Yes, this is filled with whisky

Yes, this is filled with whisky

Monday, October 13, 2014

Think you're the first and only?

A recent query in my inbox laid claim to being "the first" of a certain kind of memoir. As it happened, I knew that was not the case.  I wrote back drawing her attention to the earlier book.  As you might imagine, the querier did not fall on this information with effusive thanks, return emails of kitten pictures or even silence.  Oh no, unasked for advice, particularly of the unwelcome sort generally get replies steeped in sulfur and singed at the edges.

Oh well.

The problem here of course is that if I know about the earlier book,  it's a good chance that most other agents will too.  And a quick search of the Amazon data base turns it up as well.

When you claim to be first or only, and I'm interested in your book, I dig around before I reply "yes, please send me your manuscript."

It's not so much it's a problem that you're NOT first, as that you are clearly sloppy in your thinking and research. Frankly, that's death for me in non-fiction. Non-fiction requires meticulous research and documentation.

I remember hearing the utterly amazing Robert Caro speak several years back and he just casually mentioned he'd checked with the Historian of the Senate six different times on a single fact, as he got more information about an event.  I would have stood up and screamed "that's how it's done" as if he'd hit a home run at Yankee Stadium, but we were in a library and librarians always have me on my best behavior.

So, what does this mean for you in your queries and writing?

Obviously it means do your research.  If you can't find books in your category, are you using the right category? And are you skimming rather than digging deep? And have you gone to your local library and found the reference librarian and asked for help?

If you're not sure you're the first or only, don't say you are.  Find another aspect of your story that distinguishes you from the pack. 


15 comments:

Lisa Bodenheim said...

Hah! Thank you for the morning chuckle: "librarians always have me on my best behavior."

Such a fine line for a writer to walk. Our ego needs to accommodate both common sense and artistic originality. Originality lies not in the content of our material but in our approach to the material. hm...do I have that right? It's Monday morning. Need to mull more on that thought. More tea.

Kitty said...

Just what is that "certain kind of memoir"?

Michael Seese said...

The author's comment (or better said, her mistake) strikes me as an extension of the expression, "You can't prove a negative."

"This is the first ever first-person account of growing up on Mars."

Unless you've read EVERY BOOK (or at least the jacket synopsis of every book) you simply can't make that claim.

Mister Furkles said...

So, our take away is to have loads of kitty pictures ready to send to any agent who responds to our queries. I have enough of those to fill an encyclopedia. But what is the right number to send?

Jim heskett said...

This is why I'm coming out with a mystery series about paraplegic Tasmanian devils who join Greenpeace and fight whalers.

Kitty said...

Jim, I couldn't resist googling "paraplegic Tasmanian," and while I didn't find what you specified, I did find these two: Fundraiser for paraplegic Tasmanian sailor and Katherine Reed, Tasmanian paraplegic basketballer, on her horse. Just so's y'know ;~)

Colin Smith said...

I already know I'll never be as well read as I ought to be. There are too many books and not enough time to read, write, and do the rest of life. I'm certainly not going to be as well read as the average (or above average) literary agent for whom reading is a large part of the job. Which is why I would back away from making such a claim. Even when a search of Amazon failed to come up with anything close to the premise of the novel I'm currently querying, I refuse to call it unique in my query. Instead, I state the premise and hope it resonates.

Ardenwolfe said...

Agreed. Always do your research.

Craig said...

Or don't make those kind of claims. You could say that it is something like 'Planes, Trains and Automobiles' except it is a thriller with a fast boat instead of the train

donnaeverhart.com said...

I could never be so bold. I'm too doggone paranoid.

Lilly Faye Poodle said...

It has all been done before. The writer's job is to do it so well, readers believe they are reading something new and different.

Amy Schaefer said...

Are you telling me I'm NOT a special snowflake? I think I'd better go call my mom so someone can tell me how unique and perfect I am.

Queen of Hats said...

I'm just weeping with envy you were at a Robert Caro event. If someone had told me I would stay up nights to finish a volume of a LBJ bio (before I'd started) I would have laughed. Brilliant.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

I swear to God it wasn't me. Please God, tell me it wasn't me. The only thing I have even been first at is being 'stupid'.

DLM said...

Carolynnwith2Ns, I'd be skeptical you are the type to slash and burn your way out of a conversation with Janet - couldn't have been you. :)