Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Rob Schneider Query (With Apologies to Trey Parker)

Dear Sir or Madam;

Derp De-Doo is a derp-da-derp da deedily derp who deedily-deedily derp-de-derp.  But she's about to learn that derp-dee-derp de deedily-dee.

Now she's got to derp-de-derp de dumb-da-dumb.  But when deedily-dee, she'll need to dippity doo or she'll be dumbity dipped.  And with deedily dumb-da-dumb, she's really got her hands full!

Will dumb-ba-deedily dee before doodily dumb-da-dumb, or will Derp De-Doo be deedily-duh?  I bet you can't wait to find out!

DERP DE-DOO DEEDILY DUMB is a YA paranormal romance, 76,000 words in length.  I've enclosed the first five pages, and I hope you'll be interested in looking at more.

Dippity Q. Dee

Friday, December 16, 2011

Have E-books gotten more expensive?

Digital Book World conducted a survey of Amazon's top 100 e-books after the Wall Street Journal published an article saying that readers will face "sticker shock" over the price of books.

DBW compared the average price of a bestselling e-book last Christmas to the average price of Amazon's current top 100 e-books, and noted that the average price has declined over the last year, and that the price of bestselling e-books is significantly lower than the average price of the top 100 print books.

But averaging prices is a perfectly useless piece of data.  There is no interpretation or analysis performed to give this number any meaning.  In fact, the way this discourse is framed by both of these outlets is like a case study in how useless and misleading data points such as averages can be.

What is happening with e-book pricing is several separate, distinct phenomena, and by averaging them, you come up with a number that fails to tell you anything about any of them.  It's like mixing up the audiences for HBO premium series, Bravo reality and ESPN sports, and then drawing blanket conclusions.

As a reader, the averaging of e-book prices tells you nothing about what you might expect to pay for books, or how that's changed since last year.  Instead, averaging prices obscures what's actually going on.  The numbers don't show a downward trend in e-book prices, as DBW suggests but, rather, the segregation of two discrete e-book audiences, which are served at two distinct price points.

The important numbers to take out of the DBW survey are these: last year, there were 22 titles in the top 100 priced above $10.  This year, there are 32.  Meanwhile, last year, 17 titles on the Amazon top 100 cost $2.99 or less.  This year, there are 35.

Here's what's going on:

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Good News About Self-Publishing is Actually Bad News For Authors

A USA Today article that talks about how self-publishing has changing the world notes that author Michael Prescott had 5 books in the USA Today bestseller list for 42 weeks, and earned $300,000 in a year by selling 800,000 books.  Once again, that's a lot of money, but on a per-reader basis, authors have never had such poor compensation. Prescott he is one of only 30 self-published authors to sell more than 100,000 books.  Remember, if you sell 100,000 books at $0.99, you earn $35,000.

In 2009 and 2010, J A Konrath and Amanda Hocking made real money selling e-books for $2.99 at a 70% royalty rate, but those days are over. Market competition has pushed the price-point for "indie" books by unknown authors down to $0.99.   You cannot sell these books at a price that yields a respectable per-copy royalty.

In the USA Today article, Konrath notes that it's tough to find an audience for self-published e-books, but he argues that it's also tough for traditionally published books to find their audience.  But the legitimacy of being backed by a publisher and stocked in bookstores is a big help toward reaching the audience, and there's a better chance to get noticed among the few thousand books in the bookstore than there is to be noticed among the 133,000 books that were self-published in 2011.  Further, the audience a traditionally-published novel has to reach in order to be remunerative is much smaller than the audience an "indie" author must find.

If you sell 25,000 copies in hardcover, you earn a hundred thousand dollars.  Is it easier to find 300,000 people willing to pay $1 than it is to find 25,000 willing to pay $16?  The dearth of authors who have actually found a mass audience selling self-pubbed books suggests that it is not.

Under the current traditional publishing model, you can earn real money writing a book for 10,000 people.  If you self-publish a book that reaches the same audience, you get $3,000.  Anyone who says that e-publishing is reinvigorating the midlist must necessarily be relying on false assumptions, such as the common misperception that unknown, self-published authors can sell their books for $2.99.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Crunching The Numbers Behind Self-Published Bestsellers

When proponents of self-publishing talk about the indie-publishing revolution, they mention the same names over and over again: J. A. Konrath, Barry Eisler, Amanda Hocking and John Locke.

There's a good reason for that; there are very few bestselling self-published authors.  According to this Wall Street Journal article, which postulates that "self-publishing is upending the book industry," only thirty self-published authors have sold more than 100,000 copies, out of more than half a million books self-published since 2006 and more than 133,000 books self-published in the last year.

In light of that data, the success of Darcy Chan, whose self-published "Mill River Recluse" has sold 400,000 copies should properly be deemed an anomaly, rather than evidence of a trend.  And this anomaly isn't especially lucrative. As the article points out, Chan's book, like most successful self-published titles in the last two years, sells for $0.99.  Amazon pays a 35% royalty on books sold at that price, or about 35 cents per copy, so Chan's earnings on her 400,000 sales total about $130,000.

That's a lot of money, and, as the WSJ notes, it's much more than an average debut author would get paid for a traditionally published novel.  But this is an extraordinary self-published novel; Chan is one of only twelve self-published authors to sell more than 200,000 copies.  When compared to extraordinary advances for traditionally published books, Chan's earnings seem less princely: author Erin Morgenstern got a "high six-figure" advance for her "Night Circus," Chad Harbach got $665,000 for his debut novel "The Art of Fielding," Stephenie Meyer got $750,000 for "Twilight" and Reif Larsen got a reported $900,000 for his "Selected Works of T.S. Spivet."

Traditional publishers also pick up the cost of professional editing, proofreading, formatting, typesetting, jacket design and marketing, while self-published authors like Chan must bear these costs themselves.  According to the WSJ article, Chan paid $575 for a review from Kirkus and an additional $1000 for online advertising.  And traditionally published authors also get bookstore distribution which is still a huge advantage.  Nearly two thirds of books are sold in bookstores, and, despite exponential growth, e-books only represent 20% of book sales.

A traditionally-published author would need to reach fewer than fifteen percent of Chan's audience in hardcover, or fewer than one-fifth in paperback to earn the same royalties.  The self-published e-book would have the benefit of a much lower price-point, but the traditional book would have access to the 80% of the market that e-books don't reach.

A self-published $0.99 book that sells 100,000 copies (remember, only 30 authors have done this in the last five years) earns $35,000 in royalties.  That's a great windfall, but it is not extravagant compensation for producing a book-length work of literature, nor is it particularly spectacular when compared to advance payments for traditionally-published books.

By comparison, an author who sells 100,000 copies in hardcover earns more than $350,000 in royalties (assuming a $25 SRP and a 10% royalty with an escalator to 15% after 10k sales).

Friday, November 18, 2011

Everybody Loves OLD

A new blurb from Alan Orloff, Agatha Award-nominated author of DIAMONDS FOR THE DEAD and KILLER ROUTINE"In this crackling debut, Dan Friedman paints a pitch-perfect portrait  of crusty, gun-toting, octogenarian Jewish ex-cop Baruch “Buck” Schatz as he searches for Nazi gold. Funny, suspenseful, and poignant, DON’T EVER GET OLD will stick with you long after you’ve turned the last page. If you love a great story well-told, put Friedman high on your list of “must reads.”

Also, please keep an eye on this space. I am going to be posting some informative and exciting things soon. Seriously.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Further Blurbage for DON'T EVER GET OLD

DON'T EVER GET OLD moves closer, still to its eventual publication next year.  This week, I got two new blurbs from awesome and famous authors whose books you should probably be reading.

Alma Katsu, author of  THE TAKER said: "We have nothing to fear from aging, if DON'T EVER GET OLD is any measure. By turns gritty and snappy, Dan Friedman's protagonist, WWII vet and former Memphis homicide detective 'Buck' Schatz rises to the occasion despite old age and the indignities that come with it, to resolve the terrible injustice from his war years that he thought he'd put to rest. As a former war crimes analyst, I have to say Friedman's treatment of his villain, Nazi war criminal Zeigler, was entirely satisfying: a most fitting punishment for a too-human monster. Friedman's clever debut novel is like an epilogue to 'Inglorious Basterds,' sixty-six years later."

Harry Dolan, author of BAD THINGS HAPPEN and VERY BAD MEN said:  “If you read one book this year about the adventures of an eighty-eight-year-old Jewish retired cop and his frat-boy grandson, it had better be Daniel Friedman’s Don’t Ever Get Old.  Friedman creates a colorful cast of oddball characters and sends them on a quest to recover a stash of Nazi gold.  The result is a twisty, funny, fast-paced treat.”

Monday, July 18, 2011

Notes on Plotting and Subplots

Last week, I appeared on a panel at Thrillerfest called "HOW DO YOU THICKEN THE PLOT? Subplots and How to Make Them Shine," which was moderated by Wendy Corsi Staub, with fellow panelists Mark Greaney, JL Hughes, Chris Knopf, Jeremy Robinson, Emily Winslow. You can also buy audio of this panel or other Thrillerfest panels from ITW.

Jennifer Hillier also posted a lot of great coverage of the conference, complete with photos.  Some of the photos are of famous people.  Most of the photos are of Jennifer.  A few of them are of me.

I know that technical advice is pretty popular, and the panel seemed pretty well attended for a 9 am show, with a lot of people taking notes. So for anyone who might be interested, I'm going to post the written notes I prepared for the discussion.  This isn't fleshed out yet into an essay, so it's a little rough, but might nonetheless be useful.  I may write something more elaborate along these lines at some point in the future.  For anyone who was in attendance, there are some points here I didn't get to discuss on the panel, and for those who were not, here's some free writing advice!

General rules about subplots:
A subplot is a secondary narrative strand within the main narrative of the novel.  It should have a discrete beginning, middle and end.  Subplots can serve an expositional purpose, as well as developing or expanding on a novel’s central themes. 
A subplot should have a clear purpose in the overall narrative.  It should function to reveal crucial information, raise the stakes on the central plot, and reinforce key themes.
A subplot should not be digressive and pointless.  It should tie back into the main narrative rather than burning out in a way that feels like a waste of a reader’s time.  You should not try to add a subplot to pad out a story that falls short of novel-length.
A subplot should always feel urgent and relevant.  If you’re going to hang a significant subplot on a secondary character, that character needs to be somebody readers will want to spend time with.  Many authors pause in the middle of significant plot movement, often after a cliffhanger, to check in on dull secondary characters who are doing boring things.   Don’t do this. Perspective changes can kill your narrative momentum.  If you need to impart some important piece of information, find another way to do it that doesn’t give the reader a nice place to put the book down.
Alfred Hitchcock said that the “Macguffin,” the quest-object, isn’t really important, and the same observation was a major theme of Dashiell Hammett’s “Maltese Falcon.”  In almost all commercial fiction, the killer will be identified, the terrorist plot will be foiled, and the princess will get saved.  Readers feel cheated by anticlimax and anticatharsis, and telling a story in which the hero fails his primary objective is almost like breaking a contract with the reader.  A qualified success or a pyrrhic victory is as dark as we typically get to be.
As a result, we have to interest ourselves primarily with the journey between the set-up and the inevitable resolution, and try to build in some interesting surprises and reversals along the way.  Subplots are very important, because they can have unhappy or ambiguous resolutions, and, as a result, they can make the story more textured or complicated, and less predictable.

Common examples of subplots in thrillers:
1.                   Early in the story, a protagonist may have a secondary conflict which he will resolve decisively and without significant complications.  This serves to demonstrate that he is capable and resourceful.  This establishes his heroic credentials before he begins to suffer setbacks as he tests himself against the main problems of the central plot.
2.                  Early in the story, the antagonist might also have a secondary conflict, either with a secondary, doomed hero or one of his own henchmen who has failed or betrayed him somehow.  He’ll handle this problem in a way that demonstrates how formidable and ruthless he is.  It may also foreshadow the difficulties he’ll test the hero with.
3.                  Often, a subplot will involve the activities of a secondary character, which end with that character’s death.  This device Is often used to alert the reader of a danger or a key fact that the hero is unaware of.   This generates narrative suspense.  Often this secondary character’s downfall is caused by some fatal flaw or failure; he gives in to a temptation or he fails to perceive a risk, and falls into a trap.  Later on, the hero may have to overcome the obstacle that dooms this secondary character.

Subplots in “Don’t Ever Get Old”
The main plot engine of “Don’t Ever Get Old” is pretty straightforward. Baruch “Buck” Schatz is an 87 year-old World War 2 veteran and retired Memphis cop.  In his day, “social network functionality” came out of a bottle, and “Facebook” was a common police interrogation technique which involved caving a suspect’s nose in with a rolled-up telephone directory.
When he learns the SS officer who tortured him in a POW camp may have escaped Germany with a fortune in stolen gold, Buck decides to hunt down the fugitive and claim the loot.  He's got nothing better to do, and keeping his mind occupied is supposed to ward off dementia.
Assisted by his grandson, a law student who knows how to find information using a computer and is allowed to drive at night, Buck searches for the Nazi's long-cold trail.  But lots of people want a piece of that treasure, and Buck's investigation quickly attracts unfriendly attention from a Mississippi loan shark, a seven-foot tall Hasidic Jew, a preacher on the take, a cop with a grudge. And somebody wants the gold bad enough to kill for it.
But, while that main quest provides the narrative momentum, various page-turning cliffhangers, and a lot of weirdo secondary characters to ridicule, the story’s subplots really develop the underlying themes and explore the central character. 
Buck’s greatest conflict is internal.  He’s defined himself his whole life as a war hero and a badass cop, but he’s been retired nearly three decades, and, as he grows increasingly old and fragile, his idea of himself grows further from his reality.  Living this long has cost him pieces of himself, and, going forward, he stands to lose his autonomy, his dignity and even his memories. 
Buck’s motivation for going on this wild-goose chase is anchored in the man he wants to believe he still is.  By juxtaposing Buck’s tough-guy posturing with his main-plot antagonists with a subplot about Buck’s fragile health and his tense relationship with his doctor, I can show the reader that Buck is putting himself in much greater peril than he’s willing to admit, and I can also explore the implications of any success Buck hopes to achieve in the main plot.  He’s 87 years old, so there’s not a whole lot of happily-ever-after available to him.
Another major subplot explores the relationship between Buck and his adult grandson.  The bond between these characters is strained by their shared grief over the death of Buck’s son, which neither of the characters is prepared to discuss or explore.  Buck further resents his grandson’s facility with confusing technological devices, and he is vexed by the fact that his grandson has never known him as anything but an old man.  As the main plot forces these characters together, conflict sparks between them, and the arc of that relationship becomes a major source of conflict and tension.

Subplots that work in popular fiction:

Jurassic Park, by Michael Crichton:
This book contains a near perfect example of a subplot that is a self-contained narrative that branches off from and impacts the main plot, and reinforces the larger theme of the novel.
Dennis Nedry developed and operates the computer systems that run the titular dinosaur theme park.  He is also an industrial spy, and he is secretly plotting to steal dinosaur embryos from the facility to sell to a competitor of the company that owns the park.  He disables the park’s security system so he can escape the island with his stolen loot, but, before he can get to his boat, he predictably gets eaten by dinosaurs.
This subplot serves several purposes.  First, it drives the main plot forward by establishing a logical cause for the chain of systemic failures of the park’s security and containment mechanisms that must occur so the dinosaurs can start killing everybody.  
Second, it develops the novel’s main theme:  that it’s impossible to tame nature or create anything that is truly safe, because the universe is inherently unpredictable.  The park creator, John Hammond, thought that his elaborate, redundant security systems could eliminate any danger posed by his attractions, but he didn’t anticipate that the system might be sabotaged by one of his trusted employees.

A Song of Ice and Fire by George R R Martin
With the recent conclusion of the “Game of Thrones” HBO series and the long-awaited fifth book arriving in stores next week, a lot of people are talking about these books.
Martin’s books are more subplot than plot.  Martin has three different central conflicts and least half a dozen major perspective characters in each thousand-page book of his  fantasy epic, and when he kills one off, he can replace them with a new one from his expansive cast.
Very few writers attempt this kind of structure, and there are definitely places where Martin cuts away from intriguing events to service a plot strand that isn’t as promising.  But Martin’s deep cast of characters allows him to create a unique type of literary suspense.   Secondary and tertiary characters in these books are dangerous and ambitious, and they’ll betray the primary characters at the first promising opportunity.  And betrayal, in these books, is not merely a new plot problem.  From early in the series, Martin establishes that every threat in his world is a serious one.
In a typical thriller, if the protagonist is captured by the antagonist, the reader understands that the hero is in no real jeopardy.  This is merely a complication; a situation from which he must extricate him.  In a Martin book, when a major character is captured by his enemies, there’s at least a fifty-fifty chance that they’ll murder him in front of his children.  Most conventionally plotted novels are predictable, but Martin’s intricate structure allows him to set up major reversals that can tear down hundreds of pages of narrative build-up in a single dramatic chapter, and send the story in a sharply different and unanticipated direction. 

Subplots that don’t work:
Dexter (Season 5)
The worst subplot I’ve ever seen was actually the secondary arc of the fifth season of the “Dexter” TV show.  The show is based on Jeff Lindsay’s books, but it hasn’t tracked to any of the novels since the first season.
“Dexter” is about a serial killer who hunts other serial killers, and works as a forensic technician for the Miami police, who are comically oblivious to the protagonist’s extracurricular activities.  The books are written from Dexter’s first-person perspective, and so the reader is always locked into that character’s viewpoint.  In the novels, Dexter views these characters with a charming sort of sociopathic, disinterested contempt.  In the television show, these characters have become the regular cast.
But this is not an ensemble show; it’s still a one-man band, and everybody knows it.  The promotional materials for the show feature Hall covered in blood and grinning like a kid who got caught robbing a cookie jar.  Nobody is tuning in to see scenes from Angel and Maria’s marriage.  “Dexter” is about a serial killer delightfully vamping his way through the worst cop show on television and stabbing people sometimes, just because he feels like it.  Whenever the show focuses on characters other than Dexter, all you’re left with is the worst cop show on television.
The protagonist is the premise here, and the secondary characters can’t really compete for the spotlight.  In the fifth season, there was an extensive subplot among these characters that did not involve Dexter at all.  Apparently, these people were investigating some ridiculous voodoo killings that led to a botched sting operation in a nightclub.
This story arc failed in every way a subplot can fail.  It centered on characters who aren’t likable or interesting.  It didn’t pay off or tie into the main plot, which involved Dexter hunting an evil motivational speaker with guest-star sidekick Julia Stiles.   
Part of the reason that the supporting cast may have had to carry so much of the show’s run-time was that Hall had recently survived a bout with cancer, and he may not have been physically capable of appearing in every scene. 
But plenty of writers have found themselves with protagonists or central plots that, for various reasons aren’t substantial enough to sustain a novel.  Padding that out with extraneous secondary storylines is going to yield poor results.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Serious Query Advice: STFU

People have probably asked you what made you want to write a book, and I am sure you have some pre-packaged answer for the question.  Don't try to use that line with me, though.  You and I both know the truth: you have no social skills and you're desperately lonely, so you spend a lot of your free time locked in a room by yourself, making up stories about your imaginary friends.

But writing a novel is still an accomplishment, like constructing a 1/18 scale model of the Notre Dame cathedral entirely out of earwax, or carving a perfect kouros statue from a block of granite using only the erosion caused by your endless flow of tears.  So, when you send your novel out into the world to try to earn the legitimacy and validation you crave, you don't want to be tripping over the same set of social inadequacies that caused you to start writing in the first place.  Publishing, for some sick reason, requires you to deal with people.  This is terrifying.

To help you out, I am providing some advice about how to behave while querying or on submission. And my advice is: hunker down.  And shut up. Shut up.  SHUT UP.

You probably think I'm being mean, or that I am joking. I'm not.

1.  Want to follow-up? Maybe you should SHUT UP.  You're trying to trick people into liking you. Annoying them is counterproductive to this goal. And you don't want to send written communication to anyone who is evaluating your writing without editing it very carefully.

Following up on a query is probably a harmless mistake, since an agent's failure to respond to your query probably means she's rejected you.  However, following up with someone who has requested a partial or a full manuscript can be dangerous.  After sending a manuscript and verifying its receipt, you should not attempt to contact the agent again until she has had your manuscript for more than two months.

The best way to follow up with an agent who is holding your full manuscript is to inform them of another offer of representation, so if you need to vent your query-process neuroses, do it by sending out more queries instead of bothering people you've queried previously.

2. The Internet is a great place for SHUTTING THE F' UP.  Let's imagine that an agent is reading your query. She gets 150 queries per week, and requests zero to 2 manuscripts out of that pile.  Yours might be one of five or six queries she's considering requesting, but she only has time to look at one manuscript.

She Googles you, and finds your blog.  The first six posts are about all the rejections you've been getting.  Do you think she is going to assume that her colleagues are wrong? Or is she going to defer to the conventional wisdom which you have been kind enough to share with the world?

I'm asking rhetorical questions right now, because I assume speaking to you in your native tongue will make you feel more at ease. I think we know both the answers.

The first rule of rejection is: do not talk about rejection.  In fact, while you're querying and submitting, maybe you should just delete your blog and your Twitter feed.  Your manuscript is your best work, we must assume.  You might not want your non-best work out there in the world where people can find it.

The more an agent learns about you, the less likely she is to represent you. Because we both know you're just awful.  Try to de-emphasize that aspect of yourself while you're querying.

3. Once you have an agent, it's time to SHUT UP EVEN HARDER.  Your agent's job is to make you seem marketable and appealing to editors.  The only way for her to do this is to lie to them.  You do not want your agent to get caught in a lie.  So, don't put stuff on the Internet that will make your agent look stupid for saying nice things about you.

Specifically: don't tell anyone when you go on submission.  Don't post it on Facebook.  Don't talk about it on writers' forums.  Don't Tweet about it.  If you have to have a second wave of submissions, you don't want those editors to find out that they're part of a second wave.  Your agent is lying to all of them, telling each one that they're the first editor she thought of when she read your manuscript.  Don't let editors find out otherwise!

You certainly don't want editors considering your book to read a comprehensive, dated log of your rejection history, complete with the reasons other editors passed.  So maybe it's not a good idea to post a thing like that on the freakin' Internet.

Honestly, even the celebration post you put on your blog when you signed with an agent can let an editor know that your book has been out there circulating for a while.  If you've noticed the tendency of the publishing industry to follow "trends" like mash-ups or dystopian YA, then you know publishing houses have a pack mentality when it comes to acquisitions.  If editors think everyone else is passing on your book, it makes their decision very easy.

Your agent is lying as hard as she can to convince these editors that they're up against a ticking clock to buy your book before a rival snatches you off the table.  Don't ruin that effort by publicly revealing everyone's thundering indifference to your submission.

In summary, good luck, happy hunting and STFU.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Querytips: This is what a rejection looks like

Dear Author:

I very nearly sent you our standard form rejection letter in response to your query about your novel, RAINBOWS AT SUPPERTIME, an entirely odious work you have the temerity to describe as "literary."

The form letter would have said that I am extremely busy with current clients' manuscripts, and could not responsibly take on a new book. It would have said that my editorial contacts were less than ideal for this manuscript, and your work might better be handled by another agent. It would have said that our response indicated nothing negative about your work or its prospects in the marketplace. 

But that would have been a lie, and an irresponsible one. The fact is, even in a world where I had plenty of extra time, in a world where editors were far less selective in the works they were willing to publish, and where readers bought lousy books with indiscriminate abandon, I still would not represent RAINBOWS AT SUPPERTIME. You see, dear Author, I have standards.

In this business, where we must necessarily reject at least 99% of the manuscripts that come before us, it is sometimes difficult to explain exactly what it is we agents are in business to support. But it's not hard to explain what we are against. We are against RAINBOWS AT SUPPERTIME. It is offensive, both aesthetically and morally. The fact that it exists punctures my very faith in humanity.

Unpublished authors claim to like personalized responses to their submissions, and claim to desire helpful feedback. Here is some: stop submitting RAINBOWS AT SUPPERTIME. No honest or reputable agent will ever represent such a work. Offering this up to an editor would instantly destroy an agent's reputation in the publishing industry. Editors, you see, do not like to be insulted, and, frankly, neither do I. So stop wasting everybody's time.

Burn your book, Author. Destroy every copy. Erase it from your disk, format the drive, and smash your computer with a hammer.

And once that vital deed is done, in the name of all that is decent, stop writing. Stop writing at once. We in this profession hold sacred the power of the written word, and you befoul it. On some level, you have to know that RAINBOWS AT SUPPERTIME is awful. On some level, you must have been making some kind of sick joke when you submitted this. Really, Author, you should be ashamed of yourself. 

If this was the form letter, this is where I would invite you to query me with any future projects. But it is my sincere hope that you never write another word, and that I never hear your name again for the rest of my life.       

Best wishes,

Saturday, May 7, 2011

A #QueryTips Sample Query Letter

A lot of people have asked me for advice on how to structure and format a query.  For your edification, I provide this example.  But don't steal the book idea it describes or I will sue you so hard in the face that your butt will be sore for a week:

Dear Sir or Madam,

I know you agents love money, so I am going to tell you about my fiction-novel, which is a guaranteed bestseller.  I've taken the classic, time-tested text of Charles Dickens's "Great Expectations," and I have updated it for modern readers.

Specifically, I've used the find-and-replace feature in Microsoft Word to change every instance of the name "Pip" to "Barack Obama."  I've changed every occurrence of the name "Estella" to "America," and, finally, I've changed every instance of the name "Magwitch" to "Affirmative Action," and every instance of the word "cake" to "Constitution."

Additionally, I have written several entirely new chapters, in which Miss Havisham frets about Barack Obama's citizenship, searches for his birth certificate, and voices her concerns that he is a socialist and/or a Muslim.  I have also modified the ending so that Miss Havisham dies after being denied health care by Barack Obama's death panel, even though she is supposed to be covered by Medicare.

This publishing thing seems like the best scam ever, and it's totally legal, as long as we pay the taxes, which we won't.  All we need to do is get Glenn Beck to write a foreword for this thing, and we're ready to slap it on the shelves and start raking in that sweet, sweet cheddar.

I am a graduate of both the state penal farm and the federal penitentiary, where I obtained my high-school equivalency. I am also a state chairman of the Tea Party Patriots organization and a former Republican candidate for the United States Senate.  The manuscript is available on request.  If I don't hear from you by tomorrow, I'll go ahead and stop by your office, so we can discuss this in person.

God Bless;

And there you go.  That's a near perfect query.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Query Tips 6

1. Before you mail a manuscript, rub it with butter to make the pages turn more easily. 

2. Everyone loves to root for an underdog. You should try to seem downtrodden when you communicate with agents. 

3. When you send your manuscript, be sure to explain that the stains on it are your tears.

4.  To interest the largest subset of agents, describe your book as a cross among at least four genres.

5.  The truest story is one that springs from your own experience. Write a book about cats and loneliness.

6. Agents love an author with an online platform. Tell them about how you are Facebook friends with people from your high school.

7.  If you spend a few thousand dollars on a professionally-designed author website, you can send agents the link instead of a query letter.

8.  If you don't like writing queries, some agents will accept nude photographs instead of the conventional pitch letter.

9.  Adjectives like "voluptuous," "pouty" and "moist" can get agents really excited about your query.

10.  If you want more manuscript requests, you should write a better query. If you want an agent, you should write a better novel.

11.  To sell a novel, you need a high-concept hook or excellent writing. So I hope you can come up with a high-concept hook.

12. If your book includes a sex scene, when people read it, they'll flip to your author photo and imagine you having sex.

13.  A query is marketing copy, and you're advertising yourself. Talk about your strongest qualities. Like your gym-sculpted thighs.

14. Shortcut to a great pitch-letter: take your "about me" essay from your Match.com profile, and replace "casual sex" with "literary representation."

15. No time to write? Disconnect your Internet, turn off the TV, ask your husband for a separation and drown your kid in a bathtub!

16.  Why is everyone rejecting you when your writing is so amazing? There must be some arcane query rule you don't know about.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Query Tips 5: Conference Etiquitte

1. When people ask you where you get your story ideas, tell the truth: you think most of them up while you're sitting on the toilet.

2. Tell agents how many rejections you've gotten. Challenge them to be see the potential their idiot colleagues missed.

3. Agents reading your query want to know who you are. Tell them about your failed marriage and your struggle with mental illness.

4. Demonstrate social-network prowess by posting your query on a Facebook fan page about yourself. E-mail agents a link to it.

5. Never assume readers are stupid, even though readers are stupid.

6. If you soak your query in blood and bury it by a crossroads at midnight, the devil will send you a form rejection in 4 to 6 weeks.

7.  The only way you can fail is if you stop trying. Or if you are a bad writer and your book is shitty.

8.  When you pitch at a conference, bring a jar of your own urine. Hand it to the agent and tell her it's proof you're drug free.

9. When you pitch at a conference, be sure to bring dental floss. Use it during the pitch. It shows you are conscientious.

10. You can foster an intimate, conversational tone during your conference pitch by lighting a joint and offering the agent a hit.

11. Cutting lines of blow with a Platinum AmEx card during your pitch makes you look rich and glam. Always offer the agent a bump.

12.  Good grooming is necessary because first impressions are crucial. Before you go to a conference, wax off all your pubic hair.

13. The best method for approaching an agent is from behind, with a rag soaked in chloroform.

14.  When calling to schedule a meeting about your fiction novel, talk only to the agent; you're too important to deal with assistants.

15. Not getting an agent doesn't mean you are a failure. It just means your writing sucks.

16.  Sometimes an agent rejects a manuscript because the author is not quite ready. Other times, the author is not quite sane.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Query Tips 4: Just The Tips

1. Nothing inspires readers like a memoir by an author who struggled to overcome a serious illness. Maybe you should get a disease.

2. Buttering the agent up with a little bit of praise can't hurt your chances. Tell her she has a sensuous mouth and beautiful kids.

3. Have you ever wondered what it would be like to have an agent? Then be sure to start your query with a rhetorical question

4. Sick of waiting weeks for responses? Send your query as a mass e-mail blast to fifty agents, so they know there's competition.

5. A query should be no more than 300 words, and at least 180 of them should be adjectives.

6. Self-publishing is a great way to become obscure.

7. Hand-write your queries to give them a personal touch. To really impress agents, send handwritten full manuscripts. Unsolicited.

8. Try to write a novel that has a built-in audience, such as a sequel to another author's popular series.

9. Send your query to "Dear Agent" or "Dear Sir/Madam" to avoid the embarrassment of accidentally misspelling someone's name.

10. When pitching at a conference, remember that a professional handshake should last at least 45 seconds. Hang on to that agent!

11.  Everyone drinks at conferences. If you're sober, you'll look like a narc. Pound three J├Ąger shots twenty minutes before your pitch.

12.  It is easier to publish if you write in a hot genre. Most agents are looking for Amish technothrillers and YA erotica right now.

13.  Idioms and folk-sayings form a bond of familiarity between your characters and readers. They're as useful as can be! 

14.  Once you have an agent, call her twice a day, just to check in.

15.  Don't compromise your artistic vision just because some PC liberals say your book is "racist." You're just telling it like it is!

16.  Friend your favorite author on Facebook. Once you are friends, he'll be delighted when you show up at his house to hang out.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Query Tips 3: The Revenge

1. If you get a lot of rejections, it's probably because you didn't spend enough time networking on Facebook

2. If you write fantasy, be sure to use lots of made-up words and names in your query. Agents love that.

3. Publishers are interested in any well-told story, as long as it's about a teenage girl who has to choose between two hot boys.

4. People want to read about realistic, identifiable characters, such as sexually non-threatening teenage boys with six-pack abs.

5. Write realistic dialog. For example, when a man tells his male friends about a woman he's met, he should describe her eyes a lot.

6. When writing for the Young Adult audience, authenticity is important. You must know what is cool. Drugs and premarital sex are never cool. 

7. Your protagonist must always be likable.  This means she should avoid conflict at all times.

8. Don't be naive about how the publishing business works. Always send headshots with your query. Follow-up with sexts. Let them know you're willing to do ANYTHING to make your dream come true.

9. Publishing a book isn't a way to get famous. Getting famous is a way to publish a book.

10. Every kind of monster is sexy now. When you think of werewolves, think "doggystyle." When you think of zombies, think "priapism."

11. You can still get rich writing monster mashups. "Ethan Frome The Black Lagoon," and "A Tale Of Two Cities Destroyed By Godzilla."

12. If you have trouble getting a literary agent on the phone, remember most people can be reached at home between one and five a.m.

13. Send your fan-fiction to the producers of the TV shows you write about. Then sue them all for stealing your ideas

14. Talent isn't what sells books. But you already know that, or you wouldn't be doing this.

15. Nobody has written a paranormal romance about sexy dragons yet. Consider the possibilities of a prehensile, reptilian tongue.

16. Look up agents' previous sales before you query, so you can tell them how your book is better than all the shit they represent