September 16, 2006

Ya Gotta Have Hope…

…Musn’t sit around and mope,
When the odds are sayin’ you’ll never win,
That’s when the grin should start…

Okay, so “start” doesn’t rhyme with “hope”. That’s because I borrowed the idea from the song Ya Gotta Have Heart. Which would have rhymed with “grin should start”. Well, too bad. I’m fresh out of miracles today. I have serious stuff on my mind.

What I’m thinking about today is, when you’re starting out or even if you’ve been working your buns off for five or six or eight years and haven’t made your first sale yet, you’ve gotta have hope that you will. BUT you’ve gotta have just a little more than that. You’ve got to be able to take a long, objective look at your book and understand whether it’s marketable or not. You have to have a clear understanding of “high-concept”.

I’ve been reading Miss Snark the past couple of weeks (okay, forever, if you want the truth) but in the past couple of weeks she had that Snarkometer thing going on, whereby she had people send in their query letters, which she often slices and dices and with very good reason, I might add. Some of them, with all the best intentions in the world, were truly awful. And still, some of the truly awful queries got an “okay, I’d take a look at this one” because she saw the first page and knew what she was seeing. And what she was seeing was money. No slam intended there, you just need to understand that the whole business is about $$$.

Here’s the deal. If you’re sending query after query and getting shot down every time, sooner or later you have to face it: Something’s wrong with your submission and you need to take a good long, hard look at the whole thing, not just the grammar although it might be that too, but we covered grammar in a prior blog. You also need to take a good, hard look at the market right now and see if you can figure out why they’re saying no. That is, if you’re sure your query letter has all the requisite components.

To refresh your mind: That would be about three pargraphs. One, a quick and dirty log line/paragraph about the thrust of your book. This is a one-paragraph overview that’s supposed to have them salivating and reaching for the phone so they can call you and demand you overnight your mss to them collect. Right? Well, yeah, that’d be nice. It’s not gonna happen, but it would be nice.

Next, a paragraph on what genre or type of book it is, how many words, is it finished. By what type it is, you don’t want to get all wound out with a six hundred line paragraph. Basically the agent or editor needs to know what genre the book is, what the protagonists’ problems are, what’s standing in their way. That’s about enough for one paragraph, I’d say.

Finally, one about you and how you’re qualified to write this book. This would not include the fact that you love to knit afghans for Tasmanian orphans and you’re really, really good at it, or that your grandmother who was an English teacher back in the 1950’s said she loves your book, or that you teach Yoga classes right now but you’re ready to move on into the ranks of bestsellerdom, or that you’re proud to announce you belong to a bowling league that meets every other Tuesday night for beer and pizza.

You don’t want to get friendly right away. I made this mistake myself early on. I’d had the presumably good fortune to make friends with the first editor I ever wooed. We traded letters back and forth for quite a few months before she moved on quite unexpectedly and so did I, at the request of her successor. The successor didn’t like it that I told her they’d had my manuscript for twenty-one months and I could have given birth to a baby elephant by that time. Even though I said it nicely. But see, I could joke with the first editor. I couldn’t with the second, drat the luck. That editor managed to clear off the prior editor’s desk pretty efficiently, I’d say, by mailing every manuscript in her new office back to the offending authors so she could nab her own victims. Them’s the breaks. It happens. It’s funny now. It wasn’t funny then. But dang it, the prior editor loved my sense of humor. This one didn’t. You just never know, so it’s better to be just a wee bit cautious and if you tend toward sarcasm like I do, train yourself to muzzle it at least a little while you’re wooing an editor or agent.

Back to the paragraphs. Finally, you want to say thank you and goodbye. You don’t have to tell her you’re hoping to hear from her soon because hell, she already knows that. You don’t have to tell her you’re enclosing SASE in that paragraph, which you are, because she can see it’s there as long as you stapled it to the query letter. Just kidding. A safety pin will do it. Just kidding again. Really, any paper clip, the same one you use to attach your business card, is fine. You DO have a business card, right? Then add a tiny line beneath your signature that says: Enclosed: SASE. See how easy that was? And you said it without begging, which may cause them to feel a twinge of guilt but not enough to request a book they don’t think they can sell.

Now one would think, wouldn’t one, that three paragraphs would be the easiest thing in the universe to crank out, but it’s those three paragraphs that strike lethal terror in the hearts of anyone who wants to submit their masterpiece, because while you’re telling, in a matter of fact way, what your book and you are about, you’re trying to at the same time wow her with your brilliance. In three short paragraphs.

But guess what. While you do have to present yourself and your book in those three paragraphs, and they do have to be eminently readable and punctuated correctly, and you do have to have the exact name and title of the person who’s presumably going to receive it, and you do have to succinctly describe your book to the best of your ability, and you do have to use good grammar because otherwise she’ll be onto the fact that you’re careless and can’t write Jack by the second line if you don’t, there are other things that enter into a rejection before they’ve even seen the mss, and this is what you need to understand. Plus, I think I just wrote the world’s longest run-on sentence. I should win a prize for that, right?

IF you tell them a bit about your book and they know there’s no market for it, even if you have hired the New Ashmolean Marching Society and Students’ Conservatory Band and they all walked on their hands while they played their bagpipes and delivered your query at the same time, it’s going to be rejected anyhow. Yes, even if the editor adores bagpipes.

That’s one thing you need to research ahead of time, and that’s the hardest thing in the world for an author to do, admit or even face the fact that their idea may not be marketable. Because we always, ALWAYS think our book is marketable. After all, our mothers and all of our friends said so, they all read a book just like it and that one was an award winning novel so ours is going to be an award winner too. Right?


Well, here’s something to think about: Nowadays everyone’s looking for a high-concept book. What does high-concept mean? Does it mean a 600-page spy novel with international repercussions? Not necessarily, unless your name is Norman Mailer or Nelson DeMille or Gayle Lynds, or any of fifty other fabulous spy fiction novelists.

It’s nothing as detailed as that. High-concept means, simply, a book the publishers and their marketing department absolutely believe will sell to hopefully millions of people. It means a novel with universal appeal.

The hard part is realizing your novel might not have universal appeal, in which case right now it might have a harder time making The List at a good publishing house unless you’re writing a genre novel, and even then, it had better be good. It has to be. HAS to.

But ya gotta have hope. No matter what the odds are against you , you have to believe your book is the best thing to ever hit New York or wherever you’re trying to send it. If you’ve done your market research and asked enough people in the business and read Publishers Marketplace religiously to find out what IS selling nowadays, if your book is anything like those books, you may have a shot at getting it read, at least. And then, if you’re lucky, if you reach the right agent or editor who sees the potential, and believe me when I tell you this, IF it HAS potential, they’re going to see it. Then, if all that jells at once, you have a shot.

The point I’m making is, you’ve gotta have hope or it’s almost impossible to keep on keeping on because keeping on year after year is so hard. But at the same time, you’ve got to have open eyes and an open mind if you’re going after that mainstream market.

Look around you at the books being reviewed nationally. See what kind they are, see who’s writing them, who’s buying them. Buy one or two yourself to see how your book compares–advice given to me, by the way, by a great agent. And then, if you still feel your book is on a par with those books, if you’re right, the agent or editor you’re querying is going to know it, and you’ll have a shot at The Big Gold Superbowl Ring.

I wish you all the luck in the world if that’s what you’re after. Always remember this: When you go into a bookstore and see all those books, realize deep in your heart that once upon a time every one of those authors was exactly where you are right now, this minute. And if they could do it, so can you. It takes work. It takes patience. But you CAN, with the right book, do it.

Gotta go, the private Learjet’s waiting out on the tarmac. I’m heading out to Paris with Count Babalallapaloozo. Ah, Paris in the fall…chestnuts in blossom–no, wait, OMIGOD, that’s SPRINGTIME! Dammit! I packed for springtime! SCREEEEEM!


Love y’all, you KNOW I do! Come back soon, ya hear me? We’ll talk again next week.

Hugs and More Hugs,
Hotclue Herself

The Writing World | Add A Comment  


3 Responses | TrackBack URL | Comments Feed

  1. Hotclue, you’re a doll. A hot, sexy, very smart doll. I can see why you hooked up with Beth. I’ve made notes and am using your suggestions. Now, I’ve hope AND direction. Which is good, cause I can’t find my car and house keys and they’re in this damn house. That I know for sure.


  2. You’ll find your keys, and you’ll find your pace, I know you will because you’ve got the desire and the will to do it. Personally, I think you’re on the right track now, so go, go, go. I know you can do it. I KNOW you can.

    Hugs, Hotclue, emailing this answer from (where the heck did I say we were going? Oh, yeah, Paris, and I gotta go, the wine guy just popped the champagne cork and I’m thirsty, thirsty, THIRSTY! You write, I’ll do a champagne toast to your success.


  3. Very beautiful, these are so similar to the memories that I have of my grandmother Dee Dee. A different time, no homemade ice cream but, many home made meals made with me helping. Stories told while we cooked. My grandfather fed first, who also was a man of few words during those times, sitting in front of the T.V. while we ate, the Laurence Welk show on, and both of my grandparents breaking into song and sharing memories with me. Her beautiful voice and his deep alto joining in. Then, they would laugh and share stories. After my grandfather had gone to bed my grandmother and I would sit up for hours playing Gin Rummy while she’d tell me again for the millionth time (because I’d asked her to for the millionth time) to tell me about her life when she was a little girl. These are the things that life is really about. Thank you for sharing your memories with me.


Leave a Reply







Copyright © 2006-2022 Beth Anderson. All Rights Reserved.
Web Design and Hosting by Swank Web Design | Powered by Wordpress | Log in