Saturday, September 27, 2008

A Quick Query Clinic

I am John L. Manning Jr. I have self published a book that describes happenings at an island in the Pacific, three books about Mars in the not too distant future. This is a synapses is of my new book that I am looking for an agent to help me get published with a publisher that can help me sell this book:
I've been reading Charlene Harris, and was strangely tempted to start this response, "Oh, honey."

Mistake 1: Sincerely, Mr. Manning, do read your query letters looking for misspellings (synapses) and ungrammatical constructions (is a synapses is). This is a bad way to start with editors.

Mistake 2: Don't point out you've self-published in the first sentences of your letter. Don't send your self-published book as a submission instead of regular manuscript pages.

Editors have a strong prejudice against self-publishers (more on that farther down), so try to make your submission look as normal as possible, and just mention the self publishing thing near the end of your letter.

I could mention that if somehow your self-published book was fantastic, it would be ineligible for major award nomination before the trade publisher could get it printed, but fantastic-ness is so unlikely I feel silly for even bringing it up. Or maybe that's my prejudice talking.

Here's the problem with most self-publishers:
1. They think they have a better read on the market than publishers do.
And yet, if you ask them how many of the current children's bestsellers they've read, they'll act like that's hardly important. (I mean, sure, some of the bestsellers are unimportant because they're driven by a celebrity name or something. But a bunch of them are on that list because hundreds of thousands of children are reading them.) And they think there's a chance in hell of getting their book to the market through self-publishing. How many wrong assumptions can you start with?

2. They've decided that most of the work of getting published (which lies in the two areas "submitting like hell and reading any feedback publishers send you" and "writing, and writing, and writing some more so that you get better at it") is too daunting or frustrating or hard on their ego. This book here is perfect the way it is! It's ready for market! Let's go, already!

So the qualities that editors see in many, many self-publishers (without, of course, assuming that Mr. Manning personally has any of these qualities) are: ignorance, impatience, and laziness.

A Night Watchman
This story takes place in any city where there is street crime, street racing, and underground fighting. There is a young man that was in a car accident as a child of 12 and was left with physical limitations. As a teen and young man this man went through years of physical therapy and self determination to gain back what he lost in that accident. Over these years he was lonely because of a speech impairment and self debit because of how people now saw him.
Over the years this man has searched for ways to better himself with medicines that he didn't like and therapies that he didn't enjoy. John did find things that did improve his limitations but he always saw himself how the most judgmental people saw him. He found a technology that he thought would help him get better and when he used this technology he found that there were some side effects.
This technology did help John gain abilities that he never had and he wanted to use these abilities to help out the city that he lived in. He started going out at night with these new abilities to fight the street crime of the city. These abilities that he gained improved and the side effects gave him heightened séances that he was learning to take advantage of. At first these abilities just where available when this technology was in use and John started using it more often than not.
John started to investigate a criminal that has gotten him involved in street racing that grew into what he never imagined. In this venture he gained the most unlikely of friends that got him involved with underground fighting. All of these things helped with John's confidence but when the time comes to abandoning his new friends and turning them in, can he, will he, do the right thing.

I will be ready to send you the entire manuscript in October, but I do have four chapters ready for you to look at now. After reading the first two chapters you will see where the book is going, the two additional chapters will help you to appreciate my writings.
I think that this book would gain a wide showing, because this book has racing, fighting, and even a deep hero. There is action to keep you interested and there are relationships to keep you engaged.
Mistake 3: The voice of your synopsis. It ought to be a preview of the voice of the manuscript, but it's not making me think I'd enjoy reading your prose.

Mistake 4: You haven't finished the book. Don't query people before you finish the book. Look, writing a book is long and hard, and some people never finish. Other people finish, but get the ending all wrong. Don't query people before you finish the book.

Good luck!

15 comments:

Khyrinthia said...

"I think that this book would gain a wide showing, because this book has racing, fighting, and even a deep hero. There is action to keep you interested and there are relationships to keep you engaged."

Am I the only one annoyed by this little paragraph? I hate it when someone does one of those "you/the reader will love/ ___ because of the ____ and ___" things. He (or anyone else) will not know whether or not anyone will be engaged by certain things, so I think these types of sentences are really kind of stupid.

Anonymous said...

Please, Original poster, please go to Queryshark.blogspot.com (can't get the link to post -- someone correct me if I am wrong, please.)

Or just google "Query Shark" and "Janet Reid" and you should be able to find it.

On Query Shark, agent Janet Reid does a tremendous job posting queries and explaining all the ways they aren't working for her, and won't work for ANY other agent, either.

Read the month of September and work your way back. It's an eye-opener. Publishing isn't about being a nice person or even being hard working. It isn't difficult for just you. EVERYONE goes through hell to learn to write a marketable book, to learn to craft a query letter, to get anything but a form reject, to get an agent, to get published, to be taken seriously in this business.

Study, learn, have fortitude.

Anonymous said...

Thisis the link to Query Shark:

http://queryshark.blogspot.com/

Anonymous said...

"These abilities that he gained improved and the side effects gave him heightened séances that he was learning to take advantage of. At first these abilities just where available when this technology was in use and John started using it more often than not."

Are you serious? Somebody actually submitted this... and it wasn't a joke?

I don't know whether to feel bad for the poor ESL student or be very, very grateful that people like you are working as the gatekeepers to the publishing industry.

Sarah Laurenson said...

Lack of voice, bad grammar, misused words, a 'this is good, trust me' attitude, and the book isn't finished yet. It's not selling the author or the manuscript well. It comes across as arrogance - an 'I'm so good, I don't have to learn how to do this part right' attitude.

I'd kind of like to see heightened séances that he was learning to take advantage of. That sounds interesting in an over-the-top funny way.

Query Shark

Deirdre Mundy said...

Maybe it's a sci-fi paranormal?

Heightened Seances -- meetings with a psychic at an opium den?

EA! Thanks for returning! I was afraid the book roast had burnt you or something!!!

Jellycat said...

On the issue of self publishing, EA, what would your view be on this offer to publish 5,000 authors for free
(unless you want an IBSN, then you have to pay forty quid. Not sure how much that is in dollars these days).

http://www.youwriteon.com

Anonymous said...

Do they teach basic grammar in school anymore? I don't care what these queries are about, because I can't get past the grammar. The second one lost me at: "There is a young man that . . ." (one of my pet peeves). People are "who's", not "that's". Otherwise--my kid wrote better in 9th grade than either of these would-be authors.

EJ McKenna. said...

Oh my eyes!!!!

"At first these abilities just where available when this technology was in use and John started using it more often than not."

EA, you are far too kind and patient.

Jack Larson said...

I don't think it would be good advice to tell anyone to write their whole book when they a.) have never been published, and b.) aren't all that great of a writer to begin with. A writer for the New York times who spoke with us in one of my classes said that it is best to write the first one or two chapters and then outline the rest. Wouldn't you just be wasting a lot of time and effort by writing a whole book that nobody wanted? I don't think you should have advised him to write the whole thing, but that's just my humble opinion.

Anonymous said...

Re: Jack Larson's post about not advising the writer to write the whole novel first...

I get where you are coming from, but the nature of the whole agent/query quest here is that NO agents will even look at a book that isn't finished. This truly is the standard, industry wide. Especially at this level, when you are competing against other multi-published authors with proven track records.

However unfair it may seem, if an editor wants your project, they want it now, not 4 or 5 or 6 months from now when maybe it's finished or maybe it's just thrown together to meet the deadline.

Unless you're writing NON-FICTION (it sounds like that's the sort of book the NYT guy was referring to) or are an already published of author of note, and have very strong sales, and have also worked with that editor previously, there's not a snowballs chance in hell that anyone in this business is going to take that risk.

GeePig said...

I think this guy is not a native English speaker, this reads much like the translations into English that I proofread every day. The style has a very me-centric vision of the world, where one puts the things that one is proud of first, and imagines that by writing something the reader must believe it.

Some days I want to buy a pump-action shotgun.

bob said...

Anon,

Ah ... the query letter, a one page endeavor that crushes ordinary writers. Sincere thanks for helping out my people. As king of the unpublished, I wrote a humorous article, Eight Lessons for the Unpublished. The link is, http://cranelegspond.blogspot.com/2007/03/eight-lessons-for-unpublished-writers.html.

I mention this because I'm desparate quite frankly. As an unpublished writer, I live under the sad delusion that I am just one set of eyeballs away from an Oprah Winfrey invite, where I plan to fire off snappy one liners to her probing questions. That kind of desparate.

So who knows? This could be that moment. And should that occur, I see a future role for you in my kingdom.

Thanks again!

Bob "King of the Unpublished"

Amber said...

"I don't think you should have advised him to write the whole thing, but that's just my humble opinion."

All I have to say is that practice makes perfect. An outline isn't going to teach you what you're doing wrong with your writing as a whole. It will teach you where you're going wrong with your plot, but that's about it.

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