Thursday, April 28, 2022

The Query Letter: Making the Pitch

I researched the query requests for many agents and here is what most would like to have. The caveat being: always do your research. If an agent asks for something different, follow their instructions to a tee to prove you will be easy to work with. If you look difficult to deal with in any way, it doesn't matter how good your pitch is. The agent or editor may never see it.

And, no, you don't need to worry about theft. They aren't writers. Your work is already copyrighted as you write it. You could given ten people the same story idea and end up with ten very different novels. You cannot copyright an idea.

Subject line: Query, Agent Name, Genre

1. What is your product?

The Pitch (or hook) is a concise statement that sums up the essential nature of your book. This concise statement is usually achieved in one or two sentences, and it gives your audience a sense of what the book is about and why they should get excited about it. Stick with your protagonist's goal, problem, and antagonistic force. 

The protagonist encounters a problem which forces them to do something, the opposition is, or else (aka stakes).

You should be able to fit that in a short paragraph. Don't throw in subplots or secondary characters. If you have a story that follows two or three threads you can make one sentence about each thread. But don't throw in secondary characters no matter how cool you think they are. No matter how massive your plot is, you should be able to get it down to one sentence.

Example: Game of Thrones by George R R Martin, a massive Fantasy with complex threads becomes : "In this sword and sorcery fantasy saga, four noble families across the realm of Westeros compete for control of the Iron Throne.

Example: Four Weddings and A Funeral, a movie with a complex cast and multiple love stories becomes: In modern day London, over the course of five social occasions, a committed bachelor must wrestle with the notion that he may finally have discovered love.

Example: Pulp Fiction, a film with complex interwoven story lines becomes: In modern day LA, the lives of two mob hitmen, a boxer, a gangster's wife, and a pair of diner bandits intertwine in four tales of violence and redemption.

2. Why should we pick up this project?

Marketability: After a compelling pitch, many successful queries offer up a paragraph or three of evidence that supports that your book project is worthwhile, has an audience, and is worth their time. If your pitch doesn't already include it, then this is a good place to include your book's category (or genre) and word count. - Who will it appeal to? What is the market for it? Why is it a book for right now? This is where to put the comparisons to other works if they want them. For example: Little House on the Prairie meets Alien, a science fiction take on the prairie Western much like the movie Cowboys and Aliens. I made that up. Feel free to use it. If Pride and Prejudice can have Zombies, why not?

Each agent is slightly different. Research them and their agency. Search for "agent's name + query" and find their preferences if available. Why is your book a good fit? Always look at the agency's website and the agent's social media, including #MSWishlist, Twitter, etc. What do they love? What do they hate? What have they sold? Agencies are not created equal. You have small boutique agencies and massive commercial agencies. Who can do the most for you? Are they accepting your product right now?

If they are not a fan of your genre, don't waste your time. Look at their client list and what they have sold. How successful is this agent or editor? Have they actually placed projects with the Big Five publishers? Have they placed projects similar to yours? Are they a successful agency or one lone person who has set out on their own but has not achieved success? Don't waste your time on people without a proven record. They may still have connections, but that may not translate into sales to the big publishing houses. Not all agents or agencies are equal.

3. Can you do the job?

The About You section is a concise statement sharing why you are the perfect person to write this book. It could be that you have personal or professional experience that lines up with the subject of your book. It could be that you have good sales in the genre or an incredible author platform from a blog or YouTube channel. If you are a first time author, that is okay too. This is where your inspiration and reason for writing the book goes. Maybe you really love the genre and want to add your voice. They need to know you can promote your work and are willing to do what it takes to market it. This is where a social media presence helps. They will expect you to have one to market yourself. This is perhaps the hardest challenge for writers. It is one thing to make the widget. It is another thing entirely to see your book baby as a product that must be sold and you must be the one to do the selling. It is a different set of skills. Can you do it? Are you willing to do it? Make them believe it.

This can all fit on one page. Then sign off with something along the lines of thank you for your consideration and "attached" or "included below" and insert or attach anything they ask for.

4. Contact information including a phone number, email, your website or blog if you have one, and social media links. You would be amazed at how many people forget this part. Don't expect them to search for you or go through your website to contact you. Give them your email and phone number (even if it is on the do not contact list or private). Cell phone is best in case they wish to text you. List your social media addresses for Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Linked-In, etc. List your Amazon page if you have one. Good Reads, too.

If you still feel unsure, turn to your favorite search engine and look up books that are comparable to yours. Look for "subgenre + Query letter" or "subgenre queries that sold". It is well worth your time. 

A quick word about atypical pitches. You might think it is fun to be kooky or outlandish or write in your character's voice. Don't. I am not saying an atypical pitch has never worked, but why risk it? Atypical pitches are best left to writer's conferences or pitch events or in-person meetings.

You can read about my newbie mistake here:

Rookie Mistakes

Continue reading:

Pitching to Agents, How to Throw an Action Fast Ball

Ask the Editor: Pitches


Diana Hurwitz is the author of Story Building Blocks: The Four Layers of Conflict, Story Building Blocks II: Crafting Believable Conflict, Story Building Blocks III: The Revision Layers, and the YA adventure series Mythikas Island. Her weekly blog, Game On: Crafting Believable Conflict explores how characters behave and misbehave. Visit DianaHurwitz.com for more information and free writing tools. You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

My Kindle Vella Update

Let me crow about my successes with Kindle Vella so far this year!


First, Amazon just gave me a bonus that was FOUR TIMES more than the previous month. Wow. To say I was delighted is an understatement. 

Second, I now have one completed middle grade reader published. Princess Willy Be is still #26 in Top Children's Stories.

Read Here

I will complete a 28-chapter romance novella this week. It's the prequel to the Morristown Murder Mystery series that will publish next, and I plan to repackage it as a regular eBook to give as a free promotion when the mystery title releases.

Read Here

I have also started revising and publishing, episode (chapter) by episode, my 2017 NaNoWriMo novel, which is mostly just being tweaked by chapter to make shorter, more readable episodes. 

Read Here

I am once again a published author. Yay, me! And, apparently, I write in very short paragraphs now. 😁

At this point in my life, it all seems like a miracle.

So... money + publication = a Kindle Vella publishing experience that, to me, is a total success. I don't plan to stop anytime soon.

What has been a little frustrating is how few people know what Kindle Vella is about, readers and writers alike. It reminds me of the early days of self-publishing and KDP eBooks. Even authors poo-pooed the concept back then. Yet, today, no respectable publisher lets digital rights go. No author would have a book in print and not have a corresponding eBook. It's virtually unheard of.

So why another new Amazon platform? Apparently, more and more people, especially the young, like to read serial novels on their cellphones. That's what Kindle Vella is all about. Here's the overview I like to share for the uninitiated. 

You can read an even better overview at this Reedsy article

Currently there are almost 25,000 titles on the platform, even though it's still in beta test. Authors like Eloisa James have joined. Hugh Howey was an early participant, and more writers are jumping onboard daily. 

Predictably, the level of writing skill is a mixed bag, but there is also a surprisingly high quality of writing as well. As I mentioned, it reminds me of the early days of eBooks when Amazon leveled the playing field for indie authors. I see the same focus and investment for this serial platform. 

Will it succeed? I think it will depend largely on Amazon's continued investment. An author panel at an upcoming writers' conference will probably herald some level of acceptance on the part of the writing industry. I don't think we're quite there yet.

Next post, I'll share with you how an author promotes a book published on Kindle Vella. Heard of TikTok? Ever make animated memes? I have discovered all kinds of new skills and talents in my advancing years! What do you think of this bit of cleverness?

You can follow me at TikTok to see more of my videos. It's an adventure, that's for sure.

Anything new and exciting in your writing and publishing life these days? Do leave me a comment!


Dani Greer is founding member of the Blood-Red Pencil. She spends her days drinking coffee, writing, and herding trolls. Connect with her on FacebookTwitter, and heaven help her, TikTok.
  

Tuesday, April 12, 2022

That Thrill of a First Sale

A friend on Twitter recently commented about how excited she was about her first sale of a short story, and that reminded me of the thrill I had at my first major sale. I'd been writing for a couple of newspapers already, but when Lady's Circle published "A String of Pearls" and sent me a check for a whopping $125, I felt like I'd finally made it to the big time.

One of my newspaper gigs at that time was penning a weekly humor column, and of course, I had to write about the experience. The following is just a bit of that nonsense..er, week's offering. 


When I sold my first short story to a major magazine my family joined me in the excitement, and we were all happily playing Howard Hughes around here for a while. My husband started planning his retirement. The kids started picking out houses in the country. And I had visions of never having to look at another price tag again before buying a pair of jeans. 

Meanwhile I had not even cashed the check yet. I was afraid to cash it because I knew all too soon it would be gone and besides that, it was such a big thrill to go look at it every now and then. 

I know that will pass, since it only took me two weeks to stop opening the magazine every five minutes to see my byline. Still, no other acceptance will probably ever mean as much or create quite the stir that this one did.

Someday, will discussing the terms of a sale with an editor in New York become old hat? Will I not break out in a cold sweat when I pick up the phone? Will I have to act all cool and professional on the outside, while on the inside I'm jumping up and down for joy?

Someday I won't call my best friend to announce, "You are now speaking to a famous writer person."

"Who is this? Is this some sort of a crank call?" 

We're all entitled to our glory dreams, and mine sure was fun while it lasted. But all too soon the excitement died down to a dull roar, and the rejection slips started littering my desk again. So, we had to resign ourselves to the fact that perhaps we would have to wait a while before starting to recklessly throw money around buying mink coats and hamburger.

My oldest daughter gave up her dream of a whole new bedroom set with maybe a new bedroom to put it in. My oldest son went back to mowing lawns for the money for his new mag wheels, and my second son started collecting cans to keep himself in spending money. I resigned myself to another year in the bargain basement, and unfortunately, my husband still had to get up every morning and go to work. (Someone had to keep me in typing paper and postage.)


Following that first sale to Lady's Circle, I sold a couple of other short stories, as well as some articles to that magazine. Since they only bought first American publication rights to the stories, I was able to much later publish the stories online. "A String of Pearls"  became "Making it Home".  



Now, many moons, and many sales later, I will say that the thrill of getting an acceptance is still the same as it was for that first one. I don't think anything about the process of getting our work out there for readers gets less exciting no matter how many times we're published. 

Perhaps if we get blasé about the end result, we might get blasé about the writing itself, and that would never be a good thing. So, I told my Twitter friend to celebrate her moment to the fullest, and celebrate every other one that comes along in the future. To her question of whether to cash the check or not, I suggested she copy it, then cash it.

That's what I did after a few weeks of smiling at that first check from Lady's Circle. Since this was prior to computers and home-office copy machines, I had to go to Office Depot to get the copy. The man that took care of that for me, barely blinked, obviously not ready to toast me with a glass of champagne, like my friend did after she realized it wasn't a crank call. 

Writer friends, do you remember your first sale? Do you still get as excited at a new one? Are you waiting for that special "first" and planning a huge party? Please do share in the comments, and in the meantime Happy Writing.



Award-winning author Maryann Miller has numerous credits as a columnist, novelist, screenwriter, and playwright, and she also has an extensive background in editing. You can find out more about Maryann, her books, and her editing services on her Website and her Amazon Author Page read her Blog, and follow her on Facebook and Twitter 




 

Thursday, April 7, 2022

Rookie Mistakes

I was working with a client recently on a developmental edit and they shared with me a pitch they sent to an agent.

They thought it would be terrific to send the pitch in written in the voice of one of the characters complete with cheeky comments and all caps and exclamation points. They were so proud of their creativity.

Needless to say, it got immediate rejections.

I am not saying there has never been a successful atypical pitch, but this is not considered a good strategy.

Make sure you research the agents or acquisition editors you wish to pitch. Go to the Manuscript Wish List at https://mswishlist.com/, find an agent or editor, then further research them by visiting their website and social media. Find out what they like and what they hate. They are usually vocal about it. Follow their submission guidelines to the letter. It proves you will be an easy client to work with. They want to know you can follow directions and that you read their instructions. They don't want silliness.

Back to the pitch, it reminded me of my very early writer days. My first “finished novel,” boy was I green, was a love story called Jenny Kissed Me. I had read Outlander by Diana Gabaldon and was in love with Scotland.

Upon finishing this masterpiece of silliness with its unhappy ending, I decided to mail out pitches. I thought, what would make my submission noticeable in the slush pile? This was back in the day when you mailed the manuscript via the postal service.

So I decorated the manuscript box with plaid fabric, painted the title in calligraphy, even added a pocket watch charm. Below is a mock up, not the actual box. It looked far sillier in person.

Mock Up

I added a bio with my Glamour Shots photo and cheerfully mailed it off. I didn't have to wait long for a response. They were justifiably pretty swift with the rejections, so it got noticed all right, just not in a good way.

My biggest problem was that I didn't know anything about Romance genres or expectations, the craft of writing a good story, or how to query agents. These are all things you can learn easily now thanks to the invention of the internet. There have never been more free resources to learn how to write a good book and a good pitch. You don't even need stamps and manuscript boxes to query.

We all make rookie mistakes. Stand up, dust off your pride, and learn how to really pitch. And leave the Glamour Shot at home.


Posted by Diana Hurwitz, author of Story Building Blocks: The Four Layers of Conflict, Story Building Blocks II: Crafting Believable Conflict, Story Building Blocks III: The Revision Layers, and the YA adventure series Mythikas Island. Her weekly blog, Game On: Crafting Believable Conflict explores how characters behave and misbehave. Visit DianaHurwitz.com for more information and free writing tools. You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter.


Tuesday, April 5, 2022

Our Brand New Podcast! (No joke)


Episode 01 - Fools & Sages

Transcript and links:

Good morning, good afternoon, good evening – wherever you are in the world. Welcome to the brand new Blood-Red Pencil podcast. If you’re not going to launch something new in January, then what better time to start than a month that’s… NOT January.

I’m Elle Carter Neal, the (sort-of) techie, behind-the-scenes, admin person here at the Blood-Red Pencil, and now behind the mic as the host of this podcast. I’m in Australia, while the rest of our team currently operate from the US. Please leave us a comment and let us know where in the world YOU are joining us from. We love to connect with you.

Our theme for April is Fools and Sages, and, while we do enjoy entertaining you with a little foolishness, we hope that, after 14 years of blogging at the Blood-Red Pencil, what we have to offer is a whole lot of writing and editing wisdom.

The wisest piece of advice anyone could give or follow is simply “Be kind”. Be kind, be generous, take care of your fellow humans. So, up first, we’re sharing the Authors for Ukraine Auction. Polly Iyer and Ann Parker from our team are contributing books to this auction, so please read Polly’s blog post, which is live now which will go live today about half-an-hour after the podcast post, grab the links from there (or from the show notes below) and bid if you’re in the US or Canada. If you’re resident elsewhere in the world, you are welcome to donate to the fundraiser instead.

On a lighter note, Diana Hurwitz shares Rookie Mistakes when it comes to submitting manuscripts to publishers - that post is live now. Look out for that post on the 7th.  Find out exactly how Diana decorated the submission of her first novel, and what her recent client decided to do that reminded Diana of this story.

And speaking of clients and non-clients, looking back three years ago, our late colleague Pat Smith shared a couple of mind-boggling stories of individuals who, under normal circumstances, would not make it through a traditional publishing process. Pat wrote that “The story of how a certain book got bought is a tale in itself, but to the best of Pat’s understanding it involved a lot of chicanery, an “auction” for a hot literary property that never actually took place, an agent who conducted this fictional auction fired by the author and then rehired, and a general hoodwinking of the publishing company across the board. Game, set, match. Book sold. / However. Publishing is a small, insular world, and the story of this whole sorry episode was circulated. In the future, if this author and his writing committee ever manage to produce another book, he will have to self-publish it.” Pat’s words of wisdom? Be a decent human being. Employ good manners and simple common courtesy, listen thoughtfully to suggestions. Be polite.

Sounds like a life philosophy that a some other individuals and entities – authors or not – could stand to incorporate into their dealings with fellow human beings.

If you’ve just joined us and missed some of our posts from the first quarter of 2022, here’s a look back at what we wrote about:

In January, Diana interviewed best-selling indie science fiction/fantasy author Jack Castle. And Brynette Turner joined us for a couple of months to share her journey with Amazon’s Kindle Vella publishing platform. Taking inspiration from Brynette, our founder Dani Greer began to experiment with Kindle Vella and has not only published several chapters of three different stories, but also renewed her enthusiasm for her writing after a number of years of disillusionment. The myriad possibilities of serial fiction in this format have also intrigued Linda Lane, who is keen to join Brynette and Dani on Kindle Vella, or possibly even looking at other serialisation avenues. After two years of pandemic-induced stagnation, it’s great to see the sparks of creativity in our office again. Maryann Miller shared tips for creating more creativity, while, in March, Polly Iyer and Dani Greer both wrote eloquently about the weighty distractions of various world situations over the past six or seven years and how this affects an author’s ability to put meaningful words on a page. As Polly says, “Our written stories seem petty and insignificant in the light of what others are experiencing right now. But those few moments we can write a chapter or two allow us to block out all the world’s problems that have become our problems. It doesn’t last long, but even that brief respite helps.” Dani says that, when 2017 rolled around, she couldn’t bring herself to write anymore, until she started thinking about how the country could heal some of its divisiveness. She began with writing letters to the editor. Then blog posts. And then started thinking about fiction and stories that might help her cope... and maybe also help others. Dani thought back to the 43 JD Robb books she’d binged earlier in that year, and how they saved her soul and sanity. And that was when she realised, as Polly mentioned in her post, that fiction does have a valuable role to play in bringing respite to both authors and readers.

Ann Parker, meanwhile, launched her latest Silver Rush historical mystery in February. The Secret in the Wall is the eighth book in her series. Maryann Miller wrote about romance and sex for older characters.

Guest blogger Allison Maruska also joined us for a post and shared an amazing amount of insight and strategy on putting together a stall to sell your books, in person – imagine that, again! – at book fairs and markets. Even if you’re not ready to venture out just yet, this post is well worth saving to refer to when you are.

The links for all the posts mentioned today are in the show notes, along with the transcript of today’s episode. Thank you for joining me. I’m Elle Carter Neal, and I’ll be back in May with more editing wisdom from the Blood-Red Pencil.

Next: Read Polly Iyer's post on Authors for Ukraine Auction.

Elle Carter Neal is the author of the middle grade fantasy The Convoluted Key (first in the Draconian Rules series), the picture book I Own All the Blue, and teen science-fantasy novel Madison Lane and the Wand of Rasputin (first in the Grounded series). She is the editor of Angela Brazil's 1910 book The Nicest Girl in the School. Elle is based in Melbourne, Australia. Find her at ElleCarterNeal.com.

Photo by Amanda Meryle Photography