Monday 7 September 2009


In my arbitrary way, I hereby declare the "You must be joking" competition closed. You may have noticed that I forgot to say what the prize would be. So, I am now happy to announce that the prize for getting both answers correct within my time-scale would almost certainly have been a vast amount of money. Sadly, no one got both answers correct. I am devastated.

The correct answers

Many of you guessed that one of the sentences I'd made up was No 22:
"The Extremely Envious Elf: Ernie is an Elf. Even though he has lots of possessions, he's always envious of everyone. One day, he meets a Pixie, (Percy) who is crying and Ernie learns that actually he's a very lucky Elf and he stops being envious. This is, I feel, a lesson which children do need to learn these days. Also, I have chosen names for the characters which will help children learn the sounds of letters, thus helping them improve their reading. For example, Envious Ernie and Percy the Pixie. There are others."
Now, ok, it might have seemed obviously rubbish. As Rik cleverly pointed out, it couldn't actually have been genuine because it would be too identifiable and I'd hate to ruin the chances of the brilliant author of such a stunning idea by enabling all of you to steal the concept, as I'm sure you would love to do. Seriously, though, this is just the sort of "plot" that is offered to agents and publishers on a regular basis. I have been sent several Percy the Pixie ideas myself and I'm not even an agent or publisher. And such authors always labour the moral message and all the "learning potential" of their stories. These are the sort of stories Enid Blyton might have written as a joke when suffering from a very high fever at the age of 8.

I am very proud of the fact that NONE of you guessed my other made-up extract. It was No. 4:
"I recommend that you also try to sell Animation Film Rights as I feel that my story has real potential in that area. I am happy to offer these rights to you for your use, subject to an agreement between us, which I am confident will be forthcoming."

Again, this is something that aspiring authors very often do talk about. Which is why you obviously didn't realise I made it up. Hehe. As you very well know, giving professional advice to the potential agent or publisher is absolutely not the right thing to do.

I noticed that vast numbers of you thought it was No. 6:
"I know you ask for a synopsis but I've found that such a thing rather defeats the purpose of sending sample chapters and tends to be an unwelcome exercise for all concerned."
Yep, hard to believe, but true. I've seen similar excuses for not writing synopses. And things along the lines of "I know this is what your submission guidelines say but I have decided instead to ..."

A lot of you also thought that No 18 must be made up:
"I have printed a copy of the book, complete with 289 illustrations, from my Toshiba Satellite with Windows Vista with an Hewlett Packard all-in-one printer (jpeg prints)."
I know - the mind boggles as to what this person was thinking at the moment of writing that. We'll never know.

Apart from my sneaky No. 4, there were several others which none of you opted for. You are obviously becoming wise to the extent of absurdity of some unpublished authors and it no longer surprises you that anyone would do any of the following:

  • write nonsense badly: "I have put my properties in approximate order of commerciality, I hope this is as convenient as your stated preference"
  • not be able to write a proper sentence: "I feel with a little investment by an agent could really have an impact on the Children's writing world."
  • criticise a whole swathe of published literature: "I have not enclosed any synopsis but I will say that my work does not include any monsters or magic or cruel adults, unlike all the other children's books you see nowadays."
  • write a drivellingly powerless reason for reading on: "My writing activates pure imagination and fun and I have tested them on some children and they have really loved them. A few adults have too."
Now, there were no winners and no prizes but I hope you had fun and you deserve some points for effort. I'm going to bestow some special (and very covetable) Order of the Crabbit Old Bat awards on some of you.

The worthy recipients are:

  • Rik - for perspicacity (see above)
  • Melinda - because I liked her explanation for her choices: "because they were well written and made sense so were obviously fake"
  • The Proe - for the irony in his response: "I know you asked for a tie-breaker recommendation but I've found that such a thing tends to be an unwelcome exercise for all concerned and would not truthfully convey the full impact of my choices and liverwurst."
  • Catdownunder - for choosing to recommend one of my own books ... ( I did expect a lot more crawling from the rest of you actually, but there we go - you'll know for next time)
Huge thanks to everyone for entering, for recommending your favourite books, for providing me with almost endless fun and for not winning the prize. I don't know about you but I think we've really covered covering letters now and should all go away and do some actual writing.

Next, I am going to be going on and on and on and on and on and on about a topic dear to my heart: over-writing. That's when writers go on and on and on when they should have stopped long before. And when they get above themselves and full of themselves and up themselves and think that everyone really wants to hang around listening to their glossy, sensuous, gorgeous, sinuous prose and they play with similes like a siamese with a shrew, and load their sentences with alliteration and assonance and all aspects of authorial artfulness.

And their readers couldn't give a damn and just want to know what happens.


Catherine Hughes said...

Oh, phooey! I did consider sycophantism (is that a word?) but, as I am still awaiting my copy of 'Fleshmarket' from strangely-slow-at-the-moment Amazon, I might have blown it!

Do I get any points for being the first to comment here or for recommending your blog to everyone on Litopia as the one I really wouldn't want to do without?


Thought as much......

Nicola Morgan said...

Oh, catherine, I am so cheap: of course you can have an award for delayed sycophancy!!

Catherine Hughes said...

Sycophancy! That's it! Thank you.

See? I really couldn't cope without you!

David John Griffin said...

Ahh phooey, I won nuffink, not even an award for delayed sycophancy.

Hang on, I've just had an idea:

"And when they get above themselves and full of themselves and up themselves and think that everyone really wants to hang around listening to their glossy, sensuous, gorgeous, sinuous prose and they play with similes like a siamese with a shrew, and load their sentences with alliteration and assonance and all aspects of authorial artfulness."

That is one terrific sentence, Nicola!

I hope you don't mind if I mention that I've just joined the blogger brigade:

(If this blatant advertising annoys you enough to reconsider the small possibility of awarding the aforementioned coveted award for delayed sycophancy, I might sulk a bit... ;) Seriously, hope it's OK to mention it.

Sarah said...

Congrats to the winners!

Nicola, I have to say that #22 seemed suspiciously similar to my entry in your old query contest. Fairyland, horrible moral messages... Granted, my characters didn't have alliterative names and your characters didn't explode, but really! You swore you wouldn't steal our ideas.

Crabbit old bat.

Maybe I could get the I Knew You Would Steal My Idea award. Which is, I believe, a hallmark of truly heinous covering letters.

catdownunder said...

Cats do not crawl Ms Morgan - our knees are not made like that!

Anonymous said...

"I know you ask for a synopsis but I've found that such a thing rather defeats the purpose of sending sample chapters and tends to be an unwelcome exercise for all concerned."
Cross my heart and hope to sober up the beagle; I had an author write this to me in his query. I laughed for a full five minutes before tippy typing a quick "If I felt it was an unwelcome exercise, I wouldn't ask for it. it's unwelcome for you because you're too lazy to write it. Good luck with that."

Nicola Morgan said...

David - I don't at all mind that you've mentioned your own blog (which I am just about to go and inspect). If you had suddenly arrived on my blog and your first or even second contribution was to do this, I'd have been pissed off, but you've been a fully contributory and decent member of the gang, and you are most welcome to tell us about yourself. Besides, you just played the sycophancy card, and that buys you space.

Sarah - oh no, I'm being accused of plagiarism! Thing is, just about every fairyland idea has been used many many many times so it would be impossible to invent one that bore no resemblance to the crappy one you came up with! But I do think you should indeed get the "I Knew You Would Steal My Idea award". A very good idea indeed (the award, not the pixie thing). However, I believe the exploding fairies was the crux of your wonderful idea and the alliterative names were essential to mine, so really our ideas are very different and you can't sue me.

Barb said...

Looking forward to the over-writing piece, which will be great in your no nonsense style.

Also just dropping off this KREATIV BLOG AWARD. You can find more details about this on my blog. Thanks for all the inspiration you give me in your posts!

Sarah said...

I'll take the award, Nicola, and thank you.

It wore me out yesterday to summon enough petulance and suspicion to write that post. How in heaven's name do folks live that?

Perhaps they're hoping to live off the money they'll make from the lawsuit.

I, however, shall apply butt to chair and get a bit of writing done today. (I agree with Barb- I'm looking forward to the bit on overwriting.)

Melinda Szymanik said...

I'm very excited to be a winner - is there a certificate? Can I redeem my points for a margarita?
Query letters strike me as one handed push ups with a clap in the middle. We haven't tended to use them in NZ for which I am eternally grateful, although getting a yes out of a publisher is still as difficult.

catdownunder said...

Having recovered from trying to work out how to crawl (I still cannot manage it) I would like to say thankyou for the honour Ms Morgan...I am still purring.
I also think your blog should be required reading for all public servants who write reports. (Yes, I have been reading another one...ugh.)

Rebecca Knight said...

I think the made up awards may just be the best part! :D

It is quite funny that we'll believe almost anything you tell us showed up in a real live covering letter/query. I think this means we're learning.

Yay, us!

Nicola Morgan said...

Dear All
Sorry for small delay in replying to comments - am still trying to catch up with myself after the book festival stuff. Also my younger daughter (20) is having her tonsils out today so I was/am/will be a little preoccupied. Actually trying not to think about it too much.

The over-writing piece will probably get done today. And then there'll be a promised piece on beginnings, asn possibly then endings. But not middles! Or maybe there should be one on middles ...

Melinda, I should design a certificate, shouldn't I? You can certainly make yourself a margharita though.

catdownunder and Rebecca - very true.

barb - thank you! Will go and investigate. I've had these before and not done anything about them but I'm honoured that you should think of me.

Sarah - hope butt has been on chair.

Catherine Hughes said...

Ah, Nicola. My eldest had to have a mole removed from her face when she was 13. It was terrifying for me; I held her hand till she was under (they couldn't do it under a local because it was very close to her eye and she needed to be absolutely still). But she was fine and recovered from the GA really quickly.

I had my tonsils out when I was seven. It wasn't too bad, as I recall.

Hope she makes a speedy recovery and that you fully enjoy the opportunity to make a fuss of her!

catdownunder said...

Thinking of you both then Nicola. Hope all goes well.