Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Don't query if you're dead

There's a small but growing segment of my incoming queries that might be thought of as zombie queries, but the writers aren't un-dead; they're just dead.

Sadly, writers sometimes pass away before they see their work published. Their loved ones are moved to follow up, often to honor their loved one's memory. I understand their motivation and I wish I didn't have to disappoint them.

It's harder to get published when you're dead. That's just a cold hard (sorry) fact.

For starters: you're not here to do the editing or revising. You're not here to do the promotions. And more important, you're not here to write/edit/revise/promote the next book.

For friends and families who want to see their loved ones published, I think this is a good match with some of the more reputable places that will help you publish a book on your own. Print on demand technology makes it affordable too.

Someone is sure to point out that John Kennedy Toole and CONFEDERACY OF DUNCES was published posthumously. Yes there are exceptions, of course, but please let's all remember that book was published decades ago, by a university press and long before trade publishing became the mercantile meat wagon it is today.

Someone is also sure to point out that VC Andrews has had a very nice career, post life, but the first books were published pre-death, so again, that is an exception.

I always feel bad sending form rejections on these queries, it's not anywhere near as much fun as kicking kittens, but there's not much else to do.


laughingwolf said...

too true...

instead of kicking kittens, how about cooking up some calamari? :O lol

Amanda C. Davis said...

I'm curious what factors might give these books a chance. A living co-author? Being edited by an already-published author who was managing the deceased's estate? A stack of trunk novels a la Stieg Larsson? Jaw-dropping first pages?

Stephen Parrish said...

Interesting. Considering all the author estates being handled by various agencies, one could, in theory, make a pretty good living representing only dead people.

Marshall Buckley said...

I think reference to Larsson's trilogy actually helps Janet's argument.

I'm not knocking the trilogy (I enjoyed all three books, but not as much as I expected given the hype) but they all struck me as being in need of serious editing - not least on word count alone.

LTM said...

it is so wrong that I almost sprayed coffee through my nose TWICE reading this post... LOL! :D

umm... and sorry families of dead folks who wrote books. :o|

Laurel said...

Drat. Then I guess the only thing I have to look forward to after my demise is getting to vote multiple times in each election.

Stephanie Faris said...

Plus, many of V.C. Andrews' post-death books were written by a ghostwriter. I was a huge fan of her work when I was a teenager and I could tell a difference. Maybe it was psychological, but I didn't feel the books had quite the same level of darkness once Andrew Neiderman took over.

I'm a little creeped out that so many family members are trying to get authors published postmortem. I'll just say now, if I die before I have success, let it all rest! Maybe I'll be a bestseller in the afterlife.

Joseph L. Selby said...

I hope no one mentions Tupac. He's not really dead.

BJ said...

So, the way to do this is, have a good, long, productive, well-published life first... then die and leave another writer to carry on.

Although, that *would* kind of take away some of the satisfaction and financial benefits to yourself. Better to live to get them all published, and then leave your estate just handling what's left of the monetary part of it.

Charli Armstrong said...

I'm with you Stephanie regarding VC Andrews. I haven't read the later books as they don't have her touch. They are Andrew Neiderman's books.

I just recently had the "if I shall die before I wake" conversation with my parents. I told them to go ahead and self publish what I have completed. My statement to them was, if I saved it in PDF, consider it done! And believe me when I say, my books endure at least six months to a year of revising, editing, and all that jazz before I even Query.

Everything else--all the works in progress on hard drive, in notebooks; just let them die with me. It's not worth trying to finish the story no matter how many notes I leave behind because they will get it wrong.

Suzan Harden said...

@LTM - Stick with iced tea while reading Ms. Reid's posts. It hurts a lot less than coffee or cola.

@ Stephanie Faris - Thanks for saying that about V.C. Andrews. I thought I was the only one who felt that way.

Marjorie said...

Janet, you have written another inspired and original blog entry. And this one is filled with witty tongue-in-cheek humor. I get it, and that is why it is so funny.

You are so right! I think the relatives of the dead are motivated by the after-death success of the work of Bach, Emily Dickinson, Van Gogh, Scott Joplin, Anne Frank, and Gauguin. Jack Kerouac was published before his death, but his work was not considered during his life of the same great worth as it is today.

There is a sadness to it all. In the end, I think it is better than relatives who go through a departed loved one's apartment with 50 hefty bags.

jdh said...

Funny this should appear just above the entry for Brains a zombie memoir.

Tom Bridgeland said...

That was good advice, Janet. Getting published now is so easy, via any of the new media, Amazon, etc. No reason that anyone's dog couldn't get published.

#1Nana said...

"It's harder to get published when you're dead."

Duh!!! This one really made me laugh. Got me thinking about all the things that are hard to do once you're dead.

Although, writing is hard enough even for the undead!

Robin Ruinsky said...

Perhaps everyone's dog can be published but can they make the best seller list of Dog Fancy?
One of my dogs, Izzy, is working on her memoir. She came to crave fame after she posed with Carmen Electra for a photo shoot in In Touch magazine at the tender age of five weeks. It went to her fuzzy little brain and she has decided to pen an autobiography "My Moment With Carmen Electra: Every Man's Dream Goes to the Dogs".
She isn't using a pen name.
As for publishing the work of the dead. My late dog, Nero is writing a book of essays titled "Dog in a Can".
With the costs of veterinary care and food everyone has to earn their keep, even if they're on a shelf.

Rick Anderson said...

This is too funny. I suppose channeling someone is equally out of the question?

Terri Coop said...

Stephen @ 10:15 gets my vote for one of the best replies ever.

A literary agency for the dead. Not the undead, they are smelly and annoying, but the truly dead.

No phone calls. No annoying emails. No mid-edit meltdowns. This could work!

Add another afterlife publication, Laura Ingalls Wilder's last book "The First Four Years." It is pretty much unedited and has a much sharper edge than the earlier books.

Kristin Laughtin said...

Urgh, yeah. I think this is one of those situations where it sucks more than usual to say, "It's just a business; don't take it personally!"

Dave said...

Dear Janet,

I read your post with special interest.

I've been dead since the Spanish Inquisition. I'm currently living in Hell.

I've recently completed a self-help book, How To Stay Cool In Hell, and am now seeking representation.

Contrary to what you say, there are ways a dead man can be involved in the editing/revision process. We could simply use a DevilBot to courier material between your place and mine. All the young dead people use DevilBots nowadays to move information between Hell and Earth.

According to the manufacturer's brochure, they consist of a 'software/ectoplasm hybrid with premium quality farmed human epidermis, plus a choice of toupee and golf pants'. (Tell you one thing, all this new technology is beyond me. Before I was tortured to death, I could barely add two and two on my abacus.)

Anyway, name the deconsecrated church of your choice and my guy will meet you in the first confession box on the left any time you like.

Yours warmly,

Pablo Cinderos

ryan field said...

And let's all hope, seriously, the dead person couldn't care less now that he or she has gone to a better place. I'd hate to think that the afterlife involves queries, rejections, smart-bitchy book reviewers, and all that other good stuff :)

Janet Reid said...

Did you ever see the otherwise dreadful movie City of Angels? I loved the angels in the library, and I really loved the angels reaching in to calm heated situations.

That's what I'd like heaven to be: a library, with occasional forays to put a lid on things.

Heather B. Moore said...

Great advice. This is the same argument I used with my publisher when they said they wanted to publish one of my books in 2012. In a carefully worded email, I said, "I could be dead by then." Thankfully they moved it up to 2010. I'm sure it was due to other factors besides my impending death, though.

ryan field said...

"That's what I'd like heaven to be: a library, with occasional forays to put a lid on things."

Sounds perfect!!