Monday, July 23, 2012

Said the Spider to the Fly...

This weekend, I was at the League of Vermont Writers event and somebody asked me a question which sparked a memory which sparked an anecdote, and what the hell, this is my blog, I can share it with you here. (Strap in, it might go long!)  The question was, "Can we query you over again if you say no the first time? Do you really remember stuff you've read?" Well....

Miz Rachel in 1949 - age 53
When I was growing up, I spent a good amount of time visiting my Great-Grandmother, Miz Rachel (aka Momie). She lived deep in the heart of Southwest Louisiana, in Maurice, a tiny village named after my Great-great-great Grandfather.

She was old. How old? Well, she was born in the 1800s. She graduated college during WWI. She taught first grade for 40 years or so, and retired more than a decade before I was even born. So... yeah. OLD. She passed away in 2005, aged 108.

Now Miz Rachel lived by herself on a farm from the time she became a widow in the 1960's until almost the very end of her life. Even in her 80's, 90's, and early 100's, she tended the huge garden by herself. When a water moccasin came along, she'd happily cut it to ribbons with an axe, then knock back a glass of Creme de Menthe or Cold Duck. If something worse came along, she had a loaded shotgun under her bed. Miz Rachel did NOT screw around.  (ETA: My relatives in the comments insist I amend "axe" to "shovel" - whatever, just don't cross the old dame!)

Momie's House, Maurice LA. 
She also talked a lot. If you didn't visit, she'd say in a guilt-inducing manner, "Don't worry, my plants are my family, and my flowers are my friends." If you DID visit, she'd say, "Welcome to my parlor, said the spider to the fly!" She knew the entire history of the region and every family in it, and she would regale you with stories, songs in French, snippets of Shakespeare, and show you the shroud she wanted to be buried in, all in the same breath, if you gave her half a chance.

(She also was fond of waking us up early when she got bored by blasting the Rosary on television, or jabbing her grandchildren with her finger and remarking about their weight, then saying "I eat to live, I don't live to eat!" ... but that's another story.)
"Although she credits God and clean living, if nonstop chatting somehow prolongs a person's life, then Villien's key to longevity becomes evident as soon as introductions are made."

Every time any family member would visit, we'd take Momie out for a night on the town at someplace like Don's Seafood Hut. (Delicious stuffed crab at Don's, if you ever get the chance). Every time (and I mean EVERY time) we took her out, wherever we went in the region, elderly people would totter up to her and say something like,

"MIZ RACHEL!  You taught me FIRST GRADE, 50 years ago!"

And she would say, "JOHNNY BOUDREAUX (or whatever) -- I'd know you anywhere."

"How'd you recognize me, Miz Rachel? I'm a little older..."

"Oh," she'd say, with a glint in her eye, "I only remember the very good ones... and the very bad ones."

Then she'd leave it up to Johnny to figure out which he was. (But of course, she remembered pretty much everyone ever, in fact.)

So what does all this have to do with me, or you? Well, first of all, I am turning into Momie, since I can't shut up. Only instead of cutting out clippings, I tweet incessantly. Our houses even look alike!

And, when it comes to querying writers, well... while Momie had a shockingly good memory for faces, I have a shockingly good memory for things I've read. But still, I only remember the very good ones... and the very bad ones. (And yep, probably yours as well.)

Oh and I keep an archive. So. If you've done a significant amount of revising, and it's been 6 months or more, it's fine. But don't try and lie about it.

Welcome to my parlor!

Monday, July 09, 2012

The Bad Query Paradox

Look I'm NOT talking about you here.

YOU are somebody who is seeking out knowledge and absorbing it like a sponge. YOU are somebody that knows about research and takes the time to do a little before sending out query letters. YOU have a basic grasp of how the English language works, and how to be polite and sane in correspondence.

Sadly, YOU guys, the awesome folks reading this right now, represent less than half of those who send me queries. Less. Than. Half. The majority are sent by people who will never see this. And they pretty much all have one or more of the following problems:

* They do not understand who I am or what I do (generally they think I publish books... which I do not) -- or they DO know I'm an agent, but are sending me material not even close to something I represent, which the simplest google search or website glance would have revealed.

* They betray an inability to write in English. I'm not saying "they aren't brilliant" - I'm saying, they are barely coherent. I have several each day that have been seemingly run through Google Translate or Babelfish and are just nonsensical. Is it spam? I have no idea.

* Mega-typos. I really am not going to get judge-y about the occasional typo in a manuscript. Look, it happens, that stuff can get fixed, no biggie. But if you have multiple typos in a three paragraph letter... I'm going to raise an eyebrow. And if you've inconsistently spelled your own TITLE... OR YOUR OWN NAME... That's a problem.

* They are rude, psychotic, scary. ("I'm sure, as a woman, this will be hard for you to understand" -- "Jesus was a Dinosaur!" -- "My book is about MURDERING LITERARY AGENTS", etc)  (note: actually I changed these somewhat... nobody sent me these EXACT queries... but the idea is similar. And in fact, I thought I made up Dino Jesus, but apparently it's a thing. And I kinda like it.)

*  They don't follow directions. They are addressed to somebody else, or to no-one at all. There is no query letter (the pages start immediately). There are no pages (we ask for 10 pages in the body of the email). There are a query letter and pages, but they are all as an attachment (which I don't open). There is a query letter, but I have to sign on to some site to see it, or it comes in a block of graphics that I can't read, or similar.

I understand, honest mistakes happen, and I'll happily overlook it if you get my name wrong, or the formatting is weird, or you've use the wrong form of it's/its. If I like the query but you haven't put pages, I'll ask for them. 

But let's be honest. If you've got multiple gaffes in one email, what that shows me is that you don't really care about this. If you can't be bothered to proofread a short letter that is theoretically extremely important to you... how shoddy is your book?

Our official agency policy is "no response means no" -- but time permitting, I do try to just at least send a form response to everyone who seems sane and like they are trying. I don't respond to people who blatantly don't follow query guidelines, or who query with stuff I don't rep, but other than that, I do my best.

But I'm just... I'm just really burnt out on this part. I spend my entire Sundays doing this most weeks, and it is making me bitter. I REALLY DON'T WANT TO BE BITTER Y'ALL.

At the same time, I really don't want to close to queries.

Understand this: MOST of my clients came from slush, especially in the beginning. I didn't know them, they weren't referred to me - I just liked their query letters and asked to see more. I KNOW there can be gems in there. So I never want to palm off query reading to some third party, or say I can't look at all... I want to look! I have a strong desire to find awesome stuff in the box!

And this is the paradox:

Everyone will think I am being mean about THEIR query... but I promise you I am not. If you are reading this, there is a 99.999infinity% chance it is not addressed to you. Because I am not frustrated with "people who are decent writers but their story just doesn't tickle my fancy" -- or "beginners who mean well but are off-base" or "people who messed up one piece of the directions but otherwise had a pretty good query" ....  I'm really frustrated with the actual bottom half of the barrel.

The people who send me emails (or worse - find my phone number and call me) demanding information on... how to send queries. The people who send insults or screeds or threats. The people who have no sense of boundaries, or self-awareness. And those people are not reading advice blogs.  



Every time I find something awesome to request? ALL of the bad feelings go away.

AND... All of you are automatically in the top 40% of queries. YAYYY!

Sunday, July 01, 2012

Happy Book Birthday: CAPTURE THE FLAG

On the same day that the enormous flag that inspired “The Star Spangled Banner” is stolen from the Smithsonian Museum of American History, three very different kids (who have more in common than they realize) are snowed in at a chaotic Washington D.C. airport, along with a mysterious tattooed man, a flamboyant Texas politician, and a rambunctious poodle named for an ancient king.  When the kids figure out that the flag and whoever stole it are snowed in at the airport, too, they decide to work together to solve the heist. They'll have to slink through baggage handling tunnels, commandeer luggage carts and other airport mayhem to  avoid getting nabbed by baddies and CAPTURE THE FLAG.

Kate Messner's CAPTURE THE FLAG is the start of a fun, funny and action-packed new series about a group of kids who are descendents of the Silver Jaguar Society -- a secret society dedicated to protecting the world's treasures. The series will appeal to fans of art-world mysteries like Chasing Vermeer and Masterpiece as well as kids who love the high-octane fun of National Treasure movies.

More about the book from Kate Messner here.

Read the first two chapters here.

CAPTURE THE FLAG teacher & librarian resources on Pinterest. 

Kate is having a launch party tomorrow, 7/2 at the Bookstore Plus in Lake Placid from 4-6pm. I'll be there! If you can join us, that would be fantastic -- if not, you can still order a personalized signed copy of this or ANY of Kate's books (here's a list) for your bookshelf. Kate says: "Their number is 518-523-2950 – you’d need to call Monday morning, 7/2 before the signing that afternoon!"

Or buy the book from Indiebound, Powells, B&N or wherever fine books are sold.