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Been There Done That

Here’s another question that came in when we asked readers to post questions to us about BookEnds, the publishing industry, or anything else they might be wondering. Gradually we’re working to get through those questions and answer them as thoroughly as possible.

I am an African-American woman working on a culinary themed cosy mystery. I worry when querying agents that they will take one look at it and give a whole “Been there done that” response to it. Any advice to me as to how I can get mine to stand out?

Truthfully it would be difficult for me not to say “been there done that.” As you obviously know already there are a lot of culinary mysteries out there, so my question to you is what is different about your book? Since you are asking my advice I would guess not much. My suggestion is that if you really want to write a culinary mystery, you don’t make the culinary theme your hook, but instead find another hook that hasn’t been done yet and then somehow incorporate the culinary into it. I’m afraid that another cozy cooking mystery is going to be a very, very tough sell.


Category: Blog


  1. Hello Jessica, I’d like to start by thanking you for such an incredible blog! It has been very, very helpful!
    I have a question for you, but it’s sort of the opposite of this post.
    If a writer has a story that has never been done before, and they are certain, this is ‘the one’, do you still want him/her to have a complete work before they query you?
    I know it takes a little while for you guys to respond to queries, so that is a little built in time to get it finished… but if they have the solid story, how do you feel about querying before the final version is complete?

  2. I’m not Jessica but I think you should have the book finished before querying. I queried a few years ago and it didn’t take long for a couple of agents to request more pages, and one took the entire manuscript.

    Life took me away from my writing and I haven’t queried since then, and I’ve found that, while my novel isn’t poor, it’s not its best, either, and looks like a complete rewrite for me. Even though the one I have has been polished to death, I don’t quite think it’s ready for prime time.

    Obviously it was rejected, but I did get some encouraging rejections, which leads me to believe it’s publishable, someday, if I do a bit more tweaking.

    I’m not sure a story is ever done, LOL.

  3. If you’re an unpublished author, we always ask that your novel be complete before you query us. Nonfiction is a little different, but fiction submissions always require a finished product.

  4. just your opinion…but what do you think the new trend is in the romance genre? I think we’re moving away from paranormals, but historicals don’t seem to be on the upsurge and chick-lit is overinventoried…

    Do you see signs of a new sub-sub-genre coming?

  5. It’s very frustrating to hear that every story has to have a “hook.” When I hear “hook,” all I think of is an outside element that’s not really an element of a story, but at the same time is. Like a regency vampire, or any of the mysteries that use an occupation, skill or hobby as a hook.

    Some of the hooks are just downright dumb, yet they sell!!

    Can’t there just be stories anymore? Must everything be a gimmick of some sort?

    Or is this the difference between genre and literary?

  6. Literary or genre I think a lot of books require a hook. And rather than expand upon this myself I’m simply going to quote a colleague of mine who says it much better than I ever could, “Motherless Brooklyn,” which came out six or seven years ago and won a National Book Critics Circle Award, was an amazing book and a great example of a literary novel with a hook. Itt was great, straightforward, simple storytelling. In this case, the “hook” was a hard-boiled detective novel featuring a guy with Tourette’s. It wasn’t cheezy. the Tourette’s was real and was central to the story and the character.

    So instead of thinking a “hook” is bad, writers should broaden their definition of the word and think of it to mean anything that might bring readers a new perspective on old forms and a new perspective on characters and story.” 

    An example that I use is that if you are standing in front of shelves and shelves of books looking for something brand new to read, something that wasn’t recommended to you or that you’ve ever heard of, it’s likely you are going to be attracted to it because of the hook.

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