Mar 29 2011

A List of Literary Rejections

Published by at 9:45 pm under Getting Published

Teresa Nielsen Hayden, an editor for Tor Books, wrote this list of the most common evaluations of novel manuscripts.  Where do you rank?  (The best I’ve ever gotten is #12, sadly).

  1. Author is functionally illiterate.
  2. Author has submitted some variety of literature we don’t publish: poetry, religious revelation, political rant, illustrated fanfic, etc.
  3. Author has a serious neurochemical disorder, puts all important words into capital letters, and would type out to the margins if MSWord would let him.
  4. Author is on bad terms with the Muse of Language. Parts of speech are not what they should be. Confusion-of-motion problems inadvertently generate hideous images. Words are supplanted by their similar-sounding cousins: towed the line, deep-seeded, dire straights, nearly penultimate, incentiary, reeking havoc, hare’s breath escape, plaintiff melody, viscous/vicious, causal/casual, clamoured to her feet, a shutter went through her body, his body went ridged, empirical storm troopers, ex-patriot Englishmen, et cetera.
  5. Author can write basic sentences, but not string them together in any way that adds up to paragraphs.
  6. Author has a moderate neurochemical disorder and can’t tell when he or she has changed the subject. This greatly facilitates composition, but is hard on comprehension.
  7. Author can write passable paragraphs, and has a sufficiently functional plot that readers would notice if you shuffled the chapters into a different order. However, the story and the manner of its telling are alike hackneyed, dull, and pointless.
  8. (At this point, you have eliminated 60-75% of your submissions. Almost all the reading-and-thinking time will be spent on the remaining fraction.)

     

  9. It’s nice that the author is working on his/her problems, but the process would be better served by seeing a shrink than by writing novels.
  10. Nobody but the author will care about this dull, flaccid, underperforming book.
  11. The book has an engaging plot. Trouble is, it’s not the author’s, and everybody’s already seen that movie/read that book/collected that comic.
  12. (You have now eliminated 95-99% of the submissions.)

     

  13. Someone could publish this book, but we don’t see why it should be us.
  14. Author is talented, but has written the wrong book.
  15. It’s a good book, but the house isn’t going to get behind it, so if you buy it, it’ll just get lost in the shuffle.
  16. Buy this book.

24 responses so far

24 Responses to “A List of Literary Rejections”

  1. steton 30 Mar 2011 at 5:25 am

    I’ve hit 14 a few times, but I hear 12 all the friggin’ time.

    I’ve hesitated to mention this here, because in addition to being depressing, it’s Just One Editor’s Opinion (Teutonic caps due to hackneyed phrase, not neurochemical disorder), but I had lunch with a fairly major editor a few months ago, after she read and hated my superhero novel. She said, “Superhero novels don’t sell. We’ve tried. Write something else.”

    Now, I’d be shocked if editors weren’t saying the same about vampire novels, 15 years ago. (‘Unless your name is Anne Rice, forget it. She’s cornered the market.’) But there you go. My attempt to ruin everyone’s morning!

    My advice, re. superheroes and sales, is: Go YA. Which means girl-oriented, heavy on the romance. Twilight with mutants.

  2. Wingson 30 Mar 2011 at 8:26 am

    Well, damn. That means I need to go kidnap an artist and try to break into the comics industry. Which probably won’t work, as I still remain a novel writer and not a script writer.

    …I don’t write romance. That would be Jedi Penguin’s job. Adding more romance to stuff like TSBLAD or HTSTW would force me to chop out bits of the actual plot. Closest thing I’ve got to a straightforward romance is Strawberries and the Meaning of Life, and that’s still more about the meaning of life (obviously) than love. I suppose that Hunter’s Abomination could amp up the romance a bit, but I’d still rather write about the repercussions of utopia rather than about badass-supersoldier-girl/perpetually-quiet-lionboy love. Besides, Gareth’s no Edward Cullen. He’s not even a Jacob Black.

    – Wings

  3. The ReTARDISed Whovianon 30 Mar 2011 at 8:32 am

    “My advice, re. superheroes and sales, is: Go YA. Which means girl-oriented, heavy on the romance. Twilight with mutants.”

    Ick. I’d never want to write a Twilight clone, or anything totally aimed at girls, for that matter. I AM a girl, but books aimed at guys are so much better than chick lit. Let’s see… do I want to read about some chick whining about “TROO LAAV” or about a secret agent who kicks butt and struggles with an alcohol addiction? The second one is the winner, by far. Unless the first one is the Georgia Nicolson series – the main character is utterly petty and sometimes downright mean, but she’s extremely funny so that series would win.

    But then again, I don’t represent the vast majority of girls… People say I’m “the manliest guy” they know. I’m not exactly the picture of femininity, but I still don’t think that romance is all girls want out of a book. They still want drama and action, just maybe less of it than a guy/manly girl like me would want.

  4. B. Macon 30 Mar 2011 at 10:55 am

    “She said, ‘Superhero novels don’t sell. We’ve tried. Write something else.’ … My attempt to ruin everyone’s morning!” Heh, don’t worry there. I’ve had the same concerns myself. I think superhero novels are marketable but I think they have to be smart. For example, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay and the Wild Cards series were written by people with real literary talent (Michael Chabon, George R. R. Martin, Ian Tregellis, etc). In particular, I think that comes across in the development of the main characters vastly beyond a faceless stand-in for the audience. In contrast, I think a novel manuscript with another student* with few if any interesting traits is dead on arrival. I think adult novel readers put much more of a premium on character development and character-driven plots than the audiences for movies or comic books.

    *(From a sales perspective, another reason publishers might be leery about working with student superheroes without any interesting traits is that the target audience–young men 13-18, probably–rarely buys their own novels by choice. If your target audience is young men, I think the most effective way to target purchases is to reach for secondary buyers like parents purchasing the books as a gift or teachers assigning it for class. But teachers pretty much never assign superhero books in high school and parents tend to look down on them, too. The secondary decision-makers here tend to be female, which bodes poorly for a subgenre that tends to appeal most to males).



    Another major difference between best-selling superhero works and ones that languish is the depth of the non-action. What do the characters have going on outside of action/combat? If the answer is “not much,” I am 99% sure the book will flop (assuming it even gets published). Pure action works a LOT better for movies and perhaps comic books than novels.



    Also, one theory I have floating around is that adult novel readers tend to be more receptive to stories without significant secret identities.

  5. steton 30 Mar 2011 at 1:11 pm

    After you kidnap the artist, Wings, don’t use him or her up completely. Save a little for the rest of us …

    I think novels are easier to sell than scripts. (I might only think this because I’ve sold novels and can’t sell scripts, but still.) I’d say you’ve gotta stick with the form that works for you. You probably know that dystopian YA novels are pretty big right now, so much so that agents are whining about getting so many. (Though they’re still selling …)

    Gender’s a big issue with this stuff, I think, TRW. I thought–and still think–that guys my age, 30s-50s, who grew up on comics, might be interested in a pretty male-oriented superhero novel … if it was more than tights-and-powers. (Although guys my age read Vince Flynn and Dirk Pitt novels, so you can’t really underestimate their taste.)

    As far as YA goes, it’s a girl’s world. It’s even, kind of, a girlie-girl’s world. The ‘boy books’ they like are John Green’s YA books with male protagonists, all of which oughtta be subtitled, ‘Explorations in Estrogen.’ I don’t think romance is all that girls want, by any means, but I think it’s what publishers look for–especially post Twilight. And even post Hunger Games (which I didn’t read, and apparently the girl is v. kickass, but all I hear is ‘are you on Team OneBoy or Team TheOtherBoy?).

    Like B Mac said, 14-18 and male is a tough sell. The word inside publishing is that boys that age (and maybe older) simply don’t read novels.

    I think that’s largely self-fulfilling bullshit, myself, but it’s a pretty widespread perception.

    But I’m mostly concerned with selling. You’re possibly young enough that you’re mostly concerned with the writing, for which I hate you. Er, I mean, which is a different situation entirely.

    I don’t think you can look at Kavalier and Clay, B. That’s not a superhero novel; it’s a Chabon novel. Wild Cards strikes me as a better comparison … at least before George RRRRR broke out. Now they’re reissuing with his name big. But in the late 80s or early 90s, whenever that came out, I don’t think it really sold. (Could be wrong, though.)

    I guess what I think is that this is a huge untapped market. There -are- a bunch of guys like me, well past the age of comic books and graphic novels, who’d still enjoy a ‘grownup’ superhero story. My theory is that someone’s finally gonna break out with it, and then my much-rejected ms. will suddenly find a home.

    Of course, I’ve got another theory that involves my bald spot suddenly sprouting hair …

  6. B. Macon 30 Mar 2011 at 1:34 pm

    “The word inside publishing is that boys that age [14-18] (and maybe older) simply don’t read novels. I think that’s largely self-fulfilling bullshit, myself, but it’s a pretty widespread perception.” My slight tweak on that would be that boys that age don’t buy novels. I bought my first novel (besides assigned reading) when I was in my 20s and I consider myself a reasonably literary person. As a high school student, I had very little disposable income and I stretched it by getting my books from the library instead of a bookstore.

    Additionally, I would guess that illegally downloading books is more convenient than buying them, particularly for youth that don’t have cars and live more than a few miles from the nearest bookstores. (Most smaller novels are not available on pirate websites, but bestsellers and classics are usually pretty easy to find).

  7. B. Macon 30 Mar 2011 at 2:19 pm

    I don’t have sales figures on the Wild Cards series, but it had so many books published so quickly I would infer that it must have sold pretty well from the very start. The first three novels in the WC series were published in 1987, followed by two more in 1988 and another eight by 1993. I wouldn’t attribute its success mainly to George Martin’s fame, considering that his first A-list bestseller was probably A Game of Thrones in 1996. (Then again, he had won several Hugos for his novellas and novelettes, so it’s not like he was a no-name at the time he launched the WC series).


    Michael Chabon’s work has some major gaps. For example, sometimes he tries way too hard to sound smart. Here’s two average sentences from page 77: “[Superman] had been mailed to the offices of National Periodical Publications from Cleveland, by a couple of Jewish boys who had imbued him with the power of a hundred men, of a distant world, and of the full measure of their bespectacled adolescent hopefulness and desperation. The artist, Joe Shuster, while technically just barely apt, seemed to understand from the first that the big rectangular page of the comic book offered possibilities for pacing and composition that were mostly unavailable in the newspapers; he joined three panels vertically into one to display the full parabolic zest of one of Superman’s patented skyscraper-hops (the Man of Steel could not, at this point in his career, properly fly), and he chose his angles and arranged his figures with a certain cinematic flair.” On the other hand, sometimes his work is smart, and I appreciate his daring. Trying to write something cerebral with superheroes in it (even if it’s only secondarily about superheroes) strikes me as very brave. The things that go right work out well enough that I’m not surprised he has a large following.

    For example, his ability to make a setting memorable. I think there are exceedingly few superhero stories that have handled settings as well as he did. No offense to Superman’s “upbeat New York City” or Spiderman’s “mostly upbeat New York City,” but I think that you’d have to go deeper and more stylish if you wanted to write a bestselling novel. In terms of comic book settings, the only one I think really stands out as memorable is Batman’s Gotham. I can’t think of any other superhero setting I’d rate within spitting distance of the most memorable creations of elite fantasy and sci-fi novelists (Terry Pratchett, JK Rowling, Orson Scott Card, Zelazny, Herbert, etc).

  8. B. Macon 30 Mar 2011 at 2:23 pm

    “Twilight with mutants.” James Frey and his sweatshop have already beaten you to the punch: I Am Number Four.

    PS: One of my personal vows is that I will never write romance. Given that my series’ two lead protagonists are a bumbling accountant and a mutant alligator, that’s probably a good thing. In fact, refusing to write either into a romance is so friendly to my readers that it probably amounts to fan service.

  9. steton 30 Mar 2011 at 3:36 pm

    Well, I haven’t been 14-18 in a long time, but if I remember correctly, I’d have paid money for a book if it involved graphic enough sex and bloody enough violence. (Which is problematic in publishing–and these days I guess boys get that online …)

    Damn Frey! Why won’t he pay _me_?

    Most superhero stories don’t posit new worlds, though, do they? I mean, they’re NYC or LA or whatever. So it makes more sense to judge them against NYC or LA, or their dopplegangers, in, say, thrillers: Harry Bosch’s LA, McBain’s New Isola.

    Though I wonder if you’re right that a good deal more worldbuilding of the fantasy type might work better. It’d move the stories more firmly into sci-fi, in any case. Which … I dunno. I think that’s the main problem. Are superhero novels fantasy? Thriller? Horror? Sci-fi?

    My agent was pretty clear that he wanted me to ground mine in the thriller genre. Though as I mentioned, it didn’t sell.

  10. Sean Higginson 30 Mar 2011 at 3:37 pm

    This list upsets me. My novel’s first draft will be finished before the end of the day tomorrow and now I’m scared… (I guess this post has accomplished its task).

  11. ekimmakon 30 Mar 2011 at 3:40 pm

    Sometimes, I worry that my writing is 9.

  12. B. Macon 30 Mar 2011 at 5:36 pm

    “Most superhero stories don’t posit new worlds, though, do they?” True. But I’d expect some development of pretty much every primary location in every story, whether the work is set on modern-day Earth or not. I might expect more of a superhero story in terms of setting, because 1) there’s a lot of room for blending into your competitors if you don’t distinguish yourself and 2) most superhero stories are focused on a single city* and 3) most superhero stories are about the hero protecting his city. If the city is forgettable, will readers care? I think it’d be analogous to a romance with a weak love interest.

    *In contrast, if your story covered 5 cities, it’d be sort of understandable if you didn’t spend much time covering each one.

    I think any story–whether it’s set in modern Earth or not–can use effective settings to engross readers. For example, the opening line of Silence of the Lambs is “Behavioral Science, the FBI section that deals with serial murder, is on the bottom floor of the Academy building at Quantico, half-buried in the earth.” In one sentence, that may have given me more interesting information about the BS unit than I’ve ever learned about Superman’s Metropolis or probably Spiderman’s NYC. It’s buried in the mud. I think that’s a really chilling metaphor about what it’s like to hunt serial killers.

    Some other memorable locations that come to mind from novels set in the real world:
    –the hotel in The Shining
    –Sicily in The Godfather
    –Hannibal Lecter’s cell (or the entire building) in Silence of the Lambs

  13. The ReTARDISed Whovianon 30 Mar 2011 at 6:10 pm

    Haha, with my life right now, anyone would expect my work to have plenty of 8. (Oh dear Lord I almost posted this and it said “my life WRITE now”… I think I have a bit of 1. XD) I also worry maybe it’ll turn out to be a 9.

    “Most superhero stories are set in ~present-day cities on Earth, but if the hero spends most of his time in a particular city, I’d expect some development to go into the city/environment.”

    I think this is a problem with my original idea for Student/Waiter/Superhero. I never spent much time talking about the location – Perth, Western Australia. It’s probably because I know it so well. I’d say “He passed through London Court”, but not describe it. It should have been:

    “He passed through London Court – a short street linking two main malls. It had been built recently compared to most buildings in Perth, in 1937. It wasn’t in art deco style at all – it was inspired by Elizabethan architecture and had a grand clock face at each end on the outside. As Isaac walked along, past the stores with their quaint windows and the multiple tourists, the small statue of Sir Walter Raleigh peered down from atop the opposite archway.”

    I just wrote that on the spot, so it’s not up to my usual standard. XD

    Linky: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/London_Court

  14. B. Macon 30 Mar 2011 at 8:50 pm

    “My agent was pretty clear that he wanted me to ground mine in the thriller genre. Though as I mentioned, it didn’t sell.” Would you mind if I took a look at it?



    Whovian, you don’t have even a whiff of #1 (functional illiteracy) about you. An author that actually was #1 wouldn’t know what was wrong with “my life write now” and would probably complain that the publisher made such a big deal about it. A #1 author would probably respond to “I would recommend proofreading this a bit harder” with something like “But I used Microsoft Words spellchecker!” and would have no idea why that would make an editor’s head hit the keyboard.

    As for #9, even if an editor did feel that your query and/or manuscript were not yet exciting enough to interest prospective readers, I think that for the most part you can fix that by rewriting the query and opening chapters. Unless you’ve decided to write something that is so fundamentally boring that there is zero audience interest, like a history of the relationship between Brazilian rainfall and basket-weaving technology, a #9 problem is totally fixable. (If the characters are sufficiently interesting and you’ve given them interesting things to do, you will have readers lined up around the block).

    Same goes for you, Ekimmak. If I saw a submission along the lines of “A superpowered convict gets offered a chance at freedom if he joins a special forces team on a suicidal mission to [DO SOMETHING INTERESTING],” #9 concerns would absolutely not be the first thing that came to my mind. It sounds exciting. If any editor had #9 concerns, the only conceivable explanation I can think of is that the editor wasn’t sold on the characters. I’m 90% sure that they could be resolved completely by making the characters more interesting. Again, I think any rewrites along these lines would be fairly simple compared to somebody that had a manuscript on Brazilian basket-weaving and was wondering why agents weren’t returning his calls. (“Don’t call us, we’ll call you”).

    Sean: “This list upsets me. My novel’s first draft will be finished before the end of the day tomorrow and now I’m scared… (I guess this post has accomplished its task).” If I really wanted to scare you, I’d talk about my student debt. Buh-dum-dum! Heh heh, no worries–Almost all of the problems identified above are totally fixable and I’m 99% sure that you won’t fall into any of the ones that are hardest to fix (1-7 and accursed #12*).

    *My nonfiction proposal about how to write superhero stories is hitting a hard #12, which is as bad as it gets. “Hey, love the book, but first go out and get the publishing experience so that I can sell it.” (I don’t think #12 is as tricky in fiction but it’d still probably entail significant rewrites–mainly, adjusting the plot and characters so that they suit your strengths as a writer or practicing your liabilities so much they become strengths).

  15. Ragged Boyon 30 Mar 2011 at 9:18 pm

    Ugh, I fear Showtime may end up a #10. I’m hoping the story comes out distinct whenever I finish it. An 11 or 12 would actully be kinda nice. Haha.

  16. B. Macon 30 Mar 2011 at 9:53 pm

    If I got a script along the lines of “When alien invaders land in San Libre, an offbeat student actor must risk his humanity to save the world from enslavement,” I don’t think #10 (“already seen that plot before”) would be a major concern. The only plot similarities that are coming to mind are truly superficial. For example, Spiderman and Static Shock are young like your protagonist, but I think that’s the only significant similarity between them. (Some differences: He’s a lot more flashy and theatrical, he’s got some major-league braggadocio, his humanity’s on the line, he’s from the inner city, he works with a mad scientist from another planet and his main goals probably have more to do with an alien invasion than the more low-key sci-fi supervillains faced by Spidey and Static).

    My rule of thumb is that a work is too similar to its competitors if reading one makes reading the other less enjoyable. For example, I think that if you’ve read Lord of the Rings, Eragon is less enjoyable because significant passages of Eragon read like inept LOTR fan-fiction. Based on the pages I’ve read so far, I can’t think of any works that are uncomfortably close to yours.

    I think my main concern about the one-sentence synopsis I wrote above would be that I don’t think it did either Adrian or Jimelly justice. But I think your writing does generally portray them in an interesting way.

  17. steton 31 Mar 2011 at 5:16 am

    “*My nonfiction proposal about how to write superhero stories is hitting a hard #12, which is as bad as it gets. “Hey, love the book, but first go out and get the publishing experience so that I can sell it.”

    That’s a tough one. I’ve heard of two ways around it, but have no experience with either, so take with a g. of salt.

    The first is to get not just blurbs from a couple big names in the field, but to convince one of them to write a Foreword. ‘ALAN MOORE’s Massive Foreword Introduces ‘how to write superhero stories’ by bmac … NOW WITH A FOREWORD BY *ALAN MOORE*’.

    The second is to partner with a smaller name in the field. Get in touch with someone who’s sold a bunch of stuff but hasn’t really hit the bigtime. Tell them you’d love to work with them on this manuscript, you’d love their input and expertise, blah blah blah, and you’ll be co-authors (though you’re more than happy to do all the work, and would just like to use them as a reference), split credit and royalties.

  18. Sean Higginson 31 Mar 2011 at 11:27 am

    Very much a side topic, but I was curious – I read in a book on getting published that agents and publishers like knowing that a first time author is already working on (and getting somewhere) in their next book as authors who have more than one book tend to sell more. The book mentioned working on a sequel, but I believe B.Mac suggested against telling your agent/publisher you’re planning a series.

    I hope my book will eventually become a series, but I don’t know if I should immediately start working in that direction or focus on a seperate solo project to mention in my query letter?

  19. Ralphon 31 Mar 2011 at 12:55 pm

    Seems like everytime I find an “advice” column submitted by an agent/publisher/editor regarding ways to write a successful novel people will enjoy, it always seems to be by someone who is absolutely tired of reading anything at all. “Why should I care?” “Well apparently this guy has a neurochemical disorder.” “Well we just eliminated 95 percent of all submissions!”

    Jesus Christ, didn’t we used to write for fun? Is there not a number of authors published to this day that fails to follow any of these rules and is praised for it? It seems like everytime a literary site tries to give advice, the author has a compulsion to lace it with some poisonous baggage that would seem to scowl someone for simply wanting to write.

    People want to read, odds are they would give your book a shot if it was sitting on a shelf next to author-of-the-week if only because they enjoy the act of throwing themselves into a story and are predisposed to care. Agents seems as though they would rather be doing ANYTHING but reading. OH NO I USED CAPS, I’LL NEVER BE PUBLISHED NOW, WHAT HAVE I DONE???

  20. Sean Higginson 31 Mar 2011 at 1:33 pm

    Ralph – nothing offered as advice will ever be a catch all. Though, if you see multiple literary agents make mention to something they can’t stand seeing, you can probably guess they’ve seen a lot of it. As B.Mac noted earlier, that’s not to be said it can never be done, but an agent who sees something written in ALL CAPS will likely immediately put up a red flag. Considering the number of manuscripts, queries, and the like they get, they need to have some criteria for cutting out what they read or they’d never see the bottom of the Slush Pile.

    My advice would be, if you feel like your writing is good enough to be published while you’re breaking the cardinal rules then you should be able to write something good enough without breaking those rules. Then, talk to your agent about breaking those rules on your second book.

  21. steton 31 Mar 2011 at 2:07 pm

    B. Mac might disagree, Sean, but my experience is this: you mention as little as possible in a query letter. You drop an intriguing hook and get the hell outta there before you can give them a reason not to request pages.

    So I’d definitely recommend a one-project-per-query rule. Sequels are problematic, especially for unpublished writers–and publishers aren’t always exactly eager to commit to, say, three books in the same series from published writers, either. What happens after the first one tanks? They’re stuck with two more.

    I think ageht wanna hear about series (in a query letter) because a) many people who write series just want to explore that one world. That’s it. They want to write the Bakdhigian Cycle, or whatever, they’ve got 102 notebooks full of information. And b) they haven’t sold Book One yet, and there’s a good chance the won’t. So you’re working on Book 3 of a project that’s going nowhere, instead of having written three different books, three separate opportunities to make a sale.

    My advice is not to mention any other project in a query letter. Just pitch the one. And to work on a separate solo project on your own, so you’ll have it. If Book One of your series sells, and they want another, they’ll give you a year to write it. Start then.

    I think it’s true that agents and publishers like knowing that you’re more than a One Book Wonder, but I don’t think the place to tell them is a query letter. You can chat more about that kinda stuff after you have a business relationship.

    For query letters, I think you wanna go pretty minimalist. Dunno if there’s anywhere on the site where people post queries, but if yours is somewhere, I’d be happy to have a look.

  22. B. Macon 31 Mar 2011 at 2:51 pm

    Ralph, some of these above points from Teresa are phrased more acidly than I would put them, but I think the underlying idea is encouraging and helpful. Basically: If your plot is at least somewhat interesting and original and you understand sentence and paragraph composition pretty well and have picked a publisher that works with material in your field, you’re probably in the top 5% of all submissions.

    I don’t have any poisonous disregard for the bottom 50% of authors in the slush-pile (authors that don’t yet have a strong grasp of the basic mechanics of written English), but I would reject their works in the slush-pile rather quickly. Likewise, if you wanted to be a professional artist, most studios would require some grasp of human anatomy and depth. If you wanted to be a professional basketball player, you’d need a strong grasp of dribbling and passing skills. If someone applied for pretty much any competitive position without the prerequisite skills, he’d be cut without much consideration because he isn’t close to being competitive. My advice to these authors would be to try developing the necessary skills and try again. Failing that, I think they’d be best off pursuing alternate lines of work. (Alternately, if an author is utterly convinced that the only thing standing between him and success is the publisher/gatekeeper, he can self-publish, but I think that “I can’t get professionally published” is probably the worst reason to try self-publishing).

    Major professional publishers reject more than 99.9% of unsolicited submissions, so they’re only interested in manuscripts that are within spitting distance of the best out of a thousand. As soon as the PA believes that the manuscript isn’t plausibly one of the best, he/she stops reading because there isn’t (remotely) enough time in the day to read every page of every submission.

    Now, that covers #1-7 above, I think. As for #8-13, I feel those are more subjective. A work that strikes one publisher as unduly crazy (#8) might feel fresh and visceral to another. That said, if you’ve applied to 20+ publishers and are not getting any responses, I think the above list will help give you some idea what isn’t working. (Or at least identify the most likely possibilities).

  23. B. Macon 31 Mar 2011 at 3:18 pm

    “B. Mac might disagree, Sean, but my experience is this: you mention as little as possible in a query letter. You drop an intriguing hook and get the hell outta there before you can give them a reason not to request pages. So I’d definitely recommend a one-project-per-query rule.” I agree wholeheartedly. The overriding goal of the query is to interest them in this book. Later on, once you’ve gotten the publishing offer and have been working with them, then I think they’ll be a lot more receptive to hearing about possible extensions and/or new projects.

  24. B. Macon 31 Mar 2011 at 7:11 pm

    Hmm, thanks for the ideas, Stet.

    I’d be thrilled to have a foreword by an A-list author or editor, but unfortunately, I don’t have a personal connection to any. For example, some A-list authors (i.e. Orson Scott Card at Southern Virginia University) moonlight as writing instructors, so you might conceivably get to know them through their writing programs.

    The second alternative (partnering with an author that’s been published before but hasn’t really hit it big in exchange for a share of the sales) may be feasible. For a nonfiction how-to guide like this, I think an average advance would be around $25,000, and I think that my platform is well-developed enough that I could probably do better than average. (I don’t know how many of my 250,000 blog readers would buy a book, but I expect it’d be in the low-to-mid four figures).

    I’m guessing I could find an author or editor that would be willing to sign on for some reference work and probably some promotional events for a pretty strong chance at $12,500+ plus royalties.

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