3.08.2007

13 Ways To Be a Slush Pile Reject-just today!

1. Describing the "mind set" of the American public. I'm absolutely uninterested in sweeping generalities, and I'm absolutely uninterested in sweeping generalities that don't mesh with what I see in the world. If you want to be iconoclastic, be specific. If you want to illustrate a point, use specifics. If you want me to rethink what I "know is right" be specific.

2. "Impacting" "impactful"
This is instant no.
I hate this.
I hate it so much it had an impact on my standards for rejection.
Unless you're talking about your wisdom teeth, I don't want to hear about anything that was "so impacting on your life" that you blah blah blah.

3. Missouri is NOT in "Central America".

4. Getting basic historical facts, particularly dates wrong. This drives me crazy. And before you get all huffy and say "copy editing can fix all that" let's just remember that what it REALLY means is you do NOT know what you're talking about in the novel. John Adams and Abraham Lincoln didn't take tea together. If you don't know why, don't ever query me.

5. Telling me you paid to have the book edited is shortsigted. Telling me the editor "liked" the book when she was finished is tantamount to asking for a clue rocket. If you can't figure out why, let me know.

6. "deals with the pain" "shattered lives" . These are such cliches that any confidence I had in your writing instantly evaporates. It also misses the obvious: novels aren't about shattered lives. Novels are about how people deal with/muddle through/survive terrible circumstances or events. If you can't see the difference, think about it for awhile while you read more novels.

7. "final bizarre shocking twist ending" usually means deus ex machina. It doesn't make me want to read your book.

8. "the absurdity of" followed by only one noun. The entire concept of absurdity requires contrast. The absurdity of innocence is meaningless (and convinces me you can't write worth spit) unless you place the innocence somewhere unexpected, like the green room at the Howard Stern show.

9. "Such and such an author has given me permission to use him as a professional reference." Clue: you don't need references to write or query a novel. What exactly am I supposed to do, find out if you wash your hands before reading a library book? You're not interviewing for a job here.


10. "it is a 90,000 word piece of work". ok. I believe you. Next!

11. Including a photo of yourself. This just boggles the mind. Thank all dogs you weren't naked.

12. "leave the memorial service for their late friend"...yea, those memorial services for the living are much more fun.

13. "entire species of frogs are now bearing sterile young". If you don't know why this is hilarious, you weren't paying attention in biology.

55 comments:

Dave said...

I especially like #13.
Great Post!

Inez said...

Oy!
Mlle Snarque:
I attended a Leave No Crime Unpublished SinC conference here in So Ca. The great Lee Child himself said to include a photo.
Go figure!

Mark said...

RE #13 It may be late in the day, but lose the "entire" is the only thing I can find fault with right now. Of course the species can only do this once. Is this the time? I say this as a biologist who has worked on such a study.

Steve said...

Thank all the greater and lesser Gods that I am not the only person in possession of the secret knowledge that "impactful" is not a fucking word.

Someone needs to inform the retail sector of this (especially my company, which seems overly fond of the phrase "more impactful").

takoda said...

I don't understand number 5. At least the first part of it.

I just started writing my first MG in September, so I'm new to writing.

I sent my first 50 pages to a book doctor. She sent back a one and a half page critique. It was under $200.

She told me areas where my writing was weak, asked a few questions that made me think of the logical flow of my story, and gave me great advice for character development.

It was like having a mentor over my shoulder. I needed the information she gave me. It was a personalized crash-course in fiction writing.

I won't do it a second time. But the first time was well worth it.

Anonymous said...

WTF???I QUIT! And I am going to fire my favorite fact checking editor... my novel is about the war of 1812 and Abe Lincoln winning it single handed with Kennedy losing...... Or was it Kennedy who freed the slaves over in Hawaii? Should I still Query this one?

Anonymous said...

Poor Takoda.... You hired a book doctor on your first MS? Paid 200 for the first 50pgs? Tsk. Tsk. Tsk....

Send Snarky dear a letter about that.... Be careful about those services. They can be bad, very baddddddd. And they are in it for the money. Of course. It's better to save up and go to a conference and talk to an agent, or better yet, go to barnes and noble, buy 200 dollars worth of books and read read read read read and then read some more. The more you read, the better your prose.

Toddie said...

Love love luv this post. And dammit, I have committed none of these sins, so why am I still unagented? Grr.

Particularly love the gripe about "impacting" one's life. My teeth grind to the point to the impaction when I hear people use the word in that sense. It's as bad as telling someone you're nauseous.

ozal said...

Takoda: seeking feedback is good. Accepting there is room for improvement is good. But I'm glad you don't intend to rely on book doctors. There are many ways to get feedback, and you want as many different opinions as you can so you end up with a balance. Critique goups online or locally, and competitions, are the most obvious.

As to telling a potential agent you used a book doctor for the work you are sending them... that's the problem. It's essentially saying "please find enclosed the novel I couldn't write by myself". With perhaps a footnote of "I'd like you to pay me as a qualified author even though I'm still doing the apprenticeship".
A book doctor's opinion on the opening of your first MS? Fine! By the time you get the whole MS shining for submission, you're going to have re-edited that sucker so much the book doctor's only remaining contribution will have been to your own education. In which case you wouldn't think of mentioning the paid editor to the agent.
And I doubt you need to hear why the positive opinion of someone who was PAID is not worth anything to an agent.

PS I too hold a malicious hatred for words like 'impactful'. There are, occasionally, invented words that at least have an element of beauty. But 'impactful' is just mud ugly.

Anonymous said...

Hey, Mark, it took me a minute to figure it out and I've got this gigantic cerebral lump growing out the side of my head to store all the extra scientific stuff needed for my work. Okay, the young will eventually be such--sterile--but they start off as eggs. Frogs bear freakin' eggs, not young. I'm perdy sure that's what Miss Snark meant. If not, find me something to shrink this thang.

Greta LaGarbeaux said...

Takoda, I read No. 5 to mean, "If you cannot get your MS into showing-off shape without hiring an editor, you don't want to brag about that in a query letter. And agents don't care what your hired help -- skillful though they may be -- think of the finished work."

Me, I see nothing at all wrong with paying a reputable pro to help get an MS on track. But I'd rather leave an agent the impression that my submission is the product of my adept and confident hand.

Alice said...

Takoda - a) you were ripped off, and b) even if you weren't, why would you mention this in your query letter?

Clueless said...

Clue gun me about # 13 too please.

redcap said...

Ah, Ms Snark. Thank you. You have helped me understand why I should never send away anything I have written to an agent or publishing house. Ever. EVER.

But yes, "impactful" is a far cry from being a word, and if only people could fact check. I've reviewed books where even a tiny smidgen of fact checking would have made the whole experience so much more fulfilling, damn their collective eyes.

Anonymous said...

I actually taught high school biology annd am clueless about what's wrong with the frogs. Someone shoot me with a clue gun.

John B said...

Next you'll be telling me Georgia isn't in South America. Sheesh.

B.E. Sanderson said...

I'd love to see a frog bearing its young. It would be a huge jump in the evolutionary scale. (Pardon the pun.) Although, maybe that's why all the frogs who do so have sterile young.

And whaddya mean Missouri's not in Central America? It's central. It's America. Right?

Reading this post, I was thanking dog I don't do any of these things. I'd have to shoot myself with a clue gun.

Heidi the Hick said...

I just stumbled across a great phrase. I came up twice on the jacket flap of a book I just read which shall remain nameless here.

"Unspeakable terror"

It wasn't very terrifying.

Jim Winter said...

"Including a photo of yourself. This just boggles the mind. Thank all dogs you weren't naked."

What if I look like George Clooney when I'm naked.

I'm not saying I do. I'm just curious about the rules in that situation.

jbswrite@verizon.net said...

Love #7! The "final...ending" as opposed to an earlier one? Now that's good stuff!

Demon Hunter said...

#10 and #13, LOL! Priceless!

Anonymous said...

A book priest is cheaper.

Blogistani said...

I got an A+ in biology but it was 20 years ago. Can someone tell me why the frog thing can't happen?

BernardL said...

You have to get a laugh where you can MS. :)

Dave said...

for the third time - repeat after me, snarklings:

Frogs lay eggs, humans bear children.

It's my new mantra.
Frogs lay eggs, humans bear children.
Frogs lay eggs, humans bear children.
Frogs lay eggs, humans bear children.

Anonymous said...

This is a good example of why beginning writers have a god-awful fear of slush pile readers wielding totalitarian power in a completely arbitrary manner.

I love you, MS, but rejecting a manuscript based on 10, 11, 12, and 13 is being really picky. Especially 13. I am a physicist/biologist and while 13 isn't one-hundred percent technically correct, it is colloquially acceptable.

Maybe you were just in a bad moon after reading the moronic submissions that represented 1 through 9, but I feel bad for those last authors.

Anonymous said...

Actually, that's wrong: 'to bear' means 'to bring forth; to give birth to', so while frogs do lay eggs, they also do 'bear young'. The sentence is fine as-is.

Just Me said...

Yay! Miss Snark's back - and she's hot!

Sic 'em, KY.....

(Word Ver: wfsukby. Perfect.)

Anonymous said...

I disagree with whoever said the book doctor was a "rip off". Obviously the writer was pleased with the feedback and found it helpful. There are all kinds of ways to get feedback. You can get some of them for free. Others, like conferences, or workshops, or classes, cost money. He was happy with the feedback he purchased. I know people want to avoid advising that paying is necessary, or open for the door for scammers. But not every paid critque is a scam. Calm down, people.

Mark said...

" Frogs bear freakin' eggs, not young"

Yeah, I was two stages beyond and not taking that literally. In retrospect I settled on the biological species concept definition i.e. have viable young. Must be all that time spent identifying tadpoles. Try that for tricky. I'm also bad at parlor jokes so...

diamond lil said...

Um ... I think some species of frogs do bear live young.

From http://www.globalamphibians.org/photos.htm:

"Nectophrynoides viviparus (Vulnerable) occurs in the Uluguru and Udzungwa Mountains and in the Southern Highlands of eastern and southern Tanzania. It is threatened by ongoing forest loss. It is one of very few species of frogs that gives birth to live young."

From http://www.britannica.com/eb/topic-407813/Nectophrynoides:

”The most advanced form of reproduction known in frogs takes place in the small African bufonids of the genus Nectophrynoides. By some unknown means, fertilization is internal, and the young are born alive. It is noteworthy that the evolution of live birth has taken place independently in all three living orders of amphibians, for this phenomenon also occurs in salamanders ….”

I actually thought bufonids were toads, but who am I to quibble with Britannica? Like Mark, I thought Miss Snark didn’t like the “entire,” maybe 'cuz it implied that male frogs bore young?

takoda said...

Hi Ozal, Anon, and Greta,

What you've all said is valid, but this person really was helpful in my case. She didn't include praise in her comments. Just ideas for improvements. For example, my two characters go back in time to another country. I never explicity said 'why' everyone speaks English. So I had to spell that one out. And she suggested to connect their journey back in time to their relationships with their fathers. She didn't say 'how,' just to do it. There were a few other suggestions which helped me to give more dimensions to my story.

She did not in any way 'write' any of my ms- which is why I feel really good. I truly learned more about the writing craft, which I can apply to my future MGs.

I realize there are people (tons of them) out to part a fool and his money. I appreciate the support and suggestions....but this wasn't the case for me. And I do belong to an online critique group--if you're reading this--you guys are the best!!

Many cheers!!!

Anonymous said...

Dear Ms. (or Mrs.) Snark,

For your consideration I'm including in the body of my e-query (yes, I know you don't take them, but this one truly IS *special!!!*) my 90,000 word piece of work.

It is an impactful observation of the mind set of the Central American public of Hometown, Missouri and follows three shattered lives, people dealing with the pain of living in the 1947 post-Civil War era beginning on the day they leave the memorial service for their late friend. The absurdity of their errors in life leads to a final bizarre shocking twist ending. One character, a devoted ecologist, collapses after learning an entire species of frog in his favorite pond are now bearing sterile young.

I've already paid for an edit on the book--a tasty temptation you can dangle before the publisher!

I'll phone you in a few days to get a ballpark on the advance. It will have to be in the 7-figure bracket as I've already made a down-payment on a Miami time-share.

Dan Brown has given me permission to use his name as a professional reference; enclosed please find the picture of us at a signing party. I apologize that we are both naked, but the copies of his last best-seller *are* strategically located. If you hold the picture at the right angle you can clearly see which of us is the best man. Ha-ha! Just kidding!

Grendel's Dam said...

Some of these howlers are perpetrated by old information. I have a copy of Jeff Hermann's guide from the '90s that suggests sending a photo with a query. And at a writer's conference I attended about the same time, we were told that many West Coast agents wouldn't take on an author who was overweight or otherwise didn't have a "TV-friendly" look.

Jeff K said...

Much like a list I did a while back.

Anonymous said...

13) Is it because there would soon (in one generation)be no more frogs if this fact is true?

14) Learn to use correctly lie, lay, it, it's, its and the most abused word of all: hopefully.

Anonymous said...

Dear Agent type personage,

My novel, The Absurdity of Innocence In Howard Stern's Greenroom is a 90,000 word work of art impacting the Central American state of Missouri and their terrifying crusade against frogs and their live-birthed offspring. Please find enclosed a picture of me which proves what a great writer I am. Thank you for your time.

anonahole said...

i think miss snark is incorrect with her indictment of "absurdity." complex nouns can bear out the idea. the absurdity of SUVs, for example. the noun alludes to the contrasting element. the absurdity of fast food. i pitch queries (and excoriate senders of queries) all the time for being excessively wordy. why say "the absurdity of driving a gas-guzzling luxury car during this war of terror (thank you, barat)-induced economy of conspicuous consumption under the guise of asceticism" if you don't have to?

Anonymous said...

I find it all incredulous.

--E said...

Anon who doesn't think #10-12 are so bad:

#10-12 show signs of blah, sloppy writing. Perhaps the strongest hallmark of a mediocre book is that the writer uses superfluous words and/or cliches. The odds of the book being boring if the query letter contains drab prose are huge.

Mazement said...

John Adams and Abraham Lincoln didn't take tea together. If you don't know why, don't ever query me.

Because they'd thrown all the tea into Boston Harbor?

Sha'el, Princess of Pixies said...

Funny thing...my last experience with a "final bizarre shocking twist ending" resulted in a baby ...

GuardianReader said...

When did "impacted" replace "affected"? Affected is just so much better, and comes without the dental reference.

As for rejecting for reasons 10-13. Miss Snark is the expert. She has her reasons. She shares them with us. If we choose to ignore her, then we can't expect to get published...

canwag said...

I especially liked #3. After I read this, my husband yelled at me from the other end of the house, asking if I was choking on something.

Still, my favorite is from my shameful past when I tuned in to "QVC" for background noise, only to be told by a chatty TV host that a certain garment's "fabrication" meant whether it was made out of cotton or polyester.

Lauren said...

Having a bad week, Miss Snark? Here, [hands over a gold-plated bucket of gin and some Stilton and cracked pepper crackers] enjoy.

ozal said...

diamond lil, here's another frog for ya!

In the rainforests of northern Australia, there is a frog that turns off its stomach acids, swallows its eggs, and gestates them in its stomach. The live babies emerge from the frog's mouth.

Isn't the world a fabulous place!

(Anyone out there with ulcers wondering how they can learn that acid trick from the frog?)

BenPanced said...

And save "in a world where..." for "that announcer guy from the movies".

Jenn said...

OMG this is the most hilarious thing I've read all day. Thank you for making me laugh. I don't think you're being harsh at all. You're asking for those who query you to at least demonstrate some sign of intelligence. Which should be common sense. If adults wanted to read something written in a child-like manner, they'd teach. You don't enough said. Great Blog!

Mark said...

He lil, Bufonids are toads, but in biology there is always an exception to the rule. Good catch.

Anonymous said...

impacted: I used to be a hospital nurse. Bowel care was a topic of lengthy discussion, activity, and charting. The word "impacted" was oft-used in this context. So I love it when my bosses talk about how some blahblah has impacted us. Ah, it takes me back...

Kim said...

More about frogs than I ever wanted to know, but this was a great freakin' post - who the hell puts Missouri in Central America? Everyone knows it's South America. Er... that is... And of course Lincoln didn't have tea with John Adams - he was meeting George Washington for dinner so they could discuss Texas' bid for independence.

erm... wanna see a picture of my dog?

Anonymous said...

'Impactful'?

Please tell me you're joking. Oh ye gods and goddesses, please tell me you're joking.

I've heard 'impact' used as a verb, and even that makes my ears bleed. Anyone who has EVER thought for a second that 'impactful' was a word should have his or her language licence revoked.

the ames said...

I work in marketing and you wouldn't believe how often "impactful" is bandied about.

I am ashamed to say sometimes I'm the one doing said bandying. This industry has done bad, bad things to my vocabulary.

David Rochester said...

My favorite part of this post was the tags, with the delightful neologism "nitwittery."

BTW, to all who are taking issue with the private editing . . . no problem hiring one, but the agent doesn't want to know that in the query letter. If you wouldn't say "My writers' group read this and I made a lot of significant changes based on their input, so it's much better than it used to be," then you shouldn't mention your freelance editor, either.

James said...

For the picture, publisher's don't give a damn what you look like, they care about whether you can write well enough to make them money. Unfortunately, I've seen a LOT of bad advice given on panels at conventions, usually by people who are either self-published or are published by a small press. And writer's groups are frequently the blind leading the blind - most published authors who are still writing don't have TIME to do writer's groups.