Query Quagmire

We regret to inform you that your book does not meet our current editorial needs or direction... bitch

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I would greatly appreciate you considering this novel, [Title of Book], for publication on behalf of [publishing house I do not work for]. 

And if I worked for that particular publisher, I’d be happy to consider your book.

Actually, that’s a lie. I wouldn’t be happy to consider your book. But I’d feel obligated to do so anyway.

Filed under query letter slush pile queryquagmire Query Quagmire

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Anonymous asked: How do you start creative writing groups at middle and high schools? I've always kind of wanted to do that since I took a creative writing class twice, but I don't have any real education in it besides that, I mean hell, I'm in paramedic school. I've learned a lot on my own, but mainly I just like reading other people's work in an environment like that. I really would like to at least encourage younger writers to keep going too.

What a lovely question. I’ve led creative writing groups and tutored reading and phonics for middle school students off and on for years. It’s rewarding and hilarious and I highly recommend you get involved if you can.

The first group I started by chatting with a librarian at my neighborhood’s branch of the city library. She told me that she wished the library had a way of creating a community for all the kids who came in every week and told her they wanted to be writers when they grew up. I offered to run a weekly writing workshop for these kids, the library advertised it for a few months before summer vacation, and, well… if you build it they will come! I think at one time I had two different weekly workshops running with a dozen kids in each. I kept it fairly informal and fun (didn’t want to make the young writers feel like they were in English class during their summer vacations), and tried to encourage an atmosphere of mutual encouragement and learning. The kids came in with new stories or parts of stories they’d written during the week, and everyone would give constructive criticism. And then we’d goof off a bit.

I started reading and tutoring groups at a middle school because my friend was the seventh grade science teacher. She said the school was looking for after-school volunteers to help out and pretty much begged me to take on her grade’s four worst spellers. The student body in this particular school was almost entirely bilingual or ESL, and they’d had trouble finding volunteers with the right professional qualifications who would also be able to serve the students’ language needs. So I felt pretty obligated to offer my expertise! 

After awhile the school invited me to start a “book club” with their most gifted readers, which was great. I got my employer to donate the books to the school as a tax-free charitable donation, and at the end of the semester I took both the book club and the phonics students on a field trip to the library to get them all set up with library cards.

So to answer your question: you need to be proactive and establish relationships with libraries and schools in your area. Some schools might require you to submit to a background check, which is pretty standard when you volunteer to work with children. And most are so desperate for willing volunteers that they’ll take you no matter what your qualifications as a teacher, editor, or writer!

Good luck! You’re doing a very good thing.


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Anonymous asked: Hey, QQ! I come bearing Cheez-Its and a quick question. If I have the choice between a Publishing Certificate v. a Master's Degree in Publishing, which would be more beneficial to me? And which ones do you know of/recommend? I've got a few more years of undergrad (in linguistics) so I'm just trying to plan out what I'll do after I graduate. Thanks!

I know of editors who have done one, the other, or both. I think you need to take financial and time considerations into account, certainly, but it really comes down to what you personally can handle and what you want to get out of the experience.

For a master’s, I recommend the Writing, Literature, and Publishing degree at Emerson College in Boston (they also offer an undergraduate degree in the same subject).

For a Publishing Certificate, I recommend the Denver Publishing Institute at the University of Denver, or the Columbia Publishing Course at Columbia University in New York.


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Anonymous asked: Four years ago I was signed with an agent for my manuscript. For various reasons the partnership did not work out and they terminated my contract (mostly they wanted me to rewrite a lot of the story and they didn't like me calling out how unprofessional it was for them to tell me to "just write something cheesy here" and I also wasn't quite mature enough at the time to handle it well). The question: should I put in my query that I was previously signed or wait until they contact me back?

I don’t think that’s relevant information for the query letter. You can bring it up in conversation once you’ve hooked your interest.

If I read “I was previously represented but the agent terminated my contract” in a query letter I’d think “Then you done fucked up, but how?” You don’t want to give your new potential agent or editor the wrong idea before you’ve even had a chance to explain yourself.


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Anonymous asked: I am mildly worried because my career choices (advertising, writing, and editing), all seem to require alcohol as a coping mechanism for dealing with the sheer amount of terrible... and I'm not one to drink. Do you have any recommended coping mechanisms that don't involve alcohol? *offers multiple Costco sized boxes of white cheddar Cheeze-Its*

The answer, my child, is often right in front of you. *Reverently accepts box of Cheez-Its.*


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 said: The term “new adult” pisses me off. I read primarily YA and some stuff like cozy mysteries and a fair bit of fantasy and science fiction; why do I need another genre to further fracture my bookshelves?!?

Shelve it under “YA but with fun sexy times” if that’s easier.

Filed under new adult young adult genres

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Hey remember that time I threw shade at The Name of the Wind and Mistborn for being examples of the stereotypical white-washed, patriarchal, basically-medieval-Europe fantasy novel? Yeah, that’s because I think they’re examples of the stereotypical white-washed, patriarchal, basically-medieval-Europe fantasy novel, not because they’re necessarily bad.*

So you can stop reblogging me to explain why they’re the best books ever and I’m wrong. I’m not wrong. My examples are sound. The quality of a book and its qualities are not the same thing. Even if you think Patrick Rothfuss is the greatest fantasy writer since Tolkien bought the farm, it’s pretty hard to argue that The Name of the Wind doesn’t occur squarely inside of European Fantasy World #34. And for those of us tired of European Fantasy World #34, this is a problem that no amount of good writing or characterization can overcome.

I think it’s great if you enjoyed Mistborn and The Name of the Wind. But I wasn’t talking about how enjoyable either book was. I was talking about how it would be pretty damn rad if bestselling fantasy novels could be more representative of original world-building and diverse characters. Because right now, they’re not.

That is all. Carry on.

*Though to be fair, I didn’t enjoy either book for various reasons, among them their lack of originality. 

Filed under fantasy books diversity in books

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We discussed the issue of describing People of Color by means of food in Part I of this guide, which brought rise to even more questions, mostly along the lines of “So, if food’s not an option, what can I use?” Well, I was just getting to that!

This final portion…

Speaking of which… fantasy authors take note!

Filed under writing advice diversity in books

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tropesarenotbad asked: I have scoured the corners of grocery stores to bring you their whole stock of white cheddar Cheez-Its! I am just fine with marketing designing my cover... so long as they don't whitewash it. All my characters are PoC, and I don't want the cover to look like European Fantasy World #34 (it's based on Mughal India). Is there any way I can guarantee that, if there are people on the cover, they actually look like my characters? Or am I at the mercy of a sympathetic designer/editor?

I’ll answer your question, but first let me just say that I am sick and fucking tired of European Fantasy World #34. Outside of work I’m a voracious reader of (almost) all genres, but I have simply given up reading popular fantasy novels within the last couple years. They’re all the same: a patriarchal society and feudal government set in a land that looks exactly like Northern Europe circa 1400 AD minus anyone who ain’t lily fucking white. They ride horses, fight with swords, wear cloaks, and gather in taverns. Named women characters are outnumbered 30 to 1 (who is of course the super-special Strong Female Character) and anyone who isn’t the default pasty white comes from some Exotic Foreign Land and speaks in an offensive pidgin. Side characters include the Thief With a Heart of Gold, The Paternal Tavern Owner, The Girl, and The Comically Evil Rich Dude. Diversity is achieved with Dark Elves.

For all the pontificating fantasy authors do about the importance of creative world-building, as a group bestselling fantasy authors pretty much suck at it. The last few times I’ve mentioned this frustration to a fantasy reader, they’ve come back at me with “Oh I know what you mean! You should read The Name of the Wind / Mistborn! It’s really good!” Needless to say, both The Name of the Wind and Mistborn are perfect examples of exactly the kind of lazy, hackneyed fantasy writing I’m so, so, sooooo tired of. So you see why I’ve pretty much given up accepting recommendations from fans of the fantasy genre.

BUT HOPE REMAINS WHILE THE FELLOWSHIP IS TRUE! There are in fact decent, creative, original fantasy books being written. You just have to hunt for them because valuable marketing dollars and shelf space are being wasted on the Mistborns of the literary world. Most of them are genre hybrids (Lev Grossman’s deliciously subversive The Magicians, Helene Wecker’s lovely The Golem and the Jinni), but there are some straight-up swords-and-sorcery high fantasy books that manage to break free of the European Fantasy World #34 mold. N.K. Jemisin’s The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms was the book that made me feel like maybe, just maaaaybe I wasn’t done with traditional fantasy novels for all time. 

So to circle back around to your question: bless your hopeful little heart for putting a fantasy book with a diverse cast and an atypical setting out into the world. That’s awesome. That said, there’s no guarantee a fantasy book designer and marketing team won’t simply go to their extensive library of Stock Fantasy Art for your cover. I recommend that you have an early conversation with your acquiring editor that goes something like this: “Part of what makes my book unique and interesting is that the characters and setting were inspired by Mughal India. It’s therefore very important to me that this originality be expressed in the cover design and marketing efforts.” You can then have a very frank discussion with them about the problem of whitewashing on book covers, and the dissatisfaction of fantasy readers with the repetition of European Fantasy Worlds. Keep it civil, open, and understanding. You will be heard.

You know where I’m going with this, minions: 

What are some of your favorite genre-defying fantasy novels? When you’re sick of stock European Fantasy Worlds and stock Epic Fantasy Characters, where do you turn? When you get tired of an all-white cast living in thirteenth-century-Germany-but-with-magic-and-stuff, what do you read? Submit your recommendations as a reply or via my ask box and I’ll make a list to share with the whole class.


Filed under fantasy books NK Jemisin writing diversity in books

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softdomme asked: Hey Almighty QQ! It's nowhere near finished yet, but I have a story whose prologue (don't worry, it is essential, not just me blabbering) is told in pictures attached to the page. A newspaper headline, an invite to a baby shower, a few newspaper articles....if I ever get asked for pages or a full, how the hell should I send that? Should I just ask them to accept it snail mail style or what? Thanks!

If an editor or agent requests materials electronically, do not ask if they’ll accept snail mail (unless you’re writing from Amish country or something, in which case exceptions can be made). It sounds like in your case you need to take the whole thing down to Kinko’s, photocopy the pictures and such, and convert them to a PDF you can then attach to the rest of the manuscript. This isn’t hard, and it’ll make it much easier for you to show the prologue to folks in the future. 


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Anonymous asked: Is new adult a legitimate genre in the publishing industry now? If I pitch my novel as new adult in a query letter, will an agent take me seriously?

Yes and yes.

"New adult" and "Young adult" and "Crime fiction" and "High fantasy" are all genre designations invented by marketing personnel to sell books. "Oh, you liked Book X? Well, you’ll probably like Book Y then because they’re both [insert recently invented subgenre here].”

If an agent is specifically looking to acquire new adult fiction, they’ll probably say so in their submission guidelines, in which case you can feel secure in the knowledge that even if the rest of your query letter sucks, at least you hit the subgenre out of the park.


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celdaran asked: I see that last person doesn't have a chance that you'll help dissect his or her query letter. But you'll totally help dissect mine, right? (This is my whimsical way of asking: how often would you say you receive correspondence at the day job from people who quote your own rules back to you and then blatantly ignore them, because, after all, rules always apply to everyone else?)

All the damn time. I totally get it. It comes from a mentality of “It can’t hurt to ask” and “You don’t know until you try.” But it’s never not annoying.

The rules of courtesy (which includes publishers’ submission guidelines) are not meant to be broken.


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Anonymous asked: Can I e-mail you my query just for you to dissect and tell me if I am on the right path?

Nope. Not a chance. See my Frequent Queries.

Here’s the thing: I spend all day at work reading and evaluating query letters. It’s a long, tedious process and I get paid to do it. So I’m disinclined to spend my free time, unpaid, doing the same. That just sounds like zero fun.

Sometimes out of the goodness of my sticky little raisin of a heart I will invite my minions to submit their writing to me in a contest like the Elevator Pitch Game or the First Lines Game (check my archives). During the last game I received ten times as many submissions as I could possibly respond to, and it took a significant amount of time and care to post the ones I did. Hosting games on Query Quagmire is fun and educational and it’s something I do very occasionally as a way of giving back to my loyal and subservient minions. This is the only circumstance under which it’s appropriate to send me your query letter or writing of any kind. I promise I’ll do another one soon.

And lastly (because it’s a Friday and I’m tired and drunk and a little cranky): you don’t want to get my feedback on your query letter—you want me to publish your book. Secretly, you’re hoping that I’ll be so impressed with your query that I’ll offer you a book contract. I don’t blame you. Querying is tough, and it would be absolutely understandable to try and sneak in through unofficial channels. But that’s not going to happen. Because I don’t consider queries unless they come to me through my office, not my blog, from authors who play by the rules and follow my submission guidelines.

If you really want helpful feedback, I recommend you check out Query Shark. The Shark knows what’s up, and they’ve made it their mission to dispense useful critiques to authors over the Interwebz. Good luck.