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Writing Tips

Querying 101

If you’re here, you’ve either done one of two things: written a book or are in the process of writing one. Great! Congratulations! Either way, you’ve accomplished a big feat. Not many people can simply write/finish a book. So, what’s the next step, you ask?

Well, first off, you need to make sure your manuscript is in tip-top shape. Have fellow writers or readers review your work. Make any necessary changes. Then you can select a genre for your writing. Fiction or nonfiction? Fantasy? Science Fiction? Mystery? Does it fit into the category of Middle Grade, Young Adult or Adult? Figuring out these first steps will help you find an agent who specializes in that specific genre.

On to bigger and better things!

One of the toughest parts of getting your book where it needs to be is creating a query letter. A query letter is classified as a short synopsis (three paragraphs) summarizing your book. In this letter, there needs to be a hook (something that snags the agent from the get-go), the problem(s) your MC (main character) faces, and the solution to the problem(s). It’s not easy condensing your novel into three paragraphs. Believe me. Don’t get overwhelmed, though. It’s something we all must go through sooner or later.

But how do I create a query letter? What’s the right format? Well, for example purposes, I’ll post the format of a query letter below.

Name
Address
Telephone Number
Email

Date

Dear Mr. / Ms. Agent:

Your hook goes here; it’s the one line that captures the agent’s interest and keeps them reading. Remember—don’t begin your query with a rhetorical question. In Query Land, rhetorical questions at the beginning of a query = kiss of death.

This paragraph should be dedicated to whatever problems your MC is up against, whether it’s a clan of ogres out for revenge, or the government covering something else up. Problems, problems, and more problems.

The last paragraph is to summarize your work. Make it count. What does your MC do to deal with the problems? How will it end? Although you need to be straightforward (not so many cliffhangers), you don’t have to reveal everything. Most of the time, that’s what makes the agent want to read more. They’ll want to know how it ends.

This line should state something about your book title, word count, genre, and if you have any writing credentials (i.e. – prior publications).

Sincerely,

Your Name
Now that you have completed not only a manuscript, but a query letter, you’re ready for the first step to finding an agent (and the first step to a long-awaited career). Be sure to pay very close attention to each and every agent’s submission guidelines. One wrong slip could get you an easy “no”. There’s also the part about submitting either by email or snail mail. Whichever works best for them, and you. Personally, I prefer e-queries, since they’re much quicker and there’s no standing in line at the post office.

See! It’s that simple. I know. I know. Sounds tough. But writing a book wasn’t easy, either, was it? You can do it. Don’t be nervous! Just follow these tips and believe in yourself. You’ll do fine.

-Becca

—–

SYNOPSIS 101

You’ve written the manuscript, researched potential agents, and finally sent the query letter. For a few days, you stalk your inbox waiting for a reply. Then the first request comes:

This sounds great! Please send the first 50 pages along with a 2 page synopsis.

Synopsis? Nobody said anything about a synopsis.

Relax. Its tough condensing 300 pages into one to ten pages; nevertheless, it can be done. Remember, the agent is already interested in your work based on your query letter; the synopsis simply gives them an overview of how your main plot points connect.

What To Include

As stated before, the purpose of the synopsis is to provide a summary of how your primary plot points work together. Even though the three-sentence paragraph mentioning Sweaty McAsshat is funny and creative, there’s no need to add it to your synopsis. Nor do you need a paragraph describing every single page of your manuscript. What you do need to include is the following:

Introduction (Hook)

Main ideas (Main character does this and then that happens as a result)

Conflict

Resolution (Conclusion)

Format

A synopsis is written in 12-point font (often Times New Roman or Courier New) with 1-inch margins. They are single-spaced with an extra space between each paragraph. Nevertheless, unless an agent is specific with his/her synopsis requirements, format isn’t an issue and double-spacing can be used. Just don’t use a funky, 18-point font. Or bright pink ink. The agent won’t be amused.

Characters

Your main character’s names should be written in all-caps the first time he/she is introduced. In addition, it’s unnecessary and unpractical to include every character from your novel in the synopsis. Only include those crucial to plot movement.

Voice

Some of the novel’s voice must be captured within the synopsis; however, not as much as the query letter. Focus on writing your synopsis first, then revise and add voice. My personal suggestion is re-reading each main point in your manuscript and adding some of the wording to the synopsis.

Second Opinion

You wouldn’t send your query letter or manuscript off without a second (or third) opinion, so always seek advice on your synopsis. Let a friend review or if you’re brave, post online for critique. Absolute Writes Query Letter Hell (QLH) forum is a great resource for honest crits.

Just watch out for the squirrels.

-Stephanie

—–

Variety

Okay, so you’ve found our blog. Whether it’s because you’re looking for a good YA book review, or perhaps checking out the writing tips, my guess is that you’re interested in writing.

Forms of writing include but are not limited to poetry, short stories, songs, and novel. More often than not, poetry and short stories get overlooked. I mean, what can you do with that exactly? Novels put your visions into the minds of others. Songwriting makes music you can sing to in the shower. Where does that leave poor ol’ poetry and short stories?

Let’s say you’ve just written a great short story. You are so proud of your work of art that you want everyone to read it. So what are you going to do with it? Put it on Myspace or Facebook? Your cherished writing deserves better than that. Sure, you could slap it onto your blog and hopefully get some replies back.

There is, however, another option. It’s called a literary magazine. Literary magazines are periodicals dedicated to literature, mostly short stories, poems, and essays. They can be online or in print, often targeting aspiring or experimental writers. Sometimes, they have their own specifications for submitting.

Some small presses publish anthologies, or a collection of poems and short stories, which is similar to a literary magazine. Take, for example, Diversion Press. This small press looks for children and YA books as well as fictional and non-fictional short stories and poems.

Bingo! Here is a place that could possibly display your work in a magazine! What could be better than that? How about getting paid? Several literary magazines and small presses offer contests that not only publish your writing if you get first place, but they also give, you guessed it, money.

There are several ways to find out about contests. You can go to Google and search for literary contests. A good place to start, however, is Poets and Writers. They have an entire section dedicated to literary magazines and small presses. You’ll have to be sure to browse around for which magazines have contests and which don’t. Not all of them host contests, but the ones that do sometimes have a reading fee.

At that word, you’re probably making a face. This whole ‘fee’ deal has you skeptical, but isn’t writing in general a risk? If you’re going to query agents and spend hundreds of dollars sending out manuscripts, it might not be so bad to dig into your pockets for fifteen dollars. If you win, you might just walk away with one thousand dollars in return.

Getting published in a literary magazine can also get you noticed. Not only do you get to smugly say, “I’m a published author,” but you also get to stick it onto the end of your query letter in hopes of impressing the agent of your dreams.

All in all, it doesn’t hurt to try. There are many wonderful perks to writing short stories and poems. It’s also a good way to combat writer’s block, or clear a path for those tiny plotlines floating around in your head that aren’t big enough to be novel material.

So what are you waiting for? Start submitting to those zines and get published!

-Leah

—–

Combating Writer’s Block

Writer’s block. This is something every writer has gone through at one point in their life. It’s inevitable. Sometimes a brain will just shut down. You could be sitting at your computer with coffee in hand and music playing softly out of the speakers, and all that seems to happen is a staring contest between you and your keyboard.

Luckily, I’m here to offer wisdom during those trying times.

Getting Rid of Distractions:

Distractions come in many shapes and forms. You’d be surprised how many people say that they cannot write when their room/desk/house is messy. Cleaning is very therapeutic. As much as we hated our mother’s voice repeating, “Clean your room. Clean the bathroom. Dust the living room,” there is some truth to being able to work more efficiently with a cleaner environment.

Of course, this isn’t the case for everyone. Other distractions might be that pesky Firefox icon sitting on the desktop, waiting to be opened. Browsing the internet is a very time-consuming hobby. I know, Myspace, Facebook, and YouTube sound so tempting, but you must resist! Your writing needs you, it’s getting lonely.

Hiding the icons from your view might help you to forget the craving to be online.

Of course, distractions of a different variety might be able to help. If you’ve cleaned the house and hidden the internet icons and you still can’t seem to focus, then it’s time to move onto step two.

Games/Books/Movies:

Video games can go both ways when it comes to distraction. The key to helping your creative juices to flow is moderation and content. If you’re writing a fantasy novel and you are playing Grand Theft Auto…well, let’s hope you aren’t running over pedestrians like they are construction cones. Stick closer to your genre. Games are a great way to get inspired by watching how scenes can unfold.

Read books! Reading others’ work is exciting. It can encourage you to get your book in print. You’re reading J.K. Rowling, Stephanie Meyer, or Cassandra Clare and thinking, “Man, I can’t wait to see my book on the shelves of Borders with theirs!” You can’t make that happen if you don’t put in the effort.

The same goes for movies. There is nothing like seeing a movie in your genre and thinking about how amazing it would be to see yours on the big screen too. Books, movies, and video games help to open up inspiration and give new ideas for different scenes in your book.

Music:

Music deserves its own section. I cannot even express the gratitude to composers like James Newton Howard, Steve Jablonsky, and Howard Shore, who have inspired me like no one else could. Music is a completely wonderful tool to combating writer’s block. A thread on the Absolute Write forum asks what your soundtrack would be. This is a fun way to imagine what your book would be like as a movie. What songs would be playing during this scene? Should this scene be instrumental or lyrical?

Movie soundtracks help your mind conjure scenarios to fit with both the score and your book. Songs with lyrics can create entire novels or short stories based on single lines or sections.

This leads me to another way of clearing your writer’s block.

Write Something Else:

If you are stuck on your work in progress, stop writing it. Take a step back and give yourself some room to breathe. Working on the same thing day after day can wear out some people. Try something new. Write a short story or poem. Work on another idea you have. Do something—anything else. All you are going to get if you are stuck on your writing is a headache from banging your forehead on the keyboard.

Writing is stressful work. Getting things from inside your head onto paper is no easy feat. It’s like a job. When you work, you take breaks. Same rules apply. It’s alright to momentarily forget about your Precious. It will still be there when you are ready to return. Working on something completely different can open up more ideas. Perhaps you’ll find out that section from your new WIP would fit well with your old one and the ideas can be merged. Whatever the case, relax a bit. You can always come back to your novel later.

Finally…

Talk About It:

This was covered with a little more detail on the front page, but I must borrow it from Sarah because this is one of the best ways to combat writer’s block. Find someone to talk with about your novel, whether it’s your best friend, parents, grandparents…anyone! Telling another about your ideas is a wonderful way to avert the stress.

Having dealt with writer’s block for four months, I can honestly say that talking about my novel with my best friend was the best combatant. I received critique, suggestions, ideas—you name it!

Don’t feel like sharing face to face? Blogs, email, and writing forums are all ways to share.

Don’t let writer’s block prevent your from finishing your masterpiece. We want to see your work in print as much as you do, so don’t hesitate to clear your head and focus on your writing!

-Leah

—–

Query Advice: Don’t Lose Your Passion

I’ll be quite honest with you. When trying to query my novel with six plot moving characters, three first person points of view, and two made up preternatural races that have nothing to do with popular myth, I had some query problems–no–I had some SERIOUS query problems. What character should I stick to? Should I focus more on the personality of my chosen character or more of the paranormal world that I have created? Should I shroud Mr. or Ms. Agent in a little bit of mystery to make things interesting, or should I lay things out on the table bluntly and efficiently?

I’ve discovered that query writing is like a massive pain-in-the-butt jigsaw puzzle. If every piece is not in its perfect place, the whole thing falls apart. But the worst thing about writing the letter is that the pieces to the puzzle aren’t laid out in front of you for you to use as tools. No. You have to imagine every single word up. You have to craft every sentence from your head.

I had some success with my first query, even though it was very vague and riddled with rhetorical questions. But I liked it. I liked the way it flowed. I like the amount of magic I introduced, and I liked the amount of mystery I left the reader with. I knew that four interested agents was something to be proud of, yet I thought I could do better.

After asking for advice from numerous persons, some of whom I had never spoken to or previously communicated with over the internet, I started to panic. These writers said that I should lay out the facts bluntly and efficiently. None of this mysterious wondrous mumbo jumbo crap. If its not vital to the basis of  the plot, then its not worth including.

I decided to wing it and take their advice, adding in a sentence or two about the character I had chosen for my query, making sure to mention in brief, to-the-point sentences what the preternatural races could do, and wrap up one of the many conflicts with a cute little bow for the last paragraph.

After rereading it, I knew that it was efficient. But something wasn’t right. My most important character was there. The mention of fantastical elements were there. Conflict was there. Something was missing.

My senses were correct. Twenty queries sent and not a single bite. How could my sloppy first query get four hits and this tight one get none?

My query had been wrung clean of my passion for the plot, for the characters, and for the magic.

Sure, you want to make sure that you have certain elements in your query. Character personality, motive, and conflict are good. But don’t let it become so cut and dry that it makes you forget the reason why you wrote the book. Don’t forget the magical feeling that you felt when you first dreamt up the plot. That’s what should be in the query, and hopefully the agent or slushpile reader will be able to see that.

So here’s where I am. Query Number Three is not blunt and efficient. Query Number Three has some mystery to it. I let my passion control the path of it, and then I reread it and structured it like the writers at AW have showed me these past few months. Maybe it will work… maybe it won’t. I have yet to find out, but I’ll let you know when I do.

-Sarah Harian

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6 comments

  1. Great post! Very informative… I love the query layout.


  2. Awesome job Becca! Great tips and way to encourage 🙂


  3. Very awesome, Becca. That’ll definitely help me when I start my querying.


  4. Great post Steph! Writing a synopsis is like plucking your eyebrows – every one of them at the same time.
    -Jamie


  5. Great posts Steph and Leah! Awesome points to know :)—Annie


  6. Great post Leah! – Jamie



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