PostHeaderIcon Scott Hoffman: Don’t Let A Glock Kill Your Book

A refugee from the world of politics, Scott Hoffman is one of the founding partners of Folio Literary Management, LLC. Prior to starting Folio, Scott was at PMA Literary and Film Management, Inc.

He has served as Vice-chairman of the Board of Directors of SEARAC (the only nationwide advocacy agency for Southeast Asian-Americans), a Board Member of Fill Their Shelves, Inc. (a charitable foundation that provides books to children in sub-Saharan Africa) and a member of the Metropolitan Opera’s Young Associates Steering Committee.

Before entering the world of publishing, he was one of the founding partners of Janus-Merritt Strategies, a Washington, DC strategic consulting firm. He holds an MBA from New York University’s Leonard N. Stern School of Business, and a BA from the College of William and Mary.

Scott Hoffman: 

When Lee asked me if I would do a guest blog entry for him and this fabulous site, I jumped at the opportunity. I figured that not only would it be a lot of fun, it would also be an opportunity to give readers a little bit of an insight into the mind of a publishing industry insider, and in the process, maybe pass along a little useful advice.

As a literary agent who represents a fair amount of both fiction and nonfiction that often deals with police procedure, crime scene investigation, and forensics– and as a reader obsessed with the genre– I often find fairly glaring errors in writers’ descriptions of the way things happen in the real world.

Here’s the question—Does it matter? Is it going to harm your chances of getting your book published if you don’t dot every “I” and cross every “T” when it comes to ensuring the accuracy of your work?

The answer: yeah, probably.

Here’s why. Publishing, to a large extent is a gigantic numbers game. Top literary agents get besieged by submissions. I would say that, on average, great agents get anywhere between 250 and 500 query letters a week. That’s a lot of letters. 500 query letters a week times four weeks in a month equals 2000 queries in a month. 2000 queries in a month times 12 months in a year equals 24,000 queries in a year.

And remember—it’s not a literary agent’s job to read query letters. An agent’s job is to sell books for his or her clients. To the extent we read query letters at all, it’s only when we have extra time, and there’s room on our client lists. Some agents like me will only sign one or two new clients a year. So when we’re looking for a needle in a haystack, we don’t have much time to spend on writers who aren’t experts in their subject.

Here’s a dirty little secret about the way I (and most of the other people in the publishing industry) read material from people we don’t have a preexisting professional relationship with, whether it’s query letters, sample chapters, or an entire manuscript from a client we’re considering taking on.

Basically, we read until we CAN stop—and then we do.

So, if your initial letter to us has a typo in the first line, that’s easy. Pass. And onto query number 12,467.

The same goes for technical details. I can’t tell you how many writers have their studly main characters using their thumb to “flip the safety off” on their Glock 17 before wasting a bad guy or “breaking open” a “Mossberg pump-action” shotgun to reload it. 

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These are just the mistakes that *I* catch. I’m hardly a firearms expert; I shudder to think how many errors I *don’t* see that people who read this blog shake their heads over.

So how can you use this phenomenon to your advantage?

Well, readers of crime fiction like to feel smart. To the extent that you can debunk closely-held myths in the course of your writing, agents, editors, and ultimately readers will love it. If you can tell readers how things REALLY happen—as opposed to the way they look on TV, it will give your work a feeling of authenticity that’s often missing in crime fiction (and nonfiction.)

So—here’s my challenge to you, faithful blog readers. When you read crime fiction, what are your pet peeves? What do writers get wrong? What are the most glaring errors you’ve seen? Who are the most egregious offenders?

I’ll even sweeten the pot. Whoever comes up with the best response will get a copy of the galley for Brent Ghelfi’s amazing thriller, VOLK’S SHADOW. Ghelfi’s first book, VOLK’S GAME, was nominated for the best debut thriller of 2007 by the International Thriller Writers. The winner is going to be announced this summer at ThrillerFest.

Bring it on.

Scott Hoffman

FOLIO Literary Management, LLC

www.foliolit.com

***

Tomorrow – Freelance editor/author Becky Levine

34 Responses to “Scott Hoffman: Don’t Let A Glock Kill Your Book”

  • Terry says:

    Hi, Scott and thanks for the insights.

    My pet peeves are fairly basic. The Glock thing is (according to the workshops I’ve taken given by LEOs), the #1 firearms mistake. I’ve seen that one from a surprising number of the BIG Names, but it’s too common to mention.

    In a nutshelll, if I know something, I assume the author ought to know it, too, because I really don’t know very much. Sometimes it’s a ‘fact’ thing that bugs me — like when a famous author had the color of a pill wrong. Since the medication in question was critical to the plot, you’d think he’d have gone to a PDR and checked. I keapt screaming, “It’s BLUE, not yellow!” (At the time, there was no generic equivalent, so it was blue or nothing — and I only knew this because I took that medication.)

    Another peeve is when there’s a much easier solution and thus, feels very contrived to do it the way the book does. Another very famous author’s plot revolved around a bunch of cash found in a house. The character was afraid it might be counterfeit, so he flies to Atlantic City and with great trepidation, uses it at a gambling table because surely a pit boss would recognize funny money. But (and here’s where I figure if I know it, a lot more people should), for undr $5, you can go to Office Depot and buy a pen that changed color on counterfeit money. They use these in toll booths all the time, among other places. I’ve even used them when I was doing a conference registration job and a lot of cash was changing hands.

    Not naming author names unless it’s required. I’m sure there are a lot more. I’ve been reading contest entries (published books) and have seen place names misspelled, the wrong medical procedure used, people being arrested when in reality it couldn’t happen that way.

    On the flip side, I love when an author gets it ‘right’. I grew up in LA and Michael Connelly’s descriptions of the Farmer’s Market bring back amazing memories. I just wish the guy at Humphrey’s was doing the pink elephant cakes when Harry Bosch was watching.

  • I was tossed right out of a book that I was totally enjoying. I believe it was this woman’s debut novel and she’s doing quite well and the book was a best seller. Her medical and forensics knowledge seemed admirable and then she got to the gun scene.

    A rape victim was being consoled by a female cop, suddenly during the hug, the rape victim draws the cop’s gun, shoves her back and puts the gun to her (the rape victim’s) head. This is a modern scene. In the description, we find out that the rape victim used a rifle in her childhood and the cop first knows her gun is on safety (we know it’s not a Glock). One paragraph later a contradictory statement is made – the cop isn’t sure the gun is on safety.

    First I doubt a safety would be employed by police, adds confusion. If it did have a manual safety, it would/should NOT be “on”. Second, I thought guns were secured in place by buttoned flaps (remember the victim is being hugged by the cop and I can’t imagine she can actually see the gun she’s trying to draw). Third, knowing a rifle does not qualify someone to pick up a handgun and instantly know how to use it.

    So before the policewoman can react, the victim manages to draw the gun, figure out about a supposed safety (I’m sure there was a slide release and maybe a decocker and magazine release), aim and pull the trigger.

    After that scene, it made me doubt the author’s knowledge about any of the subject’s covered in the book. I have not read another of her novels.

    Blindsighted – Karin Slaughter

  • Oh, and Scott, thanks for the insightful blog. Now I can justify those trips to the firing range to my wife. Sometimes those research projects can get you in trouble. Like when having arena security pull you aside while questioning an employee about the best way to blow up the Jumbotron that hangs in the middle of the hockey arena.

    I also learned not to be too causual about looking at the security cameras at a casino. They don’t have a sense of humor about things like that.

  • This is one of my pet peeves. Early in my career, before I even became close to being published I made some of those dumb mistakes…and thank heavens I realized it and figured out just how important accuracy is in fiction. The first thing I did was attend my local Citizen’s Police Academy, which gave me insight into all facets of police work, allowed me to do ride-alongs, and let me shoot at the range with real firearms instructors. What an eye opener that was! I’ve also attended Forensic University, sponsored by the St. Louis chapter of Sisters in Crime, and many other conferences featuring LEO, firearms, and forensic sessions. I’ve made many contacts over the last few years, and have developed quite a list of experts willing to answer any questions I may have while I write. One of these people is Lee, and I truly appreciate all of the excellent information he has imparted to me. Local LEO friends have helped, too. People are often willing to help…all you have to do is ask.

  • Melanie,

    I just checked my list. You WERE at the shooting range at Forensics U. I think you were in the last group. The group that didn’t have Pierce teaching gun safety. I coordinated the tansportation (PARTY BUS) and the range.

    It was a treat running 50 ladies through that event. Watching the faces of those that had never fired a gun before. Lee, I could have used another expert out there.

  • Lee Lofland says:

    Hi Guys. Scott’s traveling this morning, but he’ll be here soon to answer your questions.

    Melanie – Thanks!

  • Lee Lofland says:

    Will – Today, some officers wear security holsters that require a specific action by the officer before the weapon can be drawn. There are no straps, flaps, or snaps to undo on those holsters.

  • BeckyLevine says:

    Scott, great blog. In the past, I’ve pretty much skimmed over the specific details of police procedure, but now that Lee has drilled all this information into me for our book, I’m sure I’ll start noticing things. Like, oh, um….scientists HEATING the DNA before they test it. (Hi, Lee!)

    Anyway, I have to admit the stuff that gets to me when I’m reading police procedurals, or any mystery with real police information in it, is when the writer gets carried away. I want the book to feel solid & real, yes, but that only takes one or two specific, accurate, details. Sometimes, a writer gets so excited about what they’ve learned and how cool it is, that they have to share it all! Understandable, but…That’s when my eyes skip off the page and go searching for the next bit of dialog. :)

  • Monty McCord says:

    Scott,

    Thanks for taking the time to submit this blog, it’s always a BIG help to hear tips from agents/editors. It’s most appreciated by those of us trying to find an agent and get published (whether the first time or second, or..)
    I just finished reading a recent book by a favorite BIG time author, whose books have made it into movies. I was VERY surprised at three mistakes in this book. First, it takes place during WWII, and his protagonist is a deputy in the “United States Marshal’s Service”. The deputy displays his “star”, and in two places refers to a “1940 Model A”, and a “1941 Model A”.
    Being a police historian I knew these were all wrong and did a test to see how easy it was to find the correct info. I did ONE Google search, to the U.S. Marshals page, and found the info that I already knew. #1. In 1941, the marshals/deputies were issued the first nationally issued badge, an eagle-topped shield. #2. The new agency name, “The United States Marshal’s Service” wasn’t used until 1970 (when the second nat.l issue badge came out). 3. The “Model A” (Ford) was built from 1928-1931. I was so suprised to see these very simple to learn facts from a reknowned author. It was obvious not even a little research was done for this book. I was disappointed, as I love historic crime stories.

  • Lee, at the range, I’ve seen the type with a quick release button. In any event, it’s not easy to swipe a gun from a police officer’s holster.

  • Joyce Tremel says:

    I get peeved when authors forget the police secretary. :-)

  • Lee Lofland says:

    Will – There are all sorts of holsters out there. Individual officers and departments choose the type they prefer to carry.

  • Auntieamy71 says:

    What bugs me is when I’m reading and it’s obvious the writer did not do the research. And I’m not talking in-depth research, I’m talking easy stuff, like when cell phones first came into wide use.

    That’s just sheer laziness. ‘No one will spot this’ type of thinking. Uh, yes, they will and they will be annoyed!

    For the love of all that is holy, do the research.

    Thank you for posting Scott, I appreciate it.

  • KC says:

    I’m a deputy DA and I prosecute violent felonies. I love crime fiction but the officers and the deputy DAs do things on the page and on the screen that they would never be allowed to do in real life. Here are just a few:

    1) Deputy DAs are frequently depicted as having dramatic conversations with the accused while the defense attorney is either MIA or has the presence/demeanor of a potted plant. I am not allowed to speak to defendants about their case unless the defense attorney consents and is present. I have NEVER dealt with a defense attorney who lets me anywhere near their client. I would love to question and directly talk to the people I’m prosecuting, but if I tried I am sure I would get tackled by a defense attorney and subsequently fired from my job.

    2) A few years ago, a really great Edgar-award winning book involved an officer knocking a door down to someone’s house on a “hunch.” Unless that “hunch” has a search warrant, probable cause or exigent circumstances to keep it company, any evidence seized will likely be suppressed and never see the light of day in a courtroom. Saying, “Judge, it was a really good hunch, trust me” doesn’t work.

    3) While I understand that people are fascinated by CSI and high-tech evidence analysis, those shows bear little similarity to reality and raise seriously unrealistic and detrimental expectations in potential jurors. As a result, people (and even worse, juries) think that every crime is investigated by CSI and that DNA results can be delivered faster then a Domino’s pizza.

    Whew, thanks for letting me get that off my chest,

    Karen C.

  • I love Karen’s comments! I’m glad I don’t write legal thrillers :) But if I do, I fortunately know more than one prosecutor, and even a former defense attorney . . .

    Great post, Scott, and very apropos on the heels of mine yesterday.

    As a reader, I’m willing to suspend disbelief. As a writer, I focus on the story first. I try hard to get information accurate, but even if I’m *right* people may disagree. Just using one example, I had a cop email me about one of my books about how I got a bunch of stuff wrong, that “they just wouldn’t do it like that” and another cop emailed me about the same book about how I “nailed it.”

    Investigations follow a logical path based on a cop’s experience, training, and good old-fashioned common-sense. It’s why if a woman is killed, they first look at husbands, ex-husbands, boyfriends, etc because statistics bare out that those men are most likely to commit that crime. I try to employ common sense when I don’t really have an answer, or when it’s subjective.

    I don’t get everything right, but I try not to put in details I haven’t verified or are flat out wrong. I’d rather be vague than wrong :) I made a medical error in SEE NO EVIL relating to a Valium prescription. Yes, it would have been easy for me to look up. I don’t know why I didn’t except that it sounded right to me when I wrote it and it wasn’t a plot critical detail. Well, I’ve never taken Valium and I got the dosage wrong. Yes, a nurse wrote to me. Yes, I learned my lesson. When in doubt, leave it out :)

    BTW, leave me out of the drawing for VOLK’S GAME since I have the book (I was a judge.)

    Regarding my pet peeves . . . info dumps. I don’t want to be lectured. I don’t need to know every last detail unless it is absolutely plot critical. If I’m reading something technical, my mind is sifting through it trying to solve the mystery about why it’s important, and if it ISN’T plot critical, I am intensely frustrated by the end of the book. I’m not talking about red herrings, I’m talking about pages and pages of explanations and narrative.

  • Lee Lofland says:

    Karen- I’m with you. That’s why I teach a workshop called CS I Don’t Think So. That’s also the title of the last chapter in my book.

  • Lee Lofland says:

    Just thought I’d mention again that Scott’s traveling today, but he’ll be available as soon as he’s settled.

  • Is it time to go to the ba… library to look for him, Lee?

  • SweetieZ says:

    Nice try Wilfred !

    Auntie Amy, I remember car phones from the 80s. Yikes ! Not sure about the dates of cell phones.

    Since we are talking *pet* peeves, and folks I love animals, I am fostering a rescue right now, but the cat did not solve the crime. Librarians will put these books in the mystery section, instead of humor.

    Save all the spectacular instantaneous intimacy that I have yet experience, with or with out the crime.

    Speaking of Lee’s great book, I would love to see a picture of “Mountain Man”. Regular cuffs would not fit ? The informant section was interesting too.

    I pulled out my shoulder last month. I spent a day doing stretches and massaging it. Maybe that will work for your neck Lee.

  • Lee Lofland says:

    Will – I think there’s a pattern here… No, I just heard from him about ten minutes ago (3:45 est). He’ll be on soon.

    That reminds me. Pay no attention to the time in these posts. I don’t have a clue how to fix it. Any WordPress experts out there?

  • Lee Lofland says:

    SweetieZ – I have a permanent picture of that guy embedded in my brain. It’s a fair trade because he has a permanent imprint of my flashlight on his forehead… :)

  • jenifer says:

    Lee – Try going to settings in your wordpress dashboard. You can set the time there, and I think that will extend to your comments times as well. At least it does on my site.

    My pet peeve on accuracy is a small one, and fits into the category of “it’s difficult to know what you don’t know”. That thing that holds bullets that you put into the end of your semi-automatic handgun? It’s not a clip. It’s a magazine. Clips do exist – they’re just not the same as magzines, and most people mean “magazine” when they say “clip”. More info here for anyone interested: http://www.thegunzone.com/clips-mags.html

    So many people make this mistake, though, that most people who use the term clip are probably assuming it’s right, because they’ve heard it so many times before.

  • jenifer says:

    Oh, regarding the time in WordPress comments, you do have to manually adjust the time setting for daylight savings time. It looks like your times are still set for standard time. Maybe one of these days they can make that automatic . . .

  • Lee Lofland says:

    Thanks, Jenifer. My problem with setting the time and other functions is that the site is formatted in PHP, and I don’t have a clue about the codes they use.

  • Lee Lofland says:

    Jenifer – I’m with you on the magazine thing.

    I also hate to see a character talk about smelling cordite in the room where someone fired a handgun. Nope, can’t happen. Well, it can’t happen unless the killer was using heavy artillary from the British Navy. I’m not even sure they still use it.

  • D. Swords says:

    Hi, Scott. Interesting blog – and with a twist. A contest!

    My pet peeves with crime fiction? I’d tell you, but there is probably a word count limit for each post.

  • scotthoffman says:

    Ah, great comments, one and all. Thanks for the close reading. (And thanks for your vote for Brent, Allison.) FYI, I once had a week-long debate with one of my authors over the proper capitalization of the TEC-9. The book is Dave Klinger’s INTO THE KILL ZONE: A Cop’s Eye View of Deadly Force. A great read– it’s a collection of first person stories from police officers who have been involved in shootings.

    On the contest, let’s give people another day or two before we declare a winner.

  • Janet Reid says:

    I’m a huge fan of INTO THE KILL ZONE.

  • Late for the party as usual.

    Since I’m getting a master’s degree in forensics: behavioral analysis, I hate it when writers peg the label “sociopath” on their bad guy only to get the psychology/diagnosis all wrong, especially the childhood stuff.

    More than anything I hate when I know “whodunit” way before the book is over.

  • ljsellers says:

    This advice seems to somewhat conflict with what I read here yesterday, but it may be a micro/macro difference. I’m not an expert at anything criminal justice related, but I am a good editor. The most glaring error I’ve seen lately in a popular crime novel was a reference to the “CODUS” database. It occurred several times, and I couldn’t believe that an editor didn’t catch it.

  • My biggest pet peeve is research done via TV, via bad shows like CSI or even my fave, L&O SVU. Or worse yet, no research don at all. Case in point, a prison scene from a NYT romance author, who opened up her scene in with an attorney or detective coming in to interview the prisoner, who was wearing a necklace with a chicken foot hanging from it, a la Santeria, or something. The writer has clearly never been in a jail or prison, or he/she would know that they don’t let prisoners have anything that could fit around the neck. No shoelaces, no belts, no jewelry period, (never mind jewelry made from chicken feet.) Just not gonna happen.

    As for the gun being taken away by a hug, yes, it’s possible. If the cop wasn’t wearing one of the newer safety holsters (and yes, there are still some of them out there who choose not to for whatever reason–including the majority of detectives) the gun could easily be removed from the holster. The holster I carry now is not a safety holster. I’m in plain clothes. Too bulky. Sometimes my snap comes undone. So it could happen, and it’s a very plausible scene.

    As for safety being on, it shouldn’t be, but it could be. So an officer could wonder. The reality is that whenever I drew my gun on the range, my thumb went up automatically to make sure that the safety was off–that it didn’t accidentally get holstered with the safety on. Just a habit. I now carry a Glock, so I don’t even have to think about it.

    But more than safeties on Glocks, (or any other gun, which is such a common error, it doesn’t even faze me anymore)I think that DDA Karen C. has come up with the bigger glaring errors. The procedural errors. Those she mentioned, or my particular fave pet peeve made famous on CSI, where the crime scene tech is interviewing the suspect/witness while the detective leans against the door frame, as though he’s okay with this arrangement. It’s kind of like the territorial competition that Allison Brennan mentioned in her post yesterday. This would be one of those competition things. Ain’t no way that’s gonna happen!

    Reality reality? Tell me a compelling story, and I’m willing to forgive all sorts of errors. The best writers can get away with it. The rest of us better get it right.

  • Peg H says:

    What bothers me more than someone making errors in procedures, crime scenes, or technology is when they find a certain phrase that seems to tickle them, and they repeat it thoughout the book.

    One book I read had a car ‘popping gravel’ as it raced away, first time I read the line it was, “Okay that’s a new and clever way to say it.” But the author repeated the ‘popping gravel’ every time any car pulled out of anywhere! Please, if you find a clever way to say something, once is enough!!!

  • Alias Mo says:

    My biggest peeve involves head injuries. There’s the old “I didn’t mean to kill him! He fell and hit his head on the hearth, mantel, coffee table, desk, rock, toy chest….” The human skull does a pretty darn good job of protecting the brain against that type of fall, especially when the person is conscious and the neck is supporting the head. What makes this kind of fatal head injury worse is when the same author’s character gets knocked out by a hard blow to the head, but doesn’t suffer any nausea or other real effects after regaining consciousness. Or, worst of all, the character survives a car crash by being thrown from the car. Ever see those crash dummies landing head first on a paved road?

    (I also love those minor “flesh wounds” when a bullet hits the shoulder. Never affects the old pitching arm.)

  • scotthoffman says:

    Winner, winner!

    Ok, it’s taken me a while, but the winner on this one is going to be Monty. Car issues AND badge issues. Perfect.

    If you want to drop me a line at shoffman@foliolit.com with your address, I’ll get one of the Ghelfi galleys to you in the mail post-haste.

    Thanks to all who submitted! It was a pleasure being Lee’s guest blogger.

    Cheers,
    Scott

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