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.


Blogger Danyelle Ferguson said...

These are all great ideas, Jeff. I loved your presentation. Please post the rest of your presentation soon!

BTW - I love how your post sounds just like you in a conversation with a friend.

Have a great day!

7:29 PM  
Blogger Tristi Pinkston said...

Absolutely fabulous tips, Jeff. I love the examples you gave. I wish I had made it to the LUW meeting!

Now, I have a question. Why the need for the 8 X 10?

12:29 PM  
Blogger Josi said...

It's past tomorrow--we're waaaaiiiittttiiiinnnnnggggg :-) Great advice to any level of writer

10:12 AM  
Blogger Candace Salima . . . the LDS Nora Roberts said...

Okay, here's the crazy thing. I just created my blogspot yesterday and I've already been tagged by Rebecca Talley and Tristi Pinkston. Wow! Word sure spreads quickly! So, I'm supposed to answer all these questions - tell me, why am I not in bed yet?

What were you doing ten years ago: Ten years ago, let's see, that would be 1997 -- I can't remember. I would have been married to my college sweetheart for two years. His little brother, who lived us for the first year of our marriage, had moved on to another brother. Oh wait! I remember. 1997 was the year I was laid off from Novell (which I campaigned very hard for) and I began studying under Paul Gray, one of the best story structurists in Hollywood. That began a year where almost everything I learned in college was chucked out the window and a whole new way of writing screenplays was introduced to me. Whew -- one down and how many to go?

What were you doing one year ago: Geez, what's with the questions and having to remember where I was ten years ago or one year ago. A better question, what was I doing yesterday?

Five snacks you enjoy: home-made chocolate chip cookies, Colorado popcorn, tortilla chips/salsa/guacamole (craved that one with every pregnancy), baby carrots and peanuts. Do I have to stop at five?

Five songs you know all the lyrics to: That would be none. I am the queen of taking first, second and third verses and merging them together for my very own version of every song I know. Although, I can safely say I know "Popcorn Popping," and "I Am a Child of God" and those are the only two I can to knowing completely.

Things you would do if you were a millionaire: Invest half of whatever the IRS doesn't steal with their grubby little hands, pay off my mother's farm and debts and then pay her a monthly stipend, pay off our debts, build our food storage back up and better prepare for any disasters coming down the line. This is one thing I cannot joke about as money is tight in the family right now.

Five bad habits: Eating too much junk food when I know how bad it is for me, not exercising like I used to, procrastinating cleaning my house (I really, really hate to clean but love a spotless house, what a conundrum!) And quickly abandoning work to go play (I really do that, I've had to exercise more control as of late) and last, but certainly not least, I must, WITHOUT QUESTION, kick my Mountain Dew habit. Ugh!

Five things you like to do: Write, read, snuggle with my husband, snuggle with my nephews and nieces, and visit with good friends and family. Oh heck, I'll add one more. I love to study the gospel too.

Things you'll never wear again: A swimsuit, bell-bottoms, peasant shirts, really --- anything from the 70's! Man, it was ugly the first time around - I don't know why we're repeating it. Oh, and Rebecca's right, blue eye shadow, but I really miss my big hair!

Five Favorite toys: Uh, uh, uh . . . hmmmm. I have no idea. Does Quiddler count? That's the best game known to mankind for anyone who doesn't know what Quiddler is.

Where will you be in ten years? Owner of a publishing house, movie studio and record label. Debt free and still living frugally. I will more books published (other than the five I have right now) and movies produced on the screen and in everyone's DVD library. Nah, I don't want much.

Five people to tag: Anne Bradshaw, Jeffrey Savage, Willard Boyd Gardner, Annette Lyon and James Dashner.

That's it for me tonight -- tomorrow I'll tell you about the book signing I did tonight and the benefit I'm throwing for my mother tomorrow evening -- or would that be today -- well, that would July 14, 2007 (oh yeah, Saturday evening). More details at I know, I know, shameless plug. Yes, I hang my head in abject shame, but I'm still doing it!

11:46 PM  
Blogger Anne Bradshaw said...

Great teachings, Jeff. Thanks for all this. I never get tired of hearing how to improve. Reminders are like food to my writer's soul.

Hope all your readers check out the writing contest on my blog :-) Great prizes. Great spotlight for youth.

9:53 AM  
Blogger W.L. Elliott said...

Hey, I really want to read that one about the man eating dolphins in Detroit!!! When is that one coming out???


2:58 PM  
Blogger Linda Adams said...

Hey Jeff!
Has it really been almost a YEAR since you posted anything to this page? I hope you've been busy writing!

8:10 PM  

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