Thursday, May 04, 2006

Reality Rejections Redux

I’ll begin by saying that those who commented are very astute as everyone got the quiz right: You don’t bind a manuscript before submitting it to anyone in publishing. Also, please remember that I am not laughing at anyone’s query efforts when I post these. What is being attempted will be a helpful exercise only so long as most of the people who read the posts gain something from them. The best way to learn some of this query stuff is by seeing examples and feedback. Please do not take offense if you recognize something you wrote. No one, not even us, will remember who sent what where as we delete them as soon we answer and comment on them. We will continue with this exercise, whenever possible, as long as viewers feel these comments are helpful.

Sent: 5/4/06

To Whom It May Concern,

Here is another variation on the “Mr. or Ms.” posting of yesterday. I know for a fact, having heard other agents comment on this at writers’ conferences, that this will get you an instant rejection. Another related mistake is when the “Cc:” address area is filled with hundreds of agent’s email addresses. None of us like spam, and, in both instances, this is exactly what this is. If you are interested in establishing a relationship with an agent, please address that agent by his or her name (until he or she gives you permission otherwise). By the same token, most agents usually address those who query them by their titles and last names until given permission to do otherwise. This is business courtesy, which is followed throughout the business world, not just in the publishing industry.

Sent: 5/4/06

a romance/drama novel
Copyright, 2006

This was it--no greeting, no nothing--just this. There are two things in this opening that I’d like to comment on: (1) In defining his novel, this writer sent the message to me that he didn’t really know what he had written. Most novels fit the drama category, so just call it a romance…if it can be defined as one. In the defining, though, is where many writers fall flat on their patootie (which is industry lingo for “patootie”). For instance, if you call your work a romance novel, make sure your story isn’t told totally from the male character’s point of view. Although the lines are being blurred on what is a romance and what isn’t, this one is a no-brainer. The correct definition of the type novel that I think the writer is trying to describe is probably a love story, which fits into the mainstream category, not in the romance genre. However, I just don’t know what the writer meant, and that leaves a bad impression. (2) You do not have to inform us that your work has a copyright. We are well aware of it, so this is useless information, and, as such, labels you as a rank beginner. Copyright is granted as soon as something is written, and all agents are aware of this (or should be!). By the way, if this information is included to deter someone from stealing your work, it is a waste of time to include it. The type of people who infringe upon copyrights aren’t going to be deterred by this. Ask the people involved in the recent scandal involving the Opal Mehta novel…but that’s another story.

Sent: 5/4/06

There were several queries that came in with relatively low word counts.

What is it with all these 60,000 word novels? There have been a rash of these lately and until we find some editors who want these, we are not taking them. Novels are getting smaller. I might consider one at 65,000 words, but it better be something that I fall in love with. Sixty thousand- word novels are just too short for us right now. Books of more standard lengths, those that center around 85,000 words, are hard enough to place in this overly glutted market. Why make it more difficult to get an agent behind your work? Wait until you are published to experiment with word length, POV, etc. Until then, try to stay as close to the standards as possible.

Sent: 5/4/06

…then I received query of almost 800 words packed in three long, dense paragraphs.

It was like this writer had decided to write a short story that mirrored her book. There was no other information; it was all about the plot of the book. I didn’t read all of it. I just skimmed through, stopping here or there when something caught my eye. My first conclusion was that there was a good bet that this was probably an example this person’s writing style. Dense and unfriendly--I shudder the thought, as do most readers. Writers, have a little mercy on your readers. Don’t give them a boring diatribe that puts them to sleep. Give their eyes a rest by leaving a little white space here and there. A refreshing way to do this is through conversation (dialogue), the most active of all writing.

Sent: 5/4/06

A writer with a penchant for pedestrian heroics must come to grips that for every life he saves, something tragic will happen to him.


That concludes Reality Rejection for today. Until next time


Rene said...

A writer with a penchant for pedestrian heroics must come to grips that for every life he saves, something tragic will happen to him.

Maybe the hero of this story helps little old ladies across the street but as soon as they step on the sidewalk he gets hit by a car.

DanStrohschein said...

I think this will always be helpful. I would like to post the link on my writer's group site to help my fellow authors. These are helping me to understand what I can avoid when querying.

A lot of writers don't realize that working with an agent isn't like working with the check out guy at the grocery store. It's a business RELATIONSHIP, not a business TRANSACTION. You should know the agent you want to work with.

With regard to word counts: I thought that anything 60,000 words or less was considered a "novella". If the writer knew the agent, they would know you don't rep that, and could avoid a rejection.

Agents are swamped with hundreds of queries a week. A query letter more than a page long stands a fair chance on not getting read completely. They should be clear, concise, and short. If you can't describe your work and hook it in that amount of space, maybe the novel should have another revision to clear things up.

SpecRom Joyce said...

Does anyone think that the emergence of ebooks as a market tip the novel word counts down?

Wylie Merrick Literary said...

Thanks Rene! Your comments are always a bright spot in our day.

Dan--Thank you for your wisdom.

Joyce Ellen--Yes, the emergence of e-books might be one of the reasons for low word counts. It is hard to know if this is true, though, as we don't work with e-books. What we suspect is the cause of the low word count books we receive is that the authors list short stories in their writing credits. It is sometimes very difficult for short story writers to tackle long fiction.

There are also some regular print publishers who do publish books with lower word counts. The reason we don't take them is we have no editors who acquire them. They require books that center around 85,000 words. We would be glad to start taking on books with lower word counts when editors request them. Even though we sometimes prefer the shorter books ourselves, from experience, we know that they are terribly difficult to place in the markets we work with the most.

Anonymous said...

Does anyone know whether a novel of only 60,000 words would be acceptable as a Young Adult novel?

Wylie Merrick Literary said...

Sixty-thousand words fits YA very nicely. It would behoove you to look at what is being bought in YA before querying. You can do this on

April said...

Just wanted to comment on the low word counts you've been seeing. If they were romance, I'd say you might take a peek at good old Harlequin's website. In the last year, they've lowered their word-count range on nearly all their lines by 5-10,000 words each. Seems like the thinner the finished novel, the better, with them.