Thursday

Why Dee's Query Letter Was the Worst

Now, I don't think anyone who has read Dee's query letter can argue that it isn't bad.  It's pretty much makes everyone who sees it cringe.  So, what exactly about the letter makes it so gut-wrenchingly terrible?

Let's examine it closely:
Deer Mr., Mrs., Ms., or Whatever M. Smoot: Ignoring the poor spelling found throughout the letter, there's still problems with the address.  It would never be appropriate to title something to "Whatever." Always try to find out about the person you are sending your submission to.  If the imaginary author had just google searched "m smoot cbay books" the first six entries clearly bring up me.

I bought the bright green sticker on the outside of the envelope on eBay so I don’t really know what gender you are since I didn’t actually attend the conference at witch you spoke. Sorry. I paid good money for the “M. Smoot” sticker to gain access to your closed publishing house, so I hope you appreciate it. I’m sure you did a wonderful, stupendous, fantastic job at the conference and gave a fabulous, mesmerizing, interesting speech. Thanks for being such a helpful, kind, grate editor. I found this paragraph particularly genius for a worst letter contest -- it would never occur to me that someone could buy entry into a closed publishing house this way although the idea, now presented, doesn't surprise me.  However, even if this is the way that you got the sticker, don't admit it.  Don't mention the conference at all.

Anyway, enough about you. (Just plain rude.) Now for my soon-to-be best seller... you’re gonna love it! I read variations of this sentence in cover letters all of the time. Taking pride in your work is great, but this sentence makes me roll my eyes and chalk the author up as a naive first-timer. Since it has an elephant AND a donkey in it, it will surpass sales of "Horton Hears a Who" and "Winnie the Pooh" (with Eeyore) combined. These are not good comparables for this imaginary title since the other books are long-selling classics and not picture books.  It would be impossible for me to guess sales ranges based on these two. I know it will be made into a poplar movie and will be translated into many languages. Unless you or your agent already have deals in the works, your opinion isn't necessary.  That’s why I want to keep all foreign rites. I also want fool plush animal sales.  Save these demands for contract negotiations.

My book is called THE ELEPHANT AND THE DONKEY and it is completely in rhyme. Since it is about animals, I tested it out on my cat and dog and they absolutely loved it! Completely irrelevant, and it makes the author sound a little crazy. They showed their appreciation by marking the corners of this manuscript. You’ll probably be able to tell (or smell) witch corner is witch. That is so disgusting. Do I really have to remind you to reprint a sample that has urine on it?

I didn’t read my story to any pre-schools because I didn’t want the teachers to still the idea, but I know kids will love it!!! Even if the fake author had read it at preschools I wouldn't want to know. Also, the fear that someone will steal your work (so rare I don't know of any actual cases of unpublished author works being ripped off) sends up red flags of publishing ignorance.

Hear is more about it...

My 20,000-word picture book
For ages two to four,
Covers many topics
Other children’s books ignore.

Taxes, stocks, and politics
Are introduced in rhyme.
The story is sure to be a hit
At every child’s bedtime.

You’ll want to publish this right away.
It’s going to be a best seller,
More popular than "The Cat in the Hat,"
Or that tearjerker, "Old Yeller."

The conflict is that an elephant
And donkey can’t agree.
They fight over just about everything,
Including cups of tea.

Will they ever learn to get along?
Can these protagonists save the world?
I’m writing a 1000-page sequel,
Where the answers will be unfurled. 
All right. That was just insane. Contrary to popular belief, editors don't hate picture books in rhyme. Some of the best-selling books are written that way.  When rhyme is really well done, it is fun and great to read aloud. Unfortunately most rhyme submissions are not well done, cause the editor to cringe, and thus rhyme gets a bad rap.  However, unless you are excerpting a stanza of your manuscript, never, ever describe it in rhyme.

Believe me, this book will fly off the shelves and beat the ebook download record, so you’ll want to publish this by November so we can both become rich quick. That’s only about a month away, but if you overnight the contract to me, I’ll sign it write away and the illustrator can start immediately. Clearly has no idea how the publishing industry works. Oh, I really like the work of Tomie dePaola. Don't we all.  I hope you can get him for this book. Does he even illustrate books he didn't write? Do you have that kind of pool? Rude.

I know you only wanted a query and ten pages, but I am so confident you’ll like my work that I scent the hole book. Always, always follow the submission instructions.  I am offering this as an exclusive transmission does author mean submission? for one week, but after that I’ll really need to move on if I haven’t herd from you. I want to enjoy my millionaire status before the world ends or before the next election - whichever comes first. Who knows what the tax rate will be after that! Besides sounding crazy, this last bit again highlights the author's inexperience and lack of research on publishing.

I should tell you that I’ve already been published in my third grade newspaper, not the kind of publishing credits to include so I’ll want the “royal treatment” when it comes to royalties. Oh good grief. We can go over all that when I meat you in person. At this point, I would be going: Wait! When (and why) would we meet? Is this person planning on stalking me down? Yule love how punny I am. I highly doubt that.

Sincerely,
Dee Ranged

P.S. - I hope you like the red, white, and blue elephant and donkey sugar cookies I enclosed. They were only supposed to have white and blue icing on them, but my three-year old helped make them and she had an owie at the time, hence the red coloring. OMG, OMG, OMG. I knew the cookies weren't real and I still started to gag the first time I read this.  On a less insane note, do not send extra goodies with your query.  They are not appreciated and mark you as an amateur. I was going to send a tea bag, too, so you could have tea and cookies, but Tea Party stuff seems to be getting a bad rap lately and I didn’t know your fillings on that, so I decided against it. Unless your book is literally about politics, don't bring it up.  (The same goes for religion and any other traditionally controversial topics.  If you wouldn't bring it up at a dinner party full of strangers, don't put it in your query.)
Fortunately, I have never received a query or cover letter quite this extreme. After all, this was for a contest and therefore was supposed to be rather ridiculous. That being said, some of the errors made are common ones (if only in a less extreme version).  I'll discuss some of the most common query/cover letter mistakes next week.

Tuesday

Contest Winner

I have to say(or do I mean hate to say?)that I loved every single entry in the terrible query letter contest. All of them made me laugh, and all of them were horribly awful.

However, there was one that stood above the others. This one truly surpassed everyone else in awfulness for one simple brilliantly terrible reason: part of it was written in rhyming verse.

Genius!

So, congratulations to Dee Ranged (or whatever your real name is) for creating a truly terrible letter. I've copied it so everyone else can also appreciate the wretchedness. On Thursday, I'll dissect all of the things (besides the rhyme) that is wrong with this letter.

Deer Mr., Mrs., Ms., or Whatever M. Smoot:

I bought the bright green sticker on the outside of the envelope on eBay so I don’t really know what gender you are since I didn’t actually attend the conference at witch you spoke. Sorry. I paid good money for the “M. Smoot” sticker to gain access to your closed publishing house, so I hope you appreciate it. I’m sure you did a wonderful, stupendous, fantastic job at the conference and gave a fabulous, mesmerizing, interesting speech. Thanks for being such a helpful, kind, grate editor.

Anyway, enough about you. Now for my soon-to-be best seller... you’re gonna love it! Since it has an elephant AND a donkey in it, it will surpass sales of "Horton Hears a Who" and "Winnie the Pooh" (with Eeyore) combined. I know it will be made into a poplar movie and will be translated into many languages. That’s why I want to keep all foreign rites. I also want fool plush animal sales.

My book is called THE ELEPHANT AND THE DONKEY and it is completely in rhyme. Since it is about animals, I tested it out on my cat and dog and they absolutely loved it! They showed their appreciation by marking the corners of this manuscript. You’ll probably be able to tell (or smell) witch corner is witch.

I didn’t read my story to any pre-schools because I didn’t want the teachers to still the idea, but I know kids will love it!!!

Hear is more about it...

My 20,000-word picture book
For ages two to four,
Covers many topics
Other children’s books ignore.

Taxes, stocks, and politics
Are introduced in rhyme.
The story is sure to be a hit
At every child’s bedtime.

You’ll want to publish this right away.
It’s going to be a best seller,
More popular than "The Cat in the Hat,"
Or that tearjerker, "Old Yeller."

The conflict is that an elephant
And donkey can’t agree.
They fight over just about everything,
Including cups of tea.

Will they ever learn to get along?
Can these protagonists save the world?
I’m writing a 1000-page sequel,
Where the answers will be unfurled.

Believe me, this book will fly off the shelves and beat the ebook download record, so you’ll want to publish this by November so we can both become rich quick. That’s only about a month away, but if you overnight the contract to me, I’ll sign it write away and the illustrator can start immediately. Oh, I really like the work of Tomie dePaola. I hope you can get him for this book. Do you have that kind of pool?

I know you only wanted a query and ten pages, but I am so confident you’ll like my work that I scent the hole book. I am offering this as an exclusive transmission for one week, but after that I’ll really need to move on if I haven’t herd from you. I want to enjoy my millionaire status before the world ends or before the next election - whichever comes first. Who knows what the tax rate will be after that!

I should tell you that I’ve already been published in my third grade newspaper, so I’ll want the “royal treatment” when it comes to royalties. We can go over all that when I meat you in person. Yule love how punny I am.

Sincerely,
Dee Ranged

P.S. - I hope you like the red, white, and blue elephant and donkey sugar cookies I enclosed. They were only supposed to have white and blue icing on them, but my three-year old helped make them and she had an owie at the time, hence the red coloring. I was going to send a tea bag, too, so you could have tea and cookies, but Tea Party stuff seems to be getting a bad rap lately and I didn’t know your fillings on that, so I decided against it.

Friday

Worst Query Letter Ever Contest

Yesterday I got an exciting email from Chuck, the editor of the 2012 Children's Writer's & Illustrator's Market that I have an article in.  Apparently, if I run a contest here on the blog, then he'll send the winner a free copy of the book.  Pretty sweet, right?

So, I was trying to think what would make an appropriate contest for a book dedicated to finding your manuscript a home with the right editor or agent. And then I had it.  What could be more perfect than a query letter contest?  However, I just ran a query letter contest last spring.

And then I had an even more brilliant idea.  I would make this the worst query letter ever contest.  To enter this contest, your going to have to come up with most unbelievably awful query letter.  Basically, you should take all the advice I've ever given you in the past and do the exact opposite.  Then whichever fake letter is the worst, I'll critique on the blog so we can all review what should NOT be done.

To enter the contest:
  1. Paste your fake query letter into one of the comments on this post.  That way everyone can enjoy the awfulness.
  2. All entries must be received by 11:59PM CST Friday, Sept. 23
  3. We really want the query itself to be awful; however, the book being pitched shouldn't be ridiculous.  Don't pitch offensive or really extreme books that no one would want even if the query was fantastic.
  4. One winner will receive a copy of the 2012 CWIM direct from Writer's Digest.  Should they choose to substitute prizes (like a copy of the excellent 2012 Guide to Literary Agents instead), I have no control over that.  The winning entry will also be posted so that we all might critique/ridicule its awfulness. 

Wednesday

5 Writing Tips I Learned From My 2 Year Old

I don't know if you know this, but apparently when you take a baby home you are legally obligated at some point in its life to write a sickeningly sweet philosophical post on "life lessons" you've learned from said baby.

Don't believe me?  Then clearly you have not been on a parenting/website blog recently.

So, in order to fulfill my contractual obligation as a parent (it was in the fine print), here is my sappy post.  At least it's writing related.

5 Writing Tips I Learned From My 2 Year Old
  1. Never Be Afraid to Experiment -- My child will draw on anything, and we as writers should be willing to at least consider every writing idea that pops into our heads, no matter how ludicrous it may seem.  After all, futuristic Roman gladiator games sounds kind of silly, but no one is going to argue with the success of The Hunger Games.
  2. Never Be Afraid of Failure -- Because frankly, you can't ever entirely fail.  As my child practices at writing and drawing he constantly improves.  (Yes, I have a freakish child that with no prompting from me likes to try to draw letters.)  He has mastered the O and I and almost has a recognizable A.  And just like him, your writing improves both with every rewrite and in general as you practice it more.  Eventually, you will have that idea that works.
  3. Take as Many Breaks As You Need, But Finish Your Task Eventually -- This is true of not only attention span challenged toddlers, but us adults as well.  Sometimes we become so frustrated or hungry or tired or whatever that we need to briefly step back from a project and get some space.  This is fine, but at some point you have to come back and finish up.
  4. Do Not Judge Yourself By Other People's Measuring Sticks -- For various reasons (including a brief period of partial deafness and a "by-myself" independence streak) my toddler has a serious speech delay.  Other people's response to this range from condescending worry (from other parents who have decided my child is autistic -- he's not according to the various doctors/specialists) to complete unconcern (from his doctors and speech therapist who say he'll talk sometime before 5.  5!).  The point of this is that you have to define your own measures of success.  For some author success only comes after a certain advance or when they reach a certain level of sales.  For others, success is finishing a manuscript.  You have to decide for yourself otherwise you will drive yourself crazy trying to meet everyone else's (differing) expectations.
  5. Praise is Great Fun, But No One Appreciates a Tantrum in Response to Negative Feedback -- This is pretty self-explanatory.  We all like being told our stuff is good, but when we are told our stuff is not working, pouting or throwing a tantrum is not productive and often inappropriate.  You don't have to take every piece of advice you receive, but you should at least objectively consider it.

Sunday

Why Do People Find This Necessary?

Yesterday, I briefly touched on this rather shocking post I had read a few weeks ago.  In it, the author describes how her site and blog have been the victim of various hate postings and hackings that have escalated to death threats.  Specifically, she has been repeatedly told that if she goes to speak at various conferences, she will be hunted down and killed.

Hopefully something you & I will never see.
I was appalled at this, and I wondered what kind of controversial blog was the woman running.  So, I searched and looked around her site expecting to find a political or religious or some other controversial oriented blog.  Instead I found lots of posts on . . . social media and internet marketing.  Now, I don't know about you but I don't consider social media to be the kind of concept that should inspire enough passion in a person to warrant death threats.  I just personally can't find the energy (or interest) to become properly motivated to hate someone who tells you the most effective way to use Twitter.

(Of course there's more to the story, the hate originally came from someone accusing the woman of having an affair and then devolved into accusations of internet scamming.  I do not know about the woman's personal life -- it's not relevant for the blog, and you can look on the site yourself to see if it's true.  I will say that she has lots of content and appears to be running a real (not scam) internet marketing site, so that accusation appears false.)

The moral of this story is that no matter who you are or what you do, if someone takes it into their mind to ruin you, they can probably do it.

And since we all work in the children's book industry where even the tamest book can become controversial (after all more Banned Books are children's books than any other genre), let's review some internet safety precautions in case any of us ever come under attack for our writing (or some other reason).

Here are the rules I formulated for my sister (age 12 at the time) when I found her posting comments on this blog:

  1. Never put your physical address where you live on anything public. That's what PO Boxes are for. (Be careful where you put your physical address in general.  Even private pages can be hacked.)
  2. Never put pictures of the front of your home online.  It makes it easier for people to find where you live.
  3. Minimize the use of family member names (I always refer to husband, baby, Assistant Editor, etc. This isn't just a cutesy thing to go along with the semi-anonymous feel of the blog.  It protects their privacy.)
  4. Remember that everything that goes up online is pretty much up there forever.  Don't post a scandalous picture or a rude comment that you may regret 10 years later.  (For authors, this means think twice before telling the world how much you hate XYZ editor or ABC publishing house.  You may want to do business with them someday, and if they find your comment (and they will), they may not want to do business with you.)
  5. Just be careful.  After all, just because your paranoid, doesn't mean that someone isn't "following"  you.
Now what should you do if you are the victim of such an attack?  Well, I don't know.  Some say fight back. Others say lay low and wait it out.  What do you think? What are some of your tips for being safe yet still maintaining a public profile?

Saturday

A Bright Light

As I mentioned earlier, I was not having the greatest day.  I mean you can only redo a site from scratch so many times in one day before it really starts to get miserable.

My little one
working on his
next explosion.
And then while I was working in my at-home office, it started to get kind of stinky.  Since my two year old was in with me at the time, I assumed it meant he needed his diaper changed.  I turned around to get him, only to discover him on the floor naked with his hands in his diaper grinning and squishing and grinding into the floor this new plah-doh like substance he had discovered.  I have never manhandled a child into a shower so fast in my life.  My office now smells like cleaning supplies with a hint of poop.

2012 Children's Writer's & Illustrator's MarketHowever, when the mail came, my husband brought me a book from my buddy over at Writer's Digest. Chuck had sent me my contributor's copy of the new CWIM.  There was my article in this new shiny book.

I have to tell you, nothing fixes a day like seeing your name in print.  It works for me every time.

So thank you, Chuch and CWIM and WD for making my day!

A Long Few Days

So, last week (or was it the week before? It's all blurring together) I was all set to blog about this horrifying post I read about where this blogger has been receiving death threats. However, before I could get going, my father-in-law had to have a quadruple bypass and then another surgery to install a pacemaker, and I found myself and my family away from home dealing with that. (He is recovering nicely now, but it was a hairy couple of days.)

Once I got back, I proceeded to work on various projects that I had fallen behind on, like rebuilding madelinesmoot.com.  I must say, it was looking pretty marvelous.

I suspect this guy is more effective than me today.
Then this morning, I managed to delete the entire site. Yes, I did, and because I was using Wordpress, most of it was web-based and not on my local computer.

I reloaded Wordpress, uploaded my custom theme I had made and started over.

Two hours later I somehow managed to overwrite a key file requiring me to uninstall and reinstall Wordpress again.  (I still don't know what I did or how I made the entire site unviewable.)  I uploaded my custom theme again, reinstalled all of the plugins again, and wrote the copy for the site AGAIN.

So, if you're curious to see the site, and some of the different projects I've been working on for the past few months, head on over to madelinesmoot.com.

Now I just have to get the other 75% of the new Buried in the Slush Pile site up.  Hopefully, I'll only half to do it once!