Win the War? Wait, There’s More!


So let’s look over everything we’ve accomplished in the series so far:

  • Proper manuscript formatting is important.
  • Let your manuscript get cold before diving into major editing.
  • Read aloud to edit, read backward, switch fonts—change it up so you can see the errors.
  • Word economize!
  • Let other people read it. Friends, family, beta readers, writers groups, conferences. Get as much feedback as you can.
  • Get thick skin. Respond with dignity and grace to feedback.
  • You’ll probably have to rewrite. Accept that as part of the process.
  • Get some cred by entering contests. Also get some professional feedback this way.
  • When it’s time, consider working with an editor—especially if you’re self-publishing.

It always kills me when published authors say, “Hey, I get paid to make stuff up.” As though that’s all that goes into it. I guess they’re smiling at what they get to do for a living. But make no mistake, as I’m certain those of you who’ve been through this process already, writing is hard work. It’s some of the hardest work you can do. It’s an emotional rollercoaster ride of chaos. It’s probably like giving birth and then raising the kid to maturity. There will be moments of joy and moments of pure hell. But in the end, it’s worth it.


Suppose you’ve done all this and then some. Now what? Well, if you’ve really been through tons of drafts and had multiple people look at it, it’s time to get this thing published.

Self-pub. If you’re self-publishing, it’s time to study other self-published authors and see how they became successful. It’s also time to learn all you can about marketing your book to bring it the most success possible. It’s going to take a ton of work, so please don’t think uploading a novel to Amazon will score you instant success. You’ll have to get the word out. But plenty have done it and been successful, so learn from them.

Traditional. For those sticking to the traditional route. Now comes the fun bit we call querying.

Oh, Luke! How’d you get in here?

Anyway, if you thought all this stuff was hard, wait until you get into querying. It’s not unlike novel editing, only more intense because you have to be clever on one page instead of several.

But there are places that can help you out. Visit Janet Reid’s Query Shark blog to see the good, the bad, and the ugly—often the ugly. Learn what not to do so you do it right in your own.

Continue reading

Row 80 Check-In Nov 26th

best nachos

Yep, I went there. Best nachos ever!!! These are Jae’s Famous Nachos, and they’re ridiculously delicious. How to make them? Well that’s easy. First you need some good tortilla chips, then refried and black beans. Clump those on top of the chips, then grated cheddar on top and pop it in the microwave until the cheese is mostly melted. On top goes guacamole (I recommend Wholly Guacamole), plain yogurt (I know, some of you are skeptical, but I promise this is waaaaaay better than sour cream, healthier too), olives and pico de gallo. Our local grocery makes this amazing pico salsa, we love it! You can climb this mountain and it’ll be worth it, I promise. You’ll probably need a few extra chips on the side for good measure.

Now wipe the drool off your face, here come the goals:

  • Write at least 3 short stories intended for publication.  I’ll probably try my hand at several more than three, but the hope is to find three gemstones among the rocks.
    On hiatus.
  • Read the helpful books to prepare me for the editing fest that will be late November early December on SHADE.
    I’m more than 3/4 through Story and I’ve pulled some great exercises from it for later with SHADE. Hopefully I can finish it up this week.
  • Have read all 201 available Anton Chekhov’s short stories, sprinkled with Hemingway and Bradbury.
    I’ve read 50 of 201 Chekhov short stories. I haven’t switched to anyone else yet. This last week was comprised mostly of trying to read my other books and work on SHADE for Pitch Wars
  • Polish SHADE to pure awesomeness.  I turned in my first 250 words for that YA contest with Gotham Writers. We find out the results in February, so no updates on that until then. Now I’m prepping for Pitch Wars. I went through the first 3 chapters again, doing the editing backward and in a different font AND reading it out loud, all of which I thought was very helpful. To edit backward you start with the last page of a chapter, edit that page, then move to the next page in backward order. It really jars you out of the story so you don’t get sucked in and can see if things are working.I’m also trying to rework my query letter. Seriously, Brian, thanks for talking me through it with your encouraging words. I still have a crap query, but I’m reading some short e-books on it and trying to pull all the information together. Query letters are the hardest part of this biz, but I know hard work pays off, and with all the hard work I’ve been putting in I’m certain something decent will come out of all this—or at least it had better. 😉
  • No Treat November. Of course Thanksgiving was… no comment, but I actually did lose nearly 2 pounds since a week or two ago. I’m back on MFP today and trying desperately to be good. There’s still a cinnamon pie in the house, but I plan to work those calories in with exercise so it doesn’t put me over the limit. I’ve done all this before, I can do it again.
  • The Holiday Book Read! I’m 99% finished with Abandon. I didn’t really like it per se, but I don’t regret reading it. It’s oddly similar to Twilight. Maybe that’s why it’s been so successful? More on this tomorrow I think.

I’m on track with my goals, I’m just in a knock-down-drag-out brawl with my query letter. But I’m a martial artist, so I know some sneaky moves.

How about you? Have any advice on query letter techniques or links to sites with helpful info? How are you doing on your goals? Are you participating in Pitch Wars or any contests? Let me know below.

Query Letters & Loglines (BKSP notes)

If you’re serious about getting your book published, then you seriously need to know your material as though you’re the number one fanboy of your book (and shouldn’t you be anyway?).  That means learning to talk cohesively about your book, both in word and print.  Often as writers this is not our strong suit, but the better prepared we are the greater the chance we have of getting our foot in the door.  Knowing how to describe your novel in a succinct way likely means a better query letter and logline.

Loglines are also referred to as the hook.  It’s a little blurb that tells a potential reader or agent what the book is about.  It’s got to have something in it that both catches their attention and drives them to reading your novel.  A logline should only be one or two sentences–basically what you could say on a 30-sec elevator ride.  If you decide to enter your book into a contest, a logline comes in handy.  It’s extremely helpful for conferences, and something good to give your beta readers the overall idea of the story.

For those who don’t know.  Query letters are your cover letter for your book when you’re out seeking an agent for publication.  They are extremely important to get right!

Now, onto the notes:

Write your query letter with a marketing hat.  You’ve got to think, how can I reach my audience best?  And who is my audience in the first place?  Where is this book going to be put on a bookshelf?  Don’t tell the agent the state of the marketplace, they know.  Tell them instead where your book fits in the market.  Using comparatives can be helpful (ex. it’s Lord of the Rings meets Bridget Jones’ Diary).  Although they do caution against using too popular of titles, like Harry Potter meets Twilight.  Agents said the sense they get from that is you aren’t reading other books in your genre.  They want more specific comparatives.

Don’t tell the whole story of your book in the query.  Agents only need a reason to read your stuff from your query.  In fact, avoid doing a plot summary altogether.  Most said to find books similar to yours and read the flaps to see how they do it.  Don’t say you’re the next Faulkner or J.K. Rowling, etc.  They will think you are arrogant and will move onto the next query.  And don’t say it’s never been done before.  There’s nothing new under the sun, and it may show your ignorance in what’s already out there.  Don’t start with a rhetorical question.  Often they’ll answer it and move on.

If you’re sci-fi or fantasy or anything that has lots of made-up words, don’t use too many in the query.  Agents say they get distracted trying to figure out who’s what and where.  Keep it simple in the description.  Personally, I would recommend only using your protag’s name if the other names are too complicated, and maybe the place name, and use plot to describe the rest.

If they require a synopsis, don’t go crazy over it.  Have a succinct 2-3 pages.

In the query make sure you have a set up of your character, a general idea of the world, the conflict, your credentials, and especially the WORD COUNT.  In credentials, don’t go overboard with details about your life.  Don’t tell them about your cats or the trouble you’ve been having with your family lately or where you recently went on vacation (people actually do this…).  Give it to them brief.  If you’ve won awards or been published before, tell them.  If you have no creds–well, you may still have some.  If your story is about a nurse, and you’ve been a nurse for 30 years, put it in.  If you can honestly think of no creds at all, they still want to know a little about you.  (Note, a little).  Tell them aside from writing you karaoke with the best of them, volunteer at the soup kitchen, and spend summers in Alaska (or whatever you do).  But keep it brief.

If you’re writing YA, make sure to have indicators that it’s definitely YA and not middle-grade.  They say often that’s romance and saving the world (YA) vs. friendship and bullies (MG).

From the panel of Janet Reid, the Query Shark:

Effective query letters…

  • give her an idea of who the characters are, what the stakes are
  • present a fresh idea or perspective
  • entice her to read the book
  • use comparatives effectively

She said don’t write in the voice of your character in the query letter.  Leave the character in the book, let her meet you in the query.  Be reachable.  Agents will Google you.  Let me state that again.  Agents WILL Google you.  Put contact info (even if just an email) on your blog.  An agent won’t leave a comment, but if they can contact you in a slightly more private way (like email or a direct msg on Twitter) they will if they like what they’ve seen.  They’re on the internet too.  They may have run across your blog, liked your voice and want to see what your book is about.  Janet says she does it, so be reachable.

Last bits of advice.  Agents said don’t put the word count/category right at the beginning.  Sometimes if your word count is a little high, if they read it first they’ll move on.  But, if you entice them with a good hook and they see the word count, they may think, it is a bit long… but… I really did like the idea, so I’ll take a look anyway.  And lastly, in an e-query, copy in the first ten pages of your manuscript below your query, even if they didn’t ask for it.  (Not an attachment, copied in body).  The majority of the agents say they’ll skim the query, and if there are pages they’ll read until they lose interest.  A strong query is great, but for most of us, our best writing is in our book.  Don’t miss an opportunity to show them the great writing that maybe didn’t make it into the query.

By the way, Janet Reid has a blog called Query Shark where she goes over what works in queries and what doesn’t.  She’s an agent, so she knows what will draw an agent in.  Be sure to check it out, and if you dare, submit your query to possibly have her critique it.  I’ll let you know when I get up the guts.

WFC – What I Learned from Lisa Mangum

Lisa Mangum held a forum called “How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Slush Pile.”  In addition to being an author Mrs. Mangum also selects from the slush pile which books Deseret Book will consider publishing.

I was pleased to learn something very encouraging.  Although they can receive thousands of submissions daily, you’re not actually competing with all the thousands.  A lot of them are far less ready to be published than yours is.  You are only competing with a fraction of them.  Her ratio was 300 of 2,500 submissions.)  That is why making yourself noticeable via format, query letter, and polished work is so important.

Mrs. Mangum explained there are five things you can control when submitting your work for publication:

  1. Do your homework! What did she mean by that?  There are six questions you can ask yourself to prove you’ve done your homework.
    • Is this the right slush pile? If it’s a publishing house that doesn’t ever publish fantasy and you’ve written a fantasy, you probably don’t want to submit it there.
    • Who is going to buy this?  Find out who your audience is and appeal to them.
    • How is your book different than everything out there? Be clear about what is special about your book.
    • What are people buying? Be aware of which topics are overdone (aka another book about vampires amidst Twilight popularity).
    • What is your marketing plan? Are you able to write a press release?  Do you have other ideas of what you can do to promote your book?  Bring some of your own ideas to the table.  Have a few in mind when you begin submitting query letters.
    • Have you let five honest people give you feedback?  I recently wrote a post about feedback.  Your mom probably doesn’t count, especially if she’s the type that thinks everything you do is the best thing anyone’s done ever.  “Honest” people means they will tell you if something doesn’t work, is boring, confusing, etc.
  2. Follow the submission guidelines. If it says only a query letter, DO NOT send them your entire manuscript–that is unless an instant rejection is what you’re hoping for.
  3. Write a killer query letter.  This is the hardest part of all for many writers.  Read all the guidelines and tips you can, get feedback, then revise, revise, revise!
  4. Showcase your talent.  You can do this with your query letter.  You may not think you’re showing them much, but Mrs. Mangum says we’d all be surprised how much info an agent can glean from our one-page query letters.
  5. Deal with a rejection letter.  You’ll probably have to do this several times… Don’t worry, you’re in good company.

She finished off the forum with some good advice on writing query letters.  Firstly, remember a query letter is a business letter.  It should always include your complete contact info.  You also need to tell them what you are “selling.”  She recommends studying the back of book covers in your genre to get an idea of how to pitch your story.  Except unlike a book back, you do tell the agent how it ends.

She heavily emphasized each query letter should have a good hook.  The hook should always include:

  • The Hero (protagonist)
  • The Goal (this can vary from getting the ring to Mordor to winning a quidditch game)
  • Obstacles (what stops the hero from achieving his/her goal)
  • Consequences of Failure (the stakes)

You don’t have to tell the agent how the story ends in the hook, but do tell them somewhere afterward.  Include why they should buy publish this book you’ve written.  Example: It’s about a surgeon and you were a surgeon for 30+ years.  Maybe it’s that you’re an avid reader of sci-fi, or there’s this new twist you’ve put on it that’s fresh and original.  This will set you apart from any other books with a similar idea or genre.

If you have awards, flaunt them.  If not, focus on other things in your life you believe strengthens your writing.  (I studied journalism, so I mention that, but I keep the bio pretty short and use most of the query to sell the book).

You spent a lot of time writing your book.  Make sure you spend similar efforts on making sure your book gets into the right hands.  And if you have any further advice to add, please post it in the comments below.