books with Athena

books with Athena

Saturday, August 22, 2009

THIRTEEN REASONS WHY YOUR NOVEL QUERY WAS REJECTED

The biggest mistake beginning novelists make is writing queries that sound as if they were written by—um—beginning novelists. I was cleaning out my files recently and found some seriously cringe-making queries I sent out a decade ago. I didn’t make all of the following mistakes, but I have to admit to several.

Here are some surefire rejection-getters:

1) WHINING and/or PARANOIA: It’s not a good idea to mention you’ve had over a thousand rejections and you’re thinking of taking the Sylvia Plath way out. Writers tend to be suicidal. This is not news. And don’t blabber about copyrights and pilfer-proofing your intellectual property. There are no new ideas; just new ways of writing them.

2) GETTING CHUMMY. It’s a business letter. Don’t cozy up with personal asides about the unfairness of the publishing industry, the health care debate, or the coming Rapture.

3) VERBOSITY: A query should be one page—under 500 words.

4) TOO MUCH INFORMATION: No matter what you’ve heard about “platforms,” most agents say they don’t care about a novelist’s hobbies or what we do for bucks—except stuff specifically related to the book. If your heroine works at a magazine edited by Beelzebub in Italian shoes, yes, do mention you’ve done time at Vogue, but keep to yourself how many years you’ve been a greeter at WalMart.

5) IRRELEVANT PUBLISHING CREDITS: I see this complaint on lots of agent blogs. They don’t want to know about your PhD dissertation on Quattrocento Tuscan pottery, or your Hint from Heloise on uses for dryer lint. When giving “publishing credits,” cite only fiction or creative nonfiction, plus articles specifically related to the novel’s subject matter—e.g. if your novel is about death by snack cake overdose, do mention your paper for The Lancet on the toxic properties of Twinkies.

6) EXTRANEOUS KUDOS: It’s OK to say you were second runner-up for the “Best Paranormal-Chick Lit-Police Procedural” award at the RWA conference, but don’t mention that a judge told you later over martinis that if they’d given an award for “best vampire-werewolf sex scene,” you would have won.

7) OMIT VITAL INFORMATION: Your first paragraph should give the book’s title, genre and word count. A great hook helps, but it’s gotta be attached to something.

8) GIMMICKS: No matter what your marketing friends tell you, don’t make your query into a jigsaw puzzle; include a pair of Barbie shoes with your SASE; or send the query by registered mail. Ditto printing your query with pink ink in the Curlz font or sending it in a black envelope shaped like a bat. This WILL get you noticed, but not in a good way.

9) CALL YOURSELF A NOVELIST IF YOU HAVEN’T PUBLISHED A NOVEL WITH A LEGITIMATE PRESS. Self-publishing isn’t considered publishing unless you’ve sold thousands of copies. Remember: pretentiousness invites ridicule.

10) CALL IT A “FICTION NOVEL.” This sets off immediate nitwit-detector alarms. All novels are fiction.

11) QUERY AN UNFINISHED PROJECT. If you don’t have an ending yet, you’re probably a year away from thinking about representation. Don’t send a query on a novel that isn’t finished, critiqued, polished, edited, and proofread.

12) MASS QUERY EVERY AGENT IN THE BUSINESS. Nobody will read past a generic “dear agent,” even if you’ve been smart enough to blind copy your mass mailing. Address each agent personally, and indicate why you’ve chosen her.

13) QUERY MORE THAN ONE BOOK AT ONCE. So you’ve got inventory. Most of us do. But don’t present all twelve unpublished novels and ask an agent to choose. Pick one. It’s OK to mention other titles in the final paragraph, especially if they’re part of a series, but hold to one pitch.


The ideal query letter contains four paragraphs: 1) Title, genre, and word count, plus a logline with an irresistible hook. 2) A brilliant, heart-stopping, three-sentence synopsis. 3) A one sentence bio with relevant awards and credits. 4) A nice thank you, mentioning why you chose to contact this particular agent.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Do You Need to Hire an Editor?

Another article from the archives:

Choose the right editor: 7 tips

The term “editor” has several meanings in the book business. The “in-house” editors at publishing companies--the ones who decide what manuscripts to publish--don’t do a lot of literal “editing” these days. According to agent Jenny Bent, the amount of hands-on work they do, “varies wildly from editor to editor…because many editors simply don't have the time or desire to actually edit.”

By the time it lands on an editor’s desk, a manuscript needs to be close to print-ready. Agents can help, but they don’t have much time for nitty-gritty text-honing either, so most won’t look at manuscripts that aren’t carefully proofed and edited.

The majority of writers learn to edit themselves with the help of a beta reader or two, but if you can afford it, hiring an independent editor is the best way to give your work an extra polish. You’ll can find good editing services advertised through magazines like Writers Digest and Poets and Writers, the Funds For Writers newsletter http://www.fundsforwriters.com/, or Freelance Writing International, services@fwointl.com. A really impressive editor I’ve recently met is Victoria Mixon http://victoriamixon.com/ (she sometimes offers freebies of first paragraphs or hooks.) I even take on the occasional editing project myself.

But I turn down more clients than I take on, because I don’t feel comfortable working on projects I don’t feel will earn back my fees. Too many newbies hire editors when what they really need is a few basic writing classes and some knowledge of the industry.

Of course, if price is no object, you can hire an editor as your personal writing teacher. A number now offer “writing coaching” services. But most professional writers learn their craft through workshops, extensive reading, critique groups, and years of trial and error.

The writers who benefit most from a freelance editor’s work are:


1) Self-publishers. I urge ALL self publishers to hire an independent editor before going to press. The “editing” most POD publishers offer isn’t much more than a spell-check.

2) Experts whose primary field is not the written word. This includes self-help books by psychologists or medical professionals, specialty cookbooks, local history, etc.

3) Memoirists who have a unique, marketable tale to tell, but are not planning a career in writing. (These people may require a ghostwriter rather than an editor.)

4) Writers who have been requested by an interested agent or publisher to give the book a polish. Many agents will ask a writer to hire an independent editor at this stage.

5) Novelists who have polished their work in workshops and critique groups, but after many rejections, can’t pinpoint what is keeping them in the slush pile.

If you decide to hire an editor, do some research and be clear in your goals. The standard pay scale for editorial services is posted by the Editorial and Freelancers Association at http://www.the-efa.org/res/rates.html. Plan to spend from five hundred to several thousand dollars for a book-length manuscript.

Choose carefully. You don’t want just any out-of-work English major. Check Writer Beware for in-depth advice: http://www.sfwa.org/beware/bookdoctors.html. The Edit Ink scam of the late ’90s bilked thousands. Here are some warning signs:

1) Extravagant praise and promises. Anybody who guarantees you a place on the best-seller list is either crooked or delusional.

2) Claims that all publishers require a professionally edited ms. Not true. It’s also not true that an edit will get you a read. The Wylie Merrick agency recently blogged, “Just received a query from a writer who stated that his PROFESSIONALLY EDITED book weighed in over 150,000 words. . . Ask for a refund.”

3) An agent or publisher who recommends their own editing services or gives a specific referral. Beware conflicts of interest. Edit Ink scammed writers by giving agents kickbacks for referrals.

4) One-size-fits-all. You need a specialist in your genre. I can’t picture sex with elves without laughing, and torture scenes make me retch. You do NOT want my help with your dark fantasy or horror novel.

5) Direct solicitation. Scam editors purchase mailing lists from writing magazine subscriber lists. Beware.

6) Sales pressure. “Limited time offers” are rarely good deals.

7) No client list on their website. You should be able to get a list of clients and a sample of the editor’s work on request.

There are many kinds of edits, priced differently, so be aware of what you need.
Manuscript evaluation: A broad overall assessment of the book.
Content editing: Help with structure and style.
Line editing: Reworking text at the sentence level.
Copy editing: Attention to grammar, spelling, punctuation and continuity.
Proofreading: Checking for typos and other minor problems.

A good editor can make the difference between a successful book and a dud. Just choose your editor carefully and wait until you have a marketable project before you make the investment.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

YOU MAY BE A BESTSELLING AUTHOR ON TRALFAMADORE

This week, agent Nathan Bransford posed this question on his blog: “How Do You Deal with the ‘Am-I-Crazies’?”

Those are the blues that can overwhelm the unpublished/underpublished novelist as we slog away, year after year, with nothing to show for our life’s work but a mini-Kilimanjaro of rejection slips.

The truth is, most fiction writers spend much of our lives sitting alone in a room generating a product that has zero chance of ever making a penny—or even being seen by a person outside our immediate circle of friends, relations and/or personal stalkers.

So—not surprisingly—we occasionally ask ourselves that big, existential question: WHAT ARE WE—NUTS?

Trying to answer can plunge a writer into despair. So how do we cope?

Most of the over 250 respondents to Nathan’s post answered with variations on the following advice:

1) EMBRACE THE CRAZY and accept that we are, most of us, deeply and certifiably Looneytunes.
2) Chocolate helps
3) Ditto booze and caffeine
4) Ditto sunrises, music, and long walks
5) Ditto the company/blogs/tweets of other lunatic writers
6) And reading good books
7) Or crap books, because we know we can do better than THAT
8) Funny, nobody mentioned sex
9) But denial is good. Really good.
10) And keep writing, even if it’s just for ourselves, or the one person who reads our blog, or the dog, or whoever…because: WE CAN’T STOP OURSELVES.

And why is that?

Well, I have a theory: It’s the Tralfamadorians. If you’ve read your Vonnegut (and what business do you have calling yourself a writer if you haven’t read Vonnegut?) you know about Tralfamadore. It’s a planet where a super-race of toilet plungers exist in all times simultaneously. The name of their planet means both “all of us” and “the number 541,” and they control all aspects of human life including social affairs and politics.

Since these beings have infinite time on their hands, I figure they’ve got a lot of leisure to fill up with reading. And how do they get their books? Of course! They compel earthlings to write novels. Hundreds of thousands of them. Way more than earthbound publishers and readers can handle. But on Tralfamadore—hey, they’re consumed like Skittles.

In fact, the Tralfamadorians are so eager for new material, they’ve figured out how to transmit stories right from our brainwaves to their TralfamaKindles the minute you type “the end” on that final draft.

And it could be that right now, as we speak, your first novel—the one that has been sitting in the bottom of a drawer along with its 350 rejection letters and the restraining order from that editor at Tor—could be at the top of the New Tralfamadore Times bestseller list.

Think about it. You could be the Dan Brown of that whole part of the galaxy, where readers are desperate—pining, pleading and panting—for your next book.

And that voice in your head telling you to pound away, day after day, trying to finish that opus, even though everybody, even your girlfriend—and your MOM for god’s sake—says it sux? That’s a transmission from the Doubleday Company of Tralfamadore saying, “Hurry up, dude, we gotta have this for our Christmas list!”

Hey, just prove to me it’s not true.
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