Blogger: Wendy Lawton
Many a time I’ve been in on a discussion with agents or editors when they mention that something was a dead giveaway that the author was a newbie. Now there’s nothing wrong with being new to something but when you are submitting your work you want to give the impression that you “know the rules” and even understand some of the subtle nuances that seasoned pros know.
Here are just a few dead giveaways.
- “I have a fiction novel.” Most of us cringe when we hear this. It is redundant. A dead giveaway. A novel IS fiction. It’s like saying a feline cat or an automobile car. You write fiction and you have a completed novel. I know. . . this sounds petty but it is like nails on a chalkboard to professionals.
- “I have written a picture book. With illustrations it will be about 57 pages long.” Ummm, in the world of children’s books, the normal page count for a picture book is thirty-two pages, with the story fitting into twenty-six single pages or thirteen double spreads or a combination thereof. Picky? Not really. It is because that is how many pages fit on a large press sheet, called a signature. A professional picture book author knows this. When you send in your picture book proposal and the dummy is thirty-two pages, the editor immediately knows you understand the classic picture book.
- Staying with picture books for a moment: “My neighbor is a wonderful artist and she will illustrate my picture book.” Dead giveaway– newbie. Unless the author is also the illustrator (a rare and wonderful thing), the publisher chooses an illustrator. A book that comes in as a package deal has twice the odds of rejection. Even if the editor liked the text, she’s going to be unlikely to like the illustrator and vice versa.
- “I am a teacher and I speak all over the country about our education system and what can be done to change it. I’ve got thousands of people on my newsletter database. I’ve written a 50,000 word book on The Life of St. Paul and how his illness shaped his message.” Dead giveaway, right? The platform this author has built is based on a mutual interest in education. But he’s writing in a totally different discipline for which he has no credentials. He gets the idea of platform but not about when it is valuable and when it would be useless.
- “My book is an in depth look at the life of William Carey. It is complete at 11,000 words.” Can you see what’s wrong? 11,000 word biography could not possibly be in-depth and even if published the spine would be so thin it would get lost on the shelf. It would be lucky to be a quarter-inch wide. Knowledge of appropriate book lengths is essential. It shows an understanding of the industry.
- And speaking of that: “My contemporary romance is complete at about 165,000 words.” The bestselling historical novelists can get by with upwards of 125,000 words– writers like Lori Benton and Liz Curtis Higgs– but they have proven that they can sell a book costing more than others. Remember. . . the more pages, the more a book costs. A debut author is bound to get a no because she has made it impossible for her too-long book to succeed. She hasn’t studied her genre to know what a contemporary romance should weigh in at. (It’s different than an historical.)
Okay, your turn. What other things would be a dead giveaway that the writer has not done his homework?