Thursday, October 26, 2006

A Typical Day's Mail

Today I decided to keep track of the mail so you can see a bit what the submissions are like.

2 Maybes - Both non-fiction. One was rejected immediately by my boss, the other placed back on the pile for more serious consideration.

The Rejections

3 Crazy Book Ideas - I am referring to not a person who is crazy, but the idea is crazy (it's different), though the person could very well be crazy for all I know. These queries, among my favorite, describe novels with plots that make no sense. ("These lovers get on a plane - and then a gorrilla comes out of fucking NOWHERE!!! and then it turns out he's invisible but he's still attacking them...") Or they are novels that are not properly described in any way that makes sense because the author rambles for about a page about other stuff, to the point where I wonder if he has written anything or is just lonely for return mail.

1 Famous Person That Can't Write - Many people who have achieved some mediocre amount of fame (in this case, as a popular sports radio personality) think they can translate whatever part of their career/act that made them famous into written form, and they are wrong. So wrong.

2 Manuscripts That Are Too Short - Seriously, if you're in fiction, don't go under 70k. Under 60k is an auto-reject, no matter what NaNaWriMo says about novel length. And definitely do NOT submit something that's 33,100 words.

1 Manuscript That Is Too Long - If you are in fiction or autobiography, please do not go far over 100k. Certainly, don't go over 120k. 240,000 words is just unacceptable. Auto-reject.

2 Crazy Christian Authors - Before I get a flood of hate replies, let me clarify. I am not referring to Christian inspiration, which is a legitimate genre that occasionally has good writers. I am referring to people who are obviously quite insane but are also all hopped up on Christ and have attempted to write a Christian inspirational novel, but their insanity slips through. One of them I remember featured a story about a town that re-introduced whipping as a form of punishment for sin. For two pages this guy went on about whipping and sin and Christ and more whipping, to the point that I was just suspicious.

1 Christian Inspiration - I forget whether this was someone's non-fiction autobiography about discovering their path to religion or fiction with the same plot, but the point is, it's not a genre we handle. No offense meant, but auto-reject.

1 Ex-Military Guy - And this guy wasn't from Iraq, either, though we see a lot of those. This guy was in the Korean war or something. Yes, you went to war. That doesn't qualify you to write about it, unless you can make it interesting. Unfortunately, you didn't.

2 Fiction About a Woman Discovering Herself - otherwise known as "chick-lit." Plus, one of them was about a woman who found out she was a lesbian over the course of the book.

1 Generic Self-Help - Hint: the words "generic" and "touching" don't go well together.

1 Just Plain Crazy Guy - I don't know what crazy guy's novel is about, because he doesn't usually get to it until the third page of his 16-size font rant, and it's only a brief summary. Before he gets there, he decides to discuss a bunch of non-related events in his life that are apparently supposed to be either hilarious or bitterly hilarious about the publishing industry and how it doesn't appreciate real literature, because this guy has CLEARLY written it, and that's why he has no punctuation.

40 comments:

Anonymous said...

I'm not so sure about your category of "a woman discovering herself".......I mean, lots of books have this element--a person/woman on a journey of some sort and coming to some understanding about herself and life. Perhaps you mean how the query presents it--mundane?

I wouldn't lump this all in as chick lit--and that is another hot button topic--what is chick lit? Other board agents have talked about it not being dead, really, only that publishers don't want that so agents won't call it that- they will call it women's fiction.

Joyce said...

You must be ecstatic when you get a query that works! :-)

Buffy said...

"I am referring to people who are obviously quite insane but are also all hopped up on Christ..."

Yeah, but you have to admit, these guys make excellent character fodder.

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

Why do I have it in my head that you do almost exclusively, if not entirely exclusively, non-fiction?

Or am I thinking of that OTHER rejecter who blogs?

Anonymous said...

Wow - compared to your take today, I look golden!!! So why am I still getting form rejections?

Anonymous said...

So I'm not quite sure I get this; maybe I won't allow myself to get it. Suddenly a novel--regardless of genre--need not be shorter than "Turn of the Screw" or longer than "Lolita"? If you're outside those "limits" then the game's over for you? "Auto-reject"? "Just unacceptable"? Obviously you created this blog to give your opinion, and it's been quite helpful, but wow...now we're legislating the absolute dos and donts when it comes to word counts? Or maybe just for "salable" books. Disheartening to say the least.

Rashenbo said...

1 Just Plain Crazy Guy - I don't know what crazy guy's novel is about, because he doesn't usually get to it until the third page of his 16-size font rant, and it's only a brief summary. Before he gets there, he decides to discuss a bunch of non-related events in his life that are apparently supposed to be either hilarious or bitterly hilarious about the publishing industry and how it doesn't appreciate real literature, because this guy has CLEARLY written it, and that's why he has no punctuation.

Hehehehe Now I REALLY want to know what this query letter looked like... hehehhe

Anonymous said...

not far over 100,000? certainly, there have to be exceptions to this. if not, then uh oh: time to edit my 190,000 ms down again (sigh)

Sling Words said...

Rejector is correct about word count (and everything else I've read on this blog). Publishing is a business with defined parameters for the finished "product" based upon economics among other criteria. Don't be disheartened, Anonymous, it's just a fact one must face when pursuing a writing career.

Great blog, by the way. For some reason, when I read your content, I hear the voice of Ellen Muth who played Georgia Lass in Dead Like Me, one of my favorite TV shows.

Anonymous said...

i mean many published novelists these days go into the 140-160,000 word range. doesn't seem all that unusual, so i wonder how hard and fast the "don't go over 120,000" words rule is.

Linda said...

--i mean many published novelists these days go into the 140-160,000 word range. doesn't seem all that unusual, so i wonder how hard and fast the "don't go over 120,000" words rule is.--

But there's a difference. Those are writers who have already published several books. They have an audience who will buy the book because they read a previous one. An unpublished writer doesn't have any track record at all that will guarantee a sale of a book that costs more to print. Plus, when an unpublished writer's book is too long, it's usually a sign that it still needs a lot more editing and revising.

Anonymous said...

good pts, linda. this is probably true. but i also find it hard to believe that if Richard Powers was an unknown writer and approached agents with The Time of Our Singing (which clocks in at over 250,000 words according to amazon.com) that he would be automatically rejected. im not at all suggesting that any and everyone is Richard Powers, but sometimes your story NEEDS more than 100-120,000 words, period.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the instant-diss of CBA fiction. We'll keep on writing good books, and selling them, without your help, I guess.

Simon Haynes said...

I always thought NaNoWriMo should really be NaHaNoWriMo: The National Half a Novel Writing Month. (Yes, I'm participating this year. Again. I'm planning to write the second half of last year's effort.)

ORION said...

Actually I see NaNoMo as writing a first draft - not a finished novel. Many of my first drafts have been in the 50 -60,000 words and each edit expands scenes and narrative until the finished manuscript is around 80,000 words (on average).
With respect to length - yes obviously there are exceptions (fantasy tends to be long and romance can be short) but the point is, "Are you the exception?"
Yes Nicholas Sparks' The Notebook was under 60,000 words and there are several examples of 800 page tomes.
ON AVERAGE most books in general fiction range from 70 to 90,000 words.
Rejector is just saying that you give an assistant a quick reason to reject without even getting to the premise if your novel is 30,000 words or 300,000.

srchamberlain said...

I'm still puzzling out the existence of "Christian inspirational." Who would want to read something like that? Isn't a bit...uh, predictable? "Boy meets girl. Boy faces down temptation to do coke off prostitute's back. Boy accepts Jesus as his personal savior. Boy and girl marry and live happily ever after...but in Christ!"

If anything, Rejecter, I'm afraid you were being too kind to this genre.

inspired said...

(I'm still puzzling out the existence of "Christian inspirational." Who would want to read something like that? Isn't a bit...uh, predictable? "Boy meets girl. Boy faces down temptation to do coke off prostitute's back. Boy accepts Jesus as his personal savior. Boy and girl marry and live happily ever after...but in Christ!")

srchamberlain, your post shows up only that you have never yourself read a real inspirational novel, and that you are prejudiced. In fact, there is hardly any plot or genre where the screws can't be tightened several times by adding the inspirational theme - not necessarily, but including, Christianity.
I would consider ALL of my books to have such a theme, and I've managed to produce a couple of bestsellers. The trick is to work the inspirational part in subtly. Nobody wants it shoved down their throat. Done well, an inspirational novel will have several layers and can be gut-wrenching to the point of life-changing. The latter is what millions are readers are hungry for.

xyxmno said...

please go back to rejector... it just sounds so cool. anything that conjures robotic prostheses to mind is cool, particularly when you are an agent's assistant.

personally, i like inspirational fiction. it never fails to inspire me to continue with my heathen, hell-bent crap.

we love rejector! rejecter, not so much.

shelby said...

It's muthafuckin' invisible gorillas on a muthafuckin' plane! I'd watch that.

Sam said...

Invisible gorillas on a plane?

LOL

Mrs. Brain Bomb said...

Don't you love those crazy ones?

We had something similar to the famous person thing. We had an editor. This person had worked for several high profile glossies, AS EDITOR, and had about six very obvious grammatical errors in the first two pages of the proposal. Nice.

Anonymous said...

Wow some people are touchy (re: anonymous comments regarding Christian ficiton.) You weren't bashing them. You distinguished between the book that was a Chr. inspirational and the two queries that clearly were poor writing meant to propagate an agenda. Just because you rejected them doesn't mean you hate Christians or Christian writing, but that those works are not publishable in their current forms (and from the sound of it, any future forms, either.) And as for the commentor who *did* diss Chr. Fic... *eyeroll*

Thank you for this post. It's interesting to see the real deal. :)
Jess

chisem said...

Good morning Rejecter:
How about adding this info to your rejection letter, or as a personal note. It is of great consternation to the writer. I've been told that anything more than 100,000 words is a kiss to death to some agents; yet, I've had several agents ask for a full manuscript of a 125,000 word thriller I've written. None of them mentioned the length as a reason for rejection. Most "just didn't fall in love with it," whatever that means.
So, there may be a little wiggle room with some agents, and none with others. Stating that the length caused rejection might be helpful.
I'm enjoying your blog. Keep up the good work.
Albest,
Chisem

Anonymous said...

Rejecter, I love your blog! Novel length is sometimes subjective. I wrote a 65,000 page urban fantasy. I got a request for a partial from a huge agency. One of their most notable clients is some guy named Stephen King... It just depends. If the book is good, they will read it!

An Aspiring Writer said...

If it was invisible, how did they know it was a gorilla?

Rejecter ... thank you for the peek inside the rejection process. It's EXTREMELY helpful to us aspiring ones both before and after that first rejection letter.

Simon ... (Yes, I'm participating this year. Again. I'm planning to write the second half of last year's effort.) *LOL* Yep, that's what I'm doing this year, too.

Anonymous said...

Wow. After a day, half a day, an hour and a half even, how DO you keep from assuming the next query will be another piece of crap? Six months of this would have to make you cynical.

Anonymous said...

Can you put me in touch with the crazy whipping guy? :D

Janice Mathers said...

"Before I get a flood of hate replies, let me clarify. I am not referring to Christian inspiration, which is a legitimate genre that occasionally has good writers."
-----------------
Dear Rejecter:

Please read the above statement again and tell me why it's not insulting. I don't write Christian Inspirational fiction. I don't even read it, but I think you may want to choose your words more carefully next time. I don't think those writers would appreciate your rather sweeping generalization.

Anonymous said...

Hm. Yanno, I didn't even SEE the "occasionally." Okay, yah, definitely reason to be miffed. Though in defense... you could say that of any genre. *g*
Jess

The Rejecter said...

Janice, I do not understand your complaint. I just said Christian inspiration is legit and has some good writers, as opposed to crazy people who happen to be Christian. What's the problem?

Anonymous said...

Janice appears to be interpreting the word "occasionally" to mean "rarely".

This is hypersensitive of her, but it was an unfortunate (if technically accurate) choice of word.

skybluepinkrose said...

I AM a published author in the Christian book market, and I take no exception to the "occasionally has good writers" wording. It's all too true.

Nonny said...

These queries, among my favorite, describe novels with plots that make no sense. ("These lovers get on a plane - and then a gorrilla comes out of fucking NOWHERE!!! and then it turns out he's invisible but he's still attacking them...")

Sounds like someone's Nanowrimo plot. (Seriously. I swore never to ask for help on their plot forums after seeing the number of people running around giving crazy suggestions like, "Oh, just add a ninja attack!" Helllllooo??)

Divine Bird said...

Keep in mind that NaNoWriMo actually says on the site that 50k isn't actually a full novel, but it is a respectable amount of writing to accomplish within the time frame. It's also not necessarily for people who want to publish. A lot of people do it because they need to get past the mental blocks that occur when they try to edit every word as they write it. Just sayin'. :)

kis said...

Was the postmark on that last guy's envelope Warsaw Poland? Cause he sounds familiar.

Janice Mathers said...

To: The Rejecter

You're an agent. You know the power of words. But now you want to play semantical twister? Fine then. Let’s play.

Quoting you exactly: "I am not referring to Christian inspiration,(sic) which is a legitimate genre that occasionally has good writers."

*********************************************
From Answers:

“oc•ca•sion•al•ly (ə-kā'zhə-nə-lē) pronunciation. The adverb ‘occasionally’ has one meaning: now and then or here and there

Synonyms: on occasion, once in a while, now and then, now and again, at times, from time to time”

Idioms: Once in a while ---- occasionally, NOT VERY OFTEN (emphasis mine), as in ‘Once in a while I enjoy going fishing.’ [Mid-1800s] Also see every now and then; from time to time.”
**********************************************
The use of ‘Occasionally,’ in the context of your sentence was as an insult whether you want to admit it or not. That said, here's the implied meaning:

"I am not referring to Christian inspiration (sic), which is a legitimate genre that has good writers EVERY ONCE IN A WHILE.”

"I am not referring to Christian inspiration (sic), which is a legitimate genre that has good writers FROM TIME TO TIME.”

"I am not referring to Christian inspiration (sic), which is a legitimate genre that has good writers but NOT VERY OFTEN.”

Clear enough?

You wrote ‘Occasionally’— as opposed to: "I am not referring to Christian inspiration (sic), which is a legitimate genre that has good writers.” _PERIOD._

Just like any other 'legitimate' genre has good writers _PERIOD._

So why sandwich 'occasionally' in there at all? (Inquiring minds want to know) UNLESS it was meant as a backhanded compliment. UNLESS it was meant as a swipe. UNLESS you really do believe the Christian Inspirational (not inspiration) market has a shortage of quality writers, because that’s what ‘occasionally’ implies.

Your comment was condescending and offensive. I don’t write inspirational fiction, but if you were to substitute any other genre in your statement it would’ve been just as rude.

It is possible to make a point without insulting an entire group of writers. If you can’t see this—even after my admittedly long-winded (and yes, anal) explanation—any further clarification will be pointless.

Janice

Janice Mathers said...

skybluepinkrose said... I AM a published author in the Christian book market, and I take no exception to the "occasionally has good writers" wording. It's all too true.
*****************************
Interesting because one of my published cps (who, like you, also writes Inspirational fiction) thought the remark was rude too. To be frank, I don't see how anyone can't see it for what it is. But since I'm the loudmouth in our group, I'm the one speaking up.

Janice

Janice Mathers said...

Anonymous said... Janice appears to be interpreting the word "occasionally" to mean "rarely".

This is hypersensitive of her, but it was an unfortunate (if technically accurate) choice of word.
========================
Bull.

Here are the two definitions:

occasionally

adverb

1. Once in a while; at times: betimes, intermittently, periodically, sometimes, sporadically. Idioms: ever and again anon, now and again then. See continue/stop/pause.

2. At rare intervals: infrequently, little, rarely, seldom, sporadically. Idioms: hardly, scarcely, ever, once in a blue moon. See usual/unusual.

So which is it, Anonymous? You tell me.

Janice

Anonymous said...

Janice,

Hi, I'm the anonymous you quoted.

The vast majority of all books written, in all genres, are unpublishable garbage. A slush pile reader knows this better than anyone. Thus, it is completely precise and accurate to say that a genre "occasionally" produces good writers.

Janice Mathers said...

Hi Anonymous,

Forgive me if I don't agree with you. Not the part about the slush pile sitution. I've heard the same from my own agent.

I'm talking about the initial context of the paragraph in question. If it had been worded the way you put it, I wouldn't have had a problem with it. But as I demonstrated, it did not come off that way at all. It was an extremely unfortunate comment.

Janice