Saturday, May 02, 2020

So, you really didn't want me to consider your pages, ok, no problem

Reasons I stop reading before getting to your page:

(1) Your query insults as many other published books as fall into "that dreck they're publishing today."
Why I stop reading: trade publishing is not a solo endeavor. You need those "dreck" authors for blurbs, signal boosts, maybe even book store co-appearances. I know that. You apparently do not. I don't want to spend time coaching you on how to not be an asshat.

How you can avoid this: buy a clue at the Clue Emporium

(2) You hope you'll peak my interest with this wonderful novel.
Why I stop reading: If you don't catch pique/peak, I know for an ironclad fact I'll find more mistakes like this in the book and end up copy editing.

How you can avoid this: Make friends with Miss Prunella Picklepuss the Pedant Most Peculiar, or find someone with similar meticulous reading skills who can help you avoid these snafus. Yes, money will most likely be involved.

(3) Your book uses body size an indication of character.
Why I stop reading: I can't sell a book like this, and I don't want to work with someone who writes characters in shorthand stereotypes.

How you can avoid this: Back to the Clue Emporium!

(4) You managed to avoid telling me anything about the story.
If you can't get to the point in three paragraphs, I'm not confident you'll do in three pages either.

Why I stop reading: If I don't know what the story is, why would I read it?

How you can avoid this: Tell me about the story. Start with the name of the main character and what's changed or about to change for them. What's the problem with the change, and what's at stake in how s/he's going to deal with the change (that's a starting point, not a template.)

(5) You don't serve up a problem for your proposed prescriptive non-fiction.
Why I stop reading: if you're not solving a problem, why would anyone buy your book?

How you can avoid this: Understand what prescriptive non-fiction means. If you want to help people, you MUST describe the problem you intend to help them solve. There are no exceptions here.

If you have a book called Thin Thighs In Thirty Days, you have to be clear about the problem created by not-thin thighs.

(6) I can't tell if you're writing fiction or non-fiction
Why I stop reading: Fiction and non-fiction are assessed and acquired quite differently. If I can't tell from the outset, your query isn't effective.

How you can avoid this: Starting your query with a historical event is a clue for NF. Don't start a query for a novel that way.

(7) Word count.
Why I stop reading: it's not worth it if the book is too long or too short. If you want to be a professional writer, you need to know the parameters of the category you're writing in.

For adult trade books, excluding category romance, you really want to be 70K -100K.
For fantasy, or historicals, add another 20K and you're still ok.

These are general guidelines. No one shows up at your house with a smackeroo stick if your word count is 68,087, or if it's 122,343.

In other words, guidelines, not etched in stone but not to be ignored like they don't exist.


Kitty said...

QUESTION: Why are fantasy books usually longer? (I don't read the genre.)

E.M. Goldsmith said...

I always think I have accidentally become an asshat in my queries as I freeze the way a deer caught in the headlights does. Ah well. Going to pay for a query assessment.

Kitty The extra word count in fantasy allows for world-building.

Kitty said...

Thank you, E. M.. That makes sense.

Aphra Pell said...

E.M - there is no way on god's green earth that you are being an ass-hat in your queries. For one thing ass-hats don't worry about being ass-hats, because if they did they'd do the research that would help avoid it.

Get more eyes on your query by all means (do you want some of us to read it? I'd be happy to for one). But don't convince yourself you've done anything terrible*

*Unless you have actually sent out a query for a 400k fiction novel that will redefine the meaning of literature while featuring token female characters defined by their breast size. But that seems a bit unlikely really.

nightsmusic said...

I too have a question:

How you can avoid this: Starting your query with a historical event is a clue for NF. Don't start a query for a novel that way.

I started a novel that happened during the Galveston Hurricane, a murder/romance thing. I've picked at it a few times, but I'm curious. The murder takes place during the hurricane, the murderer did it in self defense but is counting on the hurricane to obliterate any evidence of a murder. Except it doesn't. Since that's a historical event, how do you not trigger a NF novel and still give a good query?

I know, I know...Carkoon, here I come.

Brenda said...

Thin Thighs in Thirty Days!

Kitty said...

Here's a little travelin' tune, nightmusic

Pack up all my kale and woes
Feeling low here I go
Hel-lo Carkoon

Unknown said...

@nightsmusic - start with why the killer is killing, or what happens that's going to lead to murder, rather than the event around it?

"When Bob came at Jane with a machete, she had no choice. The roaring hurricane would cover up her crime. Until..."

nightsmusic said...

kitty That's hysterical!

unknown (Amy?) I could, and I tried, but the Galveston Hurricane was an entity unto itself, almost a character on its own, but I'll play with it a bit more. I was just wondering in general if one is dealing with a real event how one would not clue the agent that it's not fiction, if it is. :)

But yes, Carkoon is looking more evident...

Lennon Faris said...

Still love these lists.

nightsmusic, do you have to name the hurricane in the query? Can it just be a 'generic' hurricane for the purposes of the 250 words, even if the weather event does play a big role in the plot?

All this hurricane talk is making me want this sunshine to disappear! Anyone who has rain they don't want, please send my way. Thanks.

nightsmusic said...

Lennon I'll have to think about it. Maybe. But anyone who knows the hurricane will have an initial reaction of 'how could anyone know?' I'll play with it a bit more.

And I wish I could send you our rain that's coming again this afternoon. I need to work outside, not only to get things cleaned up for the plants, but for my own mental health. I don't do well in a dark house. But I get out there and get started and it rains. *sigh*

Lora Senf said...

I am going to add the following line to my business card/resume/LinkedIn profile:

"I don't want to spend time coaching you on how to not be an asshat."

I work in higher ed. Believe me, it applies. Not often, but when it does, it really does.

Mister Furkles said...

With respect to #2, one of my favorite websites:

It's fun just to read. But peruse for usage errors too.

Theresa said...

Nightsmusic, you might find the promotional blurbs for Chanel Cleeton's forthcoming novel The Last Train to Key West helpful.

Amy Johnson said...

nightsmusic, I'm not a known "Unknown" this time. Nice to be thought of though. :) I think someone here might have mentioned the reason I showed up as Unknown a couple of times might be due to my gmail not being open. Thanks--I think that might have been it. I sometimes use a shared/family computer, and I think someone else had opened their email and closed mine. I've been checking before commenting here since, and no problems. (Back to being a known known?)

Hope everyone is well and having a good day. It's lovely outside here for Tomato Planting Day.

Craig F said...

I don't really know if agents have made it through my query and on to the pages. The query wasn't an ugly baby when I started sending it out. It had gone through a bunch of growing pains to get to where friends and I thought it could do some damage.

Some agents certainly held it long enough that I thought they weighed and considered it in depth, but only the Shadow knows what Evil lurks in the hearts of Literary Agents, not I.

Amy: you'll never be "Unknown" to me

Alina Sergachov said...

Here's my third attempt to write a coherent comment: do you think favorite tropes play a big role? Meaning, is an agent more likely to request pages if the query features her favorite elements/themes? For example, if it's about horses, women who are good in math or when the story is set in Burma/Myanmar. I ask because I noticed that all my favorite books/movies have lots in common. I love stories about the power of persistence-- when the protagonist works really hard to make her dream come true. Like a girl and her sentient ship in Sanderson's Skyward. Or the stories about girls pretending to be boys. Like Mulan. Secret identity. Mistaken identity. A person out of place. Enemies to lovers relationships or characters with dismissive-avoidant attachment style (like Sherlock and Katniss EVerdeen). Well, you get the idea. What do you think? Would you request pages if the query isn't fabulous, but is full of your favorite tropes?

Lennon Faris said...

Alina, this is the travelling bus analogy I have in my head. The places the bus will go is the story (including its tropes). The other passengers are the characters. The windows are the grammar.

As a reader, and as in my imagination I would think as an agent, I would feel drawn to a bus going to Alaska (so, all those fun tropes). But, if I walk into the bus and it's smelly and hot, or the other passengers are annoying, or the windows are so dirty I can't see outside, I'll probably find another bus going to Alaska. Especially if the bus yard has 100 buses a day pull up.

I'm sure your story isn't stuffy. But I think every detail is important.

Alina Sergachov said...

Thank you for this great analogy, Lennon Faris!

I was just wondering... what if it's a very nice bus. Comfy seats. Smells like cookies. Charming passengers. Spectacular view. But it's going to Boston instead of Alaska. Would you still board it?

Katja said...

Err, WHAT is a dreck author? Dreck?? I mean, it's a German word, to be honest, and means dirt.
I've never heard this in English, huh.

From the context, hm... "insult", hm... sounds a bit nasty. Have you just stolen the word and it's the same thing?

I can't ask Fiancé, boo, he's already sleeping. Tomorrow, then.

nightsmusic said...

Katja, dreck means the same thing here. I'm sure we stole it from Germany somewhere down the line but yes, dirt, garbage, lousy writing, whatever you want to attribute to it, some authors write pure dreck.

Katja said...

Thanks, nightsmusic, I even woke Fiancé up. I pronounced it the German way, then a more English way, then with author afterwards.
Three times he said "I don't know".

Ha ha, it's like the asshat... he didn't know that either when *I* knew.

Lousy writing - cool usage of Dreck, to be honest.

Lennon Faris said...

Alina, I've never had a desire to go to Boston, but I think you have me convinced! (It's the cookies).

Katja, I just love that you woke up your fiance because you could not wait 8 hours to discover the meaning of a word.

3 comments and I'm out!

Leslie said...

Katja, I've always heard/used it as synonymous with garbage or even as a supposedly more polite way to say "crap"

Amy Johnson said...

Ha! Thanks, Craig.

Casual-T said...

I hope, I really, really hope, that all these "reasons" come from only ONE query. Whoever wrote that query is an absolute master!! That query needs to be printed out on the finest of printer papers, framed in gold-plated mahogany, and hung in a very, very special place on a very special wall.

Also, Katja, the German word "Dreck," although not often used in English, is still fairly well-known. Same with the words "Schmalz, "Mensch," "Angst," and "Schadenfreude," among a few others. As far as I know, they were brought over here by German and Austrian Jewish immigrants, back in the day.

Katja said...

Oh, Leslie, interesting! Dreck in German doesn't strike me as meaning crap. But the German word for rubbish/garbage can definitely mean crap.

Dreck is dirt. Like from the ground. But it does have another meaning. A mean one. You can 'pull/drag someone through the Dreck' and then the pulling person/dragging person is very mean because they damage the other person's reputation/work by doing something nasty.
So when I read dreck author, I first thought that the querying person would call other authors dreck author trying to stick a bad reputation to them, so that the agent thinks the querying person should be chosen.

Being "dreckig" is either simply dirty from real dirt, or doing nasty things. Not crappy things.

Casual-T, I'm impressed: you've used the capital letter for each German word. Because they're all nouns, yay! Now you could wow me if you knew their articles. (You know we've got 3 differentones, right?)

NLiu said...

Now I want to read a novel with a Clue Emporium in. Sounds kind of steam-punk-y. Bet it's where bad amateur detectives get their kicks.

Katja I also had no idea what Dreck meant, aside from guessing from the context of Janet's post. Fiance is not alone!

Casual-T I also have a burning desire to read this paragon of a query fail. I might have to write it for giggles.

Casual-T said...

@NLiu... I say go ahead and write it. I'm sure it'll be a hoot!

@Katja... Prepare to be wowed.

Da hätten wir fürs Erste den maskulinen Artikel DER für Dreck, und dann wären da noch DAS Schmalz, DIE Angst, und zu guter Letzt, DIE Schadenfreude. Na, habe ich den Test bestanden?

What's my score?

Katja said...

Casual-T, where the heck are you FROM???

You know the score. I know you know. ;)
10/10, or 100. Or A or whatever you get in American/British schools.

Here's how you can get A+ or a starred score: one of the nouns has got a different (and this is rather weird!) article in only one German state. Which noun is it? Which article is it? And which state is it? If you know this WITHOUT being German, I'm gonna be so super-mega-wowed.

But no Googling, okay?

Casual-T said...

@Katja... That's easy!

Which noun is it? Schmalz.
Which article is it? Der.
And which state is it? Bavaria.

And, no, I'm not German.

Are you officially super-mega-wowed?

PS: Here's the solution to this linguistic conundrum. Even though New York City has been my home for more years than I care to admit, I was born and raised in Vienna, Austria. Do I still get an A+? ;)