Oct 26, 2011

10 Things That Shouldn’t Be In Your Query


Rhetorical Questions – Have you ever wondered why queries shouldn’t be printed on blue cardstock? Probably not. The problem with rhetorical questions is that the answer is usually no. Why do you want an agent to have the word “No” in her mind before she gets through your query?  A rhetorical Q as a first sentence is effectively cutting your head off. If you’ve got a rhetorical question, cut it out and find a better way to approach that. Rhetoricals are lazy.
Rachelle Gardener from WordServe Literary Group: Your query begins with a rhetorical question. The problem with this is that usually my answer to your question is “no” so you’ve already lost me. Especially the “Have you ever wondered…?” questions. (Rachelle’s Blog)
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Clichés or TropesThe point of a query is to illustrate the Uniqueness of your novel to an agent or publisher. Clichés and Tropes are not unique. Chances are, if you’re using one, an agent (or their assistant) has already read three blogs that morning with the same string of words or the same basic plot device. Give them a reason to ask for more! Make your query a shiny gem poking out of a mound of sand – make it irresistible!

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Vagueness – This thing happened and it was bad, but then it was okay because the MC turned it around. I don’t honestly expect anyone to have a sentence like that in their query… but I have seen more verbose sentences that tell me just about the same thing.  Be specific. I know you only have a limited amount of space, but make it count! Don’t leave us asking a dozen who, what, and whys.
Dan Lazar from Writer’s House: Saying “my novel is about a mom going through some life challenges” is vague, and remember: Vague = boring. (Writer’s Digest Editor Blog)

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No HookA hook does exactly what it says on the tin – it’s meant to hook an agent. Without one, there’s nothing in your query that will catch an agent’s interest. It doesn’t have to be the first sentence. It’s a unique concept delivered in a well written and well thought out way. Show the agent why they should pick you, don’t expect them to though, unless you’ve got a good reason.

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Lack of Confidence/apologizing – Rule of thumb: never apologize for taking up an agent’s time. You’re not. And never assure them that you know they have better things to do. They don’t. If you are and if they do… you’re query is in the hands of their assistant – or it’s waiting in their inbox until they have the time. By giving of an air of lacked confidence, you make yourself sound like a risk. If you don’t have any faith in your query – or the fact that it’s worth their time – why should they? Why should an editor? Why should a reader? If you don’t feel confident. Fake it.
Jessica Faust from BookEnds,LLC: frequently authors start queries by saying things like, “the last thing you probably need is another query . . .” You’re right. It is the last thing I need, and since even you don’t think yours is important enough to stand out from the rest, I think I’ll reject (BookEnd’s Blog)
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A Recent News Headline as your main PlotIf it was a major news headline in the last decade or two, chances are its too fresh in our minds to need a plot centered on it. Your main character can have a back story that involves the incident, but it shouldn’t be the thing that everything else hinges on.  Fact of the matter is: the news is competing with you for a market and when people can get the run down in a few snippets on TV, why are they going to want to read a novel, that probably isn’t going to tell them much more?

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Author Bios that don’t matter – I have an adorable dog – a rescue from South Korea – and I wrote my first “novel” when I was in the seventh grade, but none of that matters to an agent looking at the ms you’re pitching in your query.  They don’t care that you’ve loved writing all your life – so have most of the other people who’s letters fall across their desk. If you’ve got relevant bio information, put that in. If not, don’t put anything in. Relevant in this case includes degrees (in the writing field or a field that holds relevance to your novel – and that the agent can see are relevant based on the query) previous publishing credits (not self published – we’ll talk about that in a minute).  They don’t need to know how many kids you have, or that you enjoy LARPing.
Maya Rock, Prev with Writer’s House: The focus of the letter should be on getting the agent to fall in love with your book, not you. (Maya Rock’s Blog)
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Comparisons to best sellersHere’s the thing about best sellers. No one can predict them – not accurately anyway. An agent could pick up your book and think “This is going to be a best seller, I just know it!” and then never find an editor for it. Or an editor might think the same thing… and then when it’s published, it flops. In some cases, everyone knows the book is going to sell and it does. But chances are, those books are not comparable to other best sellers. Why does someone want to read another Twilight? Why does someone want to read another Davinci Code? Readers don’t want a copy. They want something fresh and stimulating. You may have written a book about vampires and a clandestine catholic underground… but if you compare it to those two best sellers, it’s going to leave a sour taste in an agent’s mouth as (s)he’s reading it.  (on a side note, don’t bother with Vampires at all for a while – that market is saturated, so unless you’ve got something that is so unique it doesn’t even resemble vampire novels, you can try, otherwise, don’t bother.)
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Themes – If you wrote your book with a specific theme in mind, or found that you had a theme when you were going through on edits, that’s great. But Agent’s don’t want to hear about it.
Rebecca Sherman from Writers House: Provide a list of issues that your novel will cover instead of an overview of your story. (Ingrid’s Notes)
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Your self-published bookIf you’ve self published a book, don’t bring it up in your query. It’s not that agents frown upon self publishing as a whole; it’s simply that no traditional publisher is going to care unless you’ve sold gobs of books. It’s not a device an agent can use to market this novel. So it does absolutely zilch for you in a query.  Also, if you’re querying a novel you’ve already self published and are looking for a way to expand your sales by taking it to a traditional publisher, stop right now. Unless you’ve sold a ridiculous amount of copies, no one wants sloppy seconds.
Lauren MacLeod from the Strothman Agency:  If your self pub book has sold under 500 copies at a $.99 price point, I don't want to hear about it. 5,000? Maybe. (Twitter)

Oct 21, 2011

Confessions of a Critique Partner: Joann

Let me start off this “Confession” post by letting you know that Joann from over at Laundry Hurts My Feelings is my fabulous Crit Partner and then by assuring you that when I asked her to write a confession about being my Crit Partner… this was not what I expected and am extremely flattered.
So, here’s Joann:

Since, I’m here to confess today, I might as well give you a whopping big confession.

I’ve written a novel. I’ve labored long and hard over my novel. I’ve sweated, what feels like blood, at times. I’ve given up a lot of living in the pursuit of these words of mine. I’ve far too often, cried in frustration. I’ve lain awake at night, my head filled with plot lines and revisions. But more than all of those tough moments put together, I’ve been euphoric, filled with a writerly joy, on the days when the words just tumbled out of me, my hands flying at super speed to catch them. And I have never felt prouder of an accomplishment than when I was able to write those two little words, The End.

And that’s not even my confession.

It’s this: I could not have done any of it, without the incomparable A.B. Keuser.

From the beginning, I have had this great circle of readers composed of family and friends. Their suggestions and critiques were an invaluable part of my writing process. And even though I will be forever grateful to them for giving me a reader’s viewpoint, one of the most crucial opinions in the literary world, none of them were writers.

I knew my novel needed a writer’s sharp eye.

But, I didn’t need just any writer’s eye. I needed a writer I could trust; who would be willing to sacrifice her own valuable time to pore over my words as carefully as if it were her prenup to Donald Trump; a writer who had my best interest in mind; a writer who could help me shape my novel into something marketable, something that would attract an agent’s eye.

And that is when A.B. Keuser came to the rescue.

We befriended each other in the blog world, through an unfortunate incident I had with a query—a dismal story for another day. She took my sad little query in her capable hands and shaped it up as easily as if she were making one of those snakes from Play-Doh, (the only thing I know how to do with Play-Doh) and out of that query, a friendship and a partnership were born.

A.B. and I became each other’s critique partners.

I couldn’t have been more thrilled to delve into A.B.’s world, so different from the one I’d created. As I read her manuscript, line by line, poring over each word, each punctuation mark, each idea, I oftentimes grew impatient, wanting to fly through the words to see what was around the corner in her tale of otherworldly suspense, thrills and danger.

I hope my suggestions and critiques helped her. But my input was so inconsequential, compared to what she gave me.

She took my novel and pulled it apart and said, “This needs to be put back together again, like this . . .” And after countless back and forth emails, her patiently explaining to me exactly what my novel needed, she finally ordered me, (with kindness), to Just. Do. It.

And so I did.

And that novel of mine was so much better for it. It now had this cadenced flow it had been missing before, something I’d been too blinded to notice.

You see, as writers, our novels are our babies. And since we gave birth to these creations, we are hard pressed to see the flaws in those pages.

Putting your novel in the hands of another capable writer is one of the greatest things you can do for yourself and for your writing.

I am relieved and proud to say my novel is headed out to the land of agent querying, a whole new journey in this writing process for me.

I wouldn’t be able to say those words, if it wasn’t for A. B. Keuser.

Seriously.

If she ever wants to give up her day job, she has a promising future as an editor and writer, of course. She could crown herself the title, The Wizard of Writing. I’d buy her a sparkly wand. That’s all she would need, because her masterful eye and her innate grasp of knowing what works and what doesn’t, is a gift.

And this writer will be forever grateful for The Wizard of Writing’s gift.

If you are a writer, my biggest piece of advice, besides be true to the voice that lives inside your head, would be to find a great critique partner, one who knows a thing or two about writing.

But don’t set your sights on A.B. Keuser. She’s mine. And she knows all the secrets.
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Oct 7, 2011

Blogger Interview: Matthew McNish

Matthew's blog The Quintessentialy Questionable Query Experiment is all about his writing journey and helping others perfect their queries before submission.

ABK: Tell us a little about yourself to start off.
MM: Not much to know. All the adventurous parts of my life are thankfully past and not to be admitted to in public forums. Now I work a soul-sucking day job in the tech industry, raise my two daughters, collect books, walk my dog, run a blog, write stories, and drink a lot.
ABK: Who is your favorite all-time protagonist and why?
MM: Hmm. I might say Frodo Baggins, but my love for him is really overshadowed by my love for Aragorn, Gandalf, Samwise, and Legolas, so although those are my all time favorite books, I may not count Frodo as my favorite protagonist. Harry Potter may be close, but then he's also sometimes a bit of a nob, so I'm not picking him either. I'm going to go with Nailer, from Ship-Breakr, because although I really loved Andrew Smith protagonists like Jack from The Marbury Lens and Troy from Ghost Medicine, I talk about Andrew Smith too much.
ABK: Same question as above, but for your favorite Antagonist.
MM: I don't have a great answer for this either. He really isn't an antagonist in the pure, traditional sense, but I'm going to go with Tyrion Lannister. He's just so clever and so tortured. My favorite true antagonist has to be Sauron. There's just something about the way Tolkien pulls off supreme evil, without ever bringing the "character," "on screen."
ABK: You help other writers by critiquing queries on your blog. When and why did you start doing that?
MM: It's kind of a long story. I jumped into the query waters far too prematurely myself, ended up confused and frustrated, and was ready to give up, a couple years ago. Then one day it struck me to start blogging. I figured I could share my own bad queries, and show people what not to do. Then, as I met published and successful writers who also blogged, it morphed into sharing their successful queries, which was really popular for a while, and taught me a lot. Finally, as I got good at recognizing what made a good query letter, I started offering my services to help my fellow aspiring novelists.
ABK: What inspired you to write your first novel (published or unpublished)? What got you started?
MM: I always thought about writing a novel. Daydreamed about it. I never really tried though. I wrote a lot of short stories and poetry when I was in school, but I gave up on all of it for over a decade. Then a few years ago, a novel-worthy idea finally struck me. I actually went to reform school when I was a teenager, and one day it just came to me: what if that school had been really cool, instead of a half-formed nightmare? What it they had taught me martial arts and magic? Everything else in the book is basically true.
ABK: What was the most difficult part of the novel writing process for you?
MM: Well, and I've talked about this a lot, my big problem was knowing how to write a novel. I just sat down and wrote every thing that happened in my head, in the story. It took over 400,000 words to do so. I had no idea how long a standard debut novel was. I like long books, so I wrote a long book.
ABK: Are you a Night Owl or Early Bird? When is the best time for you to sit down and plunk out a few thousand words?
MM: Well I've really never been a morning person, but now that I have to be, because of work, I get the most writing done in the morning. I can revise a bit at night, or critique friends' novels, but I really can't draft well at night, on a laptop, in bed, three sheets to the wind.
ABK:What book are you reading right now? Do you think that what you read effects how, what you write?
MM: I'm reading Solstice, by PJ Hoover. I'm also reading three unpublished novels that I cannot name. Two are ones I'm critiquing, and one is just not published yet. I try my best not to let the voice of other authors effect my own, but I do remember my character getting a little sarcastic and demented after reading some Charles Bukowski.