The smell of a new submission – relax, it’s not what you’re thinking

June 5, 2008

Whenever we get a new ARC (advanced reader copy) for one of our titles into the office, I stop everything and admire the birth of a new book. It’s a ritual with me; I touch the smoothness of the cover before opening the book to smell the pages, remembering every bit of the production process. It’s my final way of honoring a job well done before we scoot it out the door to the great wide world of reviewers, distributors, and buyers.

I get the same kind of googly over submissions, too. Works that have all the earmarks of brilliance get all my attention. I savor each word of the plot and development and stretch out the reading for hours by reading a page or two here, a page there. You know how you get brain freeze if you eat ice cream too fast? Reading a great submission too fast has the same effect. Taking it slow is my private way of tipping my red pen to genius. It just smells great, and I want to enjoy the bouquet.

Yeah, it’s sick, I know. I’m considering therapy


May 20, 2008

I had a phone call today from a lovely woman who wanted to write a “How to Write a Novel” book that dealt with the typical POV issues, character development, etc., and asked if I’d be interested in pubbing it. First question I asked was, “And your credentials for writing this are…?”

“Well, I wrote a novel…a mystery.”

“Published by whom?”


Silent groan and twist of the intestinal tract. “Um, may I ask why you feel authoring a mystery that you paid to have published puts you in the driver’s seat above all the gajillions of How To Write a Novel already populating the shelf?”

“I thought you might say that,” she replied.

“Well, yeah. See, depending upon the work, author credentials are vital because you’re presenting yourself as an authority. If you’re writing How To Write a Novel, you’d better know what the hell you’re talking about, and a mystery book from a vanity press doesn’t cut it.”

In the same vein, I received an emotional missive the other day about how Hollywood is made up of spoiled richies whose millions buy jewelry and homes all over the world, yet they aren’t doing their job to speak out about ending the war. Despite of the huge holes I saw in his premise, his credentials were that he’d taught military dependents overseas. Huh? If he was part of the Hollywood set and knew this community intimately, I may have had a mild interest. But his presentation was disjointed and bolstered with nonexistent credentials that failed to convince me he knew anything about Hollywood or the war. I couldn’t take him seriously.

And that’s the rub of it. If you are writing nonfiction (and some fiction) and you’re calling yourself an expert, you better be able to support your theories. Believing it isn’t enough. You must have the qualifications that tell the reader you know what you’re talking about. It’s the doc who writes about the medical status of America or the airline pilot who writes about the Blackbird.

As much as I love the idea of writing about how Twinkies should be considered part of the vegetable family, I know better than to take the literary plunge because it would be based on nothing more than my opinion. And who cares about my opinion? Don’t answer that…I was being rhetorical. I’m not a dietician or nutritional expert, so readers are going to blow me off – as they should. The only caveat to this, and it’s a large one, is if the author has done miles of research and has a specific reason for the research – as in, “my uncle died of an inverted bellybutton, and I made him a promise on his deathbed that I’d find out all I could about Inverted Bellybutton-itis.” How can I, as an editor, not be drawn in with the author’s passion and motivation?

And yet I see submissions that have great intentions but no credentials to back up their claims. Remember, the reading public is a savvy beast, and we’re not all that stupid either. If you’re passing yourself off as an expert in something, your bio better support it. Otherwise, you don’t stand a chance.

Now excuse me; I have an interview with a Twinkie.

Hello, is there a brain in the house?

December 3, 2007

There’s a growing number of writers out there in etherland who are wandering around without their brains. I rarely say this because I’m a writer myself and would hate to be accused of leaving my cerebral cortex in my other purse. However, given the recent rash of odd submissions, I can only deduce that the glue had peeled back from many a head and allowed brains to go begging on the sidewalk.

Submitting or querying is fairly straightforward. It doesn’t require an advanced degree or special dispensation from the Pope. All one need do is go to the agent or publisher of their choice and determine if they produce or represent the kind of work you write. If they do, the next step is to review their guidelines. Carefully. What could be easier, right?

In the past month, I’ve received five CD’s. Do these people really believe that I’m going to d/load anything unsolicited to my harddrive?? Oh, one came in a very pretty envelope and promised me that I was seeing the very best of American literature. Really? Well, not if it’s on a C-freaking-D. All went directly into the trash.

I received a submission that was filled with a slew of photos and also promised that I was getting the next thriller that will turn America on its ear. Wow. Really cool. Except we don’t pub thrillers. Like an idiot, I wrote this guy back – something I rarely do – to tell him that rather than including all the hoo ha pictures and sensational drivel, he might consider including a synopsis. My jaw dropped in my lap when he called the office to inform me that I’d hurt his feelings. I suggested that perhaps he was pursuing the wrong hobby. Obviously he’s never seen a scathing PW review.

This month’s winner goes to the clever writer who told me that he’d written his first “autobiographical novel,” huh?, and had come to the conclusion that it was horrifically inept, “unequivocably” disastrous, and a magnanimous train wreck transcribed to paper, but that he hoped I would consider publishing it. He not only felt I should see this, but that fifteen other publishers should as well – as we were all listed in the address line. The added bonus was his P.S. which apologized for the mass email and oh, so, hoped he hadn’t broken any protocol. Nah, no worries, dude, I’d love nothing more than to publish someone’s horrifically inept train wreck of a manuscript. I may pull out my toenails with a rusty set of pliers just for kicks.

So, for Christmas, I’ve asked Santa to give fresh batches of glue sticks in hopes that this brave new world of writers puts them to good use. As for me, I’ve asked Santa to up my order for Jim Beam.

Submission Feng Shui

November 2, 2007

I have a small rejoinder to another post I wrote regarding following submission guidelines. This blunder is even more heinous because of its blatant desire to have a work reviewed. I’m talking about the writer who contacts me asking if they can submit. It’s like a query to query. The answer is always the same; abso-freaking-lutely, provided…PROVIDED…you read those pesky submission guidelines. We discussed whether we take historical fiction (yes, but it has to have big aspects of current socially relevant themes). I couldn’t have been clearer than if I’d rinsed my mouth out with Windex.

“Yes, yes,” sez wanna-be author, “I’ve read your guidelines to the letter and am ready to proceed.” No word count, no bio, and in a genre we don’t publish. In fact, he omitted his bio on purpose. Said he’d send it later if I wanted it, and, oh by the by, he has just the most wonderful writing history. A tease, this one.

No matter how much a writer wants to slam that square peg into that round hole, it isn’t going to fit. Not now. Not ever. So why waste everyone’s time by hoping that “just this once” I’ll change my mind. Truth is, I can’t. We’re known for socially relevant works. If I suddenly pop out a historical fiction suspense/murder, then one of two things happens: 1) The book dies because I don’t have those kinds of marketing contacts or 2) The book dies because my editing team isn’t proficient in developing a bang up murder mystery. And face it, you want the very best for your book, right? Then be certain that you query a publisher who pubs your genre.

Yes, I can hear it now, “Geez, Price, why you so cranky?” Ah, I don’t know. Maybe it was the guy I got earlier today that said, “I read your submission guidelines and decided to largely ignore them.” Sometimes it just doesn’t pay to get out of bed…

Submission Autopsy – Part 4 – POV

October 23, 2007

The setting: In the operating room. A manuscript autopsy is being performed by the eminent Dr. Editor and her ever-faithful helper, Editorial Intern. Immediate cause of death has been determined to be an acute case of Dullitis – the covers of the manuscript were too far apart. Contributing causes are slowly being uncovered in this autopsy. So far, the patient suffered from massive hemorrhaging between Show vs. Tell, Fluffitis and Backstoryosis, Dialog tagococcal, and the latest – Point of Viewicemia.

Dr. Editor: Quick, Editorial Intern, my smelling salts! I’ve met the beast and it’s going to be a tug of war to extract this out of the manuscript.

Editorial Intern: Why, doctor? After all, the manuscript is dead, so what difference does it make?

Dr. Editor: Bite your tongue and wash your mouth out with Draino. My dear, Editorial Intern, have you learned nothing? If I extract Point of Viewicemia without care, there will be nothing left of this poor manuscript to bury. No matter how horribly a manuscript died, it deserves a smidge of dignity. Hand me the buzz saw. No, no, the tiny one. (smoke arises from the depths of the manuscript, leaving an acrid odor wafting about the operating room)

Editorial Intern: Gah, what’s that smell?

Dr. Editor: Sorry. Plug your nose. It’s an infected First Person Point of View (POV). It tends to give off a rancid stench when it sits right next to the Limited Omniscient POV. Oh my, look here, you can see the lesions that were left by the Objective POV.

Editorial Intern: First Person , Limited Omniscient, Objective points of view. I’m confused.

Dr. Editor: Yes, yes, so was this manuscript. You see, what happened is this manuscript was slowly strangled by combating points of view. Look at this paragraph; it’s written in the Objective point of view and right next to it is another paragraph written in the First Person point of view.Then it switches over to Omniscient. Oy.

Editorial Intern: (blinking with bewilderment) Objective? First Person?

Dr. Editor: Say, just where did you get your MFA from anyway? Dr. Scholl’s? Come on, think! Objective – look it up in the dictionary. Objectivity is based on facts, things that are external – like action or dialog, not internal – like thoughts or feelings. Simply put, the reader can’t see anything other than through the dialog or action. You never get into anyone’s head.

First Person, on the other hand, is where the story unfolds through the eyes of the narrator, and it’s only his thoughts and impressions we get to see. Keep in mind that this point of view isn’t necessarily the truth because you’re limited to this one person’s perceptions.

Editorial Intern: Tricky stuff.

Dr. Editor: It’s that and a bag of chips, I tell you. And there’s more than just these two points of view. There’s Third Person Objective, Limited Omniscient, and a few others that I can’t possibly go into or I’d never finish this autopsy. Suffice it to say that when a manuscript mixes points of view together, it creates a toxic smell that’ll frizz your hair. My problem isn’t what POV the manuscript used but rather that it stays consistent. Lookie here, I’ll pull out this one offender and read it to you:

I couldn’t believe that I’d won the Hot Bellybutton Contest. My competition was sooo tough this year. That snobby Marcia Mammary had a bellybutton tuck last summer, and I’m pretty sure Rosie Pinkgut used all her clothing allowance on a personal trainer. I hadn’t done anything other than oiling my bellybutton down every night and keeping it lint free.

Marica looked at the new winner and curled her lip. “Nice crown, O-Ring. Who cares about a stupid contest anyway? Especially since Brad Meathead asked me to the beach this weekend.” She tossed her hair and gave the new queen a flip of her middle finger.

Rosie couldn’t believe what she was hearing. She felt her temper rise to the boiling point. Brad was her boyfriend, and who did that loosey goosey Marica think she was kidding with that innocent act? No one wanted to win the Hot Bellybutton Contest more than anyone she’d ever known. Marcia, however, knew that Rosie was, in fact, planning on stealing Brad away at the Cotillion this weekend. Good luck with that, she thought.

Can you count the POVs, Editorial Intern?

Editorial Intern: Um, First Person in the first paragraph, the second paragraph is Third Person Objective, and the last one is Third Person Omniscient.

Dr. Editor: Exactamundo. Now, remember, I don’t give one whit which POV the manuscript is in – but that it freaking stays in one POV.

Editorial Intern: But what happens when you want to have a story with more than one character’s point of view?

Dr. Editor: Sure, this happens in just about every manuscript. A story can get boring if we’re in one person’s head all the time. The trick is to keep one point of view per scene. If the manuscript wants to get into someone else’s head, then there needs to be a scene switch. You can’t, can’t, can’t be in Marcia and Rosie’s head in the same scene. This is called head hopping. Whenever I see this, I know the manuscript is a newbie. The truth of this is that very few manuscripts can pull this off effectively, so the common recommendation is “don’t try it.” Ever.

Editorial Intern: Is there anything else you see in there?

Dr. Editor: Wait, pull aside that modifier and exclamation point. Ah, geez, the final insult. This manuscript went into the point of view of a very minor character.

Editorial Intern: Why?

Dr. Editor: Good question. There very few valid reasons for a story to be seen through the eyes of a minor character. The action is with the main characters, so that’s where the focus must remain. Elevating nothing characters who add zippo to the plot is illogical. It derails the strength of the narrative and adds to the confusion.

Editorial Intern: Doctor, you’re taking off your gloves. Does this mean—

Dr. Editor: Yes, Editorial Intern, I’m finished with the autopsy. This was one of the toughest autopsies I’ve done in a long time.

Editorial Intern: So have you determined an exact cause of death?

Dr. Editor: I have. It was a conflagration of Show vs. Tell, Fluffitis and Backstoryosis, Dialog tagococcal, and Point of Viewicemia. It’s amazing the entire manuscript didn’t explode into a ball of fire. I’ve heard of this happening. You remember Miss Snark? The story on the street is that her office blew up in a raging inferno from one of these kinds of manuscripts, and that’s why she closed down her blog. Beware, Editorial Intern. Recognize the signs of Manuscript Extreme Dullitis. You blow up my office, and it’s coming out of your paycheck.


Later that night, Editorial Intern crept back into the operating room. She was still confused about the POV’s – especially Third Person. So she pulled out Dr. Editor’s medical malpractice manual and read…

Objective Point of View: This is, in a word; detached.The writer tells what happens without revealing anything more than can be inferred from the action and dialogue. The reader never knows a character’s emotions or inner dialog.

Third Person: Can be omniscient or limited. Omniscient means that the narrator knows all the thougths and feelings of all the characters. Limited means that the story is limited to the thoughts and feelings of one character.

First Person: The story unfolds through the “I” of the story. This can be limiting because that “I” may not be reliable or trustworthy. Also, the emotions can only be felt through one character.

Editorial Intern closed the manual and decided she needed to start drinking. Heavily.

Submission Autopsy – Part 3 – Dialog tags

October 21, 2007

The setting: In the operating room. A manuscript autopsy is being performed by the eminent Dr. Editor and her ever-faithful helper, Editorial Intern. Immediate cause of death has been determined to be an acute case of Dullitis – the covers of the manuscript were too far apart. Contributing causes are slowly being uncovered in this autopsy. So far, the patient suffered from massive hemorrhaging between Show vs. Tell, Fluffitis and Backstoryosis, and the latest – Dialog tagococcal.

Dr. Editor: (clucking sounds fill the operating room) Ah, such a pity. Dialog tagococal, or its more commonly recognized form, the dialog tag, is an insidious little beast because most manuscripts have no idea of their existence. They’re like little viruses that suck the life out of a story. If their numbers are kept to a minimum, they’re fairly benign. The problem with dialog tags is that they’re most virulent when put into the body of an immature manuscript. They colonize and prevent richness and flavor of the writing to propagate.

Editorial Intern: How so, Dr. Editor?

Dr. Editor: I’ll give you an example:

“What does that cloud look like to you?” asked Bobby.
“I dunno,” I said. “It looks like a kid sucking on a helium balloon.”
“You ever sucked on a helium balloon?” Bobby asked.
“Sure,” I said, “every time one of my sisters has a birthday. I stick a fork in the biggest one and recite the Pledge of Allegiance.”

Editorial Intern: Seems okay to me. What’s wrong with it?

Dr. Editor: It’s lifeless, like they’re talking heads. Let’s see what happens when I take the dialog tags out:

Bobby looked over at me through quizzical brown eyes. “What does that cloud look like to you?”
I squinted on what looked like a giant bag cotton balls in the sky and shrugged. “I dunno.” Bending my head sideways, I focused on one tiny cloud. “It looks like a kid sucking on a helium balloon.”

Bobby laughed and punched my arm. “You ever sucked on a helium balloon?”
“Sure, every time one of my sisters has a birthday. I stick a fork in the biggest one and recite the Pledge of Allegiance.”

Okay, it’s not Faust, but it breaks up the monotony and gives them dimension. Instead of relying on a dialog tag to signify a speaker, try assigning an action to the character; a scratch of the nose, bite of a candy bar. Vastly decreasing the use of dialog tags opens up the writing to a whole new world of communication and, in the process, a richer story.

Editorial Intern: Does this mean that all dialog tags should be irradiated?

Dr. Editor: No, not at all. Everything should be done in moderation, much like that box of Twinkies you ate at lunch. Obviously we need tags to signify who’s doing the talking when there are more than two characters in a scene. But too often dialog tags tend to create this thud, thud cadence, and it detracts from the dialog. It’s off-putting to read a lovely piece of dialog and finish it off with, “he said.” Clunk.

Editorial Intern: Does this go for saying things like, “he intoned,” “he gasped,” “he wheezed”?

Dr. Editor: Argh! These are some of the worst offenders because dialog tagococcal joins forces with Show vs. Tell and creates a mess. By using anything other than “said,” you’re assigning more importance to the tag than you are the dialog. It sticks out much like your pink paisley shirt with that red striped skirt. If a character gasps while speaking, then the manuscript has to jolly well show that.


“I can’t believe you ate my entire box of Twinkies,” I gasped.

Now, let’s try it again:

I clutched my throat and staggered toward the empty box – the very box I’d been saving to bribe the traffic judge. “I can’t believe you ate my entire box of Twinkies.”


I looked at the empty box and gasped. “I can’t believe you ate my entire box of Twinkies.”

Editorial Intern: Yes, but, Doctor, you use a lot more words to say what I could with two words.

Doctor Editor: This is true. But in the process, the reader better understands the depth of the character’s angst. The long and short of it is never take short cuts. Manuscripts who do this suffocate under the weight of their own dryness and single dimension.

Editorial Intern: So this is what killed the patient? Dialog tagococcus?

Doctor Editor: Still not sure. I haven’t gotten to the last third of the manuscript yet. Hand me the retractors and let’s see what’s lurking behind this prepositional phrase. Eek! Point of Viewicemia. Oh, I really hoped to avoid this beast.

Stay tuned…

Submission Autopsy – Part 2 – Backstory, Fluff and Good Intentions

October 17, 2007

The setting: In the operating room. A manuscript autopsy is being performed by the eminent Dr. Editor and her ever-faithful helper, Editorial Intern. Immediate cause of death has been determined to be an acute case of Dullitis – the covers of the manuscript were too far apart. Contributing causes are slowly being uncovered in this autopsy, the latest of which is Fluffitis and Backstoryosis.

Editorial Intern: Fluffitis and Backstoryosis? I’m not familiar with these terms, Dr. Editor.

Dr. Editor: Unfortunately Fluff and Backstory are the number one killers of all manuscripts because they tend to team up and destroy all the healthy writing. The result is that the reader falls asleep due to terminal boredom and/or confusion. I’ve seen cases where the backstory was so severe that I forgot the original plot. Those are the worst, and we normally isolate those in the EPC Unit because they’re so infectious.

Editorial Intern: EPC Unit?

Dr. Editor: Eternal Pile of Crap. The only way to circumvent Fluff and Backstory is to put them on a severe diet.

Editorial Intern: What exactly is Fluff?

Dr. Editor: Fluff is the little inconsequential stuff that, when properly done, can round out a chapter or a character very nicely but has nothing to do with the plot. For example, it’s the quick sidebar to explain that the hopelessly rich Margarita Von Aldenbald was nicknamed Lampie during a inebriated foray into a trucker bar where she commenced to dancing on the tables wearing nothing but a lampshade while singing “I’m An Oscar Meyer Wiener.” It goes to development and adding richness to the story.

Editorial Intern: But?

Dr. Editor: But overdo Fluff, and you veer the train off the tracks. And I see this all too often among new manuscripts who are so in love with their own writing that they forget they have a story to tell. Now, if Fluff isn’t too overdone, we’re normally lucky enough to edit it out with a surgical strike of our mighty red pens. If it’s metastasized throughout the entire manuscript, the standard medical procedure is to rip the guts out of the manuscript and rebuild it. I liken it to eating a Hershey bar after it’s fallen in the gutter – I could do it, but why? I just throw it away and get another one. So goes it with the overfluffed manuscript. There are always other manuscripts waiting to be read.

Editorial Intern: So what about Backstory?

Dr. Editor: Same type of atrocities going on with Backstory and can have the effect of a bucket of warm spit. Like Fluff, Backstory is good in small doses. Backstory, when done properly, lends necessary background to a character or a situation in order for the story to progress. It’s a small trip back in time.

Editorial Intern: Doctor, how will I recognize Backstory?

Dr. Editor: Let’s say that you see a story that has pink Martians threatening to invade, and the only person who can save Earth is the head cheerleader from Bucktooth High. She’s discovered that her sneezes are toxic to the little pink Martians. Problem is, every time she sneezes part of her luxurious blond hair falls out, so she has this dilemma: sneeze and save the world, don’t sneeze and keep her hair. There’s your action and your story. Now, a tiny bit of Backstory could detail how she was teased as a kid because her hair was a ratty mess until she hit puberty when it grew in thick and became the envy of every girl on campus. Even though it’s backstory, it goes to motive and character development, and explains why she’s so freaked about sneezing. This is effective backstory.

However, if the Backstory yammers on about how Tommy Zitface used to pop her bra strap as his way of telling her he had a mad crush on her and wanted to take her to the Dance With a Dog Social that Friday night, now you’re treading into Who Gives a Rat’s Hiney land. It has nothing to do with the plot at hand and adds zip to the story.

As with Fluff, we treat Backstory the same way if it hasn’t metastasized too much. We excise the tumor with a surgical strike with our mighty red pens. Luckily, the bleeding is normally minimal. But also like Fluff, if it’s spread itself throughout the entire manuscript, we normally have to pronounce it Dead on Arrival. And we always, always, always attach a Do Not Resuscitate order to it.

Editorial Intern: So Fluff and Backstory are lethal.

Dr. Editor: Oh my yes. I’ve seen them kill the tension of a story many times. I’ve read stories where the tension of a scene had me on the edge of my seat. Then Backstory or Fluff comes along and kills every bit of it. And what’s really sad is that the manuscript has built in antibodies that are often ignored.

Editorial Intern: Antibodies? So there’s actually hope.

Dr. Editor: Absolutely. The Intent antibody lurks inside every single manuscript and is designed to kill anything that ruins a story. Intent is always asking, “What are you trying to say? What is your intent? What’s the point of this sentence, this chapter?”

You see, every line and every chapter must have a reason for being there, and Intent works in the background much like the anti virus program on our computers. It pops up whenever Fluff and Backstory rear their ugly heads and signals a warning sign. But, alas, just like the popups on our computers, we turn them off all too often because they’re irritating. The result is that Fluff and Backstory are free to wield their damage.

Editorial Intern: And that results in…

Dr. Editor: Yes. The dreaded Rejection Death Notice.

Editorial Intern: So Fluff and Backstory is what killed this manuscript, right, Dr. Editor?

Dr. Editor: I’m not sure. The autopsy isn’t completed yet. Ah ha, see? Look there, past the sentence fragment and misplaced story arc…I think I see…oh dear, Dialogal tagococcus…

Stay tuned…

Submission Autopsy – Part 1 – Show vs. Tell

October 17, 2007

Editorial Intern: Dr. Editor, I’ve wheeled in the patient for further examination. I’ve looked and looked, but I can’t find any cause of death.

Dr. Editor: Ah, the deceased; Submission 101 – yes, yes, I’m familiar with the patient. Well, not this one, particularly, but I’ve seen the signs many times, and in many of those cases, the death was senseless.

Editorial Intern: You mean you know the cause of death? But you haven’t even begun the autopsy.

Dr. Editor: I don’t know the exact cause of death, my dear intern, and that’s why we must perform an autopsy. But I can see in the chart that this was an acute case where the covers of the manuscript were too far apart.

Editorial Intern: You mean —

Dr. Editor: Yes. Death by Dullitis. Let’s pick up the scalpel and investigate, shall we? (sounds of buzzsaw and grunting fill the small operating room) Ah ha, see this, Intern? (Dr. Editor yanks on a misplaced verb and dangling participle) Here’s our first clue; massive hemorrhaging between Show vs. Tell.

Editorial Intern: This is just so sad.

Dr. Editor: Indeed. What happened here is that there was too much telling and little showing. What happened is that a barrier was created between the reader and the story and the characters. When you tell, you lack passion.

Editorial Intern: What do you mean?

Dr. Editor: I’ll give you an example. “Blutto Bovine was fat.” The end result is that I have to draw up my own opinion as to what fat means. I’m forced into my own head rather than being in the story. It’s lazy writing and uninteresting. Let’s spice up that same sentence with some show. “The cracks in the sidewalks widened an extra millimeter every time Blutto Bovine made his midday trek to 31 Flavors to order a double scoop of Double Fudge Maraschino Cherry. He always made a point of eating it quickly to avoid staining the only shirt that could cover a fleshy belly that hung over his belt like a root beer float. “

Editorial Intern: Isn’t that longer?

Dr. Editor: Of course it is. But in those two sentences, we’ve gleaned the enormity of Blutto’s girth, his favorite ice cream, his schedule, and his lack of wardrobe. And, we’ve done this with a very visual picture.

Editorial Intern: Do you think this patient simply didn’t know how to show?

Dr. Editor: It’s possible. But ignorance isn’t an excuse for causality in death, my dear intern. Just as in real life, our writing should utilize all our senses – smell, sound, sight, taste, touch – they bring a story to life. After all a muddy pond can be just a muddy pond, or it can smell like a dusty attic on a winter day. Take your pick. This poor patient suffered the consequences.

Editorial Intern: So is the hemorrhaging between Show vs. Tell the cause of death, Dr, Editor?

Dr. Editor: It doesn’t appear so. (Dr. Editor cuts out an intransitive verb and gasps) Oh my holy liver, it looks like there’s a lot more going on. It’s so sad, so tragic.

Editorial Intern: What, Dr. Editor? What??

Dr. Editor: (sniffling loudly) The patient is filled with Fluffitis and Backstoryosis.

Stay tuned…

Leave Your Gimmicks At Home

August 4, 2007

I opened up a submission the other week, and a tennis ball came rolling out. It rolled under my desk and got caught in the wires of my computer. I had to get on all fours to retrieve it. A spider had taken up residence there and darted across my hand in its race to safety. Freaking out, I smacked my head on my desk as I lurched for my own safety of my chair. Can you imagine my frame of mind when I finally got to the submission? To add insult to injury, it was poorly written, and I rejected it immediately. The month before that, I received a chocolate bar. Had it not melted all over the manuscript, rendering it unreadable, I would have eaten it before almost certainly rejecting it.

This sad state of our media driven world has leeched its bad self over to the publishing industry, and authors are under the impression that the more outrageous or unique the presentation, the better. Nothing could be further from the truth. Success deriving from stunts such as these are the exception, not the rule, and no one should confuse the two.

For every story we hear about how Jane Writer got the attention of an editor or agent by having a male stripper deliver the manuscript, or Joe Writer wrapping his manuscript in Christmas wrap, there are thousands whose submission are dumped into the trash unread.

Why do they get tossed? Because we see it for exactly what it is; schlocky and desperate. Friends of mine who are reviewers, agents, and fellow editors have the same complaint.

Submissions 101 teaches a number of Golden Rules. Number 2 is “Never Look Desperate.” Ever. That you’re submitting or querying initiates a forgone conclusion that you want your work read. But for crying out loud, keep a firm grasp on your dignity. Inserting tennis balls, chocolate, sticks of chewing gum, a package of Cheese Whiz, or a Micro Machine does not scream to me, “I’m a serious writer.” It screams that you depend on gimmicks because your writing isn’t up to standards. What’s sad is this many not be the truth at all, but this is what you convey.

Look at it from my point of view; I’m not an ad person, I’m an editor. This means that the only product I review is the manuscript; not tie-in toys or food that you think is cute and will capture my attention. It’s not cute. It’s annoying and unprofessional. Like the tennis ball writer, is this the frame of mind you want an agent or editor to be in when they begin reading your cover letter? Sure, you may happen to find the one in a thousand editors who find this effective. But are you willing to take that chance?

Repeat after me: What you have to sell is your writing. Only your writing.

What’s the Number 1 Rule in Submissions 101? Write a great book.

My recommendation is that you keep your gimmicks for friends and family and stick to presenting a professional demeanor…unless you have access to a male stripper…

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