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Tips from the Query Trenches November 20, 2021

I finally finished Our Little White Lie and launched the long process of traditional publication with a flurry of query letters to literary agents. There's a lot of information about the querying process on the Internet, but I'd like to share some of my tips to make it as painless as possible.

The key things you'll need to have on hand for querying are:

  • A finished book
  • Resilience
  • A list of agents
  • Comp titles
  • A one- to two-page synopsis
  • Multiple versions of your pitch
  • Personalization
  • A short bio
  • Samples from your project
  • Patience

A Finished Book

Before you query, you need to have a finished book with a known word count ready, and the book must have good commercial potential. I don't mean the book must be good artistically, which is a different matter. For traditional publishing, the book must have the kind of concept that sounds like a hit in a single sentence.

Not every book is suitable for querying. My last novel, Lizzie Bennet's Diary, was not. Though I'm very proud of it artistically, I suffer from no delusions that yet another contemporary retelling of Pride and Prejudice with no sexy twists would sell. The only people interested in that premise are Austen fans who seek out all the retellings they can find, and that's okay.

Resilience

It's no secret that traditional publishing is soul crushing. Every book that hits the shelves had to break through a wall of "no, thank yous" first, and it's not a reflection of their quality. Even if you think you're emotionally prepared, you're industry savvy and know nothing is personal, getting rejection after rejection in your email inbox will suck more than you thought.

In the month after you send out your first batch of query letters, you'll never know when an unread email is just your electric bill, or a delivery notification for cat food, or a sucker punch to the gut that says, "I'm sorry to say your sample pages weren't as compelling as I'd hoped"—which is in all likelihood a form letter that doesn't mean anything, but it still feels like it means no one thinks you're good enough.

If you do get an agent, the soul-crushing doesn't stop. When your book goes on sub, editors will also reject it. Maybe everyone will reject it for reasons beyond any agent's or editor's control, and in the end the book won't get published unless you do it yourself. Maybe it will get acquired (yay!), but the advance will probably not be the quit-your-day-job money you imagined, but more along the lines of budget-vacation-in-Hawaii money. And no matter what, your life leading up to publication will be marketing, marketing, marketing, which is not what you thought you were signing up for when you dreamed of being a published author.

You need resilience to emerge from the publishing process without turning into a cynical, disillusioned ghost of your literature-loving self. Capitalism ruins everything. It takes proactive mental discipline to prevent it from ruining your writing.

A List of Agents

Once you've finished the grueling process of writing a book with commercial appeal, the grueling process of researching literary agents begins.

The number of agents out there today, and the amount of information you have to hunt down about each one to query them, can be overwhelming. In days of yore every public library had the annual Writer's Market in print, sitting on the bottom shelf of the reference section, and it listed most active agents and publishers in the United States and what they wanted. Now finding agents that would like your book is a multi-week Google deep dive.

Here are some of the resources I've found most useful for finding agents to query this month.

  • Manuscript Wish List: Agents and editors write profiles spelling out exactly what they're looking for, and often what they're not.
  • MsWishList: This website harvests a feed of tweets with the hashtag #MSWL.
  • Literary Agents of Color: A directory of BIPOC agents.
  • Poets & Writers Literary Agents Database: Not every agent is on Twitter, and this database contains the names of others you can filter by pretty granular themes.
  • QueryTracker: Unfortunately the advanced search filters are for "premium" members only, but you can do a basic search by genre and see comments from other writers about their interactions with an agent.

Google each potential agent and read whatever you can find. Crucial information can be buried in unexpected places. I've written down the names of agents I thought were perfect fits, but then I found an anti-wishlist on their website that specified they don't want any books about BIPOC trauma, or they said in an interview for a client's blog that they hate pitches with protagonists who are authors. Sometimes I've followed links to their YouTube channels, and from the videos they made about their working styles and what they're looking for in new clients, I knew we just wouldn't jive as business partners.

I write down every agent I find in a spreadsheet, with a comment explaining why they're a good fit (e.g., "Wants upmarket fiction for Millennials") to make query personalization less stressful later. I also started writing down why agents are not a good fit (e.g., "Category romance & SFF only") so I don't spot them in another #MSWL tweet later and look them up all over again.

Comps

Finding "comps" (competitive/comparable titles) is the hardest part of the process for me. If you Google "how to find comps for literary queries," the resulting articles will mostly emphasize the pitfalls: "Not too old! Not too popular! Not too obscure! Not too misleading! Not so perfect the agent thinks your book has nothing new to add!" Some well-meaning advice-givers will conclude you should try not to include comps at all, if you can help it.

But from what I've seen directly from agents' mouths and thumbs, comps are important and can't be skipped. Some QueryManager forms will have a required field for comps, or at least the closely related question, "What current titles do you see your book sitting next to on the shelf?"

There's no easy shortcut to finding good comps. The only way to find them is to read, and read, and read some more.

Look at the current bestseller lists. Google the titles and authors agents in your genre reference as favorites in their Manuscript Wish Lists. Go to your local bookstores and public libraries and browse the Hot Titles and New Books displays. Pick up books with the same aesthetic you'd want for your book, books with a similar tone, books with a somewhat similar setup. There are many different elements of books you can compare: themes, characters, settings, conflicts, writing style.

After reading everything with a pink, illustrated, or upmarket-looking cover I could find with Millennial characters and the themes of social media, coming of age, the complexities of multiculturalism, and lying about who you are, I eventually had a list of potential comps for Our Little White Lie to pick from:

  • THE VANISHING HALF - theme of BIPOC cutting off their own roots to be accepted by white people
  • BIG SUMMER - theme of young women misrepresenting themselves on social media for commercial gain
  • SUCH A FUN AGE - theme of the awkward tension between privileged white feminists who think they're progressive and the women of color they use without realizing it
  • BEACH READ - humorous tone and a protagonist who's a romance novelist

Not listed are the many others I hoped could be comps, but weren't quite right, like a book that was packaged as upmarket fiction that turned out to be category romance, and another packaged as a rom-com that turned out to be a literary family drama. The process was very frustrating, and I thought I'd never find a single title that could communicate the essence of my own book. But there are many, many more books in the world than you might think, and every topic has been addressed by someone. You just have to keep reading.

Synopsis

A good number of agents I've queried had a Synopsis field on their QueryManager forms. They didn't specify length, but one to two pages seems to be standard.

The synopsis is the "book report" version of your novel. It's not a play-by-play of every chapter, with every character and subplot. It's the key beats of your main story, with your characters' motivations for doing what they do and how their relationships change.

I'm the kind of person who reads the Wikipedia articles of movies before I decide to watch them, so I imagine agents use synopses the same way. A story can have a killer premise, but then it doesn't live up to its potential. Your synopsis shows how you took advantage of juicy conflicts to keep readers interested all the way through.

Multiple Pitches

Long Version

The traditional query letter was an actual letter, on actual paper. But no agency I've looked at this month accepts snail mail queries anymore. Agents aren't going through a literal slush pile of envelopes one by one at a desk in a New York office; they're quickly scanning a list of submissions during their coffee breaks in QueryManager portals or email apps. They're not necessarily opening letters chronologically, or reading each one from beginning to end. They're clicking on whatever they're in the mood for and scanning quickly, in the same way you might browse Libby for something to read or Hulu for something to watch.

So the "long version" of a query today actually needs to be quite brief, get to the point, and generate the gut reaction, "Ooh, this looks good!" I used to obsess over dressing up the language of my queries, but what's more important are the naked ideas underneath.

  • Who is your protagonist?
  • What is the inciting incident?
  • What are the challenges your protagonist will face?
  • What is at stake if they mess up?

Agency websites might compare the pitch to a back-cover blurb. But while a blurb withholds information to tease potential readers, the query should tell the agent exactly what this book is about and where it's going. You don't have to be coy to avoid "spoiling" the plot. Agents aren't reading manuscripts like casual readers to find out what happens. They're reading to evaluate the commercial potential of the project, and whether any editors they know would want to acquire it. So give them all the selling points you can. Spell out those delicious disasters readers won't see coming, like one of those glossy Hollywood trailers that give away every beat of the movie.

One Paragraph

Every agent says they read a little differently. Some put the most weight on comps, some skip right to the sample, some read the pitch first and look at the sample only if they're on the fence, etc.

For the agents who specifically say they don't need or want a long pitch, you'll need a one-paragraph version of your query ready. I've found it easiest to work from longest to shortest: first distill the novel into a synopsis, then distill the synopsis into a query letter, then cut out everything but the bare essentials for the one-paragraph version. A paragraph gives you just enough room to answer the questions above.

One Sentence

Some QueryManager forms have a field for a one-sentence pitch. You don't have room for the whole plot, so this will be the extremely compact version of those four pitch elements put together.

For example, if the movie Happiest Season were a book, the one-sentence pitch might be: "When Abby Holland [protagonist] visits her girlfriend Harper's conservative family for Christmas [inciting incident], she must hide their relationship from Harper's image-obsessed parents and decide how much she's willing to endure for the woman she loves [challenges & implied stakes]."

You can Google tips for screenwriters writing "loglines" for other examples.

Personalization

For every submission, you'll need to personalize your pitch a little bit. One sentence is enough, just to let the agent know why you're interested in working with them. E.g., "I saw your #MSWL tweet calling for laugh-out-loud rom-coms," or "I read on your Manuscript Wish List profile that you're looking for atmospheric horror like MEXICAN GOTHIC." You'll put this at the beginning of your email queries or in a QueryManager form field for "Why did you choose to submit to me?"

Short Bio

From all the talk of platforms on the internet, you might think the purpose of a bio is to impress agents with your fabulous literary awards and one million Instagram followers. If you have those things, great, but most of us don't. The purpose of your bio is really just to tell the agent who you are and why you wrote this particular book. A few sentences will suffice.

For example, my bio in submissions for Our Little White Lie is simply: "Like the fictional Rachel Miller, I'm a half-Chinese, half-white Millennial with a fondness for K-dramas. Unlike Rachel, I have a career as an IT manager for academic libraries in the Pacific Northwest. I've self-published previous works of fiction and maintain a website at https://author.tkmarnell.com."

If you're struggling, you can think about what parts of yourself you put into your story. Even for highly imaginative fantasies, every writer embeds themselves somewhere in their work.

Samples

You have a book, but now you have to chop it up into samples that can be easily copy/pasted into QueryManager forms and email bodies.

If you wrote your manuscript in serif font with first-line indents, I suggest copying the first 50 pages into a new document to reformat. Use a sans-serif font like Arial to match the emails you'll be typing, and adjust the paragraph styles so they'll look nice in electronic communications someone might be reading on a phone. You'll probably need to find clean breaks at various marks: 5 pages, 10 pages, 15 pages, etc.

If agents request partial or full manuscripts, the standard format requested will be a DOC or DOCX file with Times New Roman 12-point font; double-spaced paragraphs with first-line indents (not a tab character); page headers specifying your name, book title, and page number; and a title page on top with your contact information. Google results for "how to format a book manuscript" are all mostly the same, so at least in this one matter, you won't have to sort through a lot of conflicting information about what agents want.

Patience

Once you've gathered all of your materials, it's time to submit! If you have twenty agents on your list, you'll probably mix and match the elements above in twenty different ways.

And then you wait. And wait. And try to forget you're waiting, and to stop tensing up in the anticipation of heartbreak every time you look at your email. The agents I've queried say they typically respond in four to six weeks. Then if anyone requests partial or full manuscripts, they'll probably get to them in another three to six months. They have a lot of submissions to read and tackle them during evenings and weekends, because their current clients are their priority during the work day.

Instead of dwelling and fretting, start thinking about your next project. If you get "the call" in six months, the agent will ask about your plans and vision for your writing career, you can tell them about the new book you're drafting or revising.

The Fad Diet Mentality of NaNoWriMo October 31, 2021

Starting in October of every year, the question pops up on every online space related to writing: "Are you doing NaNoWriMo?" Public libraries schedule NaNo events. AuthorTubers make videos with tips for how to succeed in NaNo. There's a universal understanding that NaNoWriMo is a good thing, and criticizing it makes you a jerk who enjoys "pissing in other people's corn flakes," as I once saw proclaimed in the comments of a blog post about the wonders of NaNo.

So why do I persist in ruining a fun program that helps people follow their dreams? Because it's not actually a fun program. NaNoWriMo is a toxic program that teaches people to hate writing and themselves.

I grew up in the days when the standard of beauty was size zero. Journalists gleefully chronicled the "weight problems" of svelte celebrities like Kate Winslet, Liv Tyler, and Hilary Duff. Cruel reality shows like The Biggest Loser dressed large people in skin-tight underwear for millions to gawk at, then tortured them with extreme diet and exercise regimens overseen by celebrity trainers who screamed in their lazy, disgusting faces until they broke down sobbing for the cameras.

Every year a new fad diet was all the rage. Grapefruit, Atkins, South Beach, "cleanses" of lemon juice with cayenne pepper. These types of diets promised that if you could endure the pain of starvation for a short while, you'd be thin and pretty forever.

Of course, dieting doesn't work and is ultimately damaging to your health. The only way to change your body long-term is to form permanent habits that don't make you miserable. Regular moderate exercise, fruits and veggies, plenty of water and sleep...healthy habits are quite simple and boring. They're not alluring like the programs that promise instant success and accolades.

NaNoWriMo encourages the fad diet mentality towards writing. People join because they've always wanted to write a novel, and they believe if they can just endure the pain of writing 1,500 to 2,000 words a day for one month, they'll become Sara Gruen. As the About NaNoWriMo page enthuses, "hundreds of thousands of people around the world...enter the month as elementary school teachers, mechanics, or stay-at-home parents. They leave novelists."

But just like the Lose 10 Pounds in 10 Days fads, the NaNo Diet doesn't work. Statistics from 1999 to the present show only 10-20% of participants complete the "challenge" each year. I'm willing to bet most of those "winners" are novelists already, who are accustomed to plotting out books and writing a chapter a day. They're not the school teachers and mechanics lured by the promise that if they cut themselves off from their families and friends for the month of November, glue their butts to a chair, and keep typing whether they want to or not, a great book will magically appear.

When I worked in a college library a couple of years ago, I spoke to a student who was doing NaNoWriMo. They were excited about reaching 20,000 words. I said, "Cool! What's your book about?" They answered, "Oh, I don't know yet. How it works is you just have to keep writing every day, and the book will take shape naturally. I'm concentrating on reaching my word count goals and seeing where it goes."

I'm sorry (not sorry) to piss in anyone's cornflakes, but that's not crafting a novel. That's brainstorming for 100+ hours. What you'll end up with is not a book, but a 50,000-word journal entry with a few ideas that could maybe be a book in the future, if you start over with a plan and a notion of what you want to accomplish.

However, the low completion statistics and unsalvageable "novels" that result from the challenge are not the most significant problems with NaNoWriMo. My main issue with both diet culture and NaNoWriMo culture is the lasting psychological harm they inflict.

If you want to teach children to appreciate music, you wouldn't tell them, "This month, we're going to practice piano for four hours every day. Whether you like it or not, you're going to sit down and keep hitting those keys until you love it." Within a week those children would despise the sound of the piano, and they'd never willingly touch a musical instrument again.

Or if you want to incorporate exercise as a part of your daily life, the worst way to do it is to say, "Starting tomorrow, I'll wake up at 5 am and run three miles every morning, no matter how tired I am and how much I hate running. I'll post my miles on Facebook to hold myself accountable, so if I give up everyone will know how lazy and worthless I am."

I can tell you from my disordered eating days that "accountability" is a euphemism for "publicly shaming myself into doing something my body and mind are telling me to avoid." NaNo participants posting and comparing their word counts reminds me strongly of the women like me who posted their daily calorie counts and monthly pounds lost on the internet for "accountability." It was a form of self-flagellation dressed up as motivation.

The real prize for dieting isn't a pair of sexy gams that fit in size-four skinny jeans, but a long-term loss of self-esteem that is very difficult to build up again. You learn to think of the number on the scale as an inverse measure of your worth as a human being. You learn that cooking and eating meals is stressful and guilt-ridden, and the tasty foods you enjoy are an evil "temptation," and there must be something essentially wrong with you because you failed to endure hunger long enough to see "results." If only you had more discipline and stronger will-power, you'd be as beautiful as the other women posting celebratory bikini pics after losing twenty pounds for summer.

Similarly, the structure of NaNoWriMo does not nurture a life-long love of storytelling. It's a fool-proof recipe for burnout.

I can write a 3,000-word chapter on a weekend. A professional writer who already has 4-8 hours a day carved out for writing could complete a first draft in a month with a little extra effort, which might be why so many AuthorTubers don't see any problem with NaNoWriMo. But if I attempted to crank out that many words every day with my full-time job, like those mythical school teachers and mechanics, I'd have a complete psychological breakdown. By day seven I'd be puddled on the floor, pounding the carpet and wailing like a Sim with their Needs bars for Energy, Social, Fun, and Environment all stuck in the red.

The only way for a person who doesn't write full-time to "win" this challenge is to write a bunch of nonsense without critical evaluation, like that student at my former library. When they see the inevitably terrible results, they're likely to believe they have no talent and no future in creative writing. Drafting a novel is discouraging and humbling enough when you can pace yourself and do your best. Doing it under duress is a great way to destroy your self-esteem.

Though NaNoWriMo professes to provide encouragement for writers, it actually teaches people that writing isn't an activity we do willingly because it has intrinsic rewards, but something unpleasant we force ourselves to do on the threat of humiliation.

If you enjoy storytelling, you'll do it regardless of the date on the calendar or your progress towards an arbitrary word count. You'll read a lot, and practice regularly, and improve your skills over time. You'll come up with a lot of ideas for stories that don't work out, but some that do, and you probably won't find your groove until you're a few books in.

If the idea of writing continuously for years makes you balk, and it's a lot more appealing to "get it done" in thirty days of NaNoWriMo, you probably don't enjoy writing. And if you don't enjoy it, don't do it. Seriously. Go try other activities that are fun for you. The vast majority of novelists don't get extrinsic rewards like fame, money, or critical acclaim. The only logical reason to write is because you want to.

Writing the Universal Human Exprience August 14, 2021

The ultimate goal of many writers is to capture "the universal human experience." Literary authors strive to capture the minute details of the human experience, SFF authors use elves and aliens as metaphors for difficult parts of the human experience, romance and thriller writers use the most dramatic parts of the human experience to generate strong emotions in readers, etc.

This is a fine goal, but there's a common pitfall. Writers tend to assume their own personal human experience is the universal one.

To be fair, we each get only one human experience. We can't swap bodies, and we can't try out different timelines. We love to pretend we can in popular movies about literally walking in another person's shoes (Freaky Friday, Wish Upon a Star) or getting a second chance in life to make different choices (It's a Wonderful Life, Family Man, Thirteen Going on Thirty). But we can do that only in our imaginations. In reality, we get what we get.

So people judge what is "universal" from their own experiences and the stories of the people they encounter. If a person grows up in a bubble in which everyone they know lives the same way, and everyone they see on their preferred TV channels and websites also seems to live the same way, they'll naturally assume the rest of the universe is the same.

Have you ever been in a social situation where everyone present had something in common, except for you? Like everyone at your in-laws' Thanksgiving dinner grew up together, and they refer to old stories in vague terms and crack up while you quietly eat your turkey with no idea what's going on. Or everyone in a work-related group is many years older or younger than you, and they refer to some trend you're not familiar with and then say, "Everyone here remembers that, right?" And the others chime in, "Of course, we all do!" Except for you, obviously, but you don't matter.

That's how writers can accidentally make readers feel when they presume their own personal experiences are universal. In the attempt to create "relateable" worlds and characters, they can make readers feel excluded instead.

Assuming Collective Privilege

As I wrote in February, writers tend to be highly educated middle- and upper-class people with cushy lives. The fictional characters we read about also tend to be middle- or upper-class. Since the invention of the modern novel, innumerable obscenely wealthy families with beautiful daughters have fallen on mildly uncomfortable times. Countless gentleman detectives with nothing pressing to do have traveled to country mansions to solve murders at their leisure. Laborers and maids in romance novels don't remain laborers and maids—they turn out to be secret dukes and princesses, or they marry one.

When writers assume everyone lives as comfortably as they do, their attempts to create sympathetic characters can fall flat. For example, I've seen the archetype of the free- spirited teenage girl who goes to the palace as a potential bride for the handsome prince or as the long-lost daughter of the king. She wreaks havoc by breaking all the rules while a frazzled maid or stuffy butler scuttles behind, comically begging her to stop. The audience is supposed to adore the heroine for being a "breath of fresh air," but many are more likely to identify with the poor maid whose job is on the line, and whose distress the author seems to think is funny.

Similarly, I've read many novels in which the author's idea of a life-ending tragedy is (a) breaking up with a romantic partner and/or (b) facing the horrific prospect of getting a job.

I couldn't enjoy one bestselling contemporary fiction novel because secondary characters gushed that the heroine was a "superhero" for going back to work in a library after her divorce. As a librarian, I'm chagrined to admit nothing we do approaches superheroic levels of self-sacrifice. It's a fun and comparatively low-stress white-collar career I struggled to launch for five years after graduate school. In fact, landing my first full-time librarian job was the high point of my twenties, when I felt like my bad luck was finally turning around and my future would be filled with sunshine and roses. But these characters were acting like getting a library job was the most lamentable of misfortunes, and this woman was Tess of the d'Urbevilles toiling to exhaustion to send money to her starving family.

Assuming a Shared Cultural Context

Last week I saw praise on Twitter for a craft book by an author of successful thriller novels. I found the eBook through my public library and checked it out.

Within the first few chapters, though, I knew this book wouldn't be helpful to me. The book was published in 2020, but the references in it were decades old. The popular movies cited as models of good storytelling were from the 20th century. A section about how to write natural dialogue suggested idioms and speech patterns I've never heard anyone use in my life. Reading the samples felt like looking at photos of 1980s fashion trends—at the time those clothes and hairstyles were so common, nobody thought they were weird, but if I were to dress the same way now, I'd look ridiculous.

Ironically, the author described an encounter with a young reader who complained that one of his heroines was unbelievable because her favorite ice cream flavor is butter brickle. "That's an old-man flavor," she scoffed. Even that anecdote must be dated, because I live in the author's home state and I've never seen an ice cream called "butter brickle" in any grocery store freezer. A young reader today is more likely to think, "That's a made-up flavor!"

When you're writing about a character who is exactly like you—same age, same race, same gender and hometown—casually throwing in details specific to your experience is fine. Great, even. No reader would take issue with a sixty-year-old man reminiscing about butter brickle ice cream and using slang that was hip when Cheers was the best show on TV.

The problem is when you accidentally impose these things on a character from a different background. The results can range from a little cringey, like a young woman eating old-man desserts, to grossly inaccurate, like a girl in 14th-century China showing how "strong" she's become by cutting her mother out of her life in a rousing feminist speech. That happened in one YA novel I read in the early 2010s, which was written by a white American who explained in interviews that she visited Beijing once and really wanted to set a book there. If you want to teach teenage readers 21st-century American lessons, you can write about a 21st-century American protagonist. It's not cool to use a whole country as set dressing while overwriting its traditional culture with values you consider "better."

Evaluating Assumptions

In Stephen King's memoir On Writing, he describes writing as "telepathy" or "a meeting of the minds." He uses this example to demonstrate.

Look – here's a table covered with a red cloth. On it is a cage the size of a small fish aquarium. In the cage is a white rabbit with a pink nose and pink-rimmed eyes. In its front paws is a carrot-stub upon which it is contentedly munching. On its back, clearly marked in blue ink, is the numeral 8.

Then he explains why he wrote the description with sparse detail, but readers will all see more or less the same scene in their heads:

It's easy to become careless when making rough comparisons, but the alternative is a prissy attention to detail that takes all the fun out of writing. What am I going to say, "on the table is a cage three feet, six inches in length, two feet in width, and fourteen inches high?" That's not prose, that's an instruction manual. The paragraph also doesn't tell us what sort of material the cage is made of—wire mesh? steel rods? glass?—but does it really matter? We all understand the cage is a see-through medium; beyond that, we don't care. The most interesting thing here isn't even the carrot-munching rabbit in the cage, but the number on its back. Not a six, not a four, not nineteen-point-five. It's an eight. This is what we're looking at, and we all see it.

There's an unspoken assumption behind the telepathy that allows us all to see the same thing: that the reader and the writer have shared experiences and a shared vocabulary to describe them. If they don't, the "magic" falls apart.

The assumptions King makes in this particular passage are safe. Most people have seen pet cages and rabbits, and both are common enough to be uninteresting compared to the unusual feature of a number inked on the rabbit's back. We have to make assumptions like this, or we couldn't write anything.

Other assumptions that are pretty safe to make about the human experience:

  • We've all found joy and delight in beautiful things, tasty foods, and novel experiences.
  • We've all loved and depended on other people: family members, friends, mentors, partners.
  • We've all been devastated by the loss of a personal treasure, a beloved pet, a loved one, etc.
  • We've all been disrespected by someone and felt angry and threatened.
  • And so on.

But there are other types of assumptions that deserve closer scrutiny:

  • We've all had middle-class experiences like staying at summer camp, taking a road trip to a national park, going shopping with friends just for fun, and checking in to a nice hotel.
  • We all had the luxury of partying it up and taking risks in college.
  • We all think nakedness is shameful, body hair is gross, fat people are lazy, drinkers are fun and teetotalers are uptight, men should earn more than their women, and other learned cultural values.
  • We will all identify with the white and Christian main character, even if he commits a teeny bit of genocide.