Thursday, March 15, 2007

Form Letter Codes


I recently recieved a form letter rejection from a fiction magazine. The editor had circled the stock phrases, "does not meet our current needs" and "please submit to us in the future." The editor also underlined the word "current." Does this represent a legitimate interest in my work on the part of the editor or should I just assume that a form letter of any kind is a flat out rejection?

Congratulations: You will never know the answer to this question. Assume it's a form letter.

I've been told there's actually a code to Fantasy & Science Fiction, the magazine that everyone submits to and no one gets accepted, but they get a really really fast reply (and by snail mail! So it took effort). There are different form letters they use, and the different ones indicate how far they got in your piece before they decided to reject it. I have a number of rejections from them, and they all have different wordings - "I didn't feel it was right for me" or "This doesn't meet our needs" and apparently there's a way to interpret these if you're a Fantasy & Science Fiction insider. If anyone wants to pitch in and tell us the code, I think everyone here would benefit. Everyone in science fiction submits a short story to F&SF. I've never met a single person who's read the magazine, but that's not the point here.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Adjectives and How I Hate Them

Dear Rejecter,

I'm wondering what genre to label my novel-mainstream/contemporary or the little checkbox on many agents' lists, "Offbeat/quirky." Now, I don't think "offbeat" is officially a genre, but if that's what my novel best fits into, should I call it that anyway? When the agent's reader encounters the surreal elements of my novel a mainstream/contemporary" tag is going to seem clueless, I fear. I am also trying, in my desperation, to avoid comparing my work to great works, because I know how often agents roll their eyes at every writer who thinks they're "the next great X." However, if I use a sparing simile here and there- I'm thinking of comparing the surreal effects as comparable to David Lynch, but with the black humor of Dr. Strangelove- might my query not get tossed? My friends tell me it's a strong novel, it's just very surreal. Is there any way to sell that today? What do you recommend for writers that have an odd but strong novel? How does one sell strange?

Must resist urge to say something mean.
Must resist urge to say something mean.
Deep breath....

...If you novel has strange things happen in it, that should be obvious from the summary in the first part of the query. We don't like people using adjectives to describe their novel - we like people who describe their novel and then happen to mention its genre, and "quirky" is not a genre. What's your novel about? Insane commanders ordering their men to drop nuclear weapons on an unsuspecting populace? A backwards-talking dwarf? If you mention that yeah, there is a backwards-talking dwarf in your story (and he's the killer! haha!), we will be able to figure out "Hey, this is pretty strange" and then decide if it meets our tastes based on that and a host of other reasons, like the quality of your writing in the query letter and/or the partial.

Do not use words to describe your novel - and this goes for everyone - that are not words used by bookstores to define genre so that they can put it on the correct shelf. If you don't know and the genre isn't obvious, that means it's probably just fiction and would go in that "fiction and literature" section. We can tell from the summary. Don't label it as "great" or "funny" or "strange" or "the next bestseller." And I don't know why everyone's memoirs about how they were brutally raped by their fathers involves "a touch of humor" and I refuse to believe it until I see it, and I usually don't want to see it. Everyone, stop saying your novel is humorous if it so obviously isn't because you just said it was about how your wife died of cancer. That's not funny. You have to be a pretty brilliant humorist to make that funny.

Sorry, poster - that last bit didn't involve you so much, but we're seeing a lot of those these days. Everybody's writing dark comedy, but every "dark comedy" manuscript I've seen isn't very funny.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Oooo! Mysterious Disk!

One of the newer trends has been for people to supple CDs with their query letters, or in the most extreme cases, just the CD. Let me explain to you how bad an idea this is: This is a really bad idea. Not only do we need like to have to do extra work, there is nothing I, as a person, like doing more than putting a mysterious disk I got in the mail from a total stranger into my beloved laptop.

Now I've heard sarcasm is hard to detect on the internet, so let me be clear: That last line was sarcastic. It's like attachments, which any agent website will tell you not to send, but so much worse. At least with attachments we can scan them for viruses.

And while we're on the subject: If you send an SASE for the return of your CD, make sure your CD fits in the envelope.