How Not to Query

by Michelle Gagnon

Recently there was a query letter discussion on one of the lists that I frequent. Everyone chimed in with differing opinions about what works, and what almost guarantees one of those soul-crushing form letter rejections. It made me reflect back on my own letters (and yes, you read that correctly: letters, plural).

Out of curiosity, I asked the multi-talented Luc Hunt from my agency (the Philip G. Spitzer Literary Agency) to dissect two of my query letters. The first was for a book that was roundly rejected (rightfully so, I must say) by every agent I queried.

The second was the letter that got me a nibble for a full manuscript, which eventually led to representation.

So here’s the good, the bad, and the cringe-worthy. Luc’s analysis is below each letter:

Dear Mr. Hunt,

I am looking for an agent to represent my book.

“Adventures of the Almost Wed” tells the story of Alexandra, a young woman attempting to rebuild her life after a failed engagement. The novel takes place over the course of a year, opening with the break-up of the central relationship, and concluding on what was to be their wedding day. In the interim Alexandra confronts obstacles ranging from long-distance maternal disapproval to the challenges of dating a movie star. At the end Alexandra faces the future with a renewed sense of self-worth, and the knowledge that there’s more to life than love and marriage. Written in the first person, the style is similar to that of Helen Fielding in “Bridget Jones’s Diary” and Melissa Banks’ book “The Girl’s Guide to Hunting and Fishing.”

Although this is my first novel, my non-fiction articles and columns have previously been published on numerous websites, including Chickclick.com and Asimba.com.

Thank you for considering “Adventures of the Almost Wed.” I look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,

Michelle Gagnon

LUC HUNT:

This starts off with an all too obvious statement. No one queries an agent unless they are looking for representation. Personally, I respond best when the author gets right to the story. Michelle then goes on to tell about the plot, but does so in a way that overly simplifies the trajectory of the character’s development. She goes so far as to point out the moral. A more engaging summary would reveal an exigency latent in the narrative, and leave out the didactic conclusion. Michelle also compares her work to others, which can be positive, but is a matter of interpretation, and possibly tenuous. It is good to identify both what is familiar and unique about your manuscript. She concludes with an almost apologetic mention of her publishing credits. Politeness is welcome, but if you have little history or are not confident in the prestige of your previous venues, then just state that you are a first time author. There’s nothing wrong with not having a record.

And here’s query letter #2:

Dear Mr. Hunt,

I’m hoping that you’ll consider representing my novel “The Tunnels,” a suspense thriller set at a small East coast university. A serial killer is ritualistically murdering the daughters of powerful men in the tunnels below campus. Special Agent Kelly Jones, a jaded Clarisse Starling ten years into her career, is called in to investigate.

Kelly confronts a daunting list of suspects ranging from tweedy professors to one-armed janitors. Complicating matters further, a grief-ridden father pulls strings to get an investigator with his own agenda assigned to the case. Together, they must find a madman obsessed with pagan sorcery before he claims another victim.

My non-fiction articles have appeared in Glamour, San Francisco Magazine, and CondeNast Traveler, among other publications. The book is set on the campus of Wesleyan University, my alma mater. I researched Norse mythology and neo-paganism extensively before writing “The Tunnels.” All of the rituals outlined in the story are based on fact. I’m planning a series of books featuring Agent Kelly Jones and her continuing efforts to track down serial killers.

I’ve included a brief synopsis and the first chapter of my manuscript. Thanks for considering “The Tunnels.” I look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,

Michelle Gagnon

LUC HUNT:

Michelle’s second query is immediately compelling. She begins with a journalistic statement of the facts that quickly answers the who, what, why, and when of the proposal. Due to this introduction, it is easy for me to be drawn in by the action of her story. She follows the opening with an interesting communication of some of the particulars, grounding her query in what makes it unique. Michelle also gives a more developed biography of herself as an author, and provides us with details of her personal connection to the setting of the novel. This leads me to believe that not only is she an authority on her subject, but that her perspectives are likely to be well researched and credible. The query closes with a brief mention of future projects, and that a synopsis and sample chapter follow. Well done.

LUC’S FINAL COMMENTS:

In conclusion, one could certainly make too much of a query letter. It is essentially a one page introduction of the work and author to their prospective agent. The nature of the thing is surely subjective, yet I hope to have shown at least a few helpful parameters.

Luc wanted me to mention that sadly, the Spitzer Agency is currently not accepting submissions. But his comments apply to most agents, in terms of what they’re looking for and what gets tossed aside.

He also said that recently, the agency has been experiencing a blitz of “spam queries.” Apparently there are companies that will assemble a query letter for you, then send it out en masse to every agent in the business. He recommended against using one of these companies-the deluge has been such that it’s off-putting. The next Da Vinci Code could be buried in that pile, and they probably wouldn’t bother reading the query.

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Oh, and by the way…look what I found when I dug through my files. That’s right, a form rejection letter. From my current agent (boy, did we have a good laugh about this).

So if you’re at the querying stage, take heart. Never underestimate the power of persistence. If your letter doesn’t seem to be garnering a good response, take another look at it. Show it to a few people whose opinion you trust, or sign up for a workshop that teaches you to hone it, then send it out again. It might take a few years (it sure took me that long) but in the end, persistence pays off.

For more query submission tips, check out John Gilstrap’s last post here.

Playing Fair is Overrated

By John Gilstrap

No, I know it’s not my usual day, but Michelle and I are switching blog dates this week . . .

At the Midwest Writers Workshop last week, I taught a session called, “Quit Whining and Send Another Query,” in which I shared what I know about the mechanics and emotions of finding an agent and dealing with rejection along the way.

Students expressed huge frustration with the snail’s pace at which the process unfolds. You submit a query and you wait weeks for a response. Sometimes the response never comes, so the wait stretches out interminably. I suggested that they just forget about that one and send another query. Oh, no! they cried. At a previous conference a visiting agent said that when agents request sample chapters or an entire manuscript, they expect exclusivity; they expect that no other submissions will be made to other agents until the requestor makes up his or her mind. If you send out other queries during the exclusive period, you’d be breaking the rules.

Huh? When did business become such a genteel sport? When did it become one party’s responsiblilty to make the other party comfortable during a negotiation? “It’s only polite,” a student told me. Okay, I can buy that. It’s certainly more polite than waiting five or six weeks to finally send a form rejection letter that might or might not have a hand-written signature. If the manuscript is rejected, how has the writer benefitted from losing momentum on his submissions? It it’s accepted, how has he benefitted from not knowing if there’s another agent out there who’s even more passionate about his work?

Sorry, folks, but this is business; an “implied exclusive” means as little as an “implied million-dollar advance.” Implications, like assumptions, have no place in a competitive marketplace.

Please understand that, as I told the class, my word is my bond. I unfailingly deliver what I promise. I never lie. I’m a terrible liar anyway, and I jealously guard my integrity. That said, where there’s silence in a business negotiation, there’s also a poker game in progress. Agents know that, and publishers know that, and they play the game accordingly in every negotiation.
So where is it written that the writer is supposed to sit politely and observe implied exclusivity? Did I miss a meeting? A memo?

Maybe—maybe—if the implied arrangement included a 5-day turn-around, I could buy into it; but I’ve heard too many horror stories of eight-week responses and year-long silences to see anything but a woefully stacked deck.

“But publishing is a small community,” someone said. “If you break the implied rule and submit partials to more than one agent, won’t they get angry?” In a perfect world, hell yes someone will get angry. Well, maybe not angry, but at least disappointed. That’s what happens when you’re rejected. Welcome to our world, Mr. Agent.

Let’s say for the sake of argument that three prospective agents have requested manuscripts from you. There are only three ways for the scenario to play out, and all of them are either neutral or they play to your benefit:
1. All three reject you. No one’s the wiser, so no harm, no foul.
2. One accepts you, the others reject you. No one’s the wiser, so no harm, no foul.
3. More than one accepts you. Woo-hoo! Now you get to go shopping. You get to decide which agent is your preferred choice. You accept one, reject the others. You don’t have to tell the losers why they lost, but even if you do, and the rejected agents get pissed, what do you care? You got the agent you wanted.

Let me emphasize that I am not talking about deception. If an agent asks for an exclusive and you agree, then you honor your word, pure and simple. Short of that, I think you’re free to submit at will. Want to really play hard ball? Consider this: if the prospective agent tells you outright that he expects an exclusive and you say nothing, he might assume that the deal is closed, but there’s still no contract. There has to be an offer and an acceptance. One does not guarantee the other.

I would love to hear from people who think my position is unreasonable. What am I missing? Are we writers truly honor-bound to play politely in an industry that fights dirty?

Houston, we have a problem!

Last week, Lynn Sholes and I completed our fifth novel together. The working title is THE PHOENIX APOSTLES. Let me tell you, collaboration is tough, but collaborating on fiction is insane. Somehow we manage to pull it off—at least our books get published. I think that’s a good sign. All our previous books dealt with complex plots, but our newest thriller is the most complex so far.

Here’s the premise: A journalist discovers that someone is stealing the burial remains of the most heinous mass murderers in history. She uncovers a plot involving the human sacrifice of thousands in the name of an ancient cult. As her life becomes threatened because of what she knows, she learns that the only way to stop the threat is to find and destroy an obscure religious relic dating back to the time of Christ.

As you can guess, this is not a lighthearted cozy. We’re talking high concept, high stakes thriller.

So now Lynn and I are into the rewriting phase of the book. This is a two-part process. First, there’s the line editing; catching all the typoz, grammer and punktuasion issues. The second part of the process is dealing with plotting problems. And the more complex the plot, the more chances there are for holes. We’ve all heard of the phrase, “painting yourself into a corner”. At last count, we’ve managed to do that at least 5 times in this book. But here’s where collaboration comes to the rescue.

Lynn and I have a favorite phrase for when we’re in big trouble. “Houston, we have a problem.” During the rewrite of this new one, we’ve said it too many times. But because there are two minds at work here—some may argue two damaged minds—we’ve been able to brainstorm our way out of every corner so far. Now, mind you, it wasn’t easy. It took many hours of conference calls to resolve huge holes discovered in the rewrite process. One in particular was a deal breaker—literally if we didn’t solve it, the book would collapse under its own weight. But through persistence and the liberal use of “what if”, we waited in the corner until the paint dried, and then we walked out of the room.

So, how do you handle it? What do you do when you find yourself in that lonely corner and you realize your book is sinking like the Titanic? Who do you turn to? Do you have a sounding board? Your spouse? A fellow writer? A trusted beta reader? Or is it all up to you alone? How do you work yourself out of that proverbial corner?

Crazy-writer deadline syndrome

By Kathryn Lilley

I recently sent a note of apology to someone who had requested information from me. I had been extremely remiss with this person–not sending her info on a timely basis, and forgetting to respond to emails. In my apology note, I lamely mentioned that I’d just emerged from a writing deadline, which to me is the equivalent of a free-diver trying to surface from deep water without blacking out.

“Oh, I didn’t realize you were on a deadline, no problem,” she replied in her gracious response, as if the deadline totally excused my flakiness.

This poor woman has to deal with writers all the time, I realized then. She’s used to us.

Then I started thinking about all my other deadline behaviors that could be considered annoying, or even strange, by family and friends. My crazy-writer deadline behaviors include:

The Big Tune-out

It’s not that I deliberately don’t listen to people (Okay, sometimes it is deliberate), but I frequently tune them out. This mostly happens when I’m on a deadline, which means it happens a lot. I might even respond to someone during a conversation, but not remember it later. It’s kind of like brain on auto-pilot.

To Kill a Magpie

When I’m out and about with my husband, I frequently dive for a pen and write detailed notes about our surroundings: the full moon hovering between two palm trees at night, a bag lady sitting in a bus shelter, the timbre of silverware clatter–I take notes about anything I can use later in my writing. Inevitably, I have left my notepad at home, so I drag home notes scribbled on scraps of things: a napkin, a flyer, even the back of a business card. My husband must think he lives with a magpie.

Hair on Fire

It’s predictable: Six weeks before any deadline, I go on a tear. This means that I’m a) Constantly hunched over the laptop, muttering, b) Setting the alarm for 4 a.m., then groaning my way to wakefulness over the course of several Snooze cycles, and c) Bounding out of bed at odd hours of the night to tap out some problem-solving idea that struck me.

I do not talk very much during this time. And when I do, it’s not pleasant.

So there it is. I could go on, but the length of the list is starting to make me feel bad about myself. I would like to feel that I’m not alone in my crazy-writer deadline syndromes. Have you any to share?

Take the crazy-writer quiz

Just found a fun quiz that tells you what kind of writer you are. (You have to be logged into Twitter) I’m Tom Wolfe, per the quiz.

Crafting The Synopsis

by Clare Langley-Hawthorne

Last week I sent my agent a synopsis for my new WIP – a proposed YA novel that blends history, fantasy and suspense. I haven’t actually written it yet but I crafted a synopsis to achieve two things: First, to get feedback from my agent on my idea for the book and second, to focus my own mind.

The concept of writing a synopsis of a book that has yet to be written may seem strange to many people but I find it an invaluable first step. For me the synopsis precedes a more detailed chapter outline (as you can see I’m a planner) but also provides a global view that helps solidify in my mind the key elements for the novel: the tone, characters and setting for the book. Though my synopsis provides an overview of the plot it doesn’t go into any more detail than the summary you might find on the dust jacket of a book. In the case of my YA novel, I found I could craft the synopsis even though, as yet, I have no real idea how the problem presented is actually resolved.

In many ways I find writing a synopsis harder than writing the book itself – for it has to be a succinct encapsulation of all the facets of the story and should also be a vehicle for presenting the ‘hook’ or premise that will (hopefully!) generate excitement for the project. I spent many, many hours tearing my hair out over my first synopsis (for Consequences of Sin) which I was going to use at a (helpful but horrific) speed dating for agent session. I ended up handing it over at lunch to the woman who would go on to be my first agent and I truly think it was the synopsis that ‘sold’ her on the idea for the book. Though producing that first synopsis was a stressful experience it taught me the value of the exercise and now I prepare a synopsis before I write each book.

To me the value of the process is threefold:

  • It forces me to compress my ideas into one or two unifying themes that give an overall flavor for the tone of the book.
  • It provides me with the one to two line ‘hook’ that I can then use when pitching the idea and which my agent can also use when talking to editors and others about the project. I also send my agent multiple project synopses to get input on which is the best, strategically, to work on next.
  • It already starts me thinking about how I will frame the book – and by this I mean in marketing terms: What kind of book is it? How would a publisher categorize and market it? What other books is it likely to be compared to?

Now this may all sound very anal and weird but I find the exercise to be a critical first step for me. It comes after I’ve done my initial research and once the idea I have for the book has crystallized in my own mind, even if the details of plot still remain unknown.

So how about you? Does anyone else put together a synopsis at the beginning of a project? How difficult is it for you to distill down your book into a one page description? What elements do you think make a synopsis compelling?

Serendipity

by James Scott Bell

Today is July 26, a day of celebration for me. For one thing, it marks my debut on The Kill Zone, and I couldn’t be more pleased to be included with six writers I admire. I’ve learned a lot from this august company, and am proud to be added to the mix.

This date also happens to be one that changed my life forever—for it was on July 26, 1980, that I met my wife.

I was at a birthday party for a friend. It had spilled out into the courtyard of his apartment building, where I sat at a table with a couple guys, yakking. I happened to look up and saw a blond vision of loveliness heading up the stairs to the apartment. I turned to my comrades and said, “I’ll see you later.”

I got to the apartment just as she was hugging my friend. Her back was to me. I silently motioned for my friend to introduce me. And that, as they say, was that. I fell like five tons of brick and mortar. It took me all of two-and-a-half weeks to ask her to marry me. (Perhaps this explains why I favor first page action in my books). Eight months later we were wed and my life has been richly blessed ever since (in no small part due to Cindy’s sharp editorial eye; she’s always my first reader).

When I think of these events, the word serendipity comes to mind. It’s a word derived from a Persian fairy tale, The Three Princes of Serendip (an ancient name for Sri Lanka). The story tells of an eminent trio making happy discoveries in their travels, through accident and observation. The English writer Horace Walpole coined the term serendipity to describe this combination of chance and mental discernment.

Which is a long way of saying that some of the best things that happen to us in life are “happy accidents” because we’ve shown up, and are aware.

Much of the best writing we do is serendipitous, too. As Lawrence Block, the dean of American crime fiction, put it, “You look for something, find something else, and realize that what you’ve found is more suited to your needs than what you thought you were looking for.”

Doesn’t that describe some of the best moments in your writing? I once had a wife character who was supposed to move away for a time, to get out of danger. That’s what I’d outlined. But in the heat of a dialogue scene with her husband, she flat out refused to go. Turns out she was right and I was wrong, and the story was better for it.

Can we ramp up serendipity as we write? I think so. Here are a few suggestions.

Don’t just be about imposing your plans on the story to the detriment of happy surprises. Be ready to shift and move.

Write what you fear. Go where the risks are in the story. Challenge yourself.

Research. When you delve deeply into the areas you’re writing about – by reading, talking to experts, or doing something in the field – you inevitably come up with gems that will enliven your story or even change it into something other than what you had planned. And that’s not a bad thing.

Finally, write first, analyze later. It is in the heat of production that diamonds are formed – a striking image, a line of dialogue, a new character. But you have to be prepared to go with the flow, to play it out and see where things lead.

The way of serendipity is open to every writer, be you an outliner or a seat-of-the-pants type, or anything in between. It’s just a matter of showing up and being aware. And the more you write, the more you’ll recognize serendipitous moments when they arise.

Has serendipity played a role in your own writing? Tell us about it.

And thanks again to The Kill Zone for the invitation. A happy surprise indeed.

Is There A Thread Here Somewhere?

John Ramsey Miller

I got an email this week from Jennifer Chappelle. She is opening a new bookstore in downtown Locust, NC called Uwharrie Books (U War EE). Her new shop is going to feature books by North Carolina authors and she intends to make Saturdays author event day where authors can come in and sign their books for local book lovers. Locust is a small town, but one with a Walmart for serious competition. If there are enough readers in the area who will shop at an independent, hopefully Uwharrie Books will do well. It’s refreshing to see someone willing to swim upstream against a swift current. We’ve seen the trend of readers to buy cheap at any cost (the small hand sellers who were once the backbone of the industry), an erosion of customer loyalty, and a trend away from reading for the TVs, Gaming devices, and PCs. All of these trends can change when people get fed up with insipid TV content, winning an imaginary war, and shopping at giant box stores that are taking over the world. If and when “they” decide to try thinking and imagining once again, and decide that a few cents more to maintain stores owned by actual members of their community, who reinvest in that community, strikes a chord. Please, don’t the Waltons have enough in the bank yet?

Walter Cronkite was buried Thursday in New York. Uncle Walter was a fixture for my generation, a supreme and trusted journalist who had watched from the sidelines as the news he was devoted to reporting (without injecting his own bias, well, except for declaring the Vietnam War lost, which is still being debated) evolved into a cross between a carnival fright ride and a candy store. The media seems intent on keeping the populace scared to death, depressed about the state of the world, and aware of the importance of keeping up with the latest fads. The Today Show is nothing but one long commercial for products, punctuated by celebrity shenanigans, quick bursts of terrifying news and sound-bites of political propaganda. It bothers me. It bothers me a lot. Newsmen seem to be chosen for their pleasing appearance, rather than their journalistic abilities. Just as people get the Government they deserve, so goes it with the news. We are asking for this and for it to continue. Hard to imagine this superficiality is so widely accepted. It is our job as thriller authors to entertain and scare the crap out of people, and the news outlets are usurping our positions. Why do people need us if they can get the crap scared out of them every time they turn on their TV sets?

And the trend toward reality shows should be helping bookellers. I’d rather read War & Peace in Russian than watch Survivor, Bridezilla, Housewives of Orange County, New York City, or New Jersey, or I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here! So you’d think people would be reading more as TV hurdles down the slippery slope greased so thoroughly by Jerry and Maury. The sad thing is I see it getting much worse before it gets any better. What does that say about us? You know very well what it says.

The First Page

By John Gilstrap

Greetings from Muncie, Indiana, where I have the honor of serving on the faculty of the Midwest Writers Conference on the campus of Ball State University. As part of my responsibilities, I’m evaluating students’ manuscripts. I had forgotten how much I learn about my own writing by helping others improve theirs.

The manuscripts submitted to me are all thrillers, and the submissions were limited to five pages in length. As you might expect, the competency of the writing–from a commercial standpoint–varies fairly significantly among the students I’m evaluating, but I’ve noticed a common denominator among all of them that I think is a potential trap for writers everywhere: Slow first pages.

In this particular batch, the slowness trap is mostly about physical description. We open with a detailed rendering of eye color, fabric, hand gestures or in one notable case, breast size. In six of the ten manuscripts I evaluated, literally nothing had happened by the end of the five-page submission.

In the early drafts of everything I write, I seem to need a few pages of warm-up before I really get down to the business of telling the story at hand. That’s my process, and like all things process-related, I don’t even try to understand it anymore. It just is what it is. But I always go back and edit out all of that stuff. At least I try to.

I occasionally hang out in bookstores and watch people shop for their next book. The pattern is universal: Look at the cover; read the jacket notes; read the first page. Inexplicably to me, a significant minority also read the last page. Then they make their decision. I make my decision the same way. Don’t we all?

Those first few pages need to really sizzle. With any luck at all, the first line really sizzles. Ditto lines two, three, four . . . all the way to the end of the book. There’s probably some forgiveness somewhere in the middle, once you have the reader hooked, and they’ve already spent their money, but man those first pages are the audition. They’re the sales pitch. Thy’ve got to scream.

Do you obsess about your openings? Do you re-write the beginning a dozen times like I do? Are you constantly aware of that reader out there who’s judging you from a cold start based only on those first words?

The Writer/Reader Pact

by Michelle Gagnon

We’ve all experienced it- you stumble across a book that grabs you from page one and doesn’t let go. As an author, it’s always my goal to create that experience, a connection with a reader who hopefully becomes a devoted fan. And as a reader myself, I love that thrill of discovery.

A few years ago, I had this experience with a new-to-me author. The book kept me up most of the night. As always with a book that I really love, I caught myself slowing down in the later chapters, not wanting it to end. When I realized the book was actually fourth in a series, I rushed out to buy the rest and proceeded to devour them over the course of a week.

Then I got to the final chapter of the latest installment, the most recent release. There were three main characters whose storylines arced through all of the books. One of them was suddenly, inexplicably killed off. Not in the climax, mind you, but in the denouement, after the storm in the book had passed and everything had been neatly resolved.

It was one in the morning. I dragged myself out of bed, powered up my laptop, and went to the author’s website, only to have it confirmed. (I hate spoilers, so I’m not going to name the author). In a letter to her readers she explained that yes, that character was indeed gone for good. There would be no “Bobby Ewing/it was all a dream” turnaround in the next book. In fact, she was starting an entirely new series, although she wasn’t shutting the door on the previous one.

I know that it sounds needlessly melodramatic, but I was shocked. I felt betrayed. There’s an unspoken pact that writers and readers enter into, especially when a book is a series. Terrible, horrible things may happen to the heroes/heroines, but chances are they will survive. If they don’t, they’ll most likely die heroically during the book’s climax, probably saving at least one other life before expiring. This felt wrong to me, a slap in the face. A lot of other fans agreed-whole chat room forums were devoted to people lamenting the loss of this character, and swearing off the author’s books forever.

I initially felt the same way, but decided to give the new series a chance. Two books in, I still wasn’t convinced. I liked the new series, but it didn’t grab me the way the other one had. I didn’t develop the same connection to the characters, and ended each feeling slightly unsatisfied.

When I discovered that her latest book merged both series, I was intrigued and decided to give it a chance. By the end of the first chapter, I knew the connection was back. The two series had been blended believably and seamlessly. Oddly, characters that had left me cold in earlier books suddenly came to life when paired together. It was all new and yet familiar. And behind it all was the unmistakeable hand of someone who knew what she was doing.

Experiencing that had a profound affect on me as a writer. Reading the forums a few years ago I had been struck by the tenor of the complaints. The outcry was such that I thought the author had made a tremendous mistake. She’d alienated her base, and sales would invariably fall. It was the equivalent of Lee Child suddenly killing off Jack Reacher-would his fans remain as devoted if he did that, in an effort to try something new?

I have no idea what happened on the sales front, but I can say that for me at least, this went a long way toward revitalizing a series that was in danger of stagnating (and, considering the setting, falling victim to Cabot Cove syndrome). And it shifted my own perception of where that line was drawn, and what the rules of this particular writer/reader pact were. In her latest I feared for every character at different points, since the author has now made it clear that any of them are fair game, and the completely unexpected can and might happen. No one is safe. And in a thriller, maybe that should be the rule.

So what’s the consensus- is killing off a main character in a series beyond the pale, or will you keep coming back for more regardless?

Criticizing the critic

Novelist Alice Hoffman created a dust-up recently when she used Twitter to fire back at a less than glowing review of her latest novel, THE STORY SISTERS.

Reviewer Roberta Silman wrote in The Boston Globe: “This new novel lacks the spark of the earlier work. Its vision, characters, and even the prose seem tired.” Hoffman posted a number of tweets calling Silman a moron. She asked, “How do some people get to review books?” Hoffman also posted Silman’s phone number and email, inviting fans to contact the reviewer and “Tell her what u think of snarky critics.”

By Monday, Hoffman had issued a statement of apology through her publisher.

OK, as authors, we’ve all received negative reviews somewhere along the line. As far as I know, no one has ever written a book that was accepted and loved by 100% of its readers. And even the most famous or best-selling books of all time have been lambasted with negative reviews. Just ask Dan Brown.

So what would cause any author to lose it and publically shoot back at a reviewer? Don’t we all know that when we take that giant, risky step into the public arena by having our words published, that we are aware the results might be positive AND negative? What could possibly be accomplished by criticizing a critic? Would it encourage the reviewer to be gentler next time? Doubtful. It might even narrow the number of future reviews by other critics.

There’s an old saying that if you do the crime, be ready to do the time. If you write a book and have it published so anyone can read it, be ready for the good and the bad, because that’s what you’re going to get.

How about you? Have you ever wanted to shoot back at a reviewer who gave you a less than favorable review? Did you? Should you?