The Seven Deadly Sins of Querying (and a contest!)

There are probably far more, but seven seemed like a nice non-round number. It’s considered lucky and symbolic. It’s the fifth prime of the integers. As a kid, I always liked the numbers seven and five. Perhaps that’s why. Today I’m discussing a few (seven, actually) of the reasons queries get rejected, using the unscientific method of trolling through the #TenQueries hashtag on Twitter and cherry-picking some recurring problems I see.

1. Not knowing your category/genre

Is it Women’s Fiction or Romance? YA or NA? Thriller or Mystery? If you don’t know, you haven’t done your homework. Do that now. The corollary to this sin is not knowing the word-count range for your age category/genre: for goodness’ sake, no YA Contemporary should be 200,000 words long. Nor should it be 40,000 words short.

2. No query letter

Yes, really — authors, you NEED a query letter in order to query. Trust me. A sample of your MS, a synopsis, or a link to your homepage ain’t gonna do anything except act like a magnet between an agent’s index finger and the Delete button. This falls into the general sin superset of not paying attention to submission guidelines. Read more

Free query or pitch critique!

Did I say “free?” Why, yes. Yes I did. But first you’ll have to put up with some pom-pom waving on my part for a fellow authoress. All the excitement over on Twitter today re Brenda Drake’s cover reveal for Library Jumpers made me get my grateful freak on. Why? Because #PitMad, the quarterly Twitter-pitch event organised and hosted by the lovely Brenda Drake (where does that gal find the time?) was:

  • The reason I created a Twitter account
  • Where I met a passel of fantastic writing friends
  • How I learned how to pitch an 85,000-word novel in fewer than 140 characters
  • The first time one of my books got an agent’s attention
  • And…best of all…the event that made me think I could actually succeed in this writing game

Read more

The Poisoned Point of View

“Limit your POVs to two or three,” they say.

They do say a lot of things, don’t they?

I’m not about to argue with the experts–the writers, agents, editors, publishers, marketers, and creative writing instructors who tell us that eight points of view is Just. Too. Damned. Many. They’ve been in the business longer than I have, and they know things I don’t.

What I can do, though, is offer a counter-example (and a defense, which I’ll get to later). One counter-example. That’s an N of 1, in statistician-speak, and not very telling, but the N in question is a really big book. Here, I’ll give you a hint:

Its title rhymes with The Silence of the Lambs. Read more

Mr. Ripley and That Other Character

Who am I?
Who am I?

I love the macabre. Always have, ever since I was a wee gal and sucked up those old Hammer films with Peter Cushing as Van Helsing and Christopher Lee as the undead Count. For some reason, they were always on television and my mother let me watch them. My best friend and I even played Dracula in the yard–she as the ill-fated Lucy, me as Mina. I didn’t think that was fair, since I was the blonde, but I played along anyway. We devised a method of using Charms Blow-Pops to ward off the evil Count Dracula and, apparently, they worked. I’m still here. I don’t know about the girl who played Lucy.

So give me horror, suspense, monsters, witches, Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” (what genre is that?), and psychological thrillers. Throw them all my way, because I’m in love with them.

Except for that one. Yeah, that one everyone was reading and talking about. That one with all the clever twists and evil characters and domestic strife. Give me anything except that.

Here’s why: Read more

Of dinner parties and dead people

IMG_3232I don’t have nearly as many dinner parties as I used to. This lull in culinary crowd-pleasing is an artifact of (1) having moved around the world six times in seven years and (2) gotten the writing bug.

When I do find myself in the head-of-the-table hostess seat, I skip the political chatter and gossip, and instead ask my guests questions that really matter. One of my favourites (particularly with Coast Guard / Navy types) is this gem:

It’s New Year’s Eve. The Poseidon has just capsized. Which one of you should I follow, and why?

I bloody guarantee you at least forty-five minutes of heated debate. (And you’ll learn something new about ships.)

But the all-time rock star on my list of conversational stimulants is:

You’re having a dinner party and can invite six dead people. Who are they?

The answers inevitably vary. I’ve heard everything from Vince Lombardi to Winston Churchill. Since I don’t do sports or politics, neither of these guests appeals to me — I simply don’t know what we’d talk about (unless it’s Churchill’s famous parrot). So who would make the cut for my Dead Person’s Dinner Party? Here’s the short list:

Roald Dahl, because he’d tell me a story

Alfred Hitchcock, because he’s the person most likely to bring me a prezzie of a tiny coffin with a Tippi Hedren doll inside it

Ayn Rand, because I want to argue the innateness of language theory with her

Carl Sagan, because he never stopped being full of wonder

Billy Wilder, because his movies and his smile are the best ever

Peter O’Toole, because if it’s a dead-person’s dinner party, my husband won’t be there and I want eye candy

Shirley Jackson, because I don’t need to stop at six and I love her

If I had two extra seats at the table, I’d add Nathaniel Branden (because I’d love to hear what he and his former lover Ayn have to say to one another and because I actually had dinner with Nathaniel when he was still walking among the living). I’d also invite Adolf Hitler — it would be fun to watch the other guests kick the living shit out of him. Since that would happen in relatively short order, there’s the added benefit of having a spare place for any late-comers who happened to drop dead in at the eleventh hour. I do hope one of them will be Shirley Jackson (if you don’t know who she is, I’m sad for you, but also happy because you’ll get to read “The Lottery” and “The Summer People” for the first time). Now that I think of it, Ms. Jackson really is worthy of her very own engraved invitation. See above.

So there you have it: the big guest list. I’d learn a good deal at that table. And in the meantime, you’ve learned a bit more about me.

Your turn.

The Puzzling Prologue Problem

Go ahead, Google something along the lines of prologues in novels. I’ll wait.

Done? If so, you’ll have found links like 7 Deadly Sins of Prologues, The Worst Ways to Begin Your Novel: Advice from Literary Agents, The Dreaded Prologue, Question: the oft-maligned prologue, and so on.

Read these four pages. Did you see the following?

“The problem with the prologue is it has kind of gotten a bad rap over the years, especially with agents. They generally hate them.”
(Kristen Lamb, best-selling author and blogger)

“Most agents hate prologues. Just make the first chapter relevant and well written.”
(Andrea Brown, literary agent) Read more