Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Deborah Smith - The Editor Is In

In the guest chair today-

When she's not busy penning books like CROSSROADS CAFE (one of Library Journal's Top 5 Romances of 2006) Deborah moonlights as the Editorial Director for BelleBooks, publishers of fine Southern fried fiction.

Go Ahead. Make My Editorial Query Day.

"Am Wanting Of Send Amazing Proposal For Making Of Glorious Book By Your American Publishing Empire, Please, Sirs."

Oh, no. Another book query from the Borats of the writing world. Even a small regional publisher such as BelleBooks receives proposals from English-as-a-distant-language writers. Sincere though such supplicants may be, they're missing a basic ingredient of your average book query to an English language publisher with a distinctly Southern, moonlight-and-magnolias emphasis.

To wit: A command of the English language. Southern or otherwise.

Does no one read editorial guidelines in the modern age of global email? Har de har har. Obviously, writers the world over still live by this golden rule: Drop your book hook near and far whether it fits or not, and see if an editor takes the bait.

As BelleBooks' editorial director, I get every kind of unsolicited query imaginable: The Borats spamming American publishers in hopes of finding a taker for their novels, teenagers looking for approval of their class writing projects, retired schoolteachers convinced their memoirs of First Grade Shenanigans are the next bestsellers, you name it.

Some of my favorites:

"Why I Hate Customers And They Deserve It"
A Handbook For Cashiers

I felt sorry for this writer, who clearly had a fervent personal ax to grind. Having worked as a cashier in my youth, I sympathized with chapters headings such as:

"Do I Look Like I Know The Price Of Everything In The Store?"
"How Come You Gotta Wait Until Now To Hunt For That Nickel?"

and my favorite:
"Don't Lick Your Fingers Before You Count Those Bills Into My Hand, Lady."

Catchy headers, but a limited target audience.

"The Littlest Rebel Wants To Book An Appointment With Dr. Kevorkian."

A charming novel for children ages 6-12 in which a depressed child is dissuaded from suicide by the ghost of a Confederate soldier. Alternate title: "Don't Forget The Cyanide In My Shirley Temple."

Despite the fact that BelleBooks isn't listed as a religious publisher, authors of inspirational how-to's regularly submit their ideas. An example:

"Satan Doesn't Want You To Have A Small Business Loan"
Prayers, Pitfalls and Persecutions of Godly Entrepreneurship

Look, BelleBooks is as anxious as anybody to launch the next modern religious blockbuster, but some of these queries could use some delicate re-thinking in the "avarice" category. Or maybe they just need a good swat on the behind from our fearfully recalled Southern Baptist Sunday School teacher, Mrs.Hellfire.

Because BelleBooks is a southern publisher, some authors assume we like our books up on blocks in a weedy yard surrounded by hound dogs and "No Tress Pasin U Yankee!" signs.

"Aunt Maybelle's Down And Dirty Big-Haired Beauty Parlor Tales Involving Uncle Joe Lee Killin' Some No-Good Furriner And What Godawful Thing Happened After That To Change Our Downhome Family Forever"

Otherwise known as "Hee Haw Meets Hanibal Lechter."

And finally, there are the authors who honor BelleBooks with the assumption that no matter how often our guidelines say "Southern themes, Southern settings, only," we are far too worldly to ignore a brilliant novel of global intrigue.

"Manhunt In Manilla -- Book One In A Dashing International Thriller Featuring The CIA and Interpol."

Or, as the author put it in his query letter: "Since my novel is set in *southern* Manilla, I'm submitting it to you . . ."


Debra Dixon said...

I actually snorted milk out of my nose while reading this.

So many writers do believe that guidelines are really just there to keep the address from looking so lonely on the page.

Anonymous said...

Oh, my! Priceless stuff there. LOL
Deborah, just great having you here. I think your work is brilliant, and I've read several of your novels. Loved, loved On Bear Mountain, A Place to Call Home, and Sweet Hush. I have not read The Crossroads Cafe yet, so I have that to look forward to soon.

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays,

Helen Brenna said...

LOL! I needed that this morning, Deb.

And thanks for visiting us again.

Betina Krahn said...

Deb, you wise and witty and wonderful woman, you! I really loved these queries gone astray. . . or come astray, as the case might be. It is amazing how people hear and see what they want to hear and see, especially in publishers' guidelines. And you're so gracious about it all.

Southern. . . hmmmm. . . I think I have a book set in the southern hemisphere somewhere. . . doesn't that qualify?

heh, heh.

;) Betina

Care Taker said...

Hello to all. And while I'm at it, thanks to those of you who sent your condolences. My mother was a great Southern character, part belle and part good ol' girl, a demure secretary by day but a bourbon-sipping, flinty-eyed bon vivant by night. While not a *perfect* summary of her, one of Jeff Foxworthy's "You know you're a redneck if . . ." comes close: "You know you're a redneck if your Mama won't even take the Marlboro out of her mouth before she tells the state trooper to kiss her [behind.]"

Mother would have taken the Marlboro out of her mouth first.

As for bad queries, they're a hoot and a holler and they always reassure me that those of us who manage to get a publisher to buy our work really *are* more talented than 99.9 percent of the other writers in the world, simply because we know how to write book proposals that won't embarrass us by showing up on some snotty editor's blog list of bad queries, later.

Care Taker said...


"Caretaker" is "Deb Smith." I just can't figure out how to make Blogger recognize me otherwise.

Helen Brenna said...

Deb, your mom sounds like someone I would've loved to meet!

Betina Krahn said...

And a big ol' Lutheran "AMEN" to what Helen said, Deb. (Hey, Lutherans say "amen"-- they just say it very very quietly!) We're so sorry to hear about your mom. And so honored that you would come to spend some time with us when we know there are probably a million more pressing things on your plate.

But it sounds like she was quite a gal and that you understood her as a person and as a mom. . . a rare combination these days.

I'll look up at the stars to night and give her a smile and a wave.

:) Betina