Saturday, January 18, 2020

Answers to the quiz

Yesterday's post asked you to identify what is wrong with each of three statements I've seen in queries.

1. My work is copy written.
Linda Schantz
1. My work is copy written.

"You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”
― William Goldman, The Princess Bride
Fearless Reider
#1 is so multi-level wrong it makes me sad. It's the kind of over-correction people do when they're desperate to sound educated or professional and therefore legitimate, but instead marks them as outsiders. 
My dear sisters-in-law must have a had a teacher who tried to educate the farm girl out of them by teaching them that "well" is correct and "good" is not. The first time one of them announced she had made a new dish and it "didn't taste well" I wanted to weep for all the destruction that has been wrought over the ages by self-appointed grammar guardians, well-meaning (or should that be good-meaning?) and otherwise.

As almost all of you pointed out, this is the wrong way to say "I registered the copyright for my book", and furthermore, you don't need to register copyright. It's a real pain in the ass if you do before publication, as I know from experience.

The larger problem here is that the writer wants to sound knowledgeable and professional, as Fearless Reider pointed out. Unfortunately, as many of you also pointed out, when you start querying, you don't know a lot.

And here's the takeaway: it's ok to not know stuff.
No one expects you to know the ins and outs of publishing.
Don't pretend to know more than you do, or guess at how things are done.

Write a good book.
Tell me about it.
That's ALL your job is.

2. My novel has been professionally edited and ready for publication.
Adele has a very clear concise answer here.
#2: "ready for publication" isn't for them to say and it's not for the editor they hired to say; it's for the editor who paid them money for the right to publish it to say
It doesn't help your query to say how the sausage gets made.

3. This is a retelling of Beowulf/Iliad/A Night at the Opera. 
What's wrong with that statement?
What's wrong with that QUESTION!

This question was poorly written I'm sorry to say. And since I'm the one who wrote it, I have no one to blame but Barbara Poelle myself.

What I did not make clear was that the retelling is one of the three not a mashup of all three.

Lisa Bodenheim
3. An Old English poem, an ancient Greek epic, and a Marx Brothers/Queen Album walked into a bar...
Not that I have any skin in the game, but I have seen multiple agents recently say that they would really like to see a modern retelling of a classic fairy tale (or am I hallucinating?) maybe with an #ownvoices twist.

Additionally, quite a few novels that do exceptionally well are, at heart, retellings of myths, the Orpheus one being most popular from what I can tell.

So is the problem that the querier is retelling ALL of those in one novel, or attempting any retelling at all?

Fearless Reider
#3 One of my favorite YA novels of recent years is GRENDEL'S GUIDE TO LOVE AND WAR by Ariel (then A.E.) Kaplan, a brilliant spin on the Beowulf yarn. WIDE SARGASSO SEA by Jean Rhys forever changed the way I read JANE EYRE, which is still my favorite novel of all time. They aren't "retelllings" but imaginative responses to previous work, and are stories in their own right. If you can't figure out a more enticing way to communicate your inspiration in your query, it doesn't bode well for your MS.

What I was trying to convey, and did not, although some of you saw through my sloppy sentence to suss out what I meant was that a simple retelling isn't interesting.

You need to put a fresh spin on it, or change something in a way that builds on the originating work. Fearless Reider hit the nail on the head with "imaginative responses to previous work, and are stories in their own right."

Fresh take on Beowulf, now set in space,
Fresh look at the themes of The Iliad with all the gender roles reversed.

A Night at the Opera set in the world of publishing.

Dena Pawling is the first to get them all right
1. If you meant copyrighted - yes it is, from the minute you wrote it. If you meant a copywriter - you need to hire a new one who can actually spell it correctly.

2. Professionally edited - not necessarily required, but not a bad business decision. Ready for publication - glad you think so, as there's nothing worse than submitting a manuscript that even the author knows isn't ready for publication.

3. Retellings are fine, but how is your story different from the original? Please do tell.

Steve Forti, as usual, is hilarious
The problem is clearly that the author did not split "Beowulf", "Iliad", and "Opera" across multiple words to hide them as prompt words. Tsk tsk.

Unknown saw the real problem:
What's wrong is they were all clearly lifted from my certified query letter, which I did not give permission to do.

Kudos to you all for some darn good assessments!


The Noise In Space said...

I'm actually in shock over the first one. I was absolutely positive that one was supposed to mean "my work has been proofread by a professional copywriter." (As a marketing copywriter, I get "copywritten" lobbed at me all the time.)

Karen McCoy said...

The importance of being okay with not knowing is paramount. Everywhere. I've heard that in Japan, people will give directions even if they are not sure of the answer, because they want to seem informative. In a similar vein, the college students I do library orientations for are petrified to raise their hands, even though I stress all the time that "it is okay to not know."

Much like Katja astutely pointed out yesterday; belated apologies for my snark. This was a very fun learning activity, and I feel like I know more than I did yesterday...and that it's also okay that I don't know it all.

Colin Smith said...

Of course we did well. We learned from the best! :)

With regard to the snark. I'm not an advocate of immediately throwing snark at those who make mistakes like this. And 20 years ago, I think we could have all been more patient with those who do the wrong thing. These days, however, there is so much free information about everything at your fingertips that it's reasonable to assume some level of competency, even your first time doing something. Granted, there's a lot of misinformation too, so some grace is good. But if you have a modicum of web savvyness and common sense (e.g., if you want to know how to query an agent, ask an AGENT, not Stephen King), you can get good answers.

Fearless Reider said...

I think we already have Beowulf in space, but her name is Ripley.

AJ Blythe said...

I always tell my (adult) students that if they don't have a question I worry, because there is no way I've explained the info perfectly, but they still won't ask questions. It's hard work getting people to understand there really is no stupid question and that it is better to ask.