Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Ask an Editor: 5 Ways to Keep an Editor from Deleting You

By Roseanna White, acquisitions editor for WhiteFire Publishing


Getting an editor’s attention—and keeping it all the way through a proposal—is tough. Pinpointing the “right way” to do this is also tough. But you know what’s pretty easy? Pinpointing the wrong way to do something. ;-) So that’s what we’re going to cover today—those things that will get your proposal sent to the trash bin before an editor even opens it.

Let’s assume you’re doing cold calls, just sending out queries to publishers or agents you see online. Resist the urge to send out a query that sounds like this (and for reference, this is based on actual queries I’ve received, yes. Don’t laugh. Okay, laugh. I did.)

Hello Mrs. Rossana Black of WhiteBlaze Publishing,

Do you want to publish the next bestseller? Well, I’m coming to you today with an opportunity to do just that! My fictional novel is destined to be the next Harry Potter and will appeal to everyone from age 9 to 90.

The Story of a Truly Great Lady is an epic historical fantasy love story based on a true story that God revealed to me in a dream, in which He told me I must write this book and that it would save souls for Him. I know you want to obey the Lord, so please find attached the complete manuscript of Truly Great Lady as well as three chapters of the third book in the series, though I haven’t written the second yet. TGL is 400,000 words and is completed. I realize this is long, but I’m sure you’ll agree that nothing can be changed without losing the essence of the story God Himself gave me.

Please respond promptly, as if you don’t jump on this opportunity, I feel certain another publisher will.

Your Servant,
Jack Benimble

Ahem. Now, where do I start? Oh yeah—at the salutation.

Avoidable #1 – Get Your Info Right

Please, for the love of macaroni, do not misspell an editor’s name or, even worse, send them a letter made out to someone else! Sounds basic, I know, but it’s happened to me. Several times. Needless to say, I didn’t request anything from those people. If you don’t know the editor’s name, that’s okay—a “Dear Sir or Madam” works fine, as does “To Whom it May Concern” or even “Dear Acquisitions Editor” or “Dear WhiteFire” (in the case of my house). But let’s note that my name is Roseanna, not Rossana. White, not Black. And it’s Fire in my publisher’s name, not Blaze or Rose or House. (Catch that one? White House? Tee hee hee)

Avoidable #2 – Do Not Be Presumptuous

Again this might sound basic, but there are a lot of people who think that to sell their book, they have to make it out to be the best thing ever. Resist the urge—humility goes much farther than pride. Do not liken your book to an all-time bestseller. Do not claim your book will be the next one. And for goodness sake, do not make it sound as if you’re doing the publisher a favor by submitting to them. That won’t gain you any points. And this applies to later parts of the sample query there, too. Don’t try to tell me this is what God wants—it may be, but that’s something we have to decide through prayer, not just because a query tells us so. And one of the biggest presumptions—don’t say your book is perfect as is! It’s not, I can promise you that. We all have to change things, and saying up front you’re unwilling to do so will have an editor hitting that delete button before you can say, “But it’ll make you millions!”

Avoidable #3 – Know Your Target Audience

By telling an editor your book will appeal to everyone, you’re basically telling them you don’t know who you actually intend it for. Narrow it down. This doesn’t mean people outside your target won’t read it and like it, but you’re trying to tell the publisher to whom they should aim their marketing. Men or women? Kids or adults? Baby-boomers of Gen-Xers? When I submit a proposal (this is writer-me talking), I always say it’s aimed at women, the standard readership of 35-50, but that it will also appeal to 20somethings. This tells the publisher that it’s a romance with a traditional readership, but that I bring a younger voice to it, so they can market it to the new generation of adult readers.

Avoidable #4 – Messing Up Your Book Description

I know Stephanie has covered on here how to define your book’s genre. (Oh wait, I think I actually guest-posted something on that, LOL.) Know it, and know it well. Don’t ever, ever call it a “fictional novel.” The redundancy makes us cringe. ;-) Also don’t try to cover every possible genre in your description. I got a query a couple months ago that left me uncertain whether the book was fiction or non-fiction. Not a good thing. Keep it simple, concise, and accurate.

Avoidable #5 – Not Reading the Guidelines

My last point is this—each publisher has very specific submissions guidelines, both in the kind of books they want and how you can send them. Read them. If they say to send a query first, don’t attach anything. If they ask for a proposal, send the correct elements—don’t assume you know better what they want to see than they do. Pay attention to the particular things they’re looking for, and in what format they should be. I, for instance, growl when an attachment is a docx. I have to save them, let my computer reformat them, then hunt down the folder and open them. In the two minutes that process takes, I could have opened up a regular doc file, read the first two pages, and made a decision about whether I wanted to read more or not.

So there you have your 5 simple steps to avoid getting deleted. Now, as for how to get a request . . . that’s another post. ;-) Have questions? I’m happy to answer them here or to dedicate a future post to them!

26 comments:

  1. The term "fictional novel" always makes me cringe. What *kind* of novel is it? Fantasy? Historical? My genre is YA fantasy. ;)

    And a 400, 000 word book? Are there even books that long published?

    "My novel is the next Harry Pottter." No, it's not. Your book could sell well, but most likely not that well. :P

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Exactly, Allison. And yet people try it. Usually not all those things at once, but . . .

      Delete
  2. I'm curious how long War and Peace is compared to this wonderful (ahem) sounding epic book. :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. According to a wiki article on the longest books, War and Peace checks in between 560,000 and 587,000 words, depending on the translation. Keeping in mind that books back then were often printed in volumes, LOL.

      Yeah . . . Tolstoy would be told to make it a series today. ;-)

      Delete
  3. I loved this post! I am nowhere near a query (I just gave up on the book I'd been working on for years, realizing that 'for years' at 14.... let's just say I was horrified when I reread it :P), but it was helpful (and humorous) nonetheless :) A problem I've always had is determining the exact genre of a book.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It can sometimes be tricky, yes, but is usually determined by the main force of the book combined with the target audience. I did a two-part guest post on this a while back: http://goteenwriters.blogspot.com/2010/07/what-am-i-writing-anyway-part-i.html and http://goteenwriters.blogspot.com/2010/07/what-am-i-writing-anyway-part-ii.html

      And I'm happy to help you figure that out if you're still not totally sure. =)

      Delete
    2. Those were super helpful :) I'm almost sure the plot-line I'm fiddling with currently is Historical Romance.... but I don't quite know if it fits under Suspense also, or not. The main character's a thief (Suspense? or just intense? :P), it's set in the fifties (is that no longer Historical?), and there's a love story that's plot-necessary (Romance - if it wasn't, I doubt I'd be writing it lol). Wow - more confuddling on here than in my head!

      Delete
    3. Lydia, while we writers tend to insist on things being called "Historical Romantic Suspense" if they have strong suspense elements, the marketplace doesn't recognize that as a genre, so you're right that yours would be simply Historical Romance. Fifties is kinda iffy on the definition of historical, but I think these days it's safe to include it. =)

      Delete
    4. Thanks so much :) That gives me a lot more confidence on the subject matter lol.

      Delete
  4. Thank you SO much! I will definitely keep these excellent tips stored away for the future.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Who would even want to be "the next Harry Potter / Twilight / Hunger Games / etc.?" Those books have already been written and you will just be labeled as a rip-off.

    Roseanna - did you really get a query letter addressed to "Rossana Black?" That would be the worst possible mistake! :D :D

    Thank you very much for the post!

    Ellyn

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I so agree, Ellyn. I get so frustrated when publishing houses try to bill an author as the next Stephenie Meyer or something.

      Delete
    2. LOL. Well, I've gotten letters addressed to the wrong person entirely, and with my name grossly misspelled. That one in particular was just combining the two. ;-)

      And you have a very good point. Though I think (*think*) when people say that sort of thing, they're more meaning the next big thing, and the same huge audience. But yeah, LOL. Bad idea.

      Delete
    3. I think those people mean in terms of audience... For me, that just makes me not want to read the book, when it says on the flap it's better than something I *love* especially when I read it and it isn't as good as the flap promises! Annoying marketing ploy. Now I don't mind when *authors* like I recommend books, just please don't say you're the next Rowling/Meyer/Collins!

      Delete
  6. I can't BELIEVE people would mess up that bad :O I haven't written anything to editors yet, but... well this is just my personality- I would make sure that I wrote it correctly, hyperventilate for 5 minutes, re-read what I wrote, save it as a draft just in case I got so drastic as to delete it in a moment of weakness, then proof read, then pray, THEN send it. Thank you so much for this list. I wasn't aware that the publishing houses actually had written specifications on email preferences! I'll make sure to re-read this before I send anything to editors.
    Thank you again!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. My method was rather similar to yours, LOL. I still tend to go through four drafts of an email before I send it to my agent or editor. ;-)

      But yes, most any publishing house that accepts unsolicited queries (i.e., not through an agent and requested from a conference) will have specific submissions guidelines, on everything from how many pages things can be to how to space them. Helpful . . . except that they're all different, LOL.

      Delete
  7. "your servant". Haha that's funny!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I can't tell you how many times I get a presumptuous letter with a humble signature, LOL. Makes me shake my head every time. ;-)

      Delete
  8. What a helpful first post! Thank you Mrs. White!!

    Wow, I would never send something like that. At this point in my life, I can not see myself sending in query letters but I loved this post nonetheless.
    Thank you again!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sure! Even if you're not ready to submit, you can absorb it all now and be a natural by the time you are. ;-)

      Delete
  9. I can definitely see how being presumptuous would turn off a publisher. And not just publishers - it would turn off anyone! It sounds just plain rude. The way I see it, if you're submitting to a publisher or an agent, the last thing you should be is rude or presumptuous. Because, yes, it's your book, but you don't get to call all of the shots. When it comes to submissions, the publishers hold the power. I can't imagine writing a query letter like that.

    Thank you so much for the tips, Ms. White! I'm not nearly ready to start querying yet, but I'll bookmark this post for when I am ready. :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You have a perfect attitude for this, Taylor! There are many people who don't, in fact, understand that "calling the shots" thing, LOL. Having been on both the submitting and receiving ends, I can promise that humility combined with excitement go a long way. =)

      Delete
    2. Thank you, it means a lot to me to hear that! Once again, I appreciate the tips - I'm looking forward to the day when I can put them to good use! :)

      Delete
  10. This opened my eyes LOL.
    Now I'm kind of glad for my overly-cautious personality, I'm constantly worried that I'll sound to pushy when I send emails to people asking questions or requesting information.

    Thanks for writing this post! I think this has helped me for future publishing... :) haha.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Thank you, Roseanna for this post! They will definitely help me in the future. I don't really have an issue with thinking that my book is going to be the next "so-and-so". I have more of an issue of thinking that it will never be as good as "so-and-so".

    ReplyDelete

Disagreement is welcome but rudeness is not. We ask that you please be considerate of each other. If we find your comment mean-spirited or inconsiderate, we reserve the right to remove it from our website.