Don't be a meathead

Your Snarkiness,

I find myself sitting on several finished novels. None of them are published, but I'm close to finishing my third, and I feel confidant in my ability to retrofit the other two with... shall we say, publishability.

I digress. When I am querying my third novel, should I mention the other two? I know that many people are of the opinion that one is not ready to be published until one has several manuscripts lording over the dust of the third sock-drawer to the left.

While it seems silly to me to mention efforts that went unpublished, I don't want the people I query to think I've never written fiction before.

One of the most reliable predictors of crap is a cover letter that tells me how well edited the book is or how many novels are under the bed.

Have you ever noticed the people who feel compelled to tell you how honest they are, aren't?
How handsome and how much the girls admire them, aren't?
How important and powerful they are, aren't?

People who are honest, courteous, smart and witty don't need to tell you. You know it by looking at them, listening to them, and reading their pages.

Show, don't tell, starts at "Dear Miss Snark" not "page one".

Don't tell me about the hours you sweated in the gym. Show me the beefcake.


Elektra said...

That's what makes me crack up when I see girls with shirts that say things like "Sexy".

If you need the shirt to tell people...

Knitty Yas said...

hahaha elektra! like those girls with the pants. you know... the pants that say Bootylicious... across the ass... uhhh why?

Anonymous said...

On the other hand, those wearing "I'm With Stupid" apparel are almost always truthful.

Anonymous said...

i gotcha beefcake for ya right here, Miss Snarky.

Anonymous said...

All the intelligence I have gleaned, here and elsewhere, seems to indicate that, if they like the first one enough to represent (or publish) it, they'll ASK if you have any more.

We all know that agents and publishers want to take on people who aren't one-hit wonders, but it is also true that all they have to work with is what's in front of them. Keep working that till you've convinced someone. Worry about the career trajectory later.


Anonymous said...

I recently did a writing workshop course and one of the other women there described herself as being on her 3rd novel and I thought 'what the hell are you doing here then?'. It wasn't until someone else pointed out to me that she hadn't said she'd had the other 2 novels published that the penny dropped.
None of those piles under the bed count in my opinion. What counts is the one that gets you a contract. I want to publish a novel but until I do I am not a novelist...

Sandra G (UK)

Kim said...

Isn't that kind of like "who are you trying to convince? Me or yourself?"

Concentrate on the manuscript you're pitching - trust me.

Ahvarahn said...

In my résumé, I remark that when I was young I had aspirations of becoming a famous zookeeper and, since he’s not easily contacted, I transcribed my imaginary friend Derek’s opinions as a reference on my bowling; I sit at home a lot.

Anonymous said...

Beefcake... BEEFCAKE!!!

Unknown said...

As someone who has finished 5 novels, I can say that this really is invaluable advice. In the past I have mentioned my previous works in my query, because I wanted to show that I was a career writer, that I had what it takes to go the distance. I suppose I was trying to convince myself of this as well.

Good writing talks, and BS walks.

Anonymous said...

Never trust anyone who begins a sentence with, "To be honest..."

Hildieblog said...

Charles Frazier's Cold Mountain was a fourth novel, rescued from the slush pile at Grove Atlantic by then Marketing Manager Elisabeth Schmidt who read it one weekend, called editor Morgan Entrekin and a pre-empt was made Sunday night, post haste. I doubt he mentioned the 3 novels under the bed.

Anonymous said...

Don't mention the first novels. They might be good, but they might also be, well... not so good.

Writing improves with each attempt. If you sell your present novel, go back and have a look at the first ones to see if they can be brought up to your new standards. Maybe the agent or editor would like to see more of your work, now that you found somebody who likes your voice.

But if you honestly don't think those first novels are your best work, leave 'em under the bed and move on. They may not be publishable, but they certainly weren't a waste of time.

johnny ray said...

I just talked to one author that wrote his 9th book when the eigth one sold, within a year four others of the previous ones were sold.

Anonymous said...

That's not what Charles Frazier's agent said. According to Leigh Feldman (mentioned in his acknowledgments), Frazier queried Feldman, she read the manuscript over a weekend, and became so engrossed, she forgot to change her baby's diapers. She quickly offered representation.

And in interviews, Frazier said Cold Mountain was his first full manuscript, that he'd tried his hand at fiction before, but always put it aside because it wasn't good enough.

Where did you hear Cold Mountain was plucked from the slush? I wonder if there's some kernel of truth to it, but not from everything I've heard and read.

Anonymous said...

The earlier novels were probably practice novels. I know that mine were. I have a few that I keep around just to read once in a while. It helps me realize how much I've grown as a writer and how horrible I was at the beginning. And we're talking really horrible. But it's amazing how you do grow as a writer and how you do learn what makes a novel work.

On the other hand, if you've sold a book or two, I'd mention that.

Anonymous said...

Elektra, Yasamin, and Anon1,

A little bit of irony is good for the soul.

Either you are very much not your label, which is ironic, or you very much are and are simply being ironic at the expense of the ironical. Sometimes you are just too lazy to iron a proper shirt.

The problem with living in our postpostmodern jumble is that everything is, at some level, ironic. Too many levels? Meta-irony.

(Do two post moderns make a pre? Have I just gone rhetorically backward in time?)

None of this bears any comment on the original poster. To him, I say go read a heartbreaking work of staggering genius.

ORION said...

When I queried I did not refer to any of my previous completed novels. My third book was the one that got me my agent. When my agent called to offer representation she asked if I had other manuscripts. When I said three others she sounded very pleased, said,"Great!" and asked about what I felt was my next strongest work. When I told her the premise of book number 2 - (those two sentence blurbs that describe succinctly WHAT your book is about are INVALUABLE) - she said email it to her ASAP.
My point is knowing I had other books helped but only after representation was offered.

Anonymous said...

Sandra said, "I want to publish a novel but until I do I am not a novelist..."

I respectfully disagree. If you've written a novel, you're a novelist. You may not be a good novelist, or a marketable novelist, or a published novelist ... but you're still someone who has written a novel.

Other people will decide how good or marketable your writing is. No need to let them define who you are, though.


Anonymous said...

Not counting "practice novels", I had 4 unpublished novels when I sold my first two books. Now the other two are also published. It is true that writers get better with each book, but a lot of first books also sell without being very good at all. And in defense of Miss Snark's view, I did have credentials.

Kim said...

Whenever I read my earlier manuscripts, I have to do it alone in my office because the embarrassed blush would probably blind anyone else.

I cringe and say, 'Did I ACTUALLY send this crap out?'

And some of it is so bad it's...


word ver - alwfwhe (what I say when I've got a mouthful of coffee and am reading an old manuscript)

Anonymous said...

My first, "practice" novel was published and I've (partially) regretted it ever since. I've moved on to better works (or so I like to think) but that first book is still out there, still in print, still being read. When people come to booksignings for my newer books and gush about how much they LOVED my first book, I die just a little.

McKoala said...

When I walk into an office with one of those signs that says 'you don't have to be mad to work here, but it helps', I want to just turn on my heel and leave. It usually guarantees that everybody there is incredibly dull.

Anonymous said...

Dear Miss Snark,

Sorry, I could make dinner tonight. Please console yourself with this beefcake.


Anonymous said...

Speaking of walking into offices, I walked into an internet cafe in Haliburton and a sign said: "All unattended children will be given an espresso and a puppy."

verification: what the hell does amitpopo mean? Anyone?

Anonymous said...

Thank you for clearing that up for me. :)

barb said...