Monthly Archives: November 2011

Nanny Nanny Poo Poo!

Nobody likes to get rejected. It sucks all around. You never get hardened to it and it stings every time. Nature of the beast, I guess. But this isn’t dating; you can’t take it personally. When I reject, I’m not rejecting the author himself, or even necessarily his work. I’m telling that author that his work is not for me. That doesn’t mean it won’t be perfect for another agent. Most importantly, it doesn’t mean that I will reject the next book that author queries me with.

That being said, the other day I got an email from the author of a book I’d rejected months ago. He said, “I just wanted to let you know that I just got an offer-of-representation from so-and-so who said my book has bestseller potential. Too bad you couldn’t see that.”

While I was surprised by the immaturity the author had shown, I wasn’t otherwise moved at all. The only thing the author accomplished was an automatic rejection from me if he ever wants to query again. He was actually a pretty good writer who I might have taken on with a different book.

Don’t burn your bridges!


Say What You Mean What You Say

You might have gotten the hint by now that I’m the one of the world’s most obsessive word-geeks. I work hard not to obviously cringe when people misspeak. I’ve learned the hard way that for some reason people don’t like that. 😉 I will notice your spelling error, your grammar blunder and, most irritating to me, your misuse of words. I find that I have more respect for people and hold them in higher esteem when they speak correctly, particularly when they observe some obscure rule to which no one pays any heed…like spelling the plural of thesis as theses. Nice.

In my queries, I am pleased to announce that spelling and grammar errors are remarkably few (my nerves thank you). I love that writers these days take the time to use a spelling and grammar checker, to have the piece read by someone else, etc.

But. The misuse and overuse of common words, both in my slush pile and in every day speech is becoming more and more frequent. I’ll admit it: you lose credibility and esteem (in my eyes anyway) when you don’t have a strong enough command of the language on which you’re trying to capitalize. I do it too. I make mistakes in my own speech. The other day someone brought to my attention that I have a slight lisp and I pronounce both “then” and “than” the same way. Now I have a complex. So I’m opening up a forum for word pet-peeves. What gets on your nerves? My own pet-peeves (taken from actual queries) follow…

“She has countless pairs of shoes in her closet…” Well, since she’s able to count the shoes, they’re not countless. Misuse.

“She arrived at Barney’s looking phenomenal and…” So she looked so great it was a phenomenon? This word means that she would need to have been like a phenomenon. When the blind can suddenly see it is phenomenal. It is not phenomenal when someone gets a new hairdo. I know a person who uses this word compulsively all the time to describe food, movies, experiences, everything. She must have a great life, surrounded by all this phenomena! Misuse.

The word “awesome”: Unless your awe has been inspired by something, it is not awesome. If my boss tells me I can leave early today, I should not say, “Awesome!” because it isn’t. Am I in awe of that? Misuse.

“I could care less…” Couldn’t.

“All the sudden…” Don’t even get me started…

“She literally jumped out of her skin…” No she didn’t. That would be really gross. Please be careful with this word. Literally means whatever you say people will need to take literally.

The word “awkward.” Just because a social interaction is uncomfortable doesn’t mean its awkward. For it to be awkward, it would need to not function the way it is supposed to. Like a stool with only two legs.

“Due to the Vietnam War, his entire family was decimated…” The word “decimate” means to reduce to 10% of the original. Exactly 10%. Sometimes it is used informally to mean that something was drastically reduced, but never entirely destroyed. So “he” should have one-in-ten family members, but this author meant “his” family was gone. I see this misuse at least once a week.

“He was taken back by the rudeness…” Aback.

She wanted to dress up as a witch for Halloween but thought it was too original…” This says the opposite of what the author wanted to say. It says that a witch costume would have been a fresh, new take on a Halloween costume, which is not the case.

For all intensive purposes…” Intents and purposes.

“She had myriad of excuses…” You could either say, “She had a myriad of excuses” or “She had myriad excuses…”

What say you, readers?

QueryDice #18

The following is a query critique. Comments, suggestions and discussion are welcome and we hope you join in. I can only offer one opinion. The author of the query and I would love to hear yours!

Dear Ms. Ruth,

At seventeen years old, I was a voracious reader.

This is not important information and since you have so little space to tell us about your book, I would leave this out. I’m not going to request more information based on this, nor will I reject based on it.

Still, there were never enough of the kind of books I liked to read- the ones with characters so real and flawed that they were like old friends, or people I’d met at school- so I wrote one myself.

This sentence is one of my pet-peeves. I’m sure you didn’t mean it this way, but here’s what I hear in your sentence: “I’m a better writer than anyone I’ve ever read (and I read voraciously, so that’s a lot).” Now, I think you’re cocky and difficult to work with, which is never good, and I think this before I’ve had a chance to learn anything about your book. While I’m learning about your book, which will happen in the next 10 seconds, I’ll be looking for genius work, which is what you’ve set me up for. Anything less than that will turn me off because it isn’t what I’ve been promised.

Eight years later, [redacted] is complete at 101,000 words, and I’d like to submit the end-result to your agency for consideration.

[redacted] follows Karli and Marián, two cousins with almost nothing in common: she scores goals, and he writes scores; she breaks bones, he breaks hearts; she creates drama, and he embodies it… (you’ve spent precious words making the same point three times here, and I still know nothing about your characters) but they really aren’t as different as they think. Their story, like a hockey-game, (I’m assuming hockey is a thread in your book, but you’ve left me guessing. You don’t want to leave my understanding of what you’ve written up to chance) is a fast-paced, emotional ride, but also a tale of love, in all forms— friendship, first romances, family-ties, and, above all, learning to love oneself.

We’re at the end of your query and I have no idea what your book is about. Loosely, it is about two cousins who are both similar and dissimilar. Hockey is a thread. They go through some journey or other and come out the other side different people. This is just about as generic as you can get. I would reject this query because I don’t know what it is and I worry that I’ll read a partial and still not know what it is.

Other considerations: Marian is a very ethnic name. Is this cross-cultural fiction? Is there a romance involved? How do the cousins’ stories interact or converge?

[redacted] is geared primarily toward older teens, specifically girls between the ages of 14 and 21, and, as such, is equal parts tender, dark, and humorous. This is my first novel, and I am sending it to you exclusively— I can be reached at [redacted] and [redacted] or emailed at [redacted]

Thank you for your consideration, and I eagerly anticipate your response.

Best regards,



QueryDice #17

The following is a query critique. Comments, suggestions and discussion are welcome and we hope you join in. I can only offer one opinion. The author of the query and I would love to hear yours!

Dear Lauren,

I see that you are interested in sci fi and fantasy as well as romance. My novel [redacted] combines these three genres and I thought you might be interested.

Talia Shannon dreams of scaled aliens burning her world, Sendek. (What kind of world is Sendek? A different planet? I need a sense of atmosphere. What is the most striking difference between Sendek and Earth?) Determined to find a way to survive the coming invasion (Well, how does she know that her dream will come true? Is this a power she knows she has?) without revealing the magical source of her information, Talia searches for scientific proof of extraterrestrial life. Her work leaves no time for personal relationships, but Landry Sutton isn’t looking for a friend. <—I understand what you’re saying here, and I think it’s an excellent transition. But it just missed the mark for me. You could improve this by adding that Talia thinks he’s looking for a friend. Or show us that by adding a sentence before this one about Landry’s association with Talia.

As nephew to the King, Landry protects the monarchy from a malicious group responsible for his own father’s death, and he thinks Talia works for them. When a brief touch sizzles between them, they find they can communicate mind to mind. Turns out Landry has magical secrets of his own.

I think it would be helpful if you could transition into this next paragraph better, because it seems disjointed, although I’ve got a hunch it really isn’t.

The Draguman, a human-dragon hybrid created in Sendek’s past, returns from exile. Smarter and stronger than ever, they plan to wipe out their creators and claim Sendek for their own. After they cripple Sendek’s military in a matter of hours, they seem unstoppable.

As a direct descendant of the mage who created the Draguman, Talia is the key to their destruction—if she can trust the magic coursing through her veins. When science fails to protect her way of life, magic becomes the only hope.

[redacted] is a science fantasy novel, complete at 87,000 words. It is the stand alone first novel in a set of four.

Thank you for your time and consideration,


This query is fine. There’s really nothing technically “wrong” with it. I would like to know more of Talia’s personality and more about her world. How is it different than Earth? The query is at around 250 words, and this is probably why you’ve chosen not to include any further information, which is fine. I would prefer you go past the 250 words (but not too far) and show me how Talia differs from other characters and how her world differs from ours. Great job, though!


QueryDice #16

The following is a query critique. Comments, suggestions and discussion are welcome and we hope you join in. I can only offer one opinion. The author of the query and I would love to hear yours!

Dear Ms. Ruth,

A castrated leprechaun lands in Dr. Jamie Grey’s morgue. Since the detectives are busy with their own case, Jamie is assigned to find the killer.

I would have stopped reading after this sentence. First, I’m disgusted by the thought of a castrated leprechaun. Because leprechauns are mythical creatures that I thought were neat when I was a kid (think Lucky Charms) the thought of them having genitals at all is upsetting to me and the visual I’ve just been given of a leprechaun not having them anymore is just too much for me. That’s a very personal opinion. Keep in mind someone else might think it’s dark and dangerous or hilarious.

Additionally, I’m not sure why a doctor is assigned to a criminal investigation as a detective. This would never happen. I don’t buy that the detectives are too busy to do their jobs. I worry that I won’t be able to get into the story because I’m too distracted by plot holes.

The investigation takes the coroner into Tara, a community of mythological creatures just south of Philadelphia. But the very beings Jamie vows to protect don’t want her there, fearing her presence may attract “the nut stealer.”

When she visits the victim’s wife, she is drugged and kidnapped and injures herself in the escape. Assisted by an elf, a vile creature whose race nearly eradicated her late husband’s people, Jamie wakes up two days later healed and with abilities only possessed by elves. While Jamie deals with the changes and keeps them hidden from her brother-in-law as he attempts to court her, another victim signals the urgency to find the killer before he castrates another leprechaun again. All the while the trail leads her deeper into elf territory than she ever wants to go.

The above paragraph reads more to me like a very brief synopsis. We don’t need a play-by-play, here. We need to know the large threads that are the meat of the story. What, besides the mystery of who castrated the leprechaun, is the conflict? What are the stakes?

Further, why don’t we know that Jamie was once connected with mythological creatures until the last paragraph? Why is the brother-in-law who is courting Jamie mentioned only in half a sentence? Is this further conflict that needs to be exposed here? This is a big problem in many queries I see: the author presents information that makes me ask further questions to which no answers have been provided. My advice is always to answer these questions right within the query (if you’re not too close to it to know what the questions might be) and if you can’t without answering more and more, find a way to leave that part for the synopsis.

I think you’ve spent too much time giving us a play-by-play of what happens and when. This is just a hunch, but I have a feeling there’s more to the brother-in-law courting Jamie than you’ve told us (I think it is a bigger piece of the story than you’ve let on) and I have a feeling the thread of the elf territory is also a much larger part of the story.

[redacted] is a mystery with fantasy elements complete at 72,000 words. I worry, too, that 72,000 words is not enough to fully flesh out and characterize a new world that you’ve created, execute a mystery plot carefully and include a love interest, if that’s what the brother-in-law is. You might have pulled it off, but I assume you’ll need more than 72,000 words.

Thank you for your consideration, and I look forward to hearing from you soon.




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