The spam monsters have won. Over the past several months, I have tried to limit spam in the comments to this journal. Despite my best attempts, though, the spam continues to be posted -- often more spam comments than legitimate ones.
Therefore, I am forced to bar comments from people who are not my LJ friends.
But all is not lost! If you would like to comment on a post here, and you are not an LJ friend, and you don't care to create an LJ account to become my friend, you can comment on my main website, the one that mirrors to this journal. That website is
Mindy, regretting that it's come to this, but pleased to finally get rid of the obnoxious spam
::blowing dust off the blog::
The Old Retreat Model
Once upon a time, I wrote an article about writers’ retreats, summarizing different types of retreats for different types of writers. The full article is now available for free on my website. I summarized my ideal retreat at the end:
My ideal retreat is an intimate gathering of no more than six friends. We get together three or four times a year, for a three-day weekend at each gathering. We stay in the home of one author, often doubling up in guest rooms. We focus on solitary writing – I typically set an aggressive-for-me goal of drafting 25,000-35,000 new words. While we take occasional evening breaks for gossip (er, “industry evaluation”) and we talk a lot while eating our meals, our primary purpose is to create new words.
At our retreats, the host provides three meals a day. Breakfast is typically cereal or bagels, and lunch is make-your-own sandwiches. Dinners are usually easy-to-prepare casseroles, ordered-in pizza, or similar low-effort foods. The host is also responsible for setting the table and doing the dishes, although attendees tend to help out. Each attendee brings a favorite sweet snack, savory snack, and beverage. (Confession time: We each typically bring multiple “favorites”; there’s a lot of eating that goes on at our retreats. We also drink prodigious amounts of caffeine!) Sometimes, we go out to dinner on our last night together.
During the retreat, we usually work together in one room (a basement rec room, or a living room). Writers who are “on a roll” sometimes skip meals to finish their work. Some of us awaken quite early; others stay up until nearly dawn, then don’t rise until after lunch.
That group retreat has been modified a bit over the years. We now get together only two or three times in a year; it’s too difficult to coordinate the schedules of five busy authors. We tend to a lot more “make-your-own” dinners — make your own pizza or baked potato or pasta, to accommodate a wide range of dietary limitations. Perhaps most importantly, breaks for conversation have grown substantially — some authors spend a couple of hours over lunch and all the time after dinner chatting.
Alas, I failed to update my goals as we updated our retreat format. I approached each three-day weekend (starting mid-afternoon on Friday, ending mid-afternoon on Sunday) with the same aggressive goal of drafting 30,000 or more words. With reduced writing time, though, due to increased socializing time, I inevitably felt frayed and flustered. My retreats started to feel like a failure.
The New Retreat Model
At the same time, I engaged in another type of retreat. I got together with one other author to rent a cabin in a state park about two hours from my house. The cabin has a full kitchen, bathroom, and two bedrooms. There’s a picnic table outside, and a lake a few feet from the front door (pictured above). There’s electricity and a weak cell signal but no television or Internet.
These retreats last for six days — arriving after four p.m. on the first day and leaving by ten a.m. on the last day. My fellow author and I have very different schedules. I wake up at seven in the morning and eat a quick breakfast, then settle down to write. I take a break for lunch around noon, then return to writing. My fellow author wakes up around one or two. We sometimes (but not always) take a walk around the lake around four, and we eat dinner together (usually a casserole prepared at home) around six. We both write after dinner. I go to bed around eleven or midnight, and my fellow author stays up working until around three. Lather, rinse, repeat.
These new retreats allow me to produce my maximum word output — 40,000 words at the last one, the complete outlining and drafting of a new Harmony Springs novella. (I’ve tried spending the time editing–most notably a 120,000 word suite of short stories–but I feel that the time is more valuable as writing time because editing comes easier to me and I can fit it into my regular schedule without a great deal of trouble.) My fellow author and I talk at meals and during walks, but we mostly work side by side in relative silence. While I can research some things on my phone, I leave heavy-duty Internet searches for my return, placing blanks in my manuscript to be completed later. Six days is a long time for this introvert to spend in uninterrupted contact with another person, but our shifted schedules gives both of us quiet, alone time in the cabin.
A Future Retreat Model?
I’m contemplating changing things up a bit in the coming year. I’ve promised myself that when I go to the next multi-author retreat, I’ll have a limited word goal, and I’ll relax and enjoy the socializing more than I’ve allowed myself to do in the past. I may also cut back on the word goal for the cabin retreat. I love, love, love the feeling of accomplishment when I look at all I completed (and that concentrated writing time allows me to keep a hectic multi-book schedule), but I find myself missing the chance to take a “photo safari” around the lake, or regretting a shortened conversation over dinner. I don’t like the feeling that I’m always watching a clock, keeping myself on track.
How About You?
If you’re a writer, do you do retreats? What model do you follow?
If you’re not a writer, do you juggle your job and your socializing in single settings (like holiday parties, or corporate retreats)? How do you balancing achieving goals with being a team player? Do you even perceive those two states to be in opposition to each other?
Mirrored from Mindy Klasky, Author.
Magic Times Two, my two-book duo special with Deborah Blake, goes on sale on August 18. What’s it all about? You can get *two* full-length light paranormal novels for the price of *one*! (The low, low price of one — Magic Times Two only costs $2.99!)
If you haven’t read Fright Court, this is a great way to get your hands on the book. And if you have read Fright Court, this is your chance to revisit it, and to discover Deborah Blake’s fun, exciting witchy read. (A practicing witch! A handsome actor! An ancient magical crystal!)
You can pre-order Magic Times Two today, so that it magically arrives on your ereader on August 18!
Now. Back to that Cupcake Tarot idea…
If you’ve read Fright Court (a novel of lawyers, vampires, and cupcakes), then you know the wonders of cupcake tarot. If you haven’t, here’s a (literal) snapshot:
What’s the deal?
Fright Court‘s heroine, Sarah Anderson shares mini-cupcakes from the Cake Walk bakery (of Jane Madison fame) with her best friend. Each woman selects one cupcake to explain her past, one for her present, and one for her future.
EverAfter Box, a monthly subscription service for romantic reads and collectibles, commissioned these one-of-a-kind cupcake tarot cards to celebrate Fright Court. And I have FIVE packs to give away to five lucky winners.
What do you have to do?
Easy! Just comment on this blog post. Or share it to your Facebook page. Or your Twitter account. Or sign up for my email newsletter. With the help of a random number generator, I’ll choose five lucky winners from among all the entries.
Ready? Set. Go!
Mirrored from Mindy Klasky, Author.
When I was a camp counselor, the word “announcements” was an invitation to the campers to start singing a thoroughly obnoxious song, drowning out any important information that was about to be shared. I think I can trust all of you to let me say: The Rational Writer: A to Z is in stores today!
Last year, I published The Rational Writer: Nuts and Bolts, a book that included legal forms and spreadsheets, all appropriate for experienced writers. When that book hit the stands, a number of people asked me what advice I had to share with newer writers.
And thus, The Rational Writer: A to Z was born. It began as a series of blog posts, an “author’s alphabet” covering basic topics — what is an author? What is a book?
It grew into 26 mini-essays on writing, each with a career-planning prompt, encouraging writers to look at their own careers, their own goals, with an eye toward growing their professional lives.
Topics include critiquing, editing, networking through social media, writing a query letter, writing a synopsis, and much, much more!
And you can buy your copy today!
Mirrored from Mindy Klasky, Author.
Z is for Zephyr.
Zephyr is the west wind, a light wind, one that has traditionally been considered the most mild and favorable. Your writing career is beset with winds of change.
The past ten years have seen massive consolidation in the traditional publishing field, with many long-time leaders merging. Imprints have been dropped and treasured editors have been let go. Ten years ago, Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing did not exist; today, it is the largest self-publishing platform for writers. The Kindle itself had not been released, although other ereaders were around. (The Rocket Ebook proudly boasted that it could hold up to ten books!) Apple’s iPhone did not exist; today, it is the sole ereading device for many readers.
Borders Books and Music closed in 2011, and many believe that Barnes & Noble will be gone within another year (although they’ve been saying that for at least the past two years.) At the same time, many independent bookstores are blossoming, rising up to fill niches in distribution, now that the big-box bookstores are losing their grip.
Individual authors have seen their fortunes rise and fall. Amanda Hocking made the news in 2011 when the formerly self-published author sold four books to St. Martin’s Press (part of Macmillan, one of the surviving Big Five traditional publishers) for a seven-figure deal. Ms. Hocking, though, has not been mentioned in publishing news in years. Her accomplishments were supplanted by Joe Konrath and Hugh Howey, by Liliana Hart and Sylvia Day.
Some writers are imbued with entrepreneurial spirit. They thrive on harnessing new technologies, exploring the potential of evolving channels of distribution, finding new readers for new books.
Other writers follow behind, fine-tuning those discoveries, honing advances and pinpointing successful strategies.
Then there are the writers who change nothing, who continue to write books exactly as they’ve written them, who attempt to sell them to the same publishers, promoting them in the same ways to the same readers. As publishers fail, though, as promotional messages are diluted by “noise” in the system, as readers are distracted by the latest, shiniest, newest attractions, those staid writers find themselves selling fewer and fewer books. Their prospects become dim. They fail.
The only thing constant is change. And rational writers learn to manage that change.
No one has to become an expert at all things. No one has to master traditional publishing and self publishing, every vein of promotion, every aspect of storytelling. But rational writers strive to be familiar with every aspect of writing. They play to their strong points. They hire expertise to advance their weak points.
You’ve already taken the first step, by reading this series of blog posts.
So? What are you going to do going forward? How will you stay informed? How will you adapt? How will you prepare yourself for wherever the winds of change see fit to bring you?
Mirrored from Mindy Klasky, Author.
Last week, I read about Johannes Haushofer’s “CV of Failures.”
Haushofer is an assistant professor of psychology and public affairs at Princeton University. He wrote: “Most of what I try fails, but these failures are often invisible, while the successes are visible. I have noticed that this sometimes gives others the impression that most things work out for me…”
And so Haushofer listed the academic things that did not work out for him — degree programs he was not admitted to, grants he did not receive, etc. Haushofer says that the idea was not unique to him; it was inspired by a University of Edinburgh lecturer, Melanie Stefan.
Haushofer’s CV of Failures is here: http://bit.ly/HaushoferCV (downloads a PDF document.)
I admire Haushofer for starting this discussion. That said, I’m not quite ready to list all my failures, academically, or as a lawyer, a librarian, or a writer.
Is anyone out there braver than I am? What failures are you willing to share?
Mirrored from Mindy Klasky, Author.
Y is for You.
You’ve now had a chance to read twenty-four essays about writing. You’ve had the opportunity to answer questions about every topic, organizing your personal thoughts.
Along the way, you’ve certainly found some advice that conflicts with your own knowledge or beliefs. You’ve read suggestions that will never work for you, given what you write, or how you write.
And that’s okay. No writing advice book is perfect for all writers at all times. You’re not only allowed to disagree with the advice in this book, you’re encouraged to do so. You should test every single idea against your own process and determine what works for you and what does not.
Then, you can move forward with building your unique career.
So? Take a moment and look back at the previous twenty-four Author’s Alphabet posts. Where have you disagreed with my advice? What specific advice would you offer instead? How can you test that advice, to make sure it’s best for the growth of your career?
Mirrored from Mindy Klasky, Author.
X is for (E)xposure.
(Yeah, so sue me. Or give me an idea of another “X” word to write about.)
Before an author publishes a book, they revise it, edit it, copyedit it, proofread it, and format it. Through each of those iterations, the book becomes better and better. By the time it hits stores, it’s the best version of that book the author could write.
But that’s not enough for the book to sell well. Rather, potential readers need to learn that the book exists. The author needs exposure.
Once upon a time, authors were told that the only exposure they needed was a good website and a blog. Authors were expected to post regularly to their blog, building an avid following of readers. A handful of authors mastered the platform, creating a veritable new form of entertainment and attracting tens of thousands of fans. Most authors, though, maintained a steady communication without substantially changing their readership statistics.
Various social media began to appear on the scene—MySpace and LiveJournal, which gave way to Facebook and Twitter. New forms evolved, taking advantage of near-ubiquitous cell phones equipped with cameras—Instagram and Snapchat. Tumblr filled a need for some people, and LinkedIn and a thousand other services for other online denizens.
Authors followed the developments. Sometimes, they reserved accounts so that other people could not use their names on the various social media sites. Other times, they developed unique marketing plans that took advantage of the various media. In each case, a handful of authors mastered the new platform. Most, though, used the various services without gaining a substantial number of new readers.
So, what’s an author to do?
First, figure out which media work best for you. Consider whether you prefer words or pictures. Are you better with pithy sayings, or do you best express yourself in flowing paragraphs? Are you primarily a computer user, or is your phone surgically attached to your palm? Take stock of your preferences, and choose modes of communication that play to your strengths.
Second, determine your social media schedule. Your schedule is a guideline, a reminder to make posts on a regular basis. It doesn’t bind you to specific topics on specific days, but it helps you to structure your broad range of ideas. Set your schedule by creating a chart for each form of social media you intend to use:
• In the far-left column, write down half a dozen broad subject areas that appeal to you. These can be specific books you want to promote, causes that you believe in, holidays or vacations or other activities you want to share, etc.
• Across the top, write each day (or time of day) you intend to post. All forms of social media work best when your contact with followers is regular. Plan on maintaining your frequency for an entire month. Therefore, don’t lie to yourself that you’ll post once an hour, every hour, seven days a week—you won’t be able to keep up that pace. Be realistic.
• Complete your grid, sketching in a subject-matter idea for each time period. You don’t need to go into detail; just leave yourself enough information that you can jump into your social media post when you’re ready. You’ll have one entry in each column (each day or time of day you intend to post). You may have more than one entry in each row (if you have more days than you do topics.)
Third, stick to your schedule. Consider your social media — the exposure that’s going to result in sales of your books — as important as creating the books themselves. If necessary, draft posts ahead of time, maintaining them in a spreadsheet or word processing file so you can cut and paste them into social media. (Depending on your media of choice, you might be able to raise your profile by sharing other people’s posts (“Share” on Facebook, “Retweet” on Twitter, etc.) Don’t allow your account to consist solely of sharing; advance your own personal agenda.
Fourth, restrict the time you spend on social media. As your exposure builds and your social network expands, you’ll be tempted to spend more time interacting with other people. Some of that interaction is good — it helps to build fans. It gives you a break from the strain of creating your books, and it’s fun. But it’s very easy to forget how much time you’ve been online—time that could be spent writing, or with family or friends.
At the end of your first month, set aside some time to study your social media. Consider whether you stuck to your schedule. If you didn’t, determine why you didn’t, and whether your modifications were for good reasons or bad ones.
Also, review the effect of your social media campaigns. Did you increase the number of followers? Did you increase the amount of interaction with existing followers? Did you connect with more prominent members of your online community? Did you see an effect on book sales?
If you saw improvement in all metrics, fantastic! You can continue doing exactly what you were doing.
If you saw improvements in the amount of interaction but not in the number of sales, consider continuing your same plan for another month (or two). It often takes time for social media contacts to “mature” into purchases.
If you did not see improvements, then consider ways to change your plan. Are there other topics that interest you that might be of greater interest to your social media community?
Are you posting often enough to build a community? Are you posting too often, so that your posts are ignored as if they were spam? Are you using the correct form of social media to find readers interested in what you write? Can you try another social media platform, where you might receive greater exposure? Modify your plan, taking into account answers to these questions.
So? Where are you going to start your social media plan for exposure? What social network will you target first? And what are three topics you’re especially interested in discussing?
Mirrored from Mindy Klasky, Author.
Once upon a time, I knew nothing about baseball or its distaff cousin, softball. (Insert sad story about being chosen last for every ball game in elementary, middle, and high school.)
Then I met my husband. Mark is a living encyclopedia of baseball. He studies Bill James’s Abstracts as bits of light reading. He was asked not to field any more questions at a Cooperstown Hall of Fame trivia contest because he knew all the answers. He lives, breathes, and loves baseball.
When we met, Mark’s team was the Red Sox. Because I enjoyed spending time with Mark, and because he was a patient teacher, I started to watch ball games on television. (Baseball is an excellent knitting sport. There’s the perfect amount of time to balance between a complicated lace pattern and actual play on the field.)
Trot Nixon hit “my” first grand slam. Shea Hillenbrand hit “my” first walk-off home run. I recognized when Manny Ramirez got a haircut. And I sort of, kind of, okay, really developed a crush on Jason Varitek.
When the Nationals came to town, we signed up for a partial season, attending 8 games at the decrepit old mixed-use stadium where they played. Shortly after the Nats moved to a new park, we upped our ante, signing up for a quarter-season package, for 20 games. And as I watched the team’s fortunes rise and fall, I decided to write a book about baseball.
Okay. I decided to write nine books about baseball. The Diamond Brides romances were published in 2014–the first came was published on Opening Day and the last was published the Tuesday after the World Series ended.
Baseball provides the perfect setting for romance novels. There are hot, alpha heroes, men who play games to win. There are smart, independent heroines, women who are strong enough to stand alone for the long months of a baseball season. There are real conflicts, struggles that are made all the more challenging by distance, by the demands of the game, by outside pressures that send emotions into the stratosphere.
And I soon found that one of the best things about writing baseball romances was reading baseball romances. I found lots of other women who were writing in the same genre. I fell in love with all sorts of baseball players on all sorts of teams.
So, when I decided to curate my very first book bundle, it made perfect sense to bring together some of those smart, fun (and often funny) women. I considered the vast array of baseball romances out there. I sent out some emails. And the All-Star Baseball Romance Bundle was born.
Bundles are relatively new. They aren’t super-cheap boxed sets, created by the authors with an eye toward making a bestseller list. They aren’t anthologies of all-new short stories, designed to lure you into new-to-you worlds. Rather, they’re special deals offered by vendors like BundleRabbit who make DRM-free ebook copies available at a reasonable price.
Book bundles give all the power to you–the reader.
You decide how many books you want to read (at least five in the All-Star Baseball Romance Bundle, but as many as ten.)
You decide how much to spend (at least five dollars for the All-Star Baseball Romance Bundle.)
You decide whether you want part of your payment to go to a charity, First Book. First Book’s sole mission is to get new books into the hands of underprivileged kids. Simply by checking a box when you order, you can give part of your bundle payment to First Book–at no extra charge to you.
There’s a catch, of course. The bundle will only be available for three weeks–until July 19.
The All-Star Baseball Romance Bundle contains two of my baseball romances. If you choose to buy the first set of five books, you’ll get my Diamond Brides romance, Catching Hell. If you choose to buy all ten romances, you’ll also get my Just One of Those Things, which tells the story of what happens when an alpha pitcher retires from the game and returns to his small hometown.
So? Want to play ball? Purchase your All-Star Baseball Romance Bundle today–and enjoy some of the best baseball romances out there for the rest of the summer!
But hurry. July 19 will be here before you know it!
Mirrored from Mindy Klasky, Author.
W is for Workspace.
Every author has a preferred workspace. Lucky authors get to work under those conditions on a regular basis. Everyone else figure out ways to make do.
A workspace has many elements. First, authors have to have some way of setting down their words. Some people work with pen and paper. Others work on computers (including phones, tablets, and anything else that takes typed or tapped input.) Others record their work, using programs to transcribe the spoken word into a file that can be edited later.
Brainstorming is often done with a variety of office supplies, spreading out inspirational notes on walls or tables.
Any method of capturing words should include a method of backing up data. Handwritten words can be photocopied and stored offsite or promptly typed into a computer file. Computer files can be backed up to thumb drives, external hard drives, and off-site locations such as cloud storage. Audio tapes can be duplicated and transcribed. Ideally, each file will be saved in multiple ways in multiple places.
Of course, authors rely on furniture to support them while they’re writing. That furniture must accommodate whatever writing method is used. Some authors stand at tall desks or walk on treadmills while they work. Others prefer a more traditional chair (often, one that is ergonomically designed) while sitting at a standard desk. Some people work in an armchair; recliners can be especially comfortable for people with certain back problems or reduced mobility. Authors who dictate sometimes walk as they work, taking inspiration in a changing landscape.
A workspace includes other elements as well. Writers often need telephones (to speak with other writers, business partners, and takeout Chinese restaurants for those nights when inspiration is flowing and there really isn’t time to cook. Occasionally, writers need to print documents (including, for some, entire manuscripts), and they may need to scan documents as well. Sometimes, materials must be sent by mail or other delivery service, and a well-designed workspace includes office supplies to complete those transactions.
Some writers are fortunate enough to have a dedicated home office. Others make do with allocated space elsewhere in a home—a table in a family room corner, a dining room table, a laptop computer that can be stored away when not in use. Still others rely on co-working space outside the home, taking advantage of office machines, electricity, and an absence of distractions.
Every author has a preferred workspace. And for most authors, those preferences change over time as career needs modify, as technology advances, and as financial constraints ebb and flow.
Bottom line, the rational writer is flexible about workspace. If a computer has run out of power, the rational writer switches to writing words in ink on paper. If a home office doubles as a guest room, the rational writer stows away writing supplies in a different location, ready to snatch a few moments of creative time if the possibility arises.
Those disruptions can actually be a positive thing. While changes in routine can be unnerving, they can also help the brain to break out of ruts. Authors can find inspiration in new surroundings. They might enjoy brainstorms as they physically manipulate novel objects—paper, pens, recording devices.
Changes don’t need to be permanent. A single walk, taken with a notepad and pen in hand, might shake free new ideas for a particularly stubborn story. Reclining in a family room chair might provide inspiration for a new book’s outline.
So? What about you? What is your current workspace? What is your ideal one? What barriers are keeping you from working in your ideal workspace? Can you remove any of those barriers today?
Mirrored from Mindy Klasky, Author.
I’ve been sitting on this news for way too long! But today, I finally get to share a new project: Magic Times Two!
Yep! That’s two books in one! More to the point, Magic Times Two is two full-length novels for the price of one!
Want more information?
* * *
Magic Times Two: Two Books for the Price of One!
A Unique Duo of Humorous paranormal romances by USA Today bestselling author Mindy Klasky and award-winning author Deborah Blake.
Vampires! Witches! There’s magic afoot!
In Mindy Klasky’s Fright Court, Sarah Anderson has found her dream job: Clerk of Court for the District of Columbia Night Court. Dream job, that is, until she’s attacked in the open courtroom by a vampire defendant. And until she’s forced to take self-defense lessons from her boss, the enigmatic vampire James Morton. And until she learns she can’t share the truth about any of that with her best friend, Allison Ward – even over delectable cupcakes from the Cake Walk bakery. Soon, Sarah is surrounded by vampires, griffins, and sprites – all members of a secret supernatural court. And when a deceptively easy-going reporter starts to ask questions, Sarah wonders just what answers she is supposed to give…. Will Sarah be able to create order in the court?
In Deborah Blake’s Witch Ever Way You Can, Deirdre Connelly is a modern witch who accidentally becomes the reluctant guardian for the Star Stone, an ancient mystical crystal. With the aid of handsome actor Robert Daniel Addison and a mysterious spiritual guide, Deirdre uses magic, ingenuity, and determination to fight a deranged billionaire for possession of the Star Stone and its power.
* * *
Magic Times Two will be in stores on August 18. Between now and then, keep an eye out for giveaways from Deborah and from me!
Mirrored from Mindy Klasky, Author.
V is for vanity publishing.
Once upon a time, it was easy to spot the vanity publishers (also known as vanity presses or subsidized publishers.) They were the ones who advertised in magazines, promising to turn an author’s brilliant prose into printed books. They hinted at magnificent fame and fortune, all there for the asking—if only an author paid a large sum of money up front.
As frustrating as vanity publishing was, it was easy to warn off new authors. More experienced folks could explain, “Money flows to the author.” If a publisher asked for money up front, then they weren’t legitimate.
But the development of self-publishing has blurred that bright line. Self-published authors do pay for services up front. They hire editors and designers and formatters and marketing experts. So how can an author determine whether a potential business partner is legitimate in the modern publishing world?
Vanity publishers typically guarantee bestsellers. They promise they can get books on the New York Times or USA Today lists. Those assurances are typically bolstered by claims that an author’s manuscript is so well-written that it doesn’t need editing. The plot is perfect, and each individual sentence is crafted flawlessly. In fact, copyediting and proofreading are often (allegedly) superfluous.
Legitimate publishers cannot guarantee that any book will be a bestseller. The market is too complex, distribution is too complicated, and reader tastes cannot be measured with absolute certainty.
Moreover, every manuscript—especially the manuscripts of new authors—have some flaws. Publishing is a collaborative enterprise, with editors bringing tremendous value to the table. Authors who believes their prose is perfect cheat themselves out of the opportunity to become better at their craft.
Vanity publishers typically limit contact between their authors and professionals within the publishing house. An author may not even have an editor; rather, there’s a single contact (a salesperson) who handles all requests, guiding the project from acquisition to distribution.
By contrast, legitimate publishers have dozens of people who are associated with each book they publish. Editors are different from copyeditors, and both are different from proofreaders. While an author’s editor may be a liaison to the art department, the marketing department and others, that editor is not working in a vacuum.
Perhaps because they have so few staff, vanity presses typically have very small physical and online footprints. They may not have a street address or a phone number. They might not allow direct communication through their website until an author hands over valuable contact information.
Legitimate publishers occupy entire buildings in New York City. Even small presses have updated websites and extensive presences on social media.
Vanity presses are structured to be efficient money-earning businesses. They typically break their services into tiers, providing additional (promised) services for additional payments up front. They demand reading fees before they’ll accept a manuscript for publication. At the same time that they charge for those services, they demand a royalty on all books sold. They charge for each sales venue where a book is released — one fee for Amazon, another for Barnes & Noble, etc.
No legitimate agent or publisher will charge a reading fee. Ever. Traditional publishers provide their services for free, taking a financial risk on new books. Self publishing service providers require payment, but they don’t have a royalty interest in the resulting books.
Before you arrange to work with any publishing professional — a potential publisher, an editor, a formatter, anyone — do some basic research. Type their name into a search engine and see if people have complained (or complimented) their services. Visit some websites that track writing scams — Preditors and Editors is one of the most famous — and see if your potential business partner is listed. Check with writing organizations like the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America to see if members have ever had negative experiences with the business.
Most of all, use your common sense. If a company is offering too good a deal — guaranteed bestseller status! published books in less than a month! — ask yourself what secret formula they’re using that no one else in the business is able to access.
So? What steps do you take when you consider working with a new business partner? Have you ever been burned? Did you report the offender to a writers organization or other authority?
Mirrored from Mindy Klasky, Author.
U is for Ugly.
There are some ugly truths about writing, things no one wants to talk about, no one wants to admit. I’m talking about the emotions we all try to hide away.
What emotions? How about:
Anxiety (or its cousins, Fear and Frustration): Some authors fear they’ll never be able to capture the stories they see inside their heads; they fear they don’t have the skill, the ability to communicate those images. Even when an author succeeds in transmitting their vision perfectly, they often feel frustrated by their inability to write faster or better or with more marketable themes. Authors worry about whether they’re doing enough promotion, about whether their stories will ever find the proper audience. Authors who rely on their writing for a meaningful amount of income are often anxious about whether a book is selling well enough to meet specific bills, or whether a particular story is selling well enough to merit more books in a series.
Despair: (Perhaps the extreme form of anxiety, fear, and frustration.) Despite spending days and weeks and months and years to create a book, some authors find that their books don’t sell. When authors attempt to write more books, or to work in different genres, or to try additional promotional techniques but still see dismal results, their disappointment may turn to despair. All roads seem to be blocked on a permanent basis. No alternatives seem to exist.
Guilt: Every hour spent writing is an hour that could be spent doing something else—spending time with family and friends, working on other skills, working at a day job, etc. Authors are often left feeling guilty for the choices they make when they persist in writing, especially when that persistence means missing milestones of children or other family members.
Jealousy (and its fraternal twin, Envy): Many (Most? All?) authors are envious of more successful authors; we want to have their success in creating a number of books or selling those books to a wider audience or making a bestseller list or any other marker of success in this crazy field. We may also feel jealous, fearing that another author is going to supplant us in sales rankings, or that a new author might lure away our readers with a shiny new book in our genre. These feelings are exacerbated by mainstream media, which love to tell stories of overnight successes, often ignoring the years that went into creating that success. Similarly, the popular press loves stories about authors doing extraordinarily well, the superstar bestsellers who sell millions of books. By comparison, our own careers can seem paltry.
Sorrow: Writing careers can lead to sorrow. There are the inevitable losses that stem directly from the business of writing—when a traditional publisher places a book out of print (but not out of ebook availability, so there isn’t the corresponding joy of rights reversion), when a profitable sales venue closes, when a beloved series simply fails to catch the interest of readers. There are also more abstract sorrows—when a loved one dies before seeing an author’s success or when a relationship ends because someone is unable to give a writer the time needed to write.
All those ugly feelings exist, along with dozens more. Rational writers are prepared to experience negative emotions. They accept the feelings at the time. They understand that the negativity will pass. They consciously shut down the whispering cycle of ugly thoughts and turn back to writing again, and again, and again.
Some writers augment their emotional strength by confiding in writers groups. Others balance the lonely, cerebral exercise of writing with physical activity. Writers may seek outside support from career coaches or therapists or religious leaders. They may resort to comfort food and drink—wine or macaroni and cheese or Ben & Jerry’s by the pint.
The rational writers are the ones who regroup, who return to their work, attempting to solve whatever problems actually can be solved. The rational writers get back to writing.
So? Which ugly emotions are you most likely to experience? And what strategies do you have in place to survive the negativity?
Mirrored from Mindy Klasky, Author.
A few years ago, someone came up with a creative new marketing idea for media: the bundle. There are lots of variations on the idea, but here’s the basic concept:
- A number of items (books, apps, whatever) are pulled together by a vendor and grouped into “tiers”, which are available as electronic downloads.
- Buyers can buy the first tier for a price they choose, above a set minimum.
- (Sometimes, buyers can buy another tier if they beat the average price that has been paid by all earlier purchasers.)
- Buyers can buy another tier for a higher price for a price they choose above a set minimum.
- (Usually, buyers have the option of donating to a specific charity at no extra cost to them; the donation comes out of the money they’ve already spent.)
- (Sometimes, buyers can choose what percentage of their price goes to the media creators and what percentage goes to the vendor.)
- The entire offer disappears after a short time (typically, one to three weeks).
Bundles are exciting and dynamic. They give creators a chance to reach a much wider audience, because the bundle is promoted by all the participating creators. They give buyers a chance to get a unique set of media. I’m participating in two bundles at the moment, with more on the horizon.
The Write Stuff 2016
This bundle is about the business of writing; my contribution is The Rational Writer: Nuts and Bolts. I’m participating with eight other authors (including one of my long-time favorite mystery writers, Lawrence Block!) Together, the nine of us have more than 200 years experience in publishing, and we’ve published more than 500 books. The Write Stuff 2016 bundle is only available until June 16, so get your copy today!
The Not Only Human Bundle
This bundle is completely different! It’s a collection of twelve novels, each of which features a non-human character. My contribution is Fright Court, included because of its hero, the vampire James Morton. The books include non-humans as varied as trolls, aliens, androids, and Bigfoot! The Not Only Human Bundle is only available until June 15. If you want to enjoy this great deal, act now!
I hope you enjoy either or both of these bundles. There are lots more exciting projects on the horizon — I’ll share them all with you in due course!
Mirrored from Mindy Klasky, Author.
T is for traditional publishing.
Prior to around the year 2000, the adjective “traditional” wouldn’t have been necessary—publishing was publishing. There were large presses, sure, and small presses, and various publishers were known for their work in specific genres. But one major model existed: an author wrote a book and sent it to a company that published the book, creating physical copies and distributing those books to various points of sale.
Despite the massive changes brought about by self-publishing, the traditional model still exists. Through consolidation, publishers have consolidated into five major players:
• Penguin Random House
• Simon & Schuster
Each publisher is comprised of many imprints, each of which specializes in a genre or sub-genre, releasing books with appeal to a specific market segment. (Much smaller traditional publishers also continue to exist.)
What are the functions of a traditional publisher?
An author’s first contact with a traditional publisher is likely to be with an editor, after their agent has sold a work to the publisher. (None of the major traditional publishers accepts unsolicited manuscripts across the board. A handful of imprints do accept unsolicited manuscripts; however, the review time for those submissions may amount to years. The “gatekeeping” function of traditional publishing continues to foster the impression among many readers that traditionally published books are superior to self-published books.)
Editors are responsible for developing an author’s work. Specific actions will depend on an editor’s work habits, as well as the state of the submitted manuscript. Typically, an editor reads a manuscript and prepares an edit letter, describing a variety of changes the editor believes will make the manuscript better. The letter is sent to the author, along with a deadline by which the changes must be completed. (Editors may make multiple rounds of edits, gradually moving from broad, developmental notes to more specific comments on individual sentences or words. In some genres—such as young adult or middle grade—it’s more common to receive sequential edit letters than in others—such as romance.) Once the manuscript is finalized, it is reviewed by a copy editor, to polish continuity, grammar, and spelling.
While the editors are working with the author to create the strongest content possible, an art department concentrates on a book cover. Someone on the publisher’s staff—often the developmental editor—drafts back cover copy, describing the book. A title is selected, often one that is different from the author’s original name for the book. Ultimately, the work is placed into a final publication format (ebook or print) and all of the text (the book, the cover copy, etc.) is reviewed by proofreaders for typographic errors.
All of those professionals—developmental editors, copyeditors, proofreaders, formatters, typesetters, artists, printers, etc.—are hired by the traditional publisher. Each is expected to conform to various “house rules” ranging from acceptable subject matter to common cover design to spelling conventions. The author is never out-of-pocket for any of those expenses.
Once the book is finalized, the publisher is responsible for getting it to sales venues. For online stores, this means determining metadata (which are generally protected as trade secrets) and uploading the books. For bricks-and-mortar stores, publishers maintain a staff of salespeople who approach the buyers for the few remaining large chain stores. They prepare a catalog to support those salespeople (although the print catalogs of old have almost entirely given way to online catalogs.) Once again, the author does not pay for these services.
Even before the book is available for sale, the traditional publisher develops a marketing plan. (Indeed, at most publishers, the marketing department is engaged with the book from the instant it is acquired. At most publishers, the marketing department has the ability to “blackball” any prospective acquisition, on the basis that it will not readily find a market niche.) The marketing plan might include (increasingly rare) author tours, press releases, physical swag, etc. While special sales pricing is occasionally used, most traditionally published books are sold at a fixed price. Marketing dollars are generally allocated to books the publisher believes will be bestsellers. Books by new authors or authors who are not selling particularly well will generally not be promoted extensively, if at all. As before, though, authors do not pay for marketing efforts arranged by publishers. (But they might well pay for their own marketing efforts.)
What does all this cost?
In the realm of traditional publishing, authors should not put out any money for the publication of their books. Rather, traditional publishers pay money to the writer. (Note that the rules are different in self publishing.)
Publishers’ payments come in two forms: advances and royalties. Not all publishers pay advances; however, for decades, the payment of an advance was the hallmark of a legitimate publisher. An advance is a payment made as an advance against royalties. The author receives the money and never needs to repay it, even if the book fails to sell well. While arrangements vary from publisher to publisher, many advances are paid in installments: 1/3 upon signing a contract, 1/3 upon delivering an accepted outline, and 1/3 upon delivering an accepted manuscript. (Some publishers include a fourth payment point, upon publication of the finished book. That arrangement works against an author’s best interest, because the author can’t control when a book is actually published.)
In addition to an advance, most publishers pay royalties. Royalties are a percentage of the sales price of the book. Depending on the contract, different percentages might be paid based on format, market, etc. Those percentages might be calculated on the cover price or an actual sales price or some other number.
Compared to self publishing, traditional publishers’ royalty percentages are low. While a self-published author might receive 70% of a book’s sale price when they sell on Amazon, a traditionally published author might receive only 10% (or less, if the book is a mass market paperback or sold in a small market following translation.)
Nevertheless, traditionally published books often sell many more copies than self-published books. Generally, traditional publishers have greater success placing their books in bricks-and-mortar bookstores, and they have much greater reach in library sales and international sales. Therefore, an author might make more money with a traditional publisher, despite the relatively low amount received on each individual book.
So? How do you feel about traditional publishing? Do you have or aspire to a traditional publishing contract? Do you think this business model can persist in today’s world?
Mirrored from Mindy Klasky, Author.
S is for Synopsis.
After a query letter, a synopsis might be the most challenging form of writing you ever create. In common parlance, a synopsis is a summary of a book’s plot. To the rational writer, though, a synopsis is much more. It’s a document written in paragraph form, in the present tense. Composed in third person, it tells a complete story; there are no “spoiler alerts” and no pulled punches about the plot resolution. It has one specific purpose: to sell your story.
Traditionally, authors wrote synopses to get an agent (or, if they weren’t represented, to get an editor.) Those are still valid reasons for traditionally published authors to write synopses. In addition, those authors might create a synopsis to assist their editors’ presentations to marketing committees or to prepare the art department before a cover is designed.
But self-published authors need to master the art of synopsis writing too. For a self-published author, a synopsis is vital to summarize an entire book for cover artists and for experts in publicity and marketing. In the crowded marketplace, you want evangelists who can promote your book far and wide. Those enthusiastic partners can best sell your work to others if they understand the story you are telling.
Formatting Your Mini-Masterpiece
You should use an easy-to-read format for your synopsis. In a heading, include your name and contact information. If you have an agent, put that name in the heading as well, along with contact information. Clearly state your manuscript’s name, genre, and word count.
For the body of the synopsis, double space your text. Leave one-inch margins to facilitate easy reading. Use a clean, readable font. The synopsis is not an appropriate place to advertise your creativity by selecting artistic fonts that require careful parsing.
Length of Synopses
Debates rage over the appropriate length of a synopsis. Some industry professionals maintain that a synopsis should be no more than three double-spaced pages (around 750 words). Others consider a reasonable length to be ten or fifteen or twenty pages, whatever it takes to capture the scope of your work. There is no standardized definition, no coded language for “short synopsis” or “long synopsis.”
So what’s the rational writer to do? Ask. Contact the person who is going to use the synopsis—an agent, an editor, a blog tour organizer, whoever—and ask that person’s preference. That one simple question can save hours of otherwise-wasted time.
The Meat of the Matter
The body of the synopsis consists of three major parts: the hook, the characters, and the plot. Each of these components works with the others to generate a rock-solid depiction of your book.
As with your query letter, the synopsis hook is short. Often only one sentence, the hook is an intense distillation of your entire book. It is so captivating that the reader must ask for more. As with the query, your hook should emphasize the aspects of your work that are unique. These might include a setting and time period, a specific character, or a startling circumstance. Hooks are elevator pitches—the summary of your work that can be conveyed to the world’s most important decision-maker in the time it takes to ride an elevator from the ground floor to a penthouse office suite.
The primary focus of your hook should be the tone of your novel. You won’t be able to fit in all the details of your intricate writing—even in summary format—and you shouldn’t try. Rather, your goal is to capture the spirit of the work. The hook for a romantic comedy will sound completely different from the hook for an epic fantasy or a thriller or a literary novel. Prepare your synopsis reader for what comes next.
The next section of your synopsis is a brief character summary. Limit yourself to two characters—usually your protagonist and antagonist. (If you’re writing a romance novel, you’ll typically describe your heroine and hero.) If you absolutely, positively cannot restrict yourself, you can add a third character description. Each character gets their own paragraph. By tradition, a character’s full name is written in ALL CAPS the first time it appears.
For each description, provide the character’s goal, motivation, and conflict. (In simplest terms, the “goal” is what your character wants. The “motivation” is why they want it. The “conflict” is why they can’t have it.) This section should not include details about a character’s physical description unless that information is vital to the goal, conflict, or motivation. (In general, we don’t need to know that a heroine has long blond hair. But if the character is Rapunzel and her goal is to find true love and escape her tower prison, then we do need to know she has both the world’s strongest scalp and longest hair.)
The majority of your synopsis will focus on your plot. Your goal, though, is not to recite what happens first, then what happens second, then what happens third. Rather, your goal is to focus on how plot events change your characters. Each major plot event should be summarized with an action by one character, a reaction by the same or a different character, and a summary of the effect. The culmination of your plot summary is the description of your character’s arc. Thus, your plot becomes a tool for displaying emotion, thereby gripping your reader.
You will likely write one paragraph for each major transition of your story. You definitely do not want to include every beat (the smallest unit of storytelling.) You may not want to include every scene (comprised of multiple beats.) But every time a character reacts to a substantial action and changes direction in a meaningful way, you’ll add a summary to your synopsis.
The road to writing a good synopsis is strewn with traps. Avoid vague, flowery, and unclear language—you’re trying to create a road-map, not show off your most extensive vocabulary. Don’t try to fool your reader about characters’ secret identities, including surprise villains. Don’t wallow in excessive plot details. Try to avoid skipping around in narrative time; rather, craft a simple, straight-forward narrative to help your reader understand your plot’s direction.
The final paragraph of your synopsis is its conclusion. Your goal is to summarize your characters’ successful arcs, underscoring how they have grown and changed. At the same time, an ideal conclusion wraps around to the initial hook at the beginning of the synopsis, mirroring the large questions set forth at the outset.
Once you’ve finished drafting your synopsis, invest several rounds of editing to make the most of your creation. Verify that every word is essential to the story you’re conveying; don’t give your readers a chance to be distracted by any unnecessary text. Test the strength of every verb you use, focusing on choosing action verbs that connote emotion, rather than weaker forms of “to be.” Similarly, concentrate on specific adjectives, searching for descriptors that carry shades of meaning.
As you near the end of your polishing, consider sharing it with a beta reader or other critique partner. Someone less familiar with the text will help you identify snags that aren’t easily found on a first reading.
Wrap up your editing with a grammar check and a spell check. If you’re sending your synopsis electronically, make sure that you’ve saved it at 100% view, so that your reader will open it in that same manner.
So? Are you ready to tackle the rarefied writing that forms a synopsis? If you don’t have a completed manuscript of your own to practice on, consider drafting a synopsis for a favorite book or movie. Can you summarize The Lord of the Rings in ten pages? What about Pride and Prejudice in five? Or your favorite Nancy Drew book from childhood in three pages or less?
Mirrored from Mindy Klasky, Author.
Months and months and months ago, I received a lovely invitation from the Virginia Romance Writers chapter of RWA, asking me to speak at their monthly meeting. I made sure I had no conflicts, entered the date on my calendar, prepared some handouts specifically for the meeting… and promptly forgot all about it.
Which was fine. Because my calendar worked exactly as it was supposed to, and I saw the meeting a couple of weeks before the actual date, and I followed up with my VRW contact who of course had arranged for a hotel room and who of course had a specific address for where they were meeting and who of course made me feel completely and totally welcome.
And so, last Friday afternoon, I got my hair cut for the first time in six months (SIX! MONTHS!) I threw my overnight bag in the car, and I hopped down I-95 to Richmond.
Okay. I didn’t hop. I staggered. Slowly. Because of massive traffic jams. Included three accidents in the express toll lanes.
(Adding insult to injury, I still don’t know how much I paid for the privilege of creeping along, mile after mile, while the traffic flowed better in the normal, non-toll lanes, but there was no way for me to exit the toll lanes. Sigh. And grr. The transactions should come through on my transponder account… some time.)
In any case, I arrived in Richmond around 5:30, without any real problems. I checked into the hotel without any incident more alarming than my not knowing my own name. (“Checking in under Klasky. Oh, you don’t have that? Try [Married Name]. Oh, not that? How about [Name of VRW Member who set up reservation. Perfect!”)
My trusty iPhone told me that a Chinese restaurant was five minutes from the hotel, and Hunan Chicken sounded divine. I zipped around the corner to the Cheng Du Chinese Restaurant, spent a few minutes finding a parking space, and entered a restaurant to find myself the only Anglo person in the place. Every table but three was filled with boisterous Asian families — I later learned that a dental school nearby was celebrating graduation last weekend, and these were the relatives of some newly minted dentists.
After a satisfying cup of hot and sour soup and a gigantic plate of Hunan Chicken, I headed back to my hotel room. Despite the siren call of M&Ms down in the lobby (No, I won’t pay $4 for a standard-size bag of candy I don’t need, thank you very much!), I settled in to catch up on some writing that just had not gotten done during the week.
3000 words later, I climbed into bed and slept very soundly.
Saturday morning, I woke up in time to enjoy the hotel’s free breakfast buffet. I followed easy directions to the Glen Allen Library, and I met a couple of dozen Virginia Romance Writers members.
VRW is all the best that RWA has to offer. Members were energetic and enthusiastic. New members were greeted kindly. Career milestones were marked (with applause and chocolate). Life challenges were acknowledged, and hurting members were comforted.
After a quick business meeting, I spoke about The Rational Writer, focusing on strategic plans, tactical plans, time management, and metadata management. Members had great questions, and I once again contemplated the incomprehensible — how pantser writers ever manage to complete a book ::grin::
We broke for lunch, where conversation ranged from breeding dogs to past careers to racing motorcycles to any number of other things. While the VRW folks returned for an afternoon session, I hit the road.
My drive home started in a hot, sunny parking lot, with a brisk wind blowing and fluffy white clouds scudding across a brilliant blue sky. It ended in a vicious downpour, with my windshield wipers on high as I negotiated the fan-tail spray of trucks in front of me.
But all in all, I had a wonderful time. The Virginia Romance Writers were wonderful hosts. I’d be honored to join them any time in the future!
Mirrored from Mindy Klasky, Author.
R is for Research.
As an author, you have two basic needs for research. First, you need to research markets, including how publishing works. Second, you need to research specific facts for use in your books. Different strategies work best for each of these goals.
Researching for your Career
As an author, you owe it to yourself to conduct exhaustive and ongoing research about your career. You should understand all the key markets in your specific field, including new and emerging opportunities. This awareness will include familiarity with the major individuals who work in your niche. (If you’re traditionally published, these players will include agents, editors, and publishers, along with a broad range of people who are crucial to the promotion of your work. If you’re self-published, the players will include contractual service providers, sales outlets, and a similarly broad range of people crucial to promotion.)
You should also be familiar with storytelling and marketing trends in your field. What sub-genres are selling well? What is the typical price for a novel, novella, and short story? Are there new tools such as boxed sets, bundles, or other novel promotional gimmicks that are having an impact on sales? What do covers look like for books in your area? How are blurbs being structured?
Your resources for this information will vary according to which genres you write. A good starting place for genre writers is the national group affiliated with their field — Romance Writers of America for romance writers, Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America for speculative fiction writers, etc. In addition to having online spaces for writers to communicate, those entities typically have publications (e.g., Romance Writers Report and The Bulletin). They may also have in-person conferences, sponsored either directly by the organization (e.g., RWA Nationals) or allied with other key players in the field (e.g., the World Science Fiction Convention.) Of course, there are also specialty publications that focus on individual fields (e.g., RT Book Reviews and Locus).
Social media provide other means of research, bringing together authors with other authors and with readers. Collaborative groups of authors often use private groups on Facebook, or Google hangouts, or Twitter DM groups to discuss their ongoing issues with writing and publishing. Many of these groups offer emotional support in addition to providing factual data.
Additional research can be conducted in stores—either by browsing the shelves in a bricks-and-mortar location or by studying sales venues online. Of course, you’ll need to read some of those books as well; you should always be familiar with what other writers are creating in your field. (You may want to emulate those authors, or you may want to avoid what they’re doing in your own work.)
Industry norms change rapidly. The rational writer collects facts and figures, focusing on specific details to gain the best position in a highly competitive field. It is difficult to do too much research on how our business works.
Researching for your Book
By contrast, it’s extremely easy to conduct too much research for a specific book.
Let’s face it. A lot of us would rather research than write. We’d rather submerge ourselves in reference volumes or browse website after website. Each new fact we learn opens up new possibilities for more exploration. A quick search for a single fact can expand into a deep dive for hours.
And most books require at least some research. Books that are set in historical periods of our actual world may require vast amounts of research. Authors can safely assume that some reader somewhere is an expert on whatever topics they include in their work. Waving hands and pretending that details are unimportant can doom an otherwise excellent story.
So, authors must walk a fine line. Research, of course, can be conducted in a number of different ways, through various media. It may be completed in print resources or online. It may be done in person or through a librarian or by relying on an expert. It might be done at the beginning of a project, before the first word is committed to the book, or it might be scattered throughout the writing process, on a “catch as catch can” basis.
But research for a specific book can be the enemy of a career author. Every hour spent fascinated by research is an hour not spent writing. Efficiency can deteriorate. Deadlines can be blown.
The rational writer strives to limit research to the specific facts mandatory to a given work. Err on the side of doing too little research, going back to conduct more if necessary at a later date. You can always open up the Pandora’s box of research a second time, or a third. But if you’ve allowed a project to consume all of your resources, you cannot regain what you’ve lost.
So? What tools do you use to stay current on the market? What are your favorite tools for researching specific books? And are you tempted to continue your research past the time it’s yielding necessary results? If so, how do you curb that impulse?
Mirrored from Mindy Klasky, Author.
Q is for Query.
Once upon a time, nearly every published author had mastered the art of the query letter. Most authors sent query letters to agents, tracking down a representative to serve as a middleman to an editor. Even authors who worked without agents had mastered querying those editors directly, reaching out to seek publication of their book. (Yes, a tiny fraction of authors attended a conference or knew an editor personally and pitched work verbally, without a formal query letter. But those circumstances were relatively rare.)
Now, with the advent of self-publishing, fewer authors seek representation. Authors may work their entire career without ever completing a query letter. If you’re one of those authors, congratulations. You’re through reading this week.
For everyone else…
A query letter is one of the most highly refined forms of writing you will ever complete. It consists of a single, one-page introduction to you and your book. It’s not your resume. It’s not your book’s synopsis. It’s a maximum of 250 words that is professional and intriguing enough to stand out among the—literally—hundreds that your agent of choice might be reading at one sitting.
In its simplest form, a query letter is a three-paragraph essay.
Paragraph 1: The Hook
The first paragraph is the hook. This single sentence is a tagline—an intense, distilled summary of your book that is so captivating the reader has to ask for more. Your hook should emphasize the aspects of your work that are unique. These might include a setting and time period, a specific character, or a startling circumstance.
Paragraph 2: The Summary
The second paragraph of your query summarizes the entire plot of your novel. Yes. In one paragraph.
Obviously, you can’t shrink 100,000 words into 150. Instead, you’ll need to focus on certain key aspects, the most important parts of your novel that make it stand out from all other novels in its category.
You will almost certainly not be able to condense your plot into this one paragraph. Instead, focus on what emerges from the mechanical operation of the plot. How do your main characters change? What essential, existential problems do they face at the beginning of the story? How are they transformed by their efforts to solve the problem? How does your specific setting or time period cause or influence that change?
Some writers create their summary paragraphs as if they were writing haiku. They focus on selecting individual words, weighing every syllable to guarantee that it serves the ultimate goal of describing the plot. Other authors start with a much broader scope, recording many details and far-ranging thoughts, only to pare them down to the final precious paragraph. However you approach the challenge, the end result will be the same: a single paragraph that contains the distillation of your novel.
Paragraph 3: The Biography
The final paragraph of your query focuses on you, the writer. This isn’t a chance to tell every detail about every step on your writing journey. Rather, you want to share details related to the specific work you’re pitching. Why were you the best person to tell the story you told? What unique experience did you bring to the job?
If you have nationally recognized credentials (you’ve won the Pulitzer, you’ve received a MacArthur grant, you are a New York Times or USA Today bestseller), share that information here. But if your greatest writing recognition so far has been the prize you won in Mrs. Robinson’s third grade language arts class, don’t bother mentioning it.
Don’t be afraid to skimp on your biography. Less truly is more here. If you pare enough words from your biography, you can “lend” them to your summary, adding more description to your book.
So, there you have it. A simple formula. Once you’ve drafted (and re-drafted, and re-re-drafted ad nauseum) those three paragraphs, you’ll want to review your query letter to make sure it includes a handful of other details. Specifically, make sure that you include:
• The agent’s name. (Not “Sir or Madam.” Not “To whom it may concern.” You want this letter to be the most powerful, personal appeal you’ve ever written, so make sure you address it to a person.)
• The book’s title. (Your title may very well be changed by the agent, an editor, or a marketing department. But this is your chance to give an agent something to hang her proverbial hat on. Use your title to snag attention.)
• The word count and genre of the book. (You should already have familiarized yourself with your field, so you know the typical length for books in your genre. Do not delude yourself into believing that your first novel, a 250,000-word young adult fantasy epic, is good enough to warrant an agent and editor taking a chance. That’s too long. And you won’t look professional if you pitch it. Edit before you ever get around to writing your query.)
• A brief thank you for the agent’s time.
Is it time to draft your query letter? Do you have a finished manuscript of your novel? Have you revised it as completely as you can? Are you ready to distill your masterpiece into three paragraphs? Ready, set, go!
Mirrored from Mindy Klasky, Author.
So, several weeks ago, I had to make the difficult decision not to attend this year’s Washington Romance Writers annual retreat. I had several conflicts that weekend, and the event just seemed too difficult to shoehorn in with other obligations. Sigh.
Then, I received an email from the president of WRW, telling me that the chapter was recognizing me with a career achievement award (one that’s given to recognize a member’s work, either because of quality or quantity.) The chapter wanted to know if I could join them on Saturday for lunch, to receive my award.
Of course, the answer was yes.
I rearranged a couple of things on my schedule and drove up to Westminster, Maryland, where the retreat was being held. For the first time in all the times I’ve driven there, I found the correct, most direct route without silly detours. I arrived early enough to chat with folks between sessions.
And then I sat down to lunch, sitting next to Keely Thrall (who was, in a wonderful sense of “coming full circle”, the president of WRW when I joined.) We had a lovely lunch, chatting with everyone at our table.
A number of awards were announced, all for kind, generous women who are devoted to making the most of their writing careers. My name was called, and I was charmed by the vigorous applause as I walked to the front of the room. I didn’t trip, or anything.
And now I have a visual reminder on a shelf in my office, a heartwarming token of what romance writers can mean to each other as we build our careers.
Thank you, Washington Romance Writers. I’m truly, truly flattered by your recognition!
P.S. The icing on the cake was finding out that my name was the answer to a Romance Jeopardy clue! (The answer was about my writing the nine-volume Diamond Brides series in one year 🙂 )
Mirrored from Mindy Klasky, Author.