Always Act Like a Professional

September 12, 2016

Rejection bites. Everyone knows this. It brings out the the worst in some – and I’ve been privy to those “worst times.” I don’t like having to write rejection letters any more than you like receiving them. But once they’re written, that’s the end of it for me, because, well, I have a ton more queries awaiting my attention.

So it’s irritating to receive an email from someone I rejected, informing me that my analysis and reasons for rejection are all wrong, and that I’m an idiot. And furthermore, the manuscript won TWO awards and many readers said how much they LOVED the story…and oh, there is a publisher who has accepted the work. I’m truly happy it won writing awards and that readers enjoyed reading the manuscript and that the author has a contract offer. If the author has gotten that contract, then why bother fanning it in my nose? This confuses me.

The fact that it didn’t work for me isn’t a declaration of any lack of talent or unworthiness. That ain’t my call. My call is this: Can I sell it? If there are elements that make me feel it would be a tough sell, then I have an obligation to those who work for me to reject it.

And really, what is the benefit of an author sending me (or any other editor) a letter like this? Is it supposed to make me curl up and cry because I missed the boat? Am I supposed to feel chastised because I was too thick-headed to understand the story’s fabulosity? None of these things happen at my end, and this second-grade nyah nyah makes the author look less than professional.

And that’s the crux of this business – any business, really. Always act like a professional. Rejection hurts, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to fire off a “you suck” email after receiving a rejection. In fact, emails like this make me breathe a sigh of relief that I did reject them. Who needs a loose cannon who flips out at rejection? Can you imagine the fireworks over a bad review? Yikes.

Lastly, it’s letters like this that make me want to return to sending out form rejection letters. Many times I do offer reasons as to why something didn’t work for me as a way of offering the author objective insight from someone who’s been selling books for almost 14 years. Perhaps I’ve seen something the author didn’t, and they can look at their writing with fresh eyes. Or…they can get hurt and lash back.

Either way, authors who write out of anger diminish themselves in a way they don’t even understand. This industry is filled with rejection and tough love. If authors don’t learn that one lesson of grace under fire, then their career will be decidedly short and filled with angst.

Pissed off at a rejection? Eat chocolate.


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.


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!


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.


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.

 


Public Service Notice About Pages vs. Word Count

July 7, 2016

I’ll keep this short and sweet. No one gives a good hot raspberry about how many pages your manuscript contains. We need the word count. This is industry wide. You can find your word count at the bottom of your Word document. Use it.

You’re welcome.


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…


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