Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Insecurity: Am I Crazy or Are They Crazy?

One of those things that can really get annoying on critique groups is when you say something that's sane or reasonable and then you get a bunch of dumbasses who say something contrary and those are the ones who get listened to, mostly because they're telling the poster what he/she wants to hear.

Take this query from December:
Dear [agent name],
 [intro paragraph personalised to agent, saying why I'm querying them specifically – I might put the genre, wordcount, and comps here instead of in the paragraph towards the end]
 Ana D is good at getting what she wants. As a law student and only child of two diplomats, she couldn’t be otherwise. When a car crash on a deserted stretch of New Zealand highway leaves Ana lost in another world—a world of swords, magic, and very iffy legal systems—all she wants is to go home.
 To do so she must master her own magic, placing her faith in the aid of the moody and enigmatic Ciro—a magician with an origin as foreign as her own. Ciro tells her stories of prophecies, chosen ones, and Malac, an exiled prince of a dying race, who seeks multi-world domination. Tall tales, Ana thinks—until a nearby town falls victim to the widening cracks Malac is making between dimensions.
 Should Malac succeed, the worlds he deems worthless will be destroyed. The remainder will be linked with permanent portals, reducing the logistical challenges of pandimensional tyranny. Millions will die. Billions will be enslaved. But not yet. Total devastation is time-consuming, and Malac’s species long-lived. Several human generations will pass before dimensions low in magic, such as Ana’s, could face the effects.
 As the walls between worlds tear, Ana is torn between two lives. To go home to the family she loves, the world where her battles would be contained within a courtroom. Or to stay and stand by Ciro, and her lover, Elric, as they join a greater fight.
 [Fart] is a 119,000-word Science Fantasy story that traverses worlds of medieval magic and futuristic technology, blending epic fantasy and dystopian science fiction with a strong romance subplot—think Robert Jordan’s Eye of the World meets Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander, meets The Ghost in the Shell.
 I hold a PhD in psychology*. My research, focused on the development of empathy and social cognition, has given me a deep understanding of how experiences and social interactions shape people and relationships throughout life. I am a child of immigrants, and the initial draft of Fray was written while I was living temporarily in France, unable to speak the language and trapped in a tiny apartment by the Normandy weather. My experiences of emigration are reflected in Ana’s story.
 If [Fart] appeals to you, I would love to send you the full manuscript.
 Thank you for your time.

To me, this query pretty much sucks.  It's 413 words and that's without any personalization, so it could get to 450-500 words.  That's close to twice what you should really shoot for.  And after all those words, how much do we really know about the story?  This woman from our world gets sucked into a fantasy world (a total cliche by now) where she has magic of some sort and has to overthrow a bad guy...somehow.

This person had pretty much submitted the same query weeks earlier so to me this was a minimal improvement if anything.  But other people loved it!  It's great!  I loved it!  I'd ask for pages!

The latter is especially dumb to say.  I mean you can say you'd ask for pages but you're not an agent.  Or an agent's minion--presumably.  You don't see dozens if not hundreds of queries five or six days a week for 52 weeks a year.  So to you maybe this stands out but to an actual professional it probably wouldn't.

It was kind of annoying because then the author and a couple of these overly positive people were having their own little circle jerk about it while I'm just shaking my head.  It got especially frustrating because at the same time a couple of other threads were like that.  It seemed like I'd become Bruce Willis in the 6th Sense; I was a ghost there but didn't realize it.

Probably the most frustrating was this one person had emailed me and said how much they liked my crits...then ignored my advice to listen to that moron who's been flogging the stupid teddy bear story for the last 5 years.  And my advice was perfectly reasonable:  Is my story sci-fi or urban fantasy or what?  Don't worry about it.  If you can't decide don't mention a genre in your query and let the agent decide.  I mean most agents represent sci-fi and fantasy together so it's not really that important that you decide what exactly it is.  Or go on Amazon and look for a book like yours to see where it's classified.  Nah, I'd rather spend pages and pages commiserating with someone who's sold exactly 0 books.  Gah!  It's so annoying.

I posted a story for critique and someone critiqued it so I critiqued the story he had up.  It was about chickens who talk and teach this kid swear words.  Which is what it says in the beginning.  Then it rambles for 2,000 words about his father haranguing a professor about chickens, painting the chicken coop, and shooting animals in the balls with a pellet gun, and then finally gets back to the talking chickens to say...that the chickens talk.  For...reasons.  It just ends.  Wait, so what's the deal with the chickens?  Are they magic?  Is there some secret chicken language?  Are they from a parallel universe?  WTF?

But three other people reviewed it and they just loved it.  It was so awesome!  You should publish it!

It makes me wonder:  am I wrong about this?  Do I not know what I'm talking about?  Am I crazy and these other people are sane?  I don't know.  It doesn't make sense sometimes.  Maybe I am wrong and these stories and queries really are awesome and should be published.  Who knows?


  1. I don't think that you are wrong, but a lot of things that I had strong beliefs about don't seem to hold up over time. For example, I had this discussion about Brandon Sanderson the other day and some girls said (because he's a Utah author) that the guy is brilliant. Well...I think that's just too easy to say. My opinion is that he has lots of support and a huge audience. They then said...but he has that because he's brilliant. And I responded maybe. But maybe it's more complex than that. Maybe it's because he has a lot of charisma? He was a professor at BYU for many years. Maybe he has a lot of support because he writes stuff that other people want to hear? People of the LDS faith? A lot of LDS people love fantastical stuff...practically every one of them has worlds that they've created. Would it surprise you to know that Battlestar Galactica's whole plot is based on the Book of Mormon and written by an LDS person? Anyway, my whole point to this is that some people have support and some people don't. What seems to succeed is the people (and products) that have support. But just because something doesn't have support doesn't mean that it's stupid. It just means that no one supports it. So with regard to the could be terrible and probably is based off what you've pointed out. But if a lot of people are supporting it, then maybe it isn't terrible and is exactly what's needed. Maybe it's even super successful. I have no idea. The only thing that matters IS support...and you either have it or you don't.

  2. people have bought into the lie that everyone can be a writer and everyone has a story to tell and everything is awesome...

    the more I read what you post of these places I wonder if people just say all these nice things as a way to try to get nice comments for themselves. it would be bad form to say something nice about a person's stuff and then that person shits all over yours...right? so they are just building this little house of positive comment cards that can come crashing down as soon as harsh reality enters the room but until then they all feel great about themselves

  3. I found the query interesting. The writer seems to have the world and characters defined well. I agree it is too long, but it did make me curious to know more. The chicken story sounds like a comedy. I'm not sure about it. If a bunch of boring stuff happens, then I wouldn't like it. Most of the stories on CC I don't like, and you will probably feel the same way.



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