When to Nag – Public Service Announcement

August 19, 2016

Many authors send out their queries and sit to chew their nails. I get that. Done it myself on more than one occasion. “When can I send out a nagmail to the agent/editor?” is the all-consuming question.

Three months. 90 days. That’s the normal waiting period.

Yes, I can hear the screams and groans from here. But there’s a simple reason for this; we’re all inundated. Yours is not the only query/submission we’ve received. We have cyber stacks of them – all awaiting our attention. When you add this to the other jobs that editors and agents perform on a daily basis, then it’s easy to see why it easily takes 90 days (or…gulp…longer) to get through the stack.

And it’s not a matter of simply glossing over them, either. Some queries are easy to figure out that they aren’t right for us…and those can be taken care of quickly. But I have to actually read them first in order to make that determination.

The rest fall into two categories: I Might Be Interested and Totally Interested

Whichever category a query falls into, I take the time to research the subject matter, the author, and the marketing possibilities.When I compound this with the responsibilities I have to my authors, my days/weeks are filled.

So if you’re chewing your nails wondering if/when you’ll hear from those you queried, please remember that our days are stuffed. Instead of watching the clock, start working on your author platform – or improving it. Talk to professionals in your subject matter. Go after blurbs. There are many things you can do to fill the time that will enhance yourself. And these are things an agent or editor of nonfiction will ask for anyway. You become a much more attractive target if you can show how much you’ve done.

So please…give us 90 days. Then send your nagmail. Any sooner, and it makes my teeth itch.


How To Drive an Editor Batty…

August 13, 2016
  1. Use Wild by Cheryl Strayed as one of your book comps.
  2. Tell an editor that your book will “sell itself.”
  3. Insist that “My perspective is unique.”

These statements want to make me mainline Drano. 

“It’s just like Wild!”

No it isn’t, so please don’t say this or use huge bestsellers.The reason we ask for title comparisons is so we know how to position your book. Wild is an international bestseller that has sold a gajillion copies. It would be lovely if your book enjoys equal success, but it’s unlikely. Title comps are meant to be realistic representations of your book and how your particular subject matter would sell in the marketplace – not stand-outs like Wild. This means you would choose a title that is closely aligned with your story in subject matter.

The more insightful stuff you send, the clearer the picture is for us. And we love clear.

My book will sell itself!”

No it won’t. There are countless hours and bundles of money that go into selling a book, so this kind of statement makes my teeth itch. Endless promotion is done by your publisher and their marketing / sales teams in order to make readers aware that your book exists. This is not a case of “If you write it, they will come.” They won’t. We have to do a buttload of work to get readers to come to the trough.

Never, never, never say this…unless the intent is to watch an editor spontaneously combust – which could have its own amusement factor…

My perspective is unique!”

This sentence usually sends me running for my vapors because it’s such a generalized piece of fluff. It doesn’t say anything of value. If your perspective is truly unique, then you better be prepared to defend that in a manner that won’t make me throw good glassware. And you defend this by being extremely well-read in your subject matter.

For example, if you’re writing about a loved one having bipolar disorder, then your viewpoint won’t be unique because there are a million books on bipolar disorder whose perspectives are from a family member – usually a parent. However, if you’ve noticed that nearly all biopolar books have a “grit your teeth” mentality, then a unique perspective would be to highlight how your story sheds a positive light that allows for grace and humility and gratitude…such as Mommy, I’m Still In Here by Kate McLaughlin.

In order to differentiate yourself from books that are already in the marketplace, there has to be some unique element that’s big enough to where we can capitalize on it and make it a selling point…and for that we need specifics from you…which means you need to be well-versed in your competition.

So there you have it; yet another easy way to send an editor off to the Funny Farm for a month-long stay. 


Hello, Query? Meet Your Manuscript…

August 8, 2016

I know, this sounds funky, right? I mean, presumably the person who wrote the query is the same person who wrote the manuscript, so why the need for an introduction to each other?

Well…

I can’t tell you how many queries I read or pitches I hear that whet my appetite to the point where I scream, “SEND PAGES!” with the same inflection I use when yelling, “Honey, the meatloaf is on fire! Again!

It would be unseemly to yell about my meatloaf being on fire, and have “honey” discover that it’s really a Bundt cake that’s aflame. Right? First thing you’d utter is “What the hell?”

This is what happens when I get a query that says it’s one thing, but the manuscript says it’s quite something else. For example, if your query states that you’ve written a memoir of friendship built around the love of hot rods (the vroom vroom kind, not the…oh get your head out of the gutter), but your manuscript is really a How To on how to form a Hot Rod club, then my eyes will cross, and I’ll let The Rescue Beagles commence to tearing and shredding.

Because this isn’t what I was expecting.

Don’t tell me memoir, then give me How To. It forces me to switch gears and completely realign my thinking. And let’s face it, my synapses only fire under extreme protest. They’d much rather be sipping mai tais under a cool palm tree.

This just happened to me, and I was in the process of writing a rejection letter, when…shock of shocks…my synapses fired and told me to look at the chapters as a How To – even though it was supposed to be a memoir. I’ve decided to give this another try. This time the author lucked out. Synapses save the day! But when I’m reading a bunch of queries and sample chapters in a day, those same synapses may desert me. I may utter, “What the hell?” and reject it.

I hate rejecting things that sound like amazing concepts.

This requires objective self-analysis on your part. You have to step outside of yourself and read your chapters with an unbiased eye. How do they read? Do they read like a memoir? A How To? A romantic comedy? A horror show? If they read in a definite way, then you need to write your query to match it, so the bleary-eyed editor on the other end will see your brilliance for exactly what they are.

So introduce your query letter to your manuscript and see if they are friends or oil and vinegar.


Editor Humor

August 6, 2016

It’s confirmed…editor humor is as pathetic as you’d imagined.


Avoiding the Terrible Awful

August 3, 2016

Whenever I go to writer’s conferences, the question usually arises; “What’s the absolute worst thing an author can do?”

Oh. The mind boggles.

I’m usually the one on the panel who urges my synapses to fire more quickly so I can go back through the many years of some of the more interesting WTF-ery that has flown across my desk. And truthfully, my brain rebels because I’d rather concentrate on all the right things to do.

However…

There is one little thing that busts my chops every time because it’s just so absolutely horrible. It’s the query letter that doesn’t tell me anything about the manuscript, but instead asks for advice. Could I please talk a bit about my company and what we’re looking for? Could I please state how I want the query to look? Then I’m told the author “isn’t really a writer,” but, oh gosh, the story is JUST SO GOOD, that it’ll sell a bajillion books. Everyone who’s read the manuscript says so.

Um.

There is the “new writer” and then there’s the “hopelessly lost, out-of-the-zip-code writer.” It’s so achingly incredible that anyone in 2016 can be this lost. This goes beyond living on Writer’s Island. This is more like living under a rock.

I realize this is an extreme case of the Terrible Awful (thank you, Minnie Jackson) – but the fact that it still happens is worrisome. And of course, there are varying degrees of the Terrible Awful, and there is a very simple solution: Pretend this is a job interview.

The gods would toss down lighting bolts if you went into a job interview and ask the boss to tell them about their company and their guidelines…all the while telling them absolutely zip about you. It would go back to that getting laughed out of the zip code thing. If you want a job, then you make sure to put your best foot forward.

There is no reason for me to reply to a “query” such as this, so the author has blown the one chance they had with me. So think about your own query; is there a compelling reason for an agent or editor to reply in the positive…let alone reply at all? Does your query detail your main character? Does it focus on the heartbeat of your story and highlight what’s at risk? Does the tone of your query match the tone of the writing in the manuscript? I’ve seen any number of queries that insist the story is a comedy, yet the writing is somber and the storyline is anything but amusing.

Most importantly, have you written your query then walked away from it for a while? Did you let others read it and ask them if it’s written in a fashion that makes them want to read more?

Don’t be the Terrible Awful. Be the Holy-Margaritas-I-Gotta-Have-This!


The Art of Patience

July 24, 2016

All too often I see authors who want to bang out their manuscript, get it published, and buy Hawaii on their advances and royalties. The one thing these authors AREN’T willing to do is do things right, and it all begins with patience.

Case in point is an author who sent me her manuscript. Oh, how I loved the idea of it. The marketing and promo practically wrote themselves – except for one thing; the author had a great story to tell, but didn’t have the experience to properly tell it. After two tries at editing, I had to turn it down.

I’m not sure who was more frustrated; me or the author. I knew she had an amazing story, and I knew I could sell the snot out of it. She, on the other hand, was extremely frustrated at my turning it down twice, and offered to take my editiorial suggestions to “fix it.” The problem is, she was so inexperienced that she didn’t really know what needed fixing unless I specifically pointed them out. This kind of hand-holding is time consuming and soul-sucking for me.

Rarely does one pick up a keyboard and bang out an amazing manuscript. It takes patience to learn the elements of writing, how to know the difference between fluff and brilliance, and write with brevity and style.

Anything worth doing requires patience. Before I got my driver’s license a million years ago, I never thought I’d learn to parallel park. I kept screwing it up. I knew they wouldn’t have me parallel park on the driver’s test, but my dad insisted I know how to do it. I grumbled that I was missing viable beach days, to the point where my dad finally tossed up his arms and said, “Anyone can give up and go to the beach. Is that who you are? Or are you better than that? Stronger than that? Parallel parking requires patience because you’re manipulating a large box on four wheels to do something funky, and you have to move the steering wheel counter to what your brain is telling you to do. Now go do it.”

Yah, he totally called me out. I wanted stuff right then and there. The idea of having to be patient enough to dedicate hours to learning something new was appalling to my nearly 16-year-old brain.But I reeeeeally wanted my license, so I worked my butterks off.

And this is what writers need to do as well. If you’re just starting out and you have aspirations larger than just plinking away on your keyboard, then give yourself the gift of patience to do it right. Don’t be the author with an amazing story and the inability to properly tell it. In the words of my dad, “Go out and do it!”

If you want to see the art of patience in action, please watch this short vid of Konsta Punkka, who spends four hours every day photographing animals in their habitat. Because of his patience, he’s captured some incredible photos.


Authors Who Need a Binky

July 22, 2016

There are authors who believe their writing comes from the hand of God. Hey, maybe it does and I’m too dumb to realize it. But I do know what works for us and what doesn’t. For instance, when Kristin Adams pitched her manuscript about the amazing friendship between her son and his chicken, Frightful, to me at the PNWA in Seattle last July, I knew I had to have her on board.

But not everyone rocks my boat, and they receive a rejection letter…which affronts some the point of striking back. Instead of doing what you should do: M.O.V.E. O.N. the aggrieved author writes me back in a fit of pique, accusing me of everything from global warming to acne.

Let me invite you into my world for a second:

I read a manuscript and sent this rejection letter:

Thank you for writing. There are some problems with this that prevents me from considering this further. First, I can’t find anything about XXX on the internet. If there’s no proof this place existed, and thereby impossible to verify, then I don’t see where the compelling components for this manuscript exist. Lastly, your query letter lacks editorial finesse. If I’m forced to re-read sentences two and three times, then I have to assume the manuscript would be of the same quality. This makes things quite untenable for us. Best of luck to you in your endeavors.

I received this back from the author today:

I had my proposal letter edited and found out that even though it needed improvement it was not any where near as bad as you claim it is. My manuscript was reviewed by a professor when I took a course with her and she has found it to have what a creative fiction that is auto-ethnographic needs which is clarity and believability. I do not accept your feedback as valid in fact it was very insensitive. I now believe  your or or publishing company just wanted to discourage me because of being scared. I talk about powerful women and that can scare some people. I also think that even though y’all claim to focus on such things as conflict and resolution in truth y’all are just wanting to stop social progress and keep socialization as it is now so you have to discourage people who think and act outside of that oppressive box, take good care

Oh dear.

This is never a good idea. EVER. I can’t say it enough. Conduct yourself as you would at a job interview, because basically, a query letter is a job interview. All I could think was that this poor author is in for the shock of her life when she has to experience the editing process. And reviews? Oh, the horror.

Publishing is a tough, competitive business, where only the best are chosen. If you need a safe place to suck your binky over what you perceive as “insensitive,” then I posit that you ain’t ready for the Big Leagues, yet. There is a huge difference between making professional critiques and telling someone their writing sucks stale Twinkie cream (which I would never do).

So why do I bring this up? Because I see so much of this idea of “I deserve this, and screw you if you reject me!” And you know what? You don’t “deserve this.” You earn it…and you do that by acting like a professional and having an amazing story that is clearly outlined in your query letter. The characters and plot should be so real that they leap off the page. This is exactly what Kristin Adams did when she pitched to me during breakfast in Seattle last year. By the time I’d slathered the butter on my roll, I knew I had to see more. Kristin earned it. And so have all of our authors.

Over the years, I’ve seen more and more bad behavior, and I don’t understand this. Is this the general coming of things, or is there something in the water that’s making everyone put on their Crabby Pants? Regardless of why it’s taking place, there is one constant, and that is that editors and agents won’t put up with rude behavior. You want to throw a hissy? Fine. Go do it in your safe space. And don’t forget your binky.


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