Saturday, April 25, 2009

Query Letters-Part IV -The Package

So far we have discussed how to discover your market, how to know what you write and who you want to sell it to, along with how to write a tag line and a selling blurb. Then I discussed a simple template for writing the query letter.

For our last and final week, I want to talk about the full query package. What it is and how to make the most of it. So, what is the full package? Depends on what the editor/agent requires. Some require a letter only. Some require letter and synopsis. While other require the letter, chapters and synopsis. (Find query guidelines on their websites.)

1) The letter only. The query letter is your sales pitch. Your marketing tool to convince the editor/agent to look at a partial or the entire work for serious consideration. The letter should reflect your writing style and sell, sell, sell your work. See previous blogs parts two and three for how to write selling bits and how to write the query letter. This is your pitch make it as professional as possible. Hint: do your research.

2) The letter plus synopsis. While the query letter sells your work, the synopsis tells the editor/agent that you can plot an entire book. A well written synopsis-not an outline-will show the editor/agent a plot that is compelling, emotional and concludes with a satisfying ending. Some editors will take a synopsis in with them to the publisher as proof that the story in full "works." Synopsis can run anywhere from a single page to ten pages. Read the editor/agent guidelines to find out length of synopsis. (Short means one to two pages.) I usually have three written. A single page synopsis, a three to four page synopsis and a full ten page synopsis. (A rule of thumb for long synopsis is one page for every 10,000 words in the story.) Remember editors/agents are busy and a synopsis that is too long can be cause to reject the manuscript.

3) The full package: letter, synopsis and sample chapters. The query letter makes your sales pitch, the synopsis shows you can plot a book and the sample chapters show off your writing style. Always send your opening pages. Sometimes you may feel that a scene from chapter five is better than the opening hook of the book and be tempted to send that scene for sample pages. DON'T. If the opening hook of your book is not as good as other scenes- stop your query process and revise the opening. The opening hook of a book is what sells your book. Many readers will pick up a book, read the back blurb and then read the first page or two. If you don't hook in the first page the reader will put you down. Editors and agents know this. They want to read a strong opening hook. They want to be hooked. Hook them. Send them your opening pages-in consecutive order. ALWAYS. If they want 50 pages but that means you end in the middle of a paragraph-find an ending hook on an earlier page. End your pages there. Always leave the query chapters with a hook. You want them to want to read more. Never send more pages than requested on their guidelines, but you can give them fewer if you start with a strong hook and end your sample with a strong hook.

Remember, the query letter is your marketing pitch-your advertisement. The synopsis shows the editor/agent that you can plot an entire book and resolve all conflicts in a reasonable manner. The sample chapters hook your reader and leave them wanting more.

All these parts work in harmony to make your book the next must read on an editor/agent's desk. Good luck!

WAG, part 9

“WAG #9: Warning!” Last week the topic was to make something ugly sound beautiful, so this time let’s do the opposite! Choose an unfamiliar object (in other words, one you have no history with) that strikes you as beautiful, appealing, or somehow desirable etc… some ideas might be: a child, a sunset, an attractive shop window, a scenic view, a piece of art, an appetising meal in a restaurant… and write about it in such as way as to make it unappealing or even disgusting, frightening or repulsive to your reader. If you did last week’s topic as well (Rose Colored Glasses) I’d be very interested to know which of these was harder for you...

It was dark when I opened the door and let in my big mutt, George. As he passed by I reached down to pat him only to feel something sticky and wet. The smell. Oh, boy the smell was rancid. "Sit!" I commanded while my mind stared at my hand and thought "Ew, what is that?!"

What indeed. The old boy has a triple coat of long multicolored hair that is usually silky soft. Not any more. He rolled in something... something, sticky, stinky and probably...dead. Sigh. George sat there patiently while I washed my hands and scolded him. The look on his face was priceless. He'd had a good time and was not about to apologize for it. The rank smell of death filled the kitchen. I dragged him to the bathroom and straight into the tub where I proceeded to cover him with half a bottle of dog shampoo. Unfortunately, the coconut smell of the shampoo did little to cut through the sticky smell of death. Now I had an 80 pound sticky soapy mutt. Who thought it was all a great game as he shook and coated me with more rank.

It took an hour and several different types of soaps to remove the gunk from his coat. When it was done, he still had the faint odor of death on him, but his coat was squeaky clean. Next step was to go out with a flashlight, still covered in yuck myself and try to discover what he killed then rolled in. If I didn't find it, he would roll again the moment I let him out. After twenty minutes of searching in the dark, I caught a stronger whiff of the scent that covered me. Following my nose, I found it. A small opossum with its neck snapped covered in the smell and goo I'd washed from my beloved pet. A small burial was performed and when all was right with my world, I went to shower myself in hopes that human soap would rid me of the stench.

Okay, thanks for reading! If you want to read and follow other great Wag bloggers go to Nixy Valentine's blog for links. We would love for you to join in the fun. Details on how to join wag are found on Nixy's blog. Cheers!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Query Letters-Part III- writing the actual beast

Now that you know your market, you have your pitch and your back cover blurb, it's time to write the actual letter. Here's a format I've found successful.

Salutation: (Dear Ms. Smith) - always direct the letter to a person-not a publisher or agency this shows you have done your homework.

Opening: (It was so nice to me you at whatifacon. I've always had an interest in stories of space exploration. After meeting you I believe my story, Spacequest, a 90,000 word completed Scifi is something that might interest you and your readers.) or (I am a big fan of your blog. Your thoughts about trends in the market really got me thinking how my manuscript. I think Spacequest, a 90,000 word completed Scifi might be something that would interest you.) - always start with a complementary sentence- that shows you have done your homework- followed their blog, checked out their website to discover they have sold books by authors who are writing what you write, etc.

Hint: Be careful not to give them a reason to turn you down on your opener. Example: if you did meet them and spilled coffee on them- don't mention it! If you disagreed with a blog or opinion- don't mention it! Even trickier- if they say that westerns aren't selling- don't send them a western- not even if your buddy just sold three. Don't insult them by telling them you know their job better then they do. Instead go find someone looking for westerns. Also-if your word count is high or low for the market- don't mention the word count. Don't give them a reason to reject you.

Next- Present your tag line: (Following is the tag line for Spacequest: An intrepid space cadet must pass through the galaxy of death stars to save his planet.)

Then give them your back blurb: (A MAN ON A MISSION...Junior Samples knows the code that will allow him to control the monster computer that is guiding the deathstars to his planet. (BR 549...) He has only 24 hours to make it through the galaxy of deathstars and implant the code but his lack of computer skills stands in his way.
A COMPANION OUT FOR NUMBER ONE...Bill Gatesman knows how to implement the code but is only interested in dominating the universe. Saving the planet is low on his list.
Can a hillbilly convince the computer world's biggest genius to work together to save mankind? Or are we all lost?)

Give a small paragraph about your qualifications: (I have been a member of a local scifi writers group for two years. I've finaled in three whatifacon contests. Judges have found my work fast paced and funny.)

Hint: again be careful not to give them a reason to reject you- ensure that you have entered contests in your genre. Or that you've taken workshops, etc. Don't tell them your mother/sister/best friend loved the work.

Finally, close with an ending paragraph that shows your professionalism: (Enclosed please find the first eight pages and a short synopsis per your guidelines. I've added a small bio and an SASE (self addressed stamped envelope) for your reply. I look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely, X

This is a simple template you can use to write your letter. Next week- we'll discuss what each piece of a proposal -query, synopsis, chapters- are for and how to ensure they create a branded marketing package. Cheers!

WAG, part 8

“WAG #8: Rose Colored Glasses” Go out and choose an unfamiliar object (in other words, one you have no history with) that strikes you as ugly, repulsive, annoying, etc… some ideas might be: a wad of squashed gum on the pavement, a dead squirrel on the side of the road, an ugly sign, a loud construction site, a tacky sculpture in a charity shop… and write about it in such as way as to make it appealing to your reader. Really sell it! Use whatever words you want and cheat as much as you want, but do your best!

Wow, hard one- I am more repulsed by bad behavior then by the way anything is created. Of course, some things like squished gum are results of bad behavior...

Hmmm. Here goes-

Ladies and gentlemen, let me present to you the most beautiful lamp of all time. It is shapely. It is seductive. It will fit into any decor. From the gorgeous cream colored vinyl to the black fishnet surrounding it, your friends will be amazed. They will not be able to quit looking at it. The women will want to have a pair of dark pumps just like the one at the base while the men will be drawn to the seductive leggy shape. The light is bright but softened by the sounded shade with matching black tassel. Everyone will be talking about this lamp. Everyone will want one. Friends will rush out to have one in their home as well. Even better if you can find a matching pair. This shapely lamp will forever be associated with the best time of year- Christmas. Even your grandchildren will fight over who gets this stunning heirloom when you die. You'll be the talk of the town.

Okay- if I did this right, you'll know what lamp I'm describing. Hint: it's from an old movie.

To read all the other wonderful wag blogs and to learn how to join our merry band please visit Nixy Valentine's blog.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Query Letters-Part II - the perfect pitch

Now that you know what your book is about, where it will be shelved, and who you are querying,
(See Part I on query letters.) it's time to craft the Pitch.

You have to think of your query letter as a five minute pitch session. (The very words "pitch session" turn most writers into a quivering mass of sweat and nerve. Relax we'll take it one step at a time.)

It is at this point that you have to really think like a marketing guru- or better yet an advertising executive. (Not like Darin from the old TV show "Bewitched" More like why they do on the show "Trust Me," and yes, sometimes copious amounts of drinking might be necessary--just kidding.)

To get into the right frame of mind, watch ten minutes of advertising on television, thumb through magazines and newspapers, play on facebook and google and -this is the important part-pay attention to the ads. What are they selling? How are they selling it?

The key here is to use a tag line. Think about the NY Times Bestseller list- each book on it has a tag line.

THE HOST, by Stephenie Meyer. (Little, Brown, $25.99.) One woman won’t surrender to the aliens who have taken control.
MALICE, by Lisa Jackson. (Kensington, $24.) A New Orleans detective is stalked by his dead first wife.

Your first task in marketing your book is to write this tag line. The rules are simple. Write a fifteen word or less sentence that tells your story premise. Use descriptors instead of names.

Here is the tag line for my current pitch- If The Shoe Fits, by Nancy J. Parra. A convention services manager discovers a fairy godfather who complicates her happy ever after.

You can tell from all three examples what the basic book premise is and what market it belongs to... read them over and think about it. Is it a romance? A mystery? Does it have paranormal elements? How do you know this?

Take your time- write out two or three of these for your books-tweak them. (Mine usually start out at 17 to 20 words and I cut and tweak to under 15.)

Save this info because you can use this as a simple pitch when you are at conferences, book signings and interviews. If someone asks you what you are writing- give them this statement. I bet they will ask to know more... versus holding them hostage by telling your entire story in twenty minutes while their eyes glaze over.

Write the tag line! Do it. It's good practice because when you sell your book- 9 times out of 10 you will be the one writing the tag line and the back blurb. When your editor asks for it, you'll already have it done.

The next step to writing your query is to write what amounts to a selling cover blurb. Think of the back blurb of your book. This part is intended to be an eye catcher with a hook. This is not a synopsis, but a marketing piece meant to encourage the agent/editor to ask to read your synopsis.

How do you do this?

Write three simple sentences that give your hero/heroine's goal, motivation and conflict. Then add a sizzling hook.

Following are some examples:

From C.J. Cherryh's Fortress of Eagles, EOS, 1998-

Tristen is both more and less than a man. A summoning, a shaping, he was brought to life by a wizard, to serve a king yet to be crowned.
Cefwyn had a dream: a united Ylesuin, and a peace this land had never known. Cefwyn needs his only friend, this young man of mysterious origins who is more brother than vassal.
He relies on Tristen, and trusts him though he knows not why, as he plans the war that will bring his dreams to pass...or bring ruin upon them all.

From Mary Margret Daughtridge's Sealed with a Kiss, Sourcebooks, 2008-

HE CAN HANDLE JUST ABOUT ANYTHING, EXCEPT THIS... Jax Graham is a member of an elite military team, but when it comes to taking care of his four-year-old son, he's completely clueless.
ONE PERSON CAN HELP HIM, IF HE'LL LET HER...Family therapist Pickett Sessoms knows just how to help a rough, tough Navy SEAL deal with a scared and lonely little boy, but not if he insists on going it alone.
When an outing turns deadly, Picket discovers what it means to be a SEAL, and Jax discovers that even a hero needs help sometimes...

From Nancy J. Parra's, If The Shoe Fits-

AN INDEPENDENT WOMAN… Joella St. John vows to be successful on her own to prove to herself and her family that she is not a failure. The last thing she wants is a fairy godfather telling her he can magically make everything all right.
A MAN ON A MISSION…R.J. Sinclair has only one job and that is to protect the Bennet family at all costs. When Wade Bennet decides he wants to marry Joella, R.J. does everything in his power to convince her the match is right-even though his heart is demanding that he keep this one for himself.
A FAIRYTALE GONE AWRY…There’s a fairy godfather, a handsome prince, a ball and a crystal shoe. But what happens when it’s not the prince who captures your heart?

Writing the tag line and pitch are probably two of the toughest things you'll do for your book. Trust me. I know how hard it is to take a 100,000 word story and create a compelling fifteen word sentence. But once you do this a couple of times, you'll start to get a solid feel for what your book is about. Why you are writing it and why you want people to buy it.

A good pitch can be written at the beginning of a book or the end of a book- depending on what works for you. Never skip this step. By having a tag line and a selling back blurb you show editors and agents that you are a professional, serious about selling your work and you give them something strong to take into meetings and help them sell your work.

Next week- Part III- Putting the letter together.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

WAG, part 7

This one is people-watching with a twist. Observe a stranger and sketch a brief background for them, including a secret. Then describe why they are in that particular place at that particular time (where you ran into them) and how it will affect their future. Feel free to be creative, but don’t forget to describe the concrete reality that made you pick them in the first place! (Thank you to Christine Kirchoff for this week’s WAG topic!)

He is probably six foot four inches tall, although it is hard to tell because he's sitting down in a small uncomfortable chair, his long jean clad legs sticking out. Shopping bags surround the chair within easy reach. He is older, balding, his dark hair cut short. His wide shoulders unapologetic as he leans the chair against the wall. Loud dance music plays as women cut in and out around him, hangers and clothes in hand. Clearly he waits for someone outside the dressing room. Is it his wife? His girlfriend? His daughter? Hard to tell. He wears dark sunglasses, his attention on the I-phone in his hands.

I imagine he waits for his wife as she tries on clothes. Some part of his attention is on the door to the dressing room. The rest is involved in a game on his phone. Secretly, he'd rather be with his buddies, drinking beer, watching sports. But he figures, he'll do his time here at the mall and make his wife happy. He leans forward, puts his elbows on his knees, studies the small screen on his phone and smiles. He just won an on-line golf tournament.

A lovely woman comes out. Her brown gaze on him as he looks up, stuffs the phone in his pocket and stands. He tells her she looks great in the dress. No, he doesn't mind if she tries on just one more. She goes back into the dressing room. He shrugs off his lies, sits down and starts a new game. Hopeful he'll be paid back with a little lovin' tonight. Newlyweds.

To follow all the Wag blogs go to Nixy Valentine's blog and click on the links of participating writers. Learn how to join in on the fun on Nixy's page as well.


Sunday, April 5, 2009

Query Letters-Part I -Finding Your Market

There has been a lot of talk lately about query letters. How to write a good one, who to send it to, how can I make my query letter stand out? There has also been a lot of snarky blogs about poorly written queries, which would make anyone cringe who is uncertain of what they are doing-Will someone read my letter and snark about it on their blog, twitter, etc?

In the spirit of good faith I have decided to take the month of April to do a four part series on how to write a query letter what works, what doesn't work, what could be better.

Let's begin at the beginning.

Know What Your Book is All About.

1) What are you writing? That's easy, you think-it's a (insert genre here) romance, sff, mystery, thriller, women's fiction, graphic novel. Good. But, you ask...what if you are writing a women's fiction with some romance and a murderous twist? Or a thriller with a sff/paranormal element? Or what if the story could be a romance, sff, mystery, thriller, women's fiction, graphic novel?

TIP: In these tough times-cross genre is harder to sell then simple genre. Remember, you need to make it easy for an agent/editor to sell you work to a publisher/marketing/book seller. If they don't know how to shelf a book, they won't order it. Don't pull out your hair if you have a cross genre book done- For the purposes of a query letter-Pick One Genre. Think about your book-what genre is is most like? Where in the bookstore would it be shelved? (Beside the dream of right up front in it's own kiosk like all the best sellers...)

2) How many words is it? If you don't know how to figure the word count-check you word processing program. Most have word count in the tools. Or you can do it the old fashioned way and set your pages up for exactly 26 lines per page-at 26 lines per page, 12 pt. type in courier new- you average 250 words per pages. 250 pages equals roughly 50,000 words-yes, ugh...math.
Knowing the word count is important to the market place. Some publishers only want books that are 50,000-60,000 words while others may want 90,000 words. Rarely will a publisher look at a book over 125,000 words.

3) Now- this is very important-What publisher is most likely to publish your story? (Yes-even if you are querying agents alone you need to know this information. A strong query letter will tell the agent who you are and what your market is.) So-how do you know? Research. Go to the library and your local bookstore. Look for who is publishing books in your genre. Who has recently published an author who writes similar to you?

Example: If your friend or critique partner says you write like Stephen King. Go to your local bookstore. Find out where Stephen King is shelved. Now- here's the interesting part- don't look at Stephen King's books. (He is a well known bestseller and doesn't have the same restrictions as a new author.) Find several books that a similar to Stephen King but relatively new authors-look at the spine and write down the publisher. Tip: Open the book and look at the copy right page. Ensure that the book was published in the last month or two. This will give you an idea of who is publishing your type of story right now. Keep in mind that books released today were bought two years ago. Trends change. But this will give you the most current idea.

4) Target your editor/agent. There are several ways to do this.
a) go to the library resource center and ask to read a copy of the Literary Market Place. This book is an annual listing of all agents and editors-their addresses, websites, what they are looking for, what they are buying and if they charge a fee. NEVER PAY A FEE FOR SOMEONE TO READ YOUR WORK.
b) go on-line to the websites of the publishers you targeted- look for the link to author guidelines. Make sure your book-word count and genre-fit the publisher's author guidelines. Example: If you have a book you believe is a techno thriller, but the author guidelines of a publisher says techno thrillers happen overseas or on submarines. Then you better ensure you have overseas or sub elements- OR- you will sell your book as a straight up thriller. TIP: Make the story what they are asking for.
c) Go to great websites like Editors and Preditors and Romance Writer's of America that rate agents based on word of mouth from others who have worked with them.
d) Go to the agent/publisher websites- look at what they want to see in a query letter- do they want an e-mail letter? or snail mail? Do they want pages? Are they taking submissions? Know and follow their rules.

5) Create a list of who you are contacting.

TIP: Choose if you are going to query agents or editors. No- you don't NEED an agent to sell. Again- do some research-publishers like Harlequin/Silhouette and Sourcebooks take unagented work. While other publishers like Pocket or Grand Central do not take unagented work. Who is your target? Know and follow their rules. Most agents don't want to look at a manuscript that has already been rejected by publishing houses-so if your target is a house that wants agented work-START with agents.

a) You can write your list on a piece of paper. Or you can fill out a spreadsheet program like Excel. Or you can use on-line programs. I put my list in a Word table.
b) Order your list as to priority. Pick the top five agents-then the next, then the next.
c) Write down the editor/agent name, the address. Then write down the type of submission required. Then the date you submitted and leave two columns for when you hear-accept or reject and further action taken.

Example: column one: Editor name,Harlequin Intrigue, address. Column two: sent Query letter with first three chapters and synopsis on X date. Column three: received request for full. Column four: Full sent on X date. Column Five: sold or reject.

Now that you know what you write-how long it is-what market and publishers you are targeting-if your work fits their guidelines-if you are querying agents or editors-names of who you are querying-what their submission requests are- and created a file to track your work, you are now ready to write your query letter.

Oh, I need to add a disclaimer- that as Captain Jack Sparrow of the Pirates of the Caribbean said, "These aren't rules, exactly, more like guidelines."

Next week: The Letter Itself.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

WAG, part 6

“WAG #6: Overheard” Another people-watching exercise this week! This time, let’s listen! Choose a stranger and do your best to overhear what they say, and then write it down. It can be on the phone, to someone else, or even them talking to themselves. What does their voice, word choice, or tone tell you about them? Feel free to write their exact words OR write it as you would for fictional dialogue. By now you guys know the rules aren’t what’s important, but the experience!

Can you place this?

Squawk- "Angie?"
Click -"Yes?"
Squawk-"Where are you?"
Click-"In the back, heading toward the breakroom."
Squawk- "Are you close to the coolers?"
A big long sigh. Click-"What do you need?"
Squawk-"Customer wants to know if we have Horizon Organic milk."
Click-"I'll check."
Squawk. "Thanks."
Click-"Gallon or half?"
Long Pause.
Click-"Gallon or half?"
Squawk-"What do we have?"
Click-"Looks like both."
Click-"$3.49 on the gallon. $2.79 on the half."
Squawk- "Thanks."
Click-"You're welcome." The sound of footsteps heading away. The rush of a swinging door. Angie is now on break.

To read the other great-and trust me there are some really great- WAG posts out there- go to Nixy Valentine's blog and click on the links. If you would like to join us with our WAG fun, rules are also posted on Nixy's blog.