What not to do as an aspiring writer

This morning I ran across two very funny (and very on-target) takes on what not to do as an aspiring writer.

One is a blog of daily excerpts from really bad query letters to literary agents. The blog is called SlushPile Hell. (For those who are happily ignorant of the world of publishing, “slush pile” refers to the gazillions of unsolicited manuscripts and queries received by agents.) Here are a couple of examples, followed by SlushPile Hell’s comments:

  • A little bit about myself:  I have a joyous personality, I love to make people laugh and enjoy laughing myself.  I consider myself compassionate and generous.

Wait, is this a query or an eHarmony ad?

  • Please consider my memoir….I know that my family and friends will, without reservation, pay at least $19.95 to make sure they have not been unfairly exposed or defamed.

Eureka! A brilliant new marketing angle! Publishers, take note: henceforth please be certain to include these taglines on all memoir covers, “Are you sure you haven’t been slandered in this memoir? Isn’t the cost of this book a small price to pay for your peace of mind?”

  • I have the first 5 chapters written. I know first-time novelists are supposed to present a finished work, but I think it would end up a much better piece for having had an editor’s guidance during the last draft.  He, in turn, would have an excuse to ask for a reduced price.  

Brilliant! Or wait, better yet, you should write just one page, let the editor finish writing it for you, and he can buy it for almost nothing. Then I, as your humble servant, shall be KING OF ALL THE AGENTS!

  •  I have attached my manuscript to this email in WordPerfect format, which I’m assuming is okay with you.

Um, the ’80s called. They want their software back.

 The other post that made my morning was by Nathan Bransford, a San Francisco literary agent who writes a blog about the publishing business. His entry today describes various “writing maladies” that people suffer such as:

Yoda Effect: Difficult to read, sentences are, when reversing sentences an author is. Cart before horse, I’m putting, and confused, readers will be.

Chatty Cathy: So, like, I don’t know if you’ve noticed but OMG teenagers use so much freaking slang!!! And multiple exclamation points!!! In a novel not a blog post!!! And so I’m all putting tons of freaking repetitious verbal tics into totes every sentence and it’s majorly exhausting the reader because WAIT I NEED TO USE ALL CAPS.

Repetition: Sometimes when authors get lyrical, lyrical in a mystical, wondrous sense, they use repetition, repetition that used sparingly can be effective, effective in a way that makes us pause and focus, focus on the thing they’re repeating, but when used too many times, so many times again and again, it can drive us insane, insane in a way that will land the reader in the loony bin, the loony bin for aggrieved readers.

Shorter Hemingway: Clipped sentences. Muscular. Am dropping articles. The death. It spreads. No sentence more than six words. Dear god the monotony. The monotony like death.

Right on target! Of course, ahem, um, I would never be caught dead displaying symptoms of any of these maladies.   

Well, except maybe every teeny once in a while. When I might get a little repetitive, just a touch repetitive.

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4 Responses to “What not to do as an aspiring writer”

  1. Elaine Says:

    Ha ha ha, that Nathan Branford one was especially good! Of course I too have never, ever, EVER committed any of those sins, though the repetitive one made me wince before I laughed….

  2. Nancy King Bernstein Says:

    Yoda best I like. HIlarious these are. Thank you thank you.

  3. Gary Coates Says:

    Now i want to read the Yoda Hemingway!!!!

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