Saturday, December 07, 2013
How to Avoid Rejection: Part Three
By OFW chief editor:
Carlos J Cortes And Renée Miller
Published: December 25, 2013
In previous articles we discussed two of the three reasons responsible for most manuscript rejections:
a. Our chosen genre or the type of manuscript doesn’t fit the agency.
b. Our manuscript is poorly written.
c. Our plot is cliche.
This week we’ll review the last of the three possible reasons behind receiving that nasty rejection, namely:
Our plot is cliche.
Being so close to our work, we often forget that a manuscript is a product. As such, and to reach the point of sale, it must access a marketplace ruled by laws—some written and most unwritten—in place since Phoenician times.
Imagine an inventor, who having dreamed a product needing years of research and piles of cash to develop, was
to produce it without knowing if the thing worked or whether it was competitive or even marketable. Like us, you would wonder if the man was feeble-minded or worse. Yet, that’s the commonest delusion afflicting writers.
But enough about books; let’s talk sandwiches.
We’re out of work in a strange town and hit the idea of making sandwiches at home.
No, we don’t plan to stuff our faces all day long, but to develop a unique item—a prize creation—and sell it to local sandwich parlors.
A stroll down the main street reveals an endless string of sandwich shops with millions of customers loaded with boxes coming in and out of them. Awesomesauce!
But, wait a minute… let’s cool down. The challenge of creating a master sandwich—
in a town where millions of businesses (already established, don’t forget) struggle to lure customers with their creations—is not for the faint-hearted.
To have a chance, our product must have six traits: It should be attractive, creative, tasty, original, intriguing or ground-breaking. What’s more, to
hit a devilishly difficult and glutted market, we better endow our creations with all six virtues.
Our first task would be to learn how to make sandwiches. We wouldn’t commit the gross mistake of assuming that our love of peanut butter and jelly slapped between two slices of bread is universally shared.
Next, we would spend time studying what’s currently available to sandwich eaters. We would sample the goodies, take notes, speak to sellers and consumers, visit shops, confer with owners, and finally pluck enough courage and visit the local mobsters. Unfortunately, the mafia runs the distribution. We need a Don’s benediction. At our interview, we’re given two warnings: The first is that we probably have just one chance, one shot at the jackpot. The second is that bulldozing our way through a mob’s patch would be risky. From what they’ve heard (we’re just repeating the Don’s words) concrete foundations are full of foolish wannabe heroes.
Finally, with our larder chock-full of exotic raw materials and notebooks packed with recipes, market intelligence, statistics, consumer reports—and the names of mafia Dons—we settle down to create the mother of all sandwiches.
We’ll never please everybody; there are genres in sandwiches, just as in films or fiction. After all, some folks love all meats while others abhor pork; there are strict vegans, weight-watchers and those who swear by a quadruple-decker oozing slime and with four-figure calories.
Our most pressing concern should be to avoid cliche sandwiches. But what’s a cliche sandwich? Anything we’ve already seen in our window-shopping outings. Anything that buyers have already tasted, anything they’re familiar with, or anything that resembles other products on offer.
To attempt penetrating the sandwich market with a cliche product, would imitate our wretched inventor, and make us just as feeble-minded or worse.
Our question to ponder would be this: If our product has nothing new to offer, if it’s not better, or different, why bother? No, we haven’t forgotten about the exceptions, about the lucky ones who made it against all odds. We haven’t forgotten about the people who win the lottery. But to dedicate one’s life to the pursuit of infinitesimal odds is for suckers.
And if you think sandwiches are poor comparisons to books, please think again. Both have covers and filling; everybody can make them given a loaf, a tin and a can opener and they range from scrumptious to inedible. The only difference, if any, is this: We churn out many more books than sandwiches.
Laziness, ignorance and delusion.
After our gargantuan passage through the kitchens, let’s return to our beloved books. A sober appraisal of the titles that have monopolized the bestsellers’ list over the recent past should highlight a common trait: a story or plot that either had never been done before or has been retold in such an original or different way that has captivated an audience. Leaving aside, sagas, follow-ups, serials and rehashes, every winner introduced original concepts. There were no cliche plots.
Before spending a year or more of our lives creating a story, we should sit back, jot down our concept, and address it with hostility.
Has it been done before?
Will its concept be similar in layout, message, approach, or story to any other published work?
If the answer to the above questions is a “yes,” we would have a cliche plot. With nothing new to offer, our chances of success would dwindle to nil.
If we’ve answered a rotund “no,” before moving on we must continue the inquisition with another battery of questions:
Will it be different?
Will its characters be singular and unique?
Will it be better written?
Will it broach ideas in an original way?
Answer “yes” to all those questions and relax in the knowledge that your manuscript deserves to be on the best bookshelves.
We are often asked to help our friends and colleagues with query letters. Have you ever wondered why agents demand a query letter before wasting their time with synopses or chapters? The answer is simple: Agents look for concepts which are not cliched.
In the magic of literature, there’s infinite scope for originality and no room for tired versions of old tales. Rather than hiding your talent for creation, flaunt it: create unique stories, fresh, and embracing concepts that have never been done before. Of course, a singular plot will not open the doors of publishing and roll out the red carpet, but it will get you closer to the top of the heap, where things have a chance of happening.
A query is like a sandwich. Between the “Dear Ms Muffet,” and “Best regards,” there’s a pitch: the filling. And if the filling doesn’t elicit from an agent an astonished “wow!” chances are rejection will follow.
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