Saturday, November 6, 2010

Chapter Thirteen: Chapter/Novel Synopses

This week I started writing a novel synopsis, a part of my publishing submissions package. The intended scenario is that a literary agent will like my query letter enough to request more information including a few chapters or perhaps a full manuscript along with a synopsis of my Young Adult Mystery.

Writing a summary of a novel I've already finished sounds like it should be simple but it isn't. Like the query letter, the synopsis is another task dreaded by most writers including me.

First of all, a synopsis is not a straight-forward, run-down of the plot. That would be easy. The synopsis is a summary of my story that must be compelling and intriguing. It tells what my story is about (the murder of a young woman), what Amy the main character wants (to solve the murder to enhance the reputation she's earned as a hot shot detective and further her career goal of becoming an investigative journalist), and what obstacles she faces in accomplishing her goal (the town police chief who resents her success at crime-solving and the killer when Amy finds and confronts him). My synopsis focuses not just on events but on the emotions, motivations, and concerns of the characters. I'm writing it in the same tone and style as the manuscript and including bits of dialog.

When I started gathering my thoughts to begin my novel synopsis, I turned to my chapter synopses which are short summaries I wrote each time I finished a chapter. I did the summaries as a tool for me and they have come in handy so many times.

Besides a brief summary of the main events in the chapter, I incorporated a time line into my synopsis. This was invaluable to me since the action in my mystery covered a four-day period and after a while, I got to the point that I couldn't remember if a particular event happened last night or day before yesterday or three days ago. When I wanted to insert additional material, checking the chapter synopses was a real time-saver since I didn't have to go back and read several chapters to find the right place to add information. My format is simple - Chapter One: (Day 1/Late Afternoon) or Chapter Twelve: (Day 2/Early Morning. Followed by a paragraph or two, this gives me everything important I need to know about a chapter.

I, also, put each character's name in bold the first time he/she appeared in the manuscript. This gave me a quick and easy reference when I want to add or change information about a character. It'd look pretty silly to mention a character before he/she's been introduced in the story or to introduce the same character twice!

I'm following the chronology of my chapter synopses as I write the novel synopsis. The challenge is to transform them into a catchy and exciting two or three page story that does my mystery justice.

Let's get published!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Chapter Twelve: Query-Weary

The opening paragraph, or more likely just the first sentence, is the most crucial part of a query letter. Since research says that literary agents only spend seconds skimming a query, the opening has to grab that agent's attention or the moment is lost. That's why I've spent months trying to perfect my query.

After rewriting the first paragraph of my query letter backwards and forwards dozens of times, I reached the point I couldn't bear to think about it any longer so I put all its multiple versions away for several weeks. When I took a look at them a few days ago, I realized it simply wasn't right. None of the possibilities worked so I started over and rewrote a new opening paragraph rather quickly - especially for me. After a few minor edits, I decided the new opening not only had a better grabber than my older versions but flowed better too.

I'd sensed the opening paragraph wasn't right but kept trying to fix it. It didn't need to be fixed. It needed to be scrapped. I feel confident my new opening, so different from its predecessor, is now a dynamic and provocative introduction to my teen mystery. Time away from my query letter gave me a new perspective on it and time for ideas to emerge without having to be put down on paper. Never underestimate the value of thinking-time!

The rest of the letter is good and remains as it's been all along. Thank goodness I didn't need to rewrite all that. I'm query-weary!

Let's get published!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Chapter Eleven: Catching Up

I sent out my first small batch of queries including the previously mentioned one that escaped before I added the agent's name and agency. Not surprising, I didn't receive any acknowledgment from them. I did receive a couple automatic rejections from other agents in short order - so short, in fact, I doubt even a speed reading specialist could've read the first sentence of my letter.

I made a real effort to carefully research agencies, seeking to identify agents who were accepting queries and were interested in my Young Adult genre. I read and reread thru the bios of multiple agents and settled on several who seemed most promising for my novel. I sent my query to those agents' personalized email addresses. In one case, a submissions clerk sent the speedy auto rejection. I have no reason to believe the agent I emailed ever saw my query. Frankly, it seems to negate that across-the-board advice to research agents and send material to the right one. Does the "right one" even get it?

Several visitors to the blog suggested I try small presses, many of which will accept queries sans agent. Some small presses seem to be quite specialized so it takes research to find likely matches. So far, I've found a dozen or so that may be possibilities. So, the quest to get published continues.

On a different subject, I bought the Oxford American Writer's Thesaurus (2008) several months ago and find it the best and fastest to use thesaurus I've tried. It's available on for about $25. If you're in the market for a new thesaurus, check it out. I keep it within hand's reach when I'm working.

I'll continue researching agents and small presses and sending out more queries. As a diversion, I'm working on a new novel. I've written a good bit of it but my notion about how it should go keeps changing. I guess the characters are beginning to take over the story and telling me what they really want to say. I much prefer the fantasy end of the publishing-stick to the business end!

Let's get published!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Chapter Ten: E-Query Flying On its Own

I've flipped my sentences, shuffled them around within the paragraphs, moved them from one paragraph to another, and flipped paragraphs. After trying virtually every combination, I'm finally satisfied with my query letter and started the process of sending it out this morning.

I copied and pasted my query into the body of an e-mail with ???? as place holders for the agent's name, agency name, and the greeting. My intention was to personalize each letter as I went. With my very first query, before I could fill in the agent's info, the e-mail escaped. At first, I thought I'd just lost it but, indeed, it was sent. I inadvertently bumped a key and away it went.

If agents get annoyed with writers who don't spell their names correctly, one of them is going to have a fit when they open my query. Worse than a misspelling of somebody's name is a string of ???? in lieu of it. I sent an apology right away but I'm not expecting a positive response.

The lesson to be learned is something I remembered after the mishap. Copy and paste the query into a blank email. Do the agent name and address and check everything before typing in the e-mail address - let that be the last thing when everything else is right and ready to go. If the query flies on it's own at that point, it's okay!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Chapter Nine: State and Regional Conferences

During lunch a few months ago with Nancy Sales Cash, published novelist and friend in North Carolina, we talked about the importance of attending state and regional writers' conferences. We're both members of the North Carolina Writers Network and, in fact, we met at an NCNW conference several years ago. We've kept in touch and get together when I'm in NC. Not only do Nancy and I share our mountain heritage and love of writing but we both had the unique experience of living in Australia.

Agents and publishers like writers who join state and regional writing groups and attend conferences. Writers who invest time and expense improving their skills and learning about the publishing business show they're committed to writing - a major step beyond the folks who talk about writing but never get around to putting anything on paper. Being active in the writing community is a big plus.

Writing conferences offer a variety of services for writers. Workshops, catering to the needs of different kinds of writers, continue throughout the conference. Attendees make workshop choices at the time of registration. My most helpful workshop was about using details in writing. The suggestions of the instructor stuck in my head and influence many of the word choices in my work. My least favorite workshops were those in which the instructor threw out a topic for a short paragraph to be written in a few minutes. Since I write deliberately and edit things into the ground, this hurry-up stuff made me edgy. It doesn't suit me and I wouldn't do it again.

Before the conference began, I submitted a few pages to a literary agent for a manuscript critique. Then I had a brief one-on-one meeting with her during which she gave me suggestions for improvements and submission. A similar service, speed-pitching, gives writers a few minutes to present something like a verbal query to a literary agent. I went to a preparation workshop for speed-pitching but I'm not sure I'd be good at it.

I think I got more out of meeting and networking with other writers than anything else at the conference. Talking to so many talented and enthusiastic writers about their work, the dreaded query letter, and publishing was a great experience.

I went to this conference without knowing anyone or even much about how it worked. Unknowingly but very lucky for me, the first person I approached was Glenda Beall, Netwest Coordinator at the time. Netwest is the western division of the NCNW and covers the mountain area of the state where I grew up. Hooking up with this group made the conference so much better. I met a lot of people and made several friends - not bad for a weekend.

By all means, if you go to a conference, start meeting people the minute you arrive. Take business cards to pass out and ask new acquaintances for their cards.

Let's get published!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Chapter Eight: Record of Queries

During my research for ideas to make my query letter more intriguing, I've come across a few interesting bits of information. I can't vouch for their accuracy but they make sense so I'm passing them along.

One point is that almost everybody wants to write a novel and talks about it every chance they get. I'm definitely inclined to agree with this observation because it seems every time I mention to someone I'm a writer, I immediately hear a story about how that person's always thought about writing a book. An acquaintance of mine talked for years about writing a children's book. I suggested, half-joking and half-tired of hearing her talk about it, that she type the words "Once upon a time..." into her computer. Then she would have something to add on to, revise, and edit. Of course, those four words never got put down on a page and her book never got beyond the talking stage. According to one of the online sites I visited, only 2% of talkers actually finish a novel. So, I'm pleased that I've done what 98% of wanna-be writers don't do - I finished a manuscript. Congratulate yourself if you're in that elite 2% who started out with an idea, a couple of words, and persevered.

The other bit of information I came across is really worth considering as I go through the process of querying agents. Taking into account all the reasons agents reject query letters, one online source suggested sending out at least 50 queries - and 100-150 queries if I can find that many agents who work in my genre. I've always wondered how many queries are enough so this puts a number on it. Finally, I know. Since I prefer "overkill" in pretty much everything I do, sending out the max number definitely appeals to me!

Looking at this level of querying as a major bookkeeping issue, I have a plan for keeping records of info about agents I'm contacting. Searching for 100-150 agents is going to take a while so I'm sending out my e-queries in batches of 15-20. Being careful about whether I'm addressing Ms. or Mr. correctly and double-checking the name spellings take time too. Every site says to get the name right - apparently agents don't like their gender or names garbled. For that matter, neither do I.

I'm making a simple chart - nothing fancy - to help me organize all the info generated by my query process. My columns have the following info:

*Agent's full name and date e-query submitted
*Agency name
*Agent's response and date - form rejection, personal note, request for more material (the ideal response!)
*If requested by agent, date and description of material sent (# of pages, chapters, outline, synopsis, or full manuscript
*Agent's response to the material and date - rejection, request for more material, or that coveted offer of representation!

I can't tell you what a time-saver it is to have all this info handy. I'm using multiple online agent directories so I'll need to be able to check quickly if I've already queried an agent since some agents appear on all the lists.

Last time I sent out queries, I did so in several batches and kept "batch lists" - big mistake - the responses came back in random order so I had to check several lists to find a particular agent. I should've made a master list and arranged the names in alphabetical order.

On a more personal note, my nineteen year old daughter and I are leaving Saturday for a trip to Helsinki, Finland and Tallin, Estonia and St. Petersburg, Russia. Our primary destinations are the Hermitage Museum and the palaces of Catherine and Peter. I'll be living my favorite quote - "The world is a book and those who do not travel, read only a page." I'm expecting quite a few pages out of this trip...

Just so you know, I'm taking a copy of my query letter in case I have a flash of inspiration on the plane! As always, I'll have a legal pad handy for notes and ideas sparked by new sights.

Let's get published!

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Chapter Seven: Using Print or Online Guides

I’m ready to start selecting literary agents to query about representing my Young Adult Mystery. This is an exciting milestone in the journey I began when I typed the opening sentence of my novel onto a blank screen. I’ve written, edited, and rewritten my manuscript uncountable times. Changing a word here or adding a word there, a tendency I have trouble overcoming, isn’t going to make any significant difference in its publishing prospects - it’s time to send it out into the world.

Now that I’m ready to look for agents, I have to choose between doing my agent search in book form or online. The 2011 Writer's Market and 2011 Guide to Literary Agents are on sale now. 2011 Hermann’s Guide to Publishers, Editors, and Literary Agents will be available October 1. Generally considered three of the best book guides, each is around $20 on If you go the book route, one should be sufficient. I strongly recommend you take time to check them out at a bookstore or library before you buy because some index agents by name only, not by the kind of material they represent (Romance, Science Fiction, etc.). Skimming through hundreds of agent write-ups looking for one that’s interested in Young Adult zones me out.

Since I don’t have the patience to read through book guides, I'm using online agent databases. The quality, quantity, and scope of these directories are pretty amazing.

Free to use and so easy to navigate, I'm starting with AgentQuery, WritersNet, QueryTracker, and 1000 Literary Agents. These offer a wealth of information about agents, publishing, writing query letters, manuscript formatting, submission protocols, scams, and royalties. Determining which agent handles what type of material is as simple as typing in the genre of my novel. Some provide services to track queries, provide data about agents’ responses, and offer forums for writers to exchange information.

Others sites such as,, and offer similar, sometimes even more, information but require subscriptions. Generally, the fees are quite reasonable and memberships are available by the week or month. I tried in my previous attempt to find an agent and found the key to getting my dollar’s worth was being ready to search when I joined, identifying and making a list of agents who interested me, and canceling my membership as soon as I finished. This time, I'm going with the free directories and keeping the fee-charging ones as back-ups.

Most books and online directories make an effort to vet the agents they list. However, that doesn’t guarantee that a scammer doesn’t slither into the listings so precaution is in order. As I’m selecting my first batch of agents to query, I go to each agent’s website to determine if he/she belongs to AAR as well as to familiarize myself with the agent’s query guidelines and follow them. Sending the wrong kind of material to the wrong agent the wrong way wastes my time. That approach guarantees me a negative response or no response.

I'm going with e-queries because they're so fast and hassle-free. Most agents accept them now and their submission guidelines clearly state if they do. Since most agents specify they want material in the body of the email, don't send attachments unless specifically asked to do so.

The processes of writing/perfecting a query letter and selecting agents to query are time-consuming and slow. As much as I want to rush to the end of this, I need to be deliberate and give this as much thought and research as it takes.

Let’s get published!

Monday, July 26, 2010

Chapter Six: Re-reading My Old Query Letter

I re-read my query letter of a year ago over the weekend. Sad to say, it falls short of being "totally fascinating." To my credit, it's not "too cutesy" either. It's somewhere in that nondescript middle wasteland of not too good but not too bad. It's got to move way up on the Intriguing Meter!

I've decided the letter needs a rewrite so I'll be searching online for advice and samples of outstanding queries that grabbed the attention of a literary agent and got their authors book deals.

So keep reading all those ideas and recommendations about writing query letters until you find a formula that's right for you. I'll be right there with you for days and weeks to come!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Chapter Five: Writing the Query Letter

It’s time for me to make some decisions about the query letter I wrote a year ago when I did my first search for a literary agent. I started the letter during the period when I was editing my manuscript, scrutinizing every word and nuance in it as I am prone to do. Focusing on the query during breaks from editing gave me a sense of moving forward, my first real-world step toward getting published.

I got into a pattern of working on the letter, letting it cool off for a week or two, re-reading it, and revising it, a process that went on for months. Sometimes I decided it was all wrong, deleted everything, and started over again. For what amounts to a one-page document, writing a query takes a lot of work. It’s a lot harder than it sounds. The letter needs to be as perfect as I can make it.

Agents receive hundreds of queries each week, a discouraging reality. That means I only have seconds to attract an agent’s attention and convince him/her my manuscript is dynamic enough to warrant asking me to submit some pages or chapters to read. Making a favorable impression in a sentence or two means they must contain that special something.

What is that special something? What can I say to make my query spring out of a stack of hundreds of other hopeful letters? I wish I had the magic formula. Unfortunately I don’t so my Plan B is visiting some of the dozens of websites of literary agents who give advice about what grabs their attention and what turns them off. I like it when agents include successful query letters and analyze them by sentence and paragraph, pointing out what makes those particular letters stand out. I especially look for letters that have a tone that suits my mystery and me personally. Sample queries are a lot more helpful to me than the vague advice to be totally fascinating but not cutesy – lots of interpretations in those extremes.

Some online sites offer forums for writers to post their query letters and receive critique and feedback from peers. Sounds a little out there for me but I may suck up my trepidation and try it.

Although I didn’t get an agent to represent my novel last time, I got a couple positive responses so the letter must’ve had something going for it. With the passage of time and a fresh perspective, maybe I’ll revise my query or maybe I’ll find a sample letter that inspires me to start all over with a different approach. It took me months to write the first letter so this one won’t be quick and easy either. My goal is to entice an agent into reading the entire query and then asking to read the entire manuscript.

Let’s get published!

Friday, July 16, 2010

My blog received a nice write-up on Netwest, a chapter of the North Carolina Writers' Network. Netwest serves the western-most part of the state (my beautiful mountain home area) as well as bordering counties in South Carolina, Georgia, and Tennessee. This is an amazing group of active, talented, and enthusiastic writers! I met several of them at a North Carolina Writers' Network conference a couple years ago and have enjoyed getting to know some of the individual members as well as following their many activities and accomplishments. Check out Netwest as well as the NC Writers' Network. See why North Carolina is called "the writingest state."

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Chapter Four: Starting the Search

In today’s publishing world, finding a literary agent to represent my Young Adult Mystery is my first step toward getting it into print. Most publishing houses read only agented material so I’m wasting my time approaching them directly. An agent, familiar with the needs of various publishing houses, is the intermediary who weeds out submissions and forwards the most promising to appropriate publishers. Sounds simple except for the part about actually finding an agent. Since I wasn’t successful the last time I tried, I’m hoping for a better outcome.

I think every how-to article I’ve ever read says the easiest way to get an agent is through a referral from a successful author. Suffice it to say if J.K. Rowling was my BF, I wouldn’t be going through this process. Since she’s not, I’m on my own.

I’ve finished my manuscript and edited it within an inch of its life so I’m “starting the search.” If your manuscript is completely or partially finished, you need to start looking too. It’s a long, laborious procedure that takes a lot of research.

From the beginning of this process, I want to make certain I’m dealing with a reputable agent. One way I check is by reading his/her professional information in agent guide books or in agent lists on the internet. Affiliation with the Association of Authors’ Representatives (AAR) is noted in the write-up. Belonging to AAR is important because its ethics code prohibits members from charging for services such as reading fees. Last time around, an agency offered to represent me. Turned out the agency only considered manuscripts that had been professionally edited. Guess what? They were primed to hook me up with an editor whose fee was considerable. Since I’d heard about fee-charging scams, I was wary.

To verify my suspicion, I went to the quick and easy to use online site of Preditors and Editors. On their home page, I clicked on Agents and then clicked on the first letter in the agency’s name. (Note agents and agencies are alphabetized by first name, not last name.) In a few seconds, I found a listing for my would-be scammer with the comment “Conflict of interest. Not recommended.” End of exchange between me and that agency. Agents earn their money from commissions from selling books to publishers, not squeezing fees out of their writers or getting kickbacks for arranging questionable services. If an agent/agency asks for money upfront, move on!

As I locate agents who represent Young Adult fiction, I’m going to double-check their reputations before I submit my queries. Then if an agent shows interest in my novel, I can proceed with reasonable assurance that the agent’s goal is to get me published, not rip me off with unscrupulous fees.

Let’s get published!

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Chapter Three: Writing as a Second Career

In conversations with writers, I find that many of them have full-time jobs and busy lives but they love writing enough to get up early in the morning or stay up late at night churning out pages of that novel in their heads. Others, like me, become writers after having another career or sometimes several careers. What we all have in common is a passion for writing and the optimism that we’ll find an agent who loves our work and sets us on the path to getting published.

To illustrate my point, I want to tell you a short story about Betty Neels, my writing heroine. One day by accident, Betty overheard a woman in her local library complaining about the lack of good romance novels. Betty, a retired nurse and a voracious reader with time on her hands, decided to fill the gap. She was fifty-nine years old when she published her first novel. The remarkable part of her story is that she went on to complete 134 romance novels, often writing four a year. She wrote until her death at the age of ninety-one in 2001. Her sweet, chaste books are still on the shelves of Barnes and Noble. Betty rocks!

I’m not advocating you read Betty’s novels or turn to romance writing unless it’s already your thing but her writing career inspires me, and I hope it will inspire you. At any stage of our lives, pursing our passion for words and getting them into print can be a reality. It happened to Betty – why not us, too?

Let’s get published!

Have a safe and wonderful holiday weekend. Happy July 4th!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Chapter Two: Getting Your Name Out There

This may seem like a strange topic to consider at the beginning of the process of getting published but it’s one I didn’t know about when I queried agents for my Young Adult Mystery. I assumed the publicity campaign got underway after I was published. Wrong!

I became aware of the need for writers to establish an online presence during a long, interesting, and fun lunch last month with Glenda Beall, former Netwest Coordinator for the North Carolina Writers Network. Glenda has a distinguished career as a published poet (Now Might As Well Be Then published by Finishing Line Press), writing teacher, publicist, and all-around good friend to writers.

Because it takes time, thought, and technical skills or help to get your name out there, it makes sense for all writers to start thinking about it now. In the competitive world of publishing, it’s imperative to distinguish yourself. You should begin by posting online about anything you’ve published.

If you’re unpublished as I am, you can show literary agents, editors, and publishers that you’re serious about writing by blogging about what you’re doing to improve your skills - taking writing classes, joining writing groups, attending regional or state conferences, and networking with other writers through Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn. Anything that says you mean business - you’re not in this for a hobby.

Publicizing myself doesn’t come easily to me. I’m a very private person but I recognize the necessity of forcing myself to do it. This blog plus joining Facebook and LinkedIn are part of my personal campaign to get my name out there. It’s encouraging that I made some interesting and unexpected contacts from my first blog. In addition to their comments, questions, and suggestions, Glenda Beall has been kind enough to mention me on her blog so I’m reaching another group of writers. Thus, the circle grows.

I’ve only been at this for a few weeks but I’m learning daily about the scope and possibilities of building a public record as a writer. As new ideas emerge, I’m going to give them a shot. I encourage all writers to consider my suggestions as well as look for other ways of “getting your name out there.” If you’re already involved in publicizing yourself, what are you doing? Do you have ideas I didn’t discuss? I hope you’ll share them through this blog.

Although writers are creative creatures who prefer to be seated at their laptops churning out dynamic sentences and well-crafted dialog, publishing is a business. If we want to be successful, we must approach it as such. When you market your novel to an agent, it’s business.

Let’s get published!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Chapter One: On the Path to Getting Published

I began writing a couple years ago because I love words and mysteries. Naively, I expected to get published right away and earn big bucks for turning out, in my opinion, a pretty gripping page turner.

When I deemed my Young Adult Mystery ready for print, I began querying agents to find someone to represent it. Over a period of months, my efforts yielded many no-responses and auto-rejections, some requests for more material, and a few personal, favorable comments but no offer for representation. At one point, I thought I’d snagged an agent but, to my sorrow, she bailed.

Not surprising, numerous agents cited the downturn in the economy as a reason for not taking on new writers. Now that the economy is showing some signs of recovery, I’ve decided to give publishing another shot.

I’m starting this blog as a forum for serious beginning writers to pool information about the frustrating and confusing task of finding a literary agent. It’s true that a lot of sites and books offer such advice but I’ve found many are outdated, contain erroneous information, or offer useless tips on topics such as spell-checking and repeated editing. I’m assuming that anyone who seriously expects to publish is aware of the basic fundamentals of polished writing and practices them zealously.

It’s my intention to share my querying experiences through this blog with other new authors. In turn, I hope they will share their efforts with me so that we can weed out querying tactics that don’t work and identify and promote those that do.

As I renew my attempts to get my novel published, I welcome the input of not only beginning writers but established writers, agents, editors, and teachers who can help us negotiate this seemingly hopeless phase of our writing careers.

Let’s get published!