8.02.2006

Where's the wallop?

Miss Snark,

I'm shopping a novel (historical fiction). I have one previous publication, which is a college-text in an unrelated field. Should I mention the book in my query letter?

Sometimes seeing an example is helpful.

Dear Miss Snark:

I am writing about my novel Killer Yapp Meets Joan of Bark. My previous publication is a text on the Fiscal Implications of the Flat Tax.

I haven't seen many text books that pack a narrative wallop. Wallops of course are what I'm looking for in historical fiction. A well turned wallop.

The idea of listing publishing credentials is that I gain confidence someone other than Mom and Aunt Fanny think your writing doesn't suck. By "your writing" I don't mean letters, grocery lists, text books or love poems. I mean, generally speaking, the kind of writing you're trying to pitch me. Writing intended for the general trade market.

People pitch chick lit and tell me they have published science research papers. In my misspent youth, I read some of that there scientific journal stuff and I'm here to tell you it's got the narrative punch of stale ginger ale. E may equal mc squared but give me MC Hammer anyday of the week instead.

19 comments:

delilah said...

Since you mentioned Killer Yap, I've been fretting about his doggieness during this terrible heat wave.

I sure hope Miss Snark has set up a kiddie pool in her apartment and is using her gin pail to add ice whenever KY starts to pant.

MichaelPH said...

I've been a ghostwriter, a copywriter, and a contributer, so I'd like to add "author" to the list. And I'll bring the wallop too!

Anonymous said...

Wallops are best. But in the absence of a wallop . . .

The fact that the author has actually completed a book deemed worthy of publication, and has survived the experience of professional editing, is worth a more than an endorsement from Mom and Aunt Fanny.

The query could mention the textbook in a way that acknowledges the author's change of focus. In your example, the "author" appears to be clueless about that, which is disheartening.

s. m. o'shea said...

For argument's sake, what if I queried you with a historical fiction novel and had previously published a scholarly history text? Or, to shake it up, if I had written a science fiction novel and had published essays in Physics journals?

Not that this really applies to me at all, but I'm curious. Would something like this lend credibility to the novel by proving that the author actually does know something about what he or she is writing about? It would seem that a historical novel would be most believably written by a history expert.

Anonymous said...

michaelph:

Better bring the dictionary along with the wallop.

Little Mr Square Eyes said...

People pitch chick lit and tell me they have published science research papers.

It's no wonder u can't touch this...
(ducks to avoid gin bottle whizzing past ear)

Anonymous said...

If you have no previous publishing experience, how do you punch up your query letter to impress an agent?

MichaelPH said...

That's contributOr...note to self, don't misspell on snarky writing blog. On another note, I feel that anyone with the skills can transfer those abilities from non-fiction ivory tower to fiction. I have degrees in history so that knowledge and my fiction writing skill meet at historical fiction. So one thing leads to another.

Evil minion #667 said...

In my misspent youth, I read some of that there scientific journal stuff and I'm here to tell you it's got the narrative punch of stale ginger ale.

I've spent my middle age writing engineering stuff, which pretty thoroughly ruined my writing ability (such as it was). There is now an unshakable addiction to the passive voice, for example, along with overuse of the definite articles.

Verification: nwiltyt. Uncomfortably close to nitwit - is the machine trying to tell me something?

Adrian McCarthy said...

In my technical writing, I've tended to break the rules that distinguishes boring non-fiction from good narrative. My only published article actually began with dialogue.

Well, it did when I originally submitted it.

I was copied on an email from the typesetter to the editor, asking how to handle an article that begins with a quotation mark. The magazine's style dictated using a dropped capital on the first line. They never anticipated somebody starting with punctuation.

In the end, I agreed to a rewording that took some of the zing out, but preserved the beloved BIG CAPITAL LETTER.

Dave Kuzminski said...

I believe that must be Miss Snark's dyslexic evil twin posting that topic. ;)

bookfraud said...

i've found that mentioning my journalistic endeavors curries little favor with agents or publishers. i imagine "the dervative of quantum particles in a non-holistic environment" probably wouldn't do much good, either.

thomas pynchon was a technical writer for boeing before "v." was published; what he learned about science helped his ideas, but not the actual writing...

Anonymous said...

Other notes to self:

1) Learn proper punctuation

2) Try not sound like cave man when write.

Gabriele C. said...

s.m o'shea,
I am in that situation. I have published non fiction essays about History and Medieaval Literature in respected journals in several languages, and I'm now writing Historical Fiction. I wonder whether I should mention those publishing credits because they are in related fields.

Kimber An said...

I've been under the impression that the only way to impress an agent or editer is to write an amazingly good story. Maybe my thoughts on the subject are just too simplistic.

Anonymous said...

For argument's sake, what if I queried you with a historical fiction novel and had previously published a scholarly history text? Or, to shake it up, if I had written a science fiction novel and had published essays in Physics journals?

If I ever write a science fiction novel (which is entirely possible), my query letter will note that I have a master's degree in physics. It will not point out that I have been published in Physical Review.

Being able to write a good scientific paper does not mean I can write engagingly or put together a rivetting plot. However, it does mean that I might be able to add more realism to my story than a layperson could, and that's the fact I want to point out to the agent. My "writing credit" is not relevant to my ability to write a science fiction novel, but my expertise in the sciences is.

MichaelPH said...

"2) Try not sound like cave man when write."

You tripped over your snark, dude.

Anonymous said...

Actually, it's okay to sound like a cave man if you're writing PREhistorical fiction.

That might work out for you, dude.

Also, a sense of humor is pretty much a prerequisite for writing in any genre these days. Get over yourself and write the friggin' book.

Robert Billing said...

I don't think writing textbooks automatically inhibits narrative style. Here (just for fun) is a bit from one of mine:

Disk drives have become vastly more reliable in the thirty years since I first entered the computer industry, regardless of the fact that they depend on a near-impossibility to function at all. In chapter 1 I mentioned briefly how a hard drive works - how the heads face the platters without quite touching them. In fact there is a minute air gap between head and platter. This gap is so small that the relationship of head, air gap and platter is, to scale, comparable with taking a fighter aircraft through the sound barrier at an altitude that would be considered minimal for a lawnmower.