Tuesday, October 6, 2009

I'll take "Clueless" for $1,000, Alex

A query I received in my capacity as an editor for Red Deer Press this morning began thus:
I've got a Fiction Novel of 40,000+ words which I am trying to find a publisher for. Front cover has been designed already and it's on it's way for professional editing.
I stopped reading after that, and sent this reply:
I'm very busy, so consider it a kindness that I'm replying at all.

You're doing everything wrong.

First, you don't query editors en masse -- or, if you do, you don't let us all see each others' names in your "To:" field.

Second, you don't say "fiction novel" -- there's no other kind of novel.

Third, 40,000 words in barely a novel by today's standards; most publishers won't touch anything less than 80,000 words.

Fourth, the job of creating the cover belongs to the art director at the publishing company; it's not your job, and, frankly, you are utterly clueless about what will appeal to the buyers at Borders and Barnes and Noble, which are the ones who the cover is created for. Don't have your own cover designed; leave it to the publishing company.

Fifth, if you need an editor to polish your prose before you submit it, fine -- it means you're not good enough to be a writer on your own, and that is indeed an impediment to a writing career, but, as you've found, you can hire professional help. But, for God's sake, keep that dirty little secret to yourself; don't brag about it in your cover letter. If your book is bought by a publisher, the publisher will assign -- and pay for -- an editor to work with you.

Sixth, never query a publisher until you are ready to submit; you said you're not -- you're still having your work edited. When your book is as perfect as you can make, then query editors one at a time, explaining in your cover letter why specifically you've chosen to approach that publishing house (that is, demonstrate that you've done some market research -- you clearly haven't, as they only thing I publish is science-fiction novels by Canadians, and yet you scattershot queried me, wasting your time and mine).

Seventh, you have to be letter-perfect in what you submit. If you don't know the difference between "it's" and "its," you're not ready to be a professional writer, and if you do know the difference, and just couldn't be bothered to proofread your query letter carefully, then you really aren't being respectful of the people whose time you are wasting.

I wish you the best of luck -- but you need more than that; you need to do your homework before bothering editors again.

Please take this in the spirit it's intended -- one of helping you; I rather suspect just about every one of the 46 other editors you addressed your message to won't bother to reply at all.

Visit The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site
and WakeWatchWonder.com

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At October 06, 2009 12:11 PM , Blogger RobertJSawyer said...

To his credit, the beginning writer did send me a very nice reply, which concluded:


Your message is clear. Out of all those recipients, I will hardly get a couple who will even bother responding.

It clearly shows that you are not only a man of business, but an individual of kind heart, saving a stranger a lot of time and steering him into the correct direction.

I thank you for the short but profound message.



At October 06, 2009 12:13 PM , Blogger Ron Friedman said...

Boy, I almost feel sorry for the poor guy.

Then again, you don't learn unless you make mistakes. I hope he (or she) will take it in good spirit

At October 06, 2009 2:17 PM , Blogger Sullo said...

I was going to ask how many words some of your books are, but then I saw Amazon's "text stats" link which is pretty cool.

Just so you know, you get 10,935 words for every dollar you spend on Flashforward. I'd say that's a bargain. :)

At October 06, 2009 3:35 PM , Blogger Stephen Phillips said...

I'm glad he seemed to consider your words. I've encountered many unpublished writers who would've said, "Whatever--that's just one man's opinion. Let's see what the other 46 say." They have the mentality that nothing else is required to speak for their work but the work itself.

Those same people might also ask me if $xxx is a fair price to pay to have their "fiction novel" published.

At October 06, 2009 4:56 PM , Blogger Ken Marable said...

Nice! Somedays when I hear the odds of becoming a professional writer, I'm discouraged. And then there are days where I read queries like that one.

Although kudos to him for his reply to you. Many of those types will just fume at how unprofessional you are and how you don't realize their True Potential(tm). So good on him for being a sane person who just needs to learn the rules of the game a bit more.

At October 06, 2009 5:01 PM , Blogger Joel Bass said...

You were very kind to take the time to teach the guy something, and it's encouraging to see that he may have learned from you. Well done.

At October 06, 2009 7:40 PM , Blogger Silverfish said...

OMG! That is sad, but also funny at the same time.


At October 06, 2009 9:57 PM , Blogger K. W. Ramsey said...

I believe that qualifies as the most polite smack upside the head I have ever seen. Kudos!

It also makes me even more glad I took the time to research about submitting fiction before I started so that I could avoid such mistakes.

At October 07, 2009 1:04 AM , Blogger Jonathan Ball said...

Robert, you are kinder than most, including myself. I used to edit a literary journal (dANDelion, although they don't use this odd spelling anymore) and I would get all manner of crazy nonsense ... sometimes it was just shocking. Once I received a proposal for a weekly poetry column -- for a journal that publishes twice per year. Another time an author sent me a book-length manuscript. I e-mailed back to say that we didn't publish books, but he could feel free to submit up to ten pages of poetry as a regular submission to the journal. Then he e-mailed back to say "I don't have time to read through the whole thing and pick out some poems to submit. Just pick the ten pages you like best." I was stunned, and replied to the effect that I saw no reason to read through this entire book in search of anything, since even the author didn't feel it was worth the effort. Kudos to this nameless writer for realizing his error instead of getting weird and hostile, like some other people would. Let's hope it indicates that he'll actually work at it and succeed one day.

At October 07, 2009 8:43 AM , Blogger Gerald said...


You were right on every point (as you already know). The fact that you took the time to respond to him is definitely in your favour.

With the amount of information available to people today, it's obvious this person didn't even make a minimal effort.


At October 08, 2009 2:43 AM , Blogger Steven Fisher said...

Wow, considering the initial email from him to you and the other editors, that became rather productive and interesting.

Good show, Mr. Sawyer, for responding in kindness.

At October 30, 2009 12:46 PM , Blogger nessie said...

haven't they heard of Evil Editor!!




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