Monday, January 23, 2006

Ten Tips

Hi all, been awhile I know—illness, travel and a new job, combined with finishing the next Shandra book, has slowed me down a lot. But the good news is, Shandra’s nearing competition, I just mailed out all the contest winners, and we have no sick people at our house. Yahoo! I’m also mailing out my first newsletter today.

Also, just wanted to give you a sneak peek at a presentation I’ll be giving to the League of Utah Writers this Wednesday night, the 25th of January, at the Provo Library on University Ave. It’s free whether you’re a member or not, so if you’re in the neighborhood, come on down, and invite any writers or aspiring writers you know—the more the merrier.

The topic is 10 tips guaranteed to get your work looked at by an agent or editor. I can’t give as much detail in a blog as I can in person, but if you can’t come, this may still give you a few things to think about.

10—Know exactly who you are writing for and research the competition.

I hear it all the time. I write romances. I write mysteries. I write thrillers. Great, but what makes your stories different from the ten-thousand people out there who write the same thing? Does the LDS market really need another romance writer? Maybe, but only if his or her books stand out. Please don’t tell me, “I can’t change my genre just to please some publisher.” That’s bologna, on stale bread, with rancid mayonnaise. If I told you today that Random House would pay you a six-figure contract for a children’s horror novel about man-eating dolphins that terrorize suburban Detroit on gas-powered scooters, you’d have it to me inside of a month. Why waste you time on a novel that’s been done a thousand times over or that has a readership of two including you and your mom?

Figure out what sells well in your chosen genre, come up with a unique twist, and write it well.

9—Make your query letter shine.

Sounds obvious right? And yet I see query letter after query letter that puts me to sleep.

I am writing to you in regards to my partially completed novel, My True Love. This is the story of a boy and a girl and their quest for love against all odds. Despite their family’s disapproval they know that destiny has put them together . . .

I have shown this to twelve different people and they are all lining up to buy it. Everyone thinks it’s great. I have actually had people tell me that I should be a professional writer. It’s THAT good! This is the twelfth novel I’ve written and I’d be happy to show you the others as well. They include SF, Fantasy, Romance, and Mystery, which I understand all sell well.

Agents can receive hundreds of queries a day. Does this query stand out at all? No. It’s full of clichés, it sounds desperate, it sounds weak—it will be thrown in the trash.

There are lots of query packages you can put together, but let me make a simple recommendation for a national agent or publisher.

First page—An exciting ONE PAGE excerpt from your novel. If this page is not so good that the reader must see what happens next, either find a page that does the trick or rewrite your book.

Second Page—A back of the cover blurb. This is a sales pitch. Sell the agent or publisher. I don’t need to know the whole story, just enough to hook me. No more than three brief paragraphs.

In 1962 six second graders disappeared into an abandoned Utah gold mine at an end of school picnic. Five were found alive, but one little boy was never recovered. After three weeks of searching, the mine entrance was sealed closed with the boy’s body still somewhere inside.

Now, over thirty years later, someone is killing off the mine survivors, and clues point to the ghost of the child who was never found. Small, seemingly idyllic, Twin Forks, Utah hides a terrible secret. Police Chief, Cal Hunt, must discover that secret to save the citizens of his town from a something more evil than he has ever faced. But first he’ll have to overcome his disbelief of the supernatural enemy that lurks within Dark Memories.

Third Page—A basic cover letter. Make this very simple and to the point. I don’t care what your profession is unless it directly impacts the story. I don’t care how many things you haven’t published. Only what you have. So if you haven’t published anything, don’t tell me about it. Don’t try to sell me here. Just state the facts and ask if I want to see more. DO provide your phone number and e-mail. Acceptance of novels never comes in your SASE.

Fourth Page—If you have a good, high quality 8x10, include it. If not, don’t spend your money on one now.

Finally, one single typo can get your query rejected. Believe me, it happens. Proof, proof, proof.

8—Use 24# paper and laser quality printing. Use a printer service if need be. Look professional and have a better chance of being viewed as professional.

7—I stress this all the time, but please be aware that the beginning of your book is the most important. You have one sentence to win the right to a second sentence, one paragraph to win a second paragraph. Most submissions are never even read past the first page. Unfair? Of course. But who ever said the publishing biz was fair?

Make your first page/chapter count. See my writing tips on beginnings. Let me give you two quick examples.

Sunlight sparkled like tiny diamonds off the crystal blue water of the lake. The air was fresh with the scents of pine and Aspen. In the distance, the sound of a chattering woodpecker could be heard bouncing through the woods like a forest snare drum. Kathy thought back to the first day she had discovered this cozy nook.


The funny thing about discovering a human head is that it’s always in the last place you look.

Which makes you read on? “But I write romance,” you say. “There are no human heads in my book except the ones that are attached to human torsos.” Okay, how about this.

I’ve given it a great deal of thought, and the reason I’ve never found Mister Right is because he was cruelly crushed to death at the age of eight by a stampede of runaway flamingoes. That, or possibly, he was the guy I ran into at the deli section of Albertsons last week. Could I help it that he stepped in front of my cart? And really, he didn’t need to glare at me just because he spilled his marinara sauce down the front of his khakis. But he did have cute eyes.

Grab me. Hook me. MAKE me read on.

6—I referred to this above in Queries, but do not let any typos slip into at least your first three chapters. Nothing will be mistake free for an entire manuscript, but make sure the first three chaps are clean. Have friends look for typos. Read the chapters from back to front. Read it out loud. Do not assume that the editor will overlook the typos and find the great story inside.

5—Come up with a marketing plan. Small publisher, big publisher it doesn’t matter. I heard from an LDS author who recently signed with Covenant that before signing they asked if she would be willing to maintain a website, do book signings, promotions, etc. They also sent out a similar message to current authors. The competition is hot and heavy these days and the author who has a promotion plan definitely has a leg up. You may want to mention your marketing plan briefly in your cover letter.

Okay, I think that’s long enough for one BLOG. I’ll give you the rest tomorrow. And I also have one tip so out of the norm, so unexpected, so contrary to everything you’ve been told that I will only present it at the event. And I promise that most people will reject it out of hand. See you there.