Working at a literary agency has really given me some new perspective on how dense authors can be (myself included). While I am in no position to share any specific examples to back up what I am about to say, for the sake of the authors’ privacy, I believe I have learned quite a few things that can help aspiring authors (and screenwriters I suppose) to present the best possible query. The result will be this blog post, and probably one other, if not more. It depends how well I stem my urge to ramble. Spoiler alert: I probably won’t do so well. I’m already failing, and I haven’t even started yet. So…without further ado, we begin the list!
#1 – Your book is not your baby!
This bit of advice is something that will help you not only in the querying stage, but also beyond that, when editors start to take a look at your work. The fact of the matter is, if you want your book to get published (or your screenplay to be taken seriously), you are going to have to accept the fact that many people are going to read it, and they are all going to have their own opinions. Those opinions will largely affect how your finished book looks when it’s finally there, in all its hard-covered glory, on the shelves in the store. And if you want to see that happen, you have to remember that these people’s opinions aren’t things to be taken lightly or ignored – these people are professionals. They know what they’re doing, and – just in case you don’t believe me yet – their paycheck also depends on your book being bought by more than two people who only bought it by accident because their grandmother recommended The Setting Sun and your book is titled The Setting Son. So you better believe they’re going to do their damndest to make it the best, most marketable thing out there. Hence Twilight. And if you’re sitting there kvetching and whining, saying things like, “But I can’t change that part! Jill’s encounter with the Yeti is a crucial subplot that plays a vital role in the development of the Yeti’s character!” then say goodbye to that book deal, and the shelf space at the Barnes & Noble.
In conclusion, yes, it’s your book. You created it. But don’t be like the one guy who queried us and then, upon receiving a request for the first fifty pages of his manuscript, sent in the entire self-published book because he “couldn’t bear to cut up his work.” That there is a warning sign right off the bat.
#2 – Proofread your query letter and your manuscript before submitting them. This includes having someone else read them. Someone who doesn’t fear incurring your wrath should they offer a suggestion for revision.
This one seems like it should be obvious. It isn’t, apparently. I have had people write in with missing punctuation and misspelled words and proper nouns. Even my boss’ name has been misspelled a couple times, and you’d think that’d be the one thing people would make sure to get right. Nope. Proofread your work, people. Then have someone else read it. Someone who knows what they’re talking about would be best. And, just a side note, if they start laughing from reading your query – and it’s not supposed to be funny – maybe go back to the drawing board. I have to admit that I have encountered quite a few queries that – for one reason or another – have brought a chuckle out of me. Either because the writing is poor, the plot is shaky, or the grammatical errors are so egregious. So really, really look at your query and your manuscript before submitting it, and if someone else reads it and offers you their thoughts, don’t get defensive. They could be on to something.
Which leads me to…
#3 – Learn to take constructive criticism
I won’t spend too long on this, because I pretty much already said what I need to say for this in item #1. If someone gives you a suggestion for how to revise, or how something might be improved, don’t get haughty. If it’s good advice, take it. Sure, that’s up to your discretion, but also take into account whom you receive the advice from. As I said above, literary agents and editors want your work to sell just as much as you do, so if they send you back some form of a critique, pay attention to it. Even if it hurts your pride. Because, again, your book is not your baby. If someone tells you your son can be improved by removing his right arm and replacing it with a fire extinguisher, feel free to ignore them. If someone tells you that your main character seems a little one-dimensional, roll with it. Maybe they have a point, and you should try to fix it.
That’s all for today! Tune in next time for more of my expert advice!
Word of the Day: Haughty (adj) – disdainfully proud; snobbish; scornfully arrogant; supercilious
And, for your edification (and mine, since I didn’t know this): Supercilious (adj) – haughtily disdainful or contemptuous, as a person or facial expression.
Oh all right, this one too: Egregious (adj) – extraordinary in some bad way; glaring; flagrant