilliance of the work. An author’s job is to communicate, and this means being able to know how to discuss your work in the format we require. Hello, Mr. Query.

The process is like loading torpedoes on a ship. There are certain steps that sailors have to take in order to get it loaded into the tube, right? If one guy screws up, it creates a domino effect that results in disaster. Don’t infuriate the captain of the ship by not knowing your job.

So yes, you are special to many people – just not me. Not yet. I don’t care what adversity you’ve overcome (unless it’s part of your story and adds to your platform), nor do I care about the fire in your belly. That is already assumed. Telling me that you’ve had a tough life won’t change my mind and read an improperly written query – even though it may be the Great American Novel.

If you don’t learn how to load a torpedo, I’m likely to shoot you off the poop deck.

Return to sender…

May 5, 2009

[sung in my best Elvis voice against the beagle’s protestations because she’d rather I sang “You Ain’t Nothin’ But a Houndog.” My neighborhood would prefer that I not open my mouth at all, but I digress…]

Over the past couple days I’ve had phone calls [yes, I rolled our office phones over to my cellie.I’m pathetic. I know this.] about authors who were afraid that I would steal their work, but they forgot to include a SASE (self addressed envelope), and would I please be sure to send their manuscripts back to them. Now, I’ll just gloss over the insulting implications of their request because it’s obvious they’re noobs. They didn’t mean to accuse me of probable theft, but, well, it was a stupid thing to say because theft simply does not happen.Instead I’ll concentrate on the issue of SASE.

I want to save paper by sending the manuscript out several times. First off, are you sure that it’s really necessary to have your work sent back to you? Pages get pretty beaten up. Transit isn’t always the sweetest mistress. I’ve had manuscripts arrive in ripped envelopes and pages hanging out like someone’s Vickie Secrets are showing. The pages are scuffed and bent. And that’s before I even get my paws on it. Then there’s my reading of it. I’m a wander-reader, meaning that I take my work around with me. This doesn’t always lend itself for pristine care. And I like to make notes. If I see there is a return envelope, I’ll try very hard to take good care and make my notes elsewhere – but I really hate doing that.

I can tell when a manuscript has been around the block a few times. There are those telltale scuff marks and bent corners, yet the envelope is pristine. Unless the author drove over their own pages before sending it to me, it’s a sign the manuscript is a member of the frequent flier club. It’s tacky. It says, “I’m too cheap to pay for a fresh xerox copy.” You should be saying, “Nuthin’s too good for you, baby.” Remember, this whole process is your job interview, so don’t wear holey jeans when a pair of Dockers and nice shirt will make a better impression.

I want my work sent back because I don’t want my work stolen. This is a noob request. If someone is really bent on ripping off your story, they can scan the pages. The idea that people will steal your idea is so remote that it’s not to  worthy of firing up the brain cells. You can’t copyright an idea. Your work was protected the minute you wrote your story.  If someone rips you off, you can take their butts to court. But story theft from publishers and angents simply doesn’t happen. We’re in the business to sell books, not write them.

What should I do? If you really want your pages back, include a SASE with your pages. Plain and simple. Publishers and agents will not assume your mailing costs and tell the beagle to stop bythe post office on her way back from the drive-thru dacquiri factory if you forget to include one.

If you forgot to include a SASE, don’t call the editor or agent and tell them you’ll send them a SASE so they can send it back. By that time, they’ve already dumped the pages in the recycle bin.

I had this happen a number of years ago. I’d read a full, made copious notes on the pages and ultimately rejected the work. Not only was the author unhappy with the rejection because he told me his work would put our company “on the map,” but I wouldn’t return his manuscript. No SASE, no sendie. He really blew a gasket when I told him I’d marked it up. This was noob behavior, and I would never read anything else from him.

Suggestions: Make sure that you have several hard copies if that floats your boat. Don’t send out your only copy. Most of us take e-queries these days, and this format really is more efficient because it costs nothing for you to send, it doesn’t clog up the mail system, and it’s obviously cost efficient in terms of saving paper and ink. If we reject the work, we hit the delete button. End of story.

If you forget the SASE, let it go. Don’t make a federal case over it. It’s just paper and ink, and there is more where that came from. It’s about you and making sure that you always present yourself in the most professional manner. And speaking of professional, I just wrote this in my bathing suit at poolside. How’s that for dedication?

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