We Don’t Need No Steenkin’ Links…

March 16, 2016

For the love of all that’s holy, don’t include links in your query letter as a means of getting further information about your book. No matter whom you query, know that they’re insanely busy. They’ve made the time to open your query letter to see if your writing is what they’re looking for. If you do little more than say  a few words in your “query letter,”then direct them to a link where you have your bio, full synopsis, and reasons why you think this book is a “gotta have it,” I assure you that those bleary-eyed editors will delete your email without a second thought…because, well, links are rude.

A query letter is a job interview. Would you meet with a potential employer and hand them a link, so they can take even more time out of their day to accommodate your laziness? I assure you they won’t. They’ll move on to the next job applicant who is actually prepared and knows what they’re doing.

I know, I sound like a cranky pants, and I suppose it’s because I’m seeing a downward trend in the niceties of polite society. Everything is self-serve. It’s like the gal working in the shoe dept of my local department store. It was Sunday…the place was empty and you could have shot a canon through the place. I found some shoes I wanted to try on. She got them for me and unceremoniously dumped them on the chair and promptly returned to the cash register where she could talk to her co-worker, thereby completely ignoring me. I guess that was more important than waiting on a paying customer. In a word, she was rude.

Seems few know or care about excelling at their job, yet they scream bloody murder when/if they’re turned down or fired. But I have enough covered-over gray hairs to give a rat’s patootie about good manners and doing things correctly. And there is a correct way to query.

As for Ms. I-Can’t-Be-Bothered in the shoe department, who then wanted my email address for their records, maybe I should have just given her a link…


Writing With Intention is a lot Like Chicken Piccata

February 12, 2016

chicken piccata

Writing with in intention is what keeps a storyline moving in a forward direction. What do I mean by that? It means that you’ve defined exactly what you want/need to say in any particular chapter. It means that you know the elements/scenes that will keep your story moving in a forward direction. This is what separates a great story from one filled with aimless fluff.

Think of it as following a recipe. (Not my recipies – god help us all – but real people who actually know how to cook without calling the fire department) Let’s say you’re cooking chicken piccata – a dish that I actually cook really well (after many do-overs).

Here’s the recipe:

Ingredients

1 chopped onion
Garlic
Chicken breasts
Olive oil
Flour
Butter
¼ cup sherry
3 tbs. lemon juice
1 cup chicken stock
Parsley
Capers

Directions

  • Saute onion until just tender – set aside
  • Dredge thoroughly beaten-the-sh*t-out-of-the chickie through flour, and lightly brown on both sides in butter, set aside
  • Add onion and garlic
  • Over high heat, add broth, sherry, and lemon
  • Let thicken
  • Take a little of the juice out and mix with a little flour
  • Pour into sauce and allow to thicken
  • Add chicken
  • Serve over noodles or spaetzle

Easy and straightforward. What you don’t see in the recipe are the copious amounts of wine I drank when I burned the first batch of chicken. You don’t see me pondering whether this would be a good time to order Chinese take-out. You also don’t see me cutting up the burned chicken and feeding it to the dogs.

Why? Because it doesn’t have anything to do with the recipe. It’s filler at this point. A recipe is writing with intent. It’s an outline to keep you on track. The ingredients are the essential elements that make up your story. The directions are the outline. The ingredients and directions support each other. They have to. If they don’t, then you’re writing without intent, and going free-range.

Now let’s re-title the recipe to Pricey’s Hapless Adventure With Chicken Piccata. Because  the title, ingredients, and directions are clearly set, it’s easy to write about the burning of the chicken, considering Chinese take-out, and feeding the dogs, because it’s forward movement and supports the ingredients and directions…and the overall theme of Pricey’s Hapless Adventure With Chicken Piccata.

You have to ask yourself with each new chapter, “What do I want to say and do these scenes support the overall theme of Pricey’s Hapless Adventure With Chicken Piccata?” If not, readers will throw your recipe across the room and say naughty things about you.

In short, the boundaries need to be clearly marked so you don’t go outside of them. How can you do this? Well, let’s say in the example above I include some scenes about taking a phone call from an author excoriating me because I didn’t give them a reason for rejecting their manuscript (really happened). This has nothing to do with Pricey’s Hapless Adventure With Chicken Piccata, so the story loses its forward movement.

If I include copious scenes about how it snowed and I nearly took a header off the porch stairs; how a huge tree branch fell in during high winds; how The Rescues insisted en masse that 13 degrees was far too cold to go outside – now I’ve lost all cohesiveness to Pricey’s Hapless Adventure With Chicken Piccata because these scenes have zero to do with the subject matter.

So you can see that writing with intent is vital to keeping your story cohesive, moving forward, and sticking with the theme. If Pricey’s Hapless Adventure With Chicken Piccata has almost zero to do with the elements of an adventure while cooking, then you know you’re out of your zipcode.

Write with intent. Be brilliant!


Call Me Old-Fashioned…

December 27, 2015

…but the Oxford comma exists to clarify.

oxfordcomma12-27

and here’s why:

oxford comma


How NOT To Handle a Bad Review

November 12, 2015

You no spamma me...got it?

Seems Richard Brittain in the UK took a review of his book rather poorly. He hunted down the reviewer, traveled 500 miles to Scotland, and bonked her on the head with a wine bottle. This is a man who can’t handle rejection, wouldn’t you say?

I’m infinitely thankful that in my thirteen years as Editorial Director, no one has bonked me on the head with a wine bottle. On the other hand, I have been invited to do the horizontal mambo with the barnyard animal of my choosing…


Writers Vibrate at a Different Frequency

November 3, 2015

googlehistorymem…and aren’t we grateful for that??


I Wanna Know More About You – Author Bio

October 27, 2015

Authors usually want to mainline Drano when confronted with writing a bio as part of their book proposals, because they’re not really sure what editors want to know. The thoughts come racing: Do editors care where I grew up? Where I went to school? What terrifies me in the middle of the night? My favorite movie and candy bar? Color?

Gah!

Here’s the thing; we really do wanna know about you because you’re the heart and soul of your story. However, we wanna know the parts of your bio that relates to your story. For instance, if your story is about your meteoric rise at school, then knowing where you went to school is a given. But if your story is about scaling K-2 with a broken ankle, then your school education doesn’t ring my chimes.

Avoid Filler

It’s common to see author bios packed with filler:

I grew up with three cats and an epileptic dog, and three brothers who loved to sneak lizards into my bed just to watch me screech loudly enough to shatter the windows.

Yah. Avoid that.

Put Yourself In My Shoes

The reason we want author bios is to use that information for promotion and marketing purposes, so it’s helpful when authors put themselves in my Manolo Blahniks and give me information that I can use to turn buyers’ heads.

I remember reading a proposal about a woman who wrote a Self Help about being a woman in Corporate America and the importance of retaining the very aspects of womanhood. Okay, cool message. But her bio revealed that she was a retired CEO of a major corporation. Yah. I wanna know that. Conversely, I didn’t care that she began her early career by being an intern in a dentist’s office or that she finally married her longtime boyfriend. Buyers won’t care, and my sales teams will throw a hissy fit at me.

But There’s Nothing Interesting About My Life

This is the Numero Uno excuse I see in query letters/proposals, and it’s worrisome. If your life has been that underwhelming, then I can’t help but wonder whether your story is equally underwhelming. I mean, something happened to you: you had a child with autism; you were a commercial airline pilot; you discovered the father who abandoned you was the Governor of Rhode Island…I could go on for days…

But the point I’m trying to drive home is that something happened to you that you felt was print-worthy, so your author bio needs to focus on that. It doesn’t matter if you have previous writing credits. Nearly all of our books are from debut authors! But what each of our authors had was some key elements to their lives that led them to their life-altering personal journey. I wanna know what that is.

So how ’bout it? Are you struggling with your author bio?


“You Oughta Write a Book!”

October 20, 2015

Many of the query letters I receive have this exclamation in it – meaning that friends and family who’ve heard the author’s personal journey punctuate their excitement and support by prodding the author to write about their experiences. On the surface it seems a great idea.

However.

And yes, there’s always a “however.” It’s easy to get caught up in the thrill of having people around you insist that your story is amazing enough take up residence on store shelves. But it may not be the reality, and it’s important that you know the difference.

The Friends and Family Bias

Your friends and family will love you even if you have spinach stuck in your front teeth, so they’re far from being unbiased. And that’s a good thing. You want to have good people surrounding you. However…agh, there’s that dreaded word again…they’re too close to you and not educated in the ways of all things publishy.

This is precisely why I receive an overabundance of addiction/cancer/midlife crisis/I-was-a-child-of-war queries. The author is pumped by their friends and family and they dig right in without realizing there is A LOT of ground to cover from, “Hey, you oughta write a book!” to actually being convinced you have a marketable story…and thy name is Research.

Research

Competition: How many stories like yours are already on store shelves? If there are a gajillion cancer stories out there (and there are), then you need to know that. You need to be prepared if you’re writing in a crowded category, such as cancer, divorce, grieving, etc.

Why do you need to know? ‘Cos I’m gonna ask, for one. I want to know the three titles that compare most closely to your book – how they compare and contrast. Why? ‘Cos my sales and marketing teams are going to ask. Why? ‘Cos the genre buyers are going to ask. Whee! Dominoes.

READ: It’s not enough to look at store shelves to see how many other books like yours are in the marketplace; you gotta READ them. Why? ‘Cos you need to be able to speak to the unique elements of YOUR book. And this is where many queries/submissions fall down. I can tell whether an author has read her competition or not in the way she writes her query letter. She may use short examples to offer a frame of reference:

My Inverted Belly Button is reminiscent of the popular 2014 adventure Inverted Belly Button Blues, however my story is specifically geared to college students, who are much more sensitive to having an inverted belly button than the general public.”

This is helpful to me because I can quickly recognize an expansive and identifiable readership. This is a savvy author who understands the unique elements of their story compared to a popular book in the same category. This helps our sales and marketing teams a great deal.

Platform: Memoir/nonfiction is a tough nut, and authors need to have a platform in which to swim to the top. Ask yourself not how many people you know…but how many people know you? Are you the airline pilot who wrote about her cockpit experiences? Are you the mother of a desperately sick child who has done countless talks and seminars about this subject matter? Are you an expert in the topic you’ve written about to the point where media would call you for your input?

Platform wears many different faces, but I can tell you that authors who have a large footprint sell a lot of books. Those who sit on their hands either don’t get a good publishing contract, or they make their publishers very grouchy.

Writing Quality/Beta Readers: It sounds elementary, but it’s so often overlooked that it bears discussing. Your writing has to be solid, meaning an excellent command of the English language, artfully constructed, and engaging. Of course, writing style is subjective, so it’s tough to gauge. But this is where beta readers come in handy. These aren’t your friends and family (because they’ll never be honest), but instead, your writing group, or writing class. People who will be able to honestly tell you what did and didn’t work for them, and why.

Ask Yourself These Questions

  1. What is the message/what am I trying to say/impart? There are plenty memoirs that are simply a “I did this, then I did that,” and they sell very well. However, they’re usually written by famous people, and readers may not give a rat’s patootie whether there’s a message in there or not. I look for stories that not only have an amazing journey, but that the author comes through that journey transformed in some way. That creates depth.
  2. What are the unique elements of my story as compared to what’s already out there? If you can’t name them, then it’s possible you’re not saying anything new. If you’re not saying anything new, then it’s going to be difficult to market and promote the book.
  3. Who cares? We already know your friends and family care, but what about the reading public? They don’t know you, so what is it about your story that instantly makes readers care about it enough to plunk down their hard-earned cash? What are the Who Cares? factors of your story? Are you an airline pilot whose life became so immersed with being in the cockpit that your life hit the ground at 600 miles an hour? Are you a desperate mother looking for answers to her dying son, whose only comfort is in his unusual chicken? These are things that make me sit up and say, “Tell me more!”
  4. Is there enough red meat? I’ve run across many queries that would have made excellent magazine articles, but didn’t have enough gas to sustain a book. These might be stories of bizarre diseases or experiences – like rescuing a dog in the desert or being hit by a car, and there wasn’t enough going on in the author’s life to create a compelling book-length story. A story with red meat has many layers where the author is appreciably transformed. Is your story one-dimensional, or is there a lot of food for thought?
  5. Do I have a solid platform? This isn’t a case of “I’ll work on establishing my platform once I get a contract.” By that time, it’s too late. Establishing a platform takes oodles of time. Same for establishing yourself on social media.

As you can see, thar be lots to consider after some darling relative or friends yelps, “You oughta write a book!” The idea is to set yourself up for success, and that means having the ability to determine whether you really have a great story in your heart, or that your friends and family need to be committed.


%d bloggers like this: