I just sent back a dog book proposal. For the second time. It wasn't one I wrote. It was one I evaluated. And for the second time, it got a no-go from me. This actually makes me sad. I like it when good dog books are published. Many times after evaluating a manuscript (after my initial spurt of envy has subsided) I put in a request for a copy of the book when it comes out. So I'm not happy when I have to finally say, "Don't send it back to me. Ever."
So today's entry is a recycled one, from an article I wrote that appeared in the Dog Writers Association of America's newsletter, Ruff Drafts:
You were given the green light to submit a pet book proposal. You worked on your proposal and sent it to the acquisitions editor, visions of contracts and dollars dancing in your head. But then somebody ruined
everything: some idiot rejected your proposal! Who would do such a thing?
It depends on the publisher, but many times the person
who would do such a thing is a veterinarian, dog writer, or dog breeder that the publisher asks to evaluate the sample chapter for readability, information and
appropriateness. I have been that person at times, and I have talked to others who have been that person. And here is what I can tell you: We are lazy. We like it when writers make our job easy.
Writers make the job the easiest by submitting a well-written proposal that meets the target readership and provides useful, specific information. A good proposal requires very few comments or even brain-power from
the evaluator to give a recommendation that the publisher should go with it.
Writers make the job second-easiest by submitting a proposal that is clearly bad in the first few pages. Sure, it takes more effort on the evaluators' parts to write comments and explain why they can't recommend it, but after they've gotten to the point where they suggest the author not even try to write anything beyond his name in the future, there's not much more to say.
Following are some of my favorite writer types--besides the "I Can Read Directions and Write a good Proposal" type:
1) The "Fantasy Con" writer: Nobody likes to think
they're being conned. That was the case when I read a proposal about---well, let's call it Earthdog. Good topic. But when the authors claimed the potential audience was all Terrier owners (plus Dachshund owners) and then bolstered that claim with the registration statistics for the entire Terrier group---including Bull Terriers and all the others than don't do Earthdog---they were either dumb or thought I was. Then they multiplied the annual registration figures by 13, which they claimed was the average age of terriers and so represented how many
were living in America and how many books could be sold. According to them, the book had the potential to sell at least a hundred thousand copies. Another publisher ultimately bought the book. A couple of years later I saw it in the remainder pile at a warehouse bookstore. Why would anyone want to mislead a publisher into writing something that won't sell? With the advances most publishers of dog books pay, you are only fooling yourself because you'll end up writing a book that won't pay you back for your efforts.
2) The "I Could Have Written That" writer:
Plagiarism---it should not even have to be mentioned in this article. Except I run into it. A lot. The most blatant case was when I noticed the author's style had suddenly changed. As I read further, I realized I agreed with what she was saying. I mean, REALLY agreed with it. Why, it almost sounded like something I'd write myself...Because I had. A quick check of one of my own books found the pages she'd lifted for her proposal. It's very bad form to plagiarize---and very bad luck to plagiarize from the evaluator's own work! I'm willing to think the author was not that foolish---that with all the copying of sections from books to people's websites, she may have lifted it from a website who in turn had lifted it from the book. Either way, not acceptable.
3) The "I'm Too Busy to Write a New Proposal" writer: Yeah, join the club. But generic text is the single most common reason that a breed book is rejected. The sample chapter is the writer's chance to show off why they should be chosen to write about this specific topic. Yet many choose to submit a generic chapter on a generic topic that's obviously lifted from their last book. Write about a topic as specific to that breed as possible. Don't submit a chapter about grooming, for example, if you're writing about Greyhounds. Write instead about adopting a track greyhound or about the breed's health peculiarities. The same is true for the proposed Table
of Contents; include breed-specific sections. Don't promise sections on jogging with your Pekingese, de-matting your Basenji, teaching your Basset Hound not to
counter surf, or weight pulling with your IG. And yes, I really have received some of these.
4) The "I'm an Expert Because I Am" writer: Scholarship can be another problem area. Dog people tend to think they are experts simply because they have owned dogs for a long time. And while this does give them some expertise, it also makes many complacent about continuing education. I often read training chapters that could have been plucked from the 1960s, veterinary chapters with outdated information, and even grooming information that has no basis in reality. (And yes, as a writer I have been guilty of this as well. For
example, neutering does NOT reduce the rate of prostate cancer, as I recited blindly for years until I happened to look it up. Oops.) If you know something for a fact because you've always known it for a fact, assume it's not really a fact until you find a source that proves it's a fact.
5) The "Don't Ask Me" writer: The writer's job is to explain, not to refer readers elsewhere for an
explanation. Don't take care of the Yorkie grooming chapter by saying "ask your breeder to show you" and "take him to a good groomer." You can add this advice, and even some URLS to detailed websites, but your book's job is to explain, not refer. I once evaluated a book that could have been boiled down to about six lines of text: "To learn about (feeding, vaccinations, training, grooming, competing) ask your (veterinarian, trainer, groomer, breeder)." I felt like telling the author he might consider asking them and then writing down
the answers. Actually, I probably did tell him that.
6) The "They Has Copyeditors For That" writer: Grammar counts. Sure, a copyeditor will fix grammatical mistakes, and even rewrite sentences and paragraphs to make them more readable. But they charge by the hour, and a manuscript with a lot of problems is going to cost the publisher a lot of money. And that gets noted on an evaluation. Why pay somebody to write a book when you already know you'll be paying somebody to rewrite the same book? A writer would have to be the world's expert on a topic to get away with essentially hiring a ghost writer to make up for sterling text such as "If you're dogs mouth is smelling badly, than he may have a problem, you will have to look for by opening it's mouth, and looking to see if they're teeth are infected which happens if you don't brush them and this can effect the heart too." Of course, having written this, I am now very self-conscious about this paragraph's grammar...
7) The "See How Smart I Am?" writer: Writing style
counts--and here evaluators will differ greatly. But some styles will get red flags from almost any evaluator. On one extreme some writers seem to revel in showing off how much smarter they are than the reader. They use fancy words where simple ones would suffice, and they skip over information that's necessary to make the rest of a section understandable. They include sections of information that while true, really aren't useful. "Dogs with immune-deficiency diseases may have problems with phagocytosis. Phagocytosis is an essential feature of the immune system. Phagocytes are found underlying the mucous membranes and skin in the bloodstream, spleen, lymph nodes, meninges, synovial membrane, bone marrow and around blood vessels all over the
body. Phagocytes are either in the tissue(histiocytes, synovial macrophages, Kupffer cells, and such) or in the blood (polymorphonuclear leukocytes, monocytes). If you suspect your dog may have an immune-deficient disease, consult your veterinarian." You know at this point the writer really wants to add, "because they are the only ones nearly as smart as I am."
8) The "Let Me Write This Really S-L-O-W" writer: On the other extreme are the writers who assume being new at something is the same as being mentally challenged. "You will want to find a veterinarian for your dog. One way is to ask friends. Find a friend with a dog and ask what veterinarian they go to. Ask whether they like him or not. Another way is to look in the phone book
for your city. You will need a phone book with yellow pages (these are the pages that list businesses---and are yellow). Look under "V" for veterinarian. Here you will find a list of veterinarians in your area. Caution: Some listings may be from out of town. You will need to check with them to see where they are located. Another
way to do this is to check the phone number prefix. Once you have located a veterinarian in your area, call the number listed." At this point, the writer really should add, "If you are actually reading this intently you really should not own a dog as you are way too stupid."
9) The "Third Time's a Charm, Right?" writer: Yes,
people actually send in drafts, complete with notes that they will fill in certain sections if the publisher really wants to see them, or will fix the typos if they get the job. Yeah, that always makes a good impression. Wonder if he plans to send in a draft of the completed manuscript.
10) The "What's a Subheading?" writer: It's not the lack of subheading alone, but what including one could have done to help. The amazing thing about using subheads is that they point out where your organization has gone astray. Surely subheads would have helped the sample chapter that combined collar placement, nutrition, nail care, vaccinations, and a touch of history in the same section dealing with how to teach your dog to sit. I hope. A sample chapter is not your chance to write every stray fact in one place. Really.
11) The "You Get the Idea" writer: OK, figure it out. If the book you are writing the sample chapter for is supposed to have 50,000 words and 10 chapters, and you submit a sample chapter consisting of 1000 words, do you think maybe mathematically there may be a problem if this is truly a sample of how your chapters will be? The request was for a sample chapter, not a sample subheading.
12) The "You Can't Tell Me What to Do" writer: More often than not, a proposal isn't all bad or all good. It may show promise in some areas but suffer from poor scholarship, lack of detail, or bad advice. The proposal goes back to the author with comments from the evaluator and an offer to resubmit the proposal. Often, these comments are the result of a lot of work and fact-finding on the evaluator's part. This is why it's a good idea to try to address them in the re-write. The writer can follow the evaluator's suggestions or can dispute the evaluator's assertions, in the latter case backing up the refutations with evidence or opinions that very often do sway the evaluator's or acquisitions editor's opinion. What the writer should not do is ignore the comments. But as often as not, the writer, who either cannot read or assumes the proposal is going to a different evaluator, instead resubmits essentially the
same proposal in perhaps a different font size. This does little to impress the evaluator.
To be fair, most proposals are neither hit-you-in-the-face good or bad. These are the ones that make an evaluator work making detailed comments and suggestions on how to make the proposal better on a second chance.
So how do you get a good evaluation the first time? Assume this sample is the only chance you'll have. Don't mislead, don't cheat, don't cut corners. Research your facts. Make the text specific to the topic or breed. Write in practical detail, and assume readers will rely on what you write. Assume your readers are smart but not educated in your topic. Organize. Proof read. Proof read again. Consider an evaluator's comments and address them one way or another. And sacrifice a chicken by the full moon.