4 Surefire Ways to Never Get a Book Deal Ever
Your measurements may vary.
National Novel Writing Month is the period every autumn when a million would-be Salingers collectively ruin a book agent's Thanksgiving. Yet among this tidal wave of stilted dialogue float a few rubber duckies of talent. Perhaps you are one?
If so, you need my advice for the less-celebrated NaHoStrugPubYoNoMo (National Hopelessly Struggling to Publish Your Novel Month). As a highly successful author who's certainly not running a sweatshop full of Indian orphans shackled to cheap word processors, I know all the tricks to getting published without alerting authorities to your whereabouts. I've talked literally millions of editors into publishing my books with nothing more than a vicious misuse of the word "literally."
The secret is a system I call ruthlessness. After a full day of bad pitches, editors are mentally exhausted creatures vulnerable to psychological techniques. I'll show you how to sweet-talk a gullible publisher using real samples from my NaHoStrugPubYoNoMo success last year. Real examples: real results.
And get sick abs in the process.
What to Write
Thoughtful examinations of the human experience, exciting action sequences, characters so real you consider them family, mind-blowing twist endings ... don't write any of those. That chicanery is for self-published authors and Nobel Prize winners.
You want to make that sweet Dan Brown money, right? Stop trying to be a good writer. The real money's in being a great bad writer. Gone are the days of Dickens and whoever else is respected but not Dickens. Very few authors achieve such success, but those who do live on in legend. Selling 80 million copies of the Bible is why Sir Francis Bacon is remembered as an author instead of the inventor of bacon.
In our previous publishing lesson, we looked at urban fantasy romance and why nobody should be writing it. But what about other genres, like science-fantasy or Pacific Northwestern Gothic? It's only fair that I show you how to pitch a book in the sections of the library that won't pleasure a woman's imagination. And even more fair to the extreme that, instead of critiquing other people's work, I submit my own for your scrutiny.
Selling Your Book
The four things you need to sell your book are:
1) An original idea. Here's one: "It's RoboCop, but in the Bronze Age." See? It's that easy! Here's another: "It's like a creepy, goth version of Alice in Wonderland." Original ideas are EVERYWHERE!
2) A cover letter. You can skip this one, because editors don't really read these, so just type "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy" as many times as the spirits of the damned command you to.
3) A one-page synopsis of the book. Yours probably sucks, so sum up The House of the Seven Gables instead. (Trust me, no one in publishing has read it.)
4) The first 50 pages of the book. Jesus Hopscotching Christ, that's a lot of writing. Do we have to? Yes.
Got it? OK, now let's guide you through my process of conquering the month of NOVEL-ber, which would sound better if it were in November and not December, but is still less awkward than saying NaNoWriMo.
Lesson 1: An Original Idea
We should be focusing on the hottest shelf in the bookstore right now: penguin erotica. But according to Cracked's lawyers, I can't show you that because very few penguins are over 18.
But its forbidden quality is what makes it so alluring.
So instead, we're going to invent a brand-new genre. Let your publisher worry about how to sell a class of book no one's heard of. Your job is to plow the fertile grounds of the imagination like a 15-year-old boy whose Internet connection is down.
Now, there exists a vast number of manly genres, including:
Assuming, of course, you can find a man who reads.
We're not doing any of these. Can you imagine a first-time writer trying to land a best-seller in the crowded field of, say ... time-traveling blaxploitation romance? No, the easiest way to surf to greatness is to catch a trendy wave on the upswell. The most popular untapped fad at the moment? Electro-swing.
Say, what's electro-swing? Only the latest iteration of fashionable rebellion via past innovation, see? Forget steampunk, kid. Steampunk's a plucked chicken. No one thinks twice anymore about pneumatic bustles and sentient draisine dandyhorses. The only thing deader than steampunk is cyberpunk, which is punk with an Atari 2600 circuit board lodged in its brain.
So tap that electro-swing audience! They're buying all the books these days, 'cause that's the retro thing to do. And boy, do they swing! They swing electrically! Let's turn their earnest passion into cold profit before someone else does.
2 December 2012
To the Wilhelm Scrooge Literary-ish Writers' Agency:
Have you ever wondered what amperage tastes like? Nellie Mae Neo has.
Nellie Mae Neo is the protagonist of my new book, Patch-22-Skidoo! and I think you will find this willful young woman to be quite the handful! While running hooch* across the Canadian border in her electric jalopy,** Nellie and her friend, British inventor Ha'Penny Jones, discover a Nazi electro-plot to assassinate FDR!***
About me: I am the author of several unpublished letters to Penthouse Forum and four published ones to Guy Gardner: Warrior.
Fondest regards and kisses,
(writing as Sir Nigel Catgroove)
* hooch = booze (isn't slang fun??!)
** jalopy = car, but in this case a blimp
*** FDR = Franklin Delectric Roosevelt in this timeline
The Nazis' secret Elektrikssche-SS division has developed a brand-new form of electricity that can strike anywhere on Earth with targeted lightning. If they decode their copy of the president's itinerary, it's lights out for America!
Neo can't warn the Feds -- they're already after her for rum-running. These plucky gals must destroy the Lightning Gun, but they'll need a little help from Ha'Penny's contacts in the British Electro-Resistance: specifically, the handsome Agent Arthur Chestertonshirelow DeSee.
Oh, I should mention that all this takes place in an alternate universe where Prohibition never ended and FDR was president as early as 1920. Pretty simple, really.
But you can't outrun lightning -- with time running out to infiltrate Castle Nazistein, Nellie Mae Neo is saved by the timely arrival of a certain Doctor ...
Let's just say he's a "Lord of Time" (wink) who is very popular on the Tumblrs. His cameo will make this a very successful book with young people who post their self-loathing on the Internet for strangers to read. It doesn't cost you very much to license a character from the BBC, right?
Screw the sample. Check out this sweet cover I made already. That's got to save publishers, like ... $500 at least, right?
Those insulated rubber suits protect the Nazis from everything except body funk.
Lesson 2: Cover Letter
After several follow-up calls and one very heated exchange in a parking garage, I concluded that an original idea won't sell, especially when it's a pile of gibberish. Instead, I looked back at proven successes and realized that there's nothing more reliable in America than the quiet rage of middle-class middle-aged men who have had it good their entire lives.
For round two, I pitched an old-fashioned, manly lawman in the '80s, before cellphones ruined dramatic tension. I thought this would sell well because it was set back when our target audience still had hair and could wallow more openly in their racism.
I also decided to give the cover letter a real effort this time and butter up these dumb agents.
8 December 2012
To the Armin Zoroaster Agency:
Detective Chuck Target is a cop on the edge.
Target thought he had put it all behind him when he solved the death of his partner's murder-homicide. He hadn't. Then he thought he could relax when he rescued prostitute Beverly Goldheart from the hard streets of Skokie. He couldn't. Then he thought taking a bullet meant for the mayor was the secret to a happy early retirement. It wasn't. Because Target is a maverick who plays by his own rules, he's the only man for certain jobs ... and he's just been asked politely to do one.
Hard Target is 185 pages, handwritten in red ink for dramatic purposes. I think it would be an excellent book for your company to represent because drugs are a very big problem these days and all the authors you represent at the moment are beneath you. Let's change that together?
These? Oh, just my abs. Didn't mean to distract you from your decision.
(Note: This is a prequel to the Moving Target series of novels self-published on Usenet from 1996 to 2000 about Chuck's son, futuristic vice cop Maxx Target. The younger Target patrols a ravaged Skokie pulling itself together to become the capital of New America after the Water Wars of 2011. Perhaps I could send you the first five books so you can see for yourself the shocking brutality of Maxx's world?)
(writing as Colton Wesson)
c/o Jolly Corks Lodge #1316
Things had been quiet since Target killed the drug lord Manuel "The Hyena-Condor" Vasquez and ran the dealer's gang back to Colombia. But now a new drug, called Burn, is heating up the schools. The 25-year veteran of the Skokie PD faces his toughest assignment yet: one that calls not for the youngish-looking Target ... but his undercover identity as high school senior Randy Bronson.
Target will have to go deep into the deadly public school system to track the drugs back to their source -- Latino businessman Carlos Mendoza. And Target is in for the fight of his life.
"'Ey, chico, whatchu need?" The eyes of the dealer known only as El Manuel shifted. It was all the warning Target needed. He knew what to do. Knew -- with a vengeance.
POW! Chuck's gun smoked dramatically in his hand after he pulled it out and shot the drug dealer.
"Are you crazy, son?" Dan Peeznik, the school guidance counselor, howled zionically. "My God, this child is dead!!" He pointed a reproaching finger at Target in reproach.
Your mistake was bringing reproach to a maverick fight.
Chuck -- or Cool Randy, as he was known to these kids -- blew the smoke from the gun barrel into Peeznik's stupid face. "He wasn't going to sell to me. He was going to kill us all."
He left Peeznik to realize the dead man clutched a revolving pistol -- the kind all these punks liked, with its flashy pearl handle carved with gang symbols. If Cool Randy had waited a half-second, the gun would have fired upon every person present. Burn would have claimed another dozen victims because this dealer didn't "push" a "fix."
Kids, what should El Manuel have done differently?
"Tell the principal I'm skipping class ..." continued Target, "... with extreme prejudice."
As he walked away, Chuck could feel the eyes of head cheerleader Valerie Tiffany burning a hole in the buns of his tight Wrangler denim jeans with the extra round crotch to give your boys room to breathe. "Hell of an 18th birthday gift," muttered Chuck/Cool Randy to himself, "watching your drug-dealing boyfriend die."
Related: How a Letter By Letter Cover Of 'What A Wonderful World' Became A Modern TikTok Horror Story
Lesson 3: Synopsis
Even though my writing is so beautiful, it makes readers shit pennies, the silence from agencies led me to conclude I was mistaken to treat them like human beings. Their hearts couldn't be moved by emotional moments big enough to clog an elephant's vagina. I had to focus instead on a formulaic plot structure and clip a $100 "reader's fee" to my submission.
Canadian, of course. What am I, made of cash and rock-hard abs?
However, I still thought it smart to exploit America's seething prejudiced types before they could give their money to a legitimately awful recipient like the KKK -- or worse, the KKKK (slogan: "Now with extra Ku!").
Better their dollars go to me than to some Kickstarter project that wants to build a robot that's 72x more efficient than a human at leaving racist YouTube comments, right?
Since my electro-swing plot was pretty strong, I repurposed it for a less challenging concept. And there's nothing less challenging than the military wank novels enjoyed by your high school friend's dad. You know the guy? He claimed to have been a Super-Secret Service agent and a Red Beret, which he explained was some sort of Airborne Tank Ranger.
I decided I'd play my second crack at the ol' armchair warrior genre smarter. If you're going to write this kind of book, you had better start browsing thrift stores for an old bomber jacket and some Aviator shades. Consider a pen name that's very butch, like Frank Governor or Dick Splinter.
15 December 2012
To the Freedom Liberty America for Americans Agency:
I write a lot of the time! I am very good at it! Publish my goddamn book. It is called The Sagittarius Imperative: An Echo 9 Team Novel.
I am the author of Protocol 58008 (writing as Claude Toncey) and I have a very large penis.
P.S. Yours is probably large, too.
Brandon MacKinley is a grizzled ex-Coast Guard operative who looks ruggedly his 51 years, but has the physique (and sexual stamina) of a 20-year-old thanks to a demanding day job as a writer. But what MacKinley's neighbors don't suspect is that his thrilling career penning espionage fiction hides a very real danger more wild than anything he could write about.
MacKinley secretly leads America's top-secret assault force on the jobs the SEALs are scared to do. (Note: I mean this with no disrespect to our fine boys in the Navy, but it's true.) That team has no name, but if it did, it would be ...
... Echo 9.
As per submission guidelines, one of the elite operatives is a stoic powerhouse called Deke, and another is a beautiful but deadly blonde sniper who is the world's foremost "hacker." She will "hack" the Chinese mainframe to prevent China from "E-Mailing" the president's travel itinerary to al-Qaida.
Phone calls are not a threat because al-Qaida doesn't speak Mandarin.
Just a typical Tuesday for Echo 9, you say? There's just one problem: The Chinese leadership collective known as Golden Luck Mind knows the U.S. is trying to stop al-Qaida from murdering the president. If they can prove America is trying to defend itself, China will have all the justification it needs for the United Nations to launch pre-emptive nuclear missiles into the sun, blowing it up and dooming the United States to eternal darkness.
In this taut political situation, MacKinley and his right-hand man, Aloysius Cadwallader (affectionately known to the team as "DipShit"), must pose as Chinese nationals and infiltrate the Chinese Computer Headquarters at the U.N. summit.
They were inside.
According to their intel, all they had to do was follow the Chinese flags dyed crimson with innocent blood to the Computating Laboratory. There, they would employ the strange device known as a USB to spread a virus to every electronic device in China ... short-circuiting them all before the electronic-mail could be sent.
Would it work? This techno-wizardry was beyond him. He only understood the old ways -- the way of the gun and the sword and whatever came before the sword. DipShit handed him the C-4 and they quietly blew the door to the inner chamber off its hinges with well-placed boomy charges.
This caption classified by Executive Order.
Yes, it would work. Mack trusted Chastity Saintclaire with his life, even though she was of French extraction; now he'd have to trust her with the lives of 314,999,998 fellow Americans. More than trusted her, if he was being honest with himself. He stabbed a surprised guard in the eye before either of them had time to think about the fact that the man would never see his family again. It was Chas who had told him not to blame himself for his wife's death. Now he saw the way she looked at him despite her being only 21 years old, and God help him ...
The alarm went off. DipShit threw baffle grenades at it, and it stopped, sheepishly, like an erupting volcano might stop if a comet that was largely ice struck it.
... He looked that way at her, too. They reached the end of the corridor and could go no further. Mack and Dip squinted until they were close enough to the guards to do what they did next. Screaming like an ancient Scottish warrior, Dip hurled a claymore at the men, pulling the det cord as he did so, the way a man starts a lawnmower that he's throwing at someone. The men didn't even have time to gurgle in horror before their larynxes were pulped along with their entire bodies.
Their guts oozed like hamburger through the fingers of a hairy teenager.
"DipShit: sit-rep." He would not try saying that phrase 12 times fast.
"My Mandarin's a little rusty," admitted Dip. "But I think this sign in front of us says 'Here is glorious room of cloning Chinese version of ace American superteam ...' "
No, thought Mack's swiftly racing boggled mind. No. No! NO! It explained so much: the hairs missing from Chas' hairbrush ... the theft of Mandelbaum's foreskin ... the waiter who had hastily cleared the plate with Mack's fingernail still on it ...
"... 'Team of Echoes No. 9,'" concluded Dip gravely, his voice echoing around the now-silent hallway the way the mine's explosion was still echoing in their ears. Neither man said anything until one of them did.
"The good news is with that you get wonton," DipShit added to the silence, but his customary hilariously banal racist humor fell flat in that moment. Through the secure door's indestructible window, they watched the eggs begin to hatch.
Lesson 4: Sample
By Thoth! I wasn't getting anywhere! I was running out of time for NaHoStrugPubYoNoMo, and still no bites from publishers. I had several more good ideas, but with only two weeks left, no way could I write 50-page samples for each of them. The only solution was to combine them all into one final push. It was here that I learned to baffle and dazzle the weary editors of autumn with my cover letter, then submit any damn thing I wanted, no matter how tenuous the relationship.
19 December 2012
To the Greater Penobscot Area Amateur Writers' Agency:
How would you like to represent the most ground-breaking novel of your career?
I'm giving you the opportunity for once in your stupid life to make the right choice and represent a true artist who is doing something new. A Heart Recalcitrant isn't your typical sci-fi erotic bildungsroman about a Japanese cowboy who becomes a pirate. This is a J-Sci-Bil Yee-haw Arrrotica with a brain.
About me: I am the author of over 300 novels, including Die, Earthman, Die! and Time-Vikings: Blood Unknown under the pen name of Gaius Rexotope.
In non-sci-fi, my pseudonym of Derek Globberman published the men's erotic pamphlet One Shade of Scarlet (based on the RedPorn clip) and the pickup artist's manual No Fatties: The "True" Story of How a Solid 3 Dated Only 9s and 10s.
My most significant work to date, however, was under my own name with Brendan McGinley's Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian.
I am currently working on the latest in The New Adventures of Huck Finn, Boy Detective series of children's books. I don't need to tell you the latest installment, The Ice Cream Bandits, shook the Scholastic best-seller list with its vicious triple homicide climax. Publisher's Weekly called it "Unbelievable" and "Outrageous," with "An ending that defies the very term 'children's fiction.'"
There, that is everything anyone could ever write in fiction this century. Can we make some money now?
c/o The Molly Molasses Memorial Library
Old Town, ME
As you're no doubt aware, the literati love nothing more than books about themselves. Any novel about a middle-aged intellectual who's bored with sex is guaranteed to draw quotes like "Powerful ... an unsettling but deeply satisfying look at the larger forces that move all our lives. A book for anyone living in a post-9/11 world."
That's the genius of my newest work -- no, I daresay opus. Yes, the lead character of A Heart Recalcitrant is a vampire priest ... but he's a vampire priest in residence at a small New England college. The many, many genres are subtly interwoven into what is, on the surface, a tale of navel-gazing and Xanax addiction.
Belial DuSangre is ... you know what? Screw it. Just read the sample.
To crawl along a wind-brushed beach in winter, to know a woman by her obnoxious laugh, to smell the world through a child's nostrils once more ... these pleasures were forevermore beyond Belial DuSangre. Entombed within the dank confines of his office at Nos Ferat University, with its pleasant Gothic campus and suitably isolated roads, the college's non-denominational chaplain knew he could busy himself with teaching and homilies until the eventual casking that comes to us all ...
Or would he? Perhaps he would simply trundle on forever, preserved in the everlasting life of the written word all around him like a pickle. Or a vampire. I'm not saying the two are similar, I'm just saying they both last well beyond their natural lifespan.
Pictured: Vampire or simile?
Belial rubbed his eyes and beheld the last drops of the setting sun, feeling, rather than a man his age -- though Donna used to say he looked ageless -- invigorated at this hour. He had quaffed at the cup of life once upon a heartbreak ago, and knew no way but the way of disenchantment. Such was the burden of the intelligent man in this world.
A year later, I have not received even a curt reply from any agents or editors. You probably haven't either, sucker.
That's right, I called you a sucker. Did you waste your time following these instructions? Muah ha ha ha! Another NaHoStrugPubYoNoMo, another 100,000 competitors eliminated!
This crazypants "advice" letter has been circulating for centuries and was believed to have been originally written by Miguel de Cervantes. But don't worry, you haven't lost a month of productivity; you've gained a world free from your terrible novel about life on a rutabaga farm told from the point of view of an autistic illegal immigrant.
Sure, you feel bad now. But next year you'll be smart enough to perpetrate this scam on some other sucker. While they're busy drafting crazy letters, your own Indian orphan sweatshop will be up and running at full steam! Till next year ... suckers!
Note: Mr. McGinley is on vacation. Today's column was guest-written by Nobel Prize-winning author Alice Munro.
Brendan hasn't authored anything more ambitious than Electro-Swing Acts You Should Be Listening To, but refers you to his buddy Alex's brand-spanking new mystery novel, Silent City, DOB's How to Fight Presidents, and Gladstone's Notes from the Internet Apocalypse.