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?


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.

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.


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.


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!

House Remodel

July 21, 2016

I always swore that my next house would have no kitchen since I appear to lacking in the culinary arts. However, I do support this kind of a remodel.


The Great Oversell-Don’t Be a Toothpaste Commercial

July 11, 2016

Is there anything more irritating than toothpaste commercials that cheerfully tell you their product will brighten your teeth, give you fresh breath, and make you a chick/dude magnet, only to find out that the product didn’t brighten your teeth, your breath was only mildly enhanced, and that hot dude you’d been oogling threatened to blast you with pepper spray?

Welcome to my world of book proposals. Agents and authors are obviously eager to sell their manuscripts, so the proposals are normally filled with glowy, cheery stuff about how amazing the author is, how HUGE their platform is, and all the wonderful people they have on board to enhance marketing and promotion.

Many times the proposal lives up to the hype, and sales slide out the door, and everyone jumps for joy…and even The Rescue Beagles dance a jig.

But just as many times, the proposal is more like the toothpaste commercial, and all those glowy things that made my sales teams and me slobber like bassethounds end up not going anywhere…be it the PR team that was hired (but I never heard from them), or the established speech tour that was planned (but never happened). As a result, I’ve learned to take proposals with a grain of salt, because I’m the one left holding the financial bag.

If you’re writing a book proposal, be honest. If your promo plan looks lean, that means you need to work on your preparation. Don’t make stuff up. Remember, you’re looking to be a benefit to your publisher, not a risk. When you’re a benefit to your publisher, there is nothing they won’t reasonably do for you. When you’re a risk, editors want to cry and eat way too much chocolate.

Don’t oversell yourself. Don’t be a toothpaste commercial.


We Don’t Need No Steenkin’ Links…

March 16, 2016

For the love of all that’s holy, don’t include links in your query letter as a means of getting further information about your book. No matter whom you query, know that they’re insanely busy. They’ve made the time to open your query letter to see if your writing is what they’re looking for. If you do little more than say  a few words in your “query letter,”then direct them to a link where you have your bio, full synopsis, and reasons why you think this book is a “gotta have it,” I assure you that those bleary-eyed editors will delete your email without a second thought…because, well, links are rude.

A query letter is a job interview. Would you meet with a potential employer and hand them a link, so they can take even more time out of their day to accommodate your laziness? I assure you they won’t. They’ll move on to the next job applicant who is actually prepared and knows what they’re doing.

I know, I sound like a cranky pants, and I suppose it’s because I’m seeing a downward trend in the niceties of polite society. Everything is self-serve. It’s like the gal working in the shoe dept of my local department store. It was Sunday…the place was empty and you could have shot a canon through the place. I found some shoes I wanted to try on. She got them for me and unceremoniously dumped them on the chair and promptly returned to the cash register where she could talk to her co-worker, thereby completely ignoring me. I guess that was more important than waiting on a paying customer. In a word, she was rude.

Seems few know or care about excelling at their job, yet they scream bloody murder when/if they’re turned down or fired. But I have enough covered-over gray hairs to give a rat’s patootie about good manners and doing things correctly. And there is a correct way to query.

As for Ms. I-Can’t-Be-Bothered in the shoe department, who then wanted my email address for their records, maybe I should have just given her a link…

What Goes On in the Background…

February 15, 2016

You no spamma me...got it?

…isn’t always pretty, and it can make me a bit snarly.

A literary agent with whom I’ve never done business queried me on behalf of her author client. I had a couple questions, so I picked up the phone to call the number she had listed on the book proposal. All I got was a fast busy signal. So I looked up the agency site and called the number. Their voicemail box was full, so I can’t leave a message. This was over a week ago.

She hasn’t answered my email, either. So I don’t have much choice but to delete this potentially wonderful book from my Submissions folder.

Who’s the loser in this drama? The author.

Please, dear writers, before you sign a contract with anyone, RESEARCH. There are so many writing sites with forums dedicated to the classic, “What have you heard?” Don’t let the excitement of saying, “I have an agent!” cloud your judgement as whether they’ll actually do a good job for you.

I have no use for an agent I can’t contact, and my heart breaks for the author because the potential is quite huge.

How NOT To Handle a Bad Review

November 12, 2015

You no spamma me...got it?

Seems Richard Brittain in the UK took a review of his book rather poorly. He hunted down the reviewer, traveled 500 miles to Scotland, and bonked her on the head with a wine bottle. This is a man who can’t handle rejection, wouldn’t you say?

I’m infinitely thankful that in my thirteen years as Editorial Director, no one has bonked me on the head with a wine bottle. On the other hand, I have been invited to do the horizontal mambo with the barnyard animal of my choosing…

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