After ‘The End’ (2)

4

IT BEGINS!
How does a writer go about getting a manuscript read by an agent or editor after writing,’The End’?

#3 – Query  &  #4 – Submission
Last week, we talked about a writer’s new job after their manuscript is complete. To my way of thinking it’s as hard if not harder a challenge to face than Chapter One! Now that it’s done, how in the world will you get someone to read it? First, you must polish it until it gleams and glistens! (see part one) And then there’s the dreaded synopsis which hopefully you got some good tips on last week, as well.

Now that your manuscript is sparkling, and you have written a killer synopsis, we want to talk about your QUERY letter. I’m pretty much dealing with fiction, but it’s similar for non-fiction except the submission packet is called a proposal—which may be asked for after your query in fiction. Is that all perfectly confusing? Well get this – don’t be in a rush! You want to put your best foot forward.

finishBasically, for non-fiction, the manuscript doesn’t have to be finished. When your idea is solid, and you have the first chapter written and polished. You can add your chapter index, cover letter, and off it goes. If a publishing company is interested, they’ll buy it, give you an advance, and say six months to get it written.

Fiction is altogether different because agents and editors want to read the whole story, but first comes the query – a letter often accompanied by Chapter One. The first thing you need to do is research to find exactly whom you want to send it to – what literary agents are looking for your genre? With the world wide net, it’s literally only a few clicks and a little (or lot) of time on your part, and you can discover everything you need to know.

Which is EXACTLY what does that specific agent or editor want – the format (margins, font type and size, spacing). Pay attention, close attention, to the details. Take notes and begin to prepare exactly what each company asks for. Some will want a hard copy submission and others prefer electronically. How you present it is as important as what is IN it. Don’t think your story is so great, you don’t need to be precise.

Your letter should start with all your contact information – usually in the header creating a nice piece of personalized stationery. We’re so blessed;  used to have to go to the printer and pay big bucks for personalized stationary to look professional. Next is the date, don’t forget to update it when the query is actually ready to send. Then the name and company of the person you’re sending it to. Make certain this information is up to date and names are all spelled correctly!

You WILL keep all this on ONE page without fudging on margins or size of fonts. Make it fit! You can do it.

The first paragraph is your introduction, thank the person, mention why you’re contacting him and your work. Something short and sweet to get you foot in the door, like this:

“Thank you for the opportunity to submit ONE AND DONE, a contemporary Christian romance set against the Texas Rangers Baseball background. Your help in placing this book will be greatly appreciated.”

The second paragraph tell about your work. It’ll probably be the longest paragraph in the letter. Start with your ‘one sentence’ log line.

“Faith trumps cynicism and unbelief in ONE AND DONE, an unlikely love story born of prophesy, nurtured and grown in full view of the probing public eye, yet seemingly doomed because the bride-to-be, Samantha Danielle, doesn’t know Christ.” 

Now I know you will be tempted to write a very long run-on sentence, but don’t. This one’s almost too long. The shorter, the better, but be certain it reads easily. Remember you’re trying to sell your writing!

Still in the second paragraph, then comes the jacket copy version, but with an ending. 

“The man she falls for does though, and his faith that she is God’s woman for him carries them through to their happily-ever-after. The cutest weather girl on Dallas TV dreams of sports reporting flies south for a scoop. A Mexican team has a pitcher Rangers’ management is hot after. George Herman Walter Johnson becomes the oldest rookie to ever sign with the Texas team and happens to be a wealthy ex-poker player who flunked out of UT because he couldn’t tear away from the hold ‘em tables. Strange happenings bring the weather girl to his attention when his grandfather rises up from the death bed coma, points at the television, and says, “Right there, that’s the woman you need, Gij.” He wants to court then marry; she wants more right away, and conflict flies as the young pitching phenomenon lays everything on the line in his quest to win her heart. Concerned that she’ll follow in her two-timing mother’s footsteps and meet her true love after she marries, Sammi Dan is wary of the too-good-to-be-true religious fanatic and fears any commitment will end in heartbreak.”

The next paragraph is to tell about you, why you’re the one to write this book.

“I have a total of ten titles published from five houses. VOW UNBROKEN, my most recent work debuts from Howard Books, a division of Simon and Schuster next month. Publishers Weekly favorably reviewed it using words like intriguing, engaging, and well-developed characters, and my editor called me a dream author. My mature inspirational romance THE APPLE ORCHARD BED AND BREAKFAST (2002 / The Gale Group) earned a five star review in Affaire de Couer.”

Then you have room for one more short paragraph for closing. If not mentioned before, you want to let them know your word count and genre and that the manuscript is complete and ready to send upon their request. And most will want to know if you’re submitting it to others at the same time. Sample:

“ONE AND DONE is complete with 101,240 words, and I have another contemporary nearing completion. I’m making simultaneous submissions and welcome feedback; your consideration and time are appreciated.”

Salutary: Sincerely, sign it, and your query is done! Re-read it aloud. Ask a critique party to read and comment. Is there anything that could be better? This is your all-important first impression, so be sure it’s great. Make a note when you send it and from their published response time, the date you should hear back on it. Most agencies say if you don’t, then it wasn’t for them. And hopefully they will acknowledge receipt, so you can know they got it.

Your SUBMISSION consists of whatever the specific agent or editor requests. Some want Chapter One only, others, the first fifty pages. Whatever they want, that’s what you send. Some will ask for the One Page, which is a sales tool document we’ll discuss next week. Some want a synopsis and will specify the length in their submission guidelines. Give them what they want. Be a professional, don’t get too personal. They are not looking for a friend, but for a book they think they can sell and make money on. That’s one of my personal downfalls – getting too personal. My husband does his best to keep me from it, but I want everyone to be my friend!

(You can be my friend if you wanted to ‘Like’ my Facebook page.)

Come back and visit at Texas Tender next week to learn about creating a One Page. Any specific questions I can help you with on polishing, synopses, queries, or submissions?

4 Comments
  1. Andy Bachman says

    Hey Caryl,
    Thanks once more for your practical advice.
    Your articles are starting to become an important frame of reference for my writing.
    I’m anxiously looking forward to your next piece!
    Andy

  2. Kristin Fouquet says

    Thanks, Caryl. I’m bookmarking this page.

  3. Avivit says

    Yes, I’m also anxiously awaiting your next post, but I’m starting to give up, as I had the feeling this was a weekly column…

  4. Andy Bachman says

    Hey Caryl,
    You OK? I check here every few days, but your column seems to have died – Hope not…

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