In the prior mailbag post, saramurphy asked the following, and I thought it was worthy enough of a question to get its own little post:
When you find that the plot does not make sense do you include that in your response to the writer?
Basically, I don't include that information in my rejection letters to the writer. There's a number of reasons I don't do this, but let's cover the very basic one first.
I don't have time. I use form letters, which I know most people think suck. If I could, I'd have a whole army of minion monkeys typing up personalized response letters, since I really think writers deserve that type of feedback. But the simple truth is that there's one me, one intern at my house, one Spencer who helps electronically, and about 5200 queries a year. Which is a drop in the bucket, compared to other agents, but it's still a lot. If I wrote personalized rejections to all 5200 queries, I'd be doing this until the cows were dead.
Now let's say that I really did have the time though; let's say that I could write personalized rejection letters to everyone who submits to me. Would I say "your plot makes no sense", and tell the writer that? I honestly don't think I would.
When I say a plot makes no sense, it really, really makes no sense. It has me going "huh" and muttering phrases along the lines of "Was this person on crack when they wrote this?". To put it more politely, let's use a totally ridiculous example that I will make up now, for a plot that makes no sense.
Example: My novel is about a flying butterfly who is running for President of the United States. In this far-future novel, flying butterflies have become a sentient species; the fact that they fly should be discounted as unique, but the fact that they talk, now that's something. Anyway, the flying butterfly decides to use his dolphin terrorist friends to secure the underwater vote--did I mention that all of the US is under water now, due to global warming? Anyway, the flying butterfly teams up with the dolphin terrorists, and they also enlist the help of the evolved polar bears, who are now purple. Together, they cover the three basic tenets of the magical United States: air, water, and land. By using their magical powers and combining in a Captain Planet sort of way, the flying butterfly manages to win the Iowa Caucus and the New Hampshire Primary (there is only one political party now), and become the next presidential candidate of the United States. And oh yeah, they all fight crime.
Do you notice how totally ridiculous this is? Do I have you laughing or sneezing milk out your nose or perhaps dying at the computer? Because, people, I get query letters like this. Not many, mind you, but they are there. Sometimes, people think up plots that might have minor cool ideas in them (i.e., dolphin terrorists), but that are otherwise ridiculous. And I think that the minor cool elements are ok, but I simply don't have the words in me to tell the writer that the rest of their novel is... well.... ridiculous.
Being told that something you've worked on is ridiculous or makes no sense... it's not a nice thing to do to someone. It crushes people's egos. Writers are a strong bunch, and you have to be in this business, but we're all people, and people get hurt. I'm not trying to baby any writers here, but if someone submitted what I wrote above as a query letter to me, I'd be hard-pressed to think of a polite way to tell them that I don't want to read their novel. Which is another reason that agents use form letters, because sometimes, that is the nicest way of rejecting someone.
And now, for your further amusement, I'm going to paste in another ridiculous query letter example. It's written by a former client and a very good friend of mine, Jodi Meadows. Jodi was privy to the writing of this blog post, as we chatted over IM, and she wanted to join in the fun and write a "proper ridiculous query letter". So ladies and gentlemen, I give you the letter:
Dear Mr. or Ms. Agent:
I'm writing to you because you're an agent and I'm looking for representation for my litter box story (although you'd probably want to market it as fantasy or YA fantasy) THE CAT AND THE LITTER BOX, complete at 123,534 words. I've never had an agent before, but I think I'd like one. I think I'm a good enough writer to deserve one, as I've been writing for 30 years, plus my childhood, but that was mostly papers for school. I learned how to write in second grade, and cursive in third. But even before that, I made up stories for my dolls, who all seemed to like them. My cat (Mr. Sunshine) wasn't born yet, and therefore wasn't in my stories.
THE CAT AND THE LITTER BOX is about a tabby cat named Mr. Sunshine, who learns that his wise old mentor, Purrcilla, was kidnapped! Oh noes! (Darn lolcat speak has infected this book!) After Mr. Sunshine went to save her and realized he was her sister (it's so hard to tell when you're a cat and pretty much everyone is separated at birth), they THEN found out that their old breeder was a magician bent on taking all the clumping cat litter in the world so that he could build a giant sandcastle of doom. (Oh noes!)
What's worse, their old breeder (evil magician) actually turns out to be breeding puppies now, and he plans on using the sandcastle of doom to keep them. And once the puppies use osmosis (or something) to get the power of clumping cat litter, there's no stopping them. So Mr. Sunshine and his sister, Purrcilla, have to find the magic litter box of goodness in order to save the clumping cat litter and keep the puppies from getting the powers.