July 19, 2011

Spot the Deliberate Mistakes <br/> <br/> Spot the deliberate mistakes<br/> Lynne Patrick<br/> <br/> This week I’m wearing my editorial hat. The one with the Kevlar pad right where my forehead meets my hair, to absorb the thumps of despair. In the life I’ve just moved back into, post-publishing, I offer feedback to aspiring novelists on the standard 10,000-word submission package. Like this one.<br/> <br/> Dear Sir or Madam...<br/> I would like to send you my first novel to be published by your company. It is an action-packed thriller, 240,000 words long, and is about all the adventures in four years in the life of an American spy working in the USSR during the Cold War. I know it will be a bestseller.<br/> Since you have an office in New York, it will be easy for you to bring out the book in America as well as here in England, and though I have never visited America, I will be very pleased to come there when you have arranged an appearance on Oprah or something like that.<br/> I am enclosing a 5000-word synopsis and some sample chapters – the first, so that you know who the main character is, and two from the middle, because that’s where the book begins to gather pace and become really exciting. Also enclosed is a CD of the whole book, along with the cover design I have chosen, made by my friend who has been to art college.<br/> I look forward to receiving my contract and advance in the next few days.<br/> Yours sincerly<br/> Bill Smith.<br/> <br/> OK, that’s an exaggerated version – but not that exaggerated – I did get submission letters which weren’t a million miles from this, and they still come in at the rate of two or three a week, from people who misguidedly don’t keep in touch with developments. So let’s look at it all the same. You never know, it might contain some enlightening moments.<br/> First mistake is mine: nothing in this specimen letter is deliberate. The author really believes it.<br/> Second mistake: Dear Sir or Madam. Grrrrrr!<br/> Third mistake:all he has to do is send in his manuscript, and a few weeks later receive a life-changing cheque and box of free copies. Amazingly, some people still think this. It’s an illusion I came across quite often back in the 1990s when I ran creative writing classes at a local education centre, but you’d think aspiring writers would be more clued up these days. Evidence points to the contrary.<br/> Fourth mistake: 240,000 action-packed words... a contradiction in terms, wouldn’t you say? Hard to maintain packed action much beyond 100,000. And a four-year span? Hm.<br/> Fifth mistake: Cold War thrillers are so last century. Literally. They fall into that nomansland between historical and contemporary; neither publishers nor booksellers know where to slot them in.<br/> Sixth mistake: it’s his first book; how on earth does he know how it will sell? It’s a question which makes strong marketing men gnaw their fingernails. (The subtext of the sentence is because books like this always are – that’s why I’ve written it.)<br/> That’s six mistakes in the first paragraph. I don’t think I need to go on, do I?<br/> Well, OK, then, just one more tiny point – HE DIDN’T PROOFREAD HIS LETTER! I know how to spell sincerely. So will the editor.<br/> And one more – no one who has done their homework would ever submit chapters from the middle of the book as a taster package – much less admit in the cover letter that it doesn’t get exciting till then. But you knew that, didn’t you?<br/> Some people still don’t, though. In my feedback role I’m constantly amazed by the number of people who think a synopsis is an optional extra, or not necessary at all; and astonished by the ones who cherrypick chapters.<br/> I suspect I’m preaching to the converted here, so I won’t go on any longer.<br/> Except to say thanks again to the phantom blog repairer, who sorted out the recurring glitch for me again last week and still hasn’t told me who s/he is so I can thank him/her properly. I tried a different approach this time: I typed directly into the Compose box. As before, the word count still registered zero after two paras, so I’m assuming the problem still exists, and am taking alternative action as before.<br/> Technology does not like me!

Jeff Cohen

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