What You Don’t Know About Queries CAN Hurt You!

Recycle Those Old Manuscripts, Don't Trash Them!So, you’ve written your story and want to share it with the world. But first, you have to query.

What is a query?

A query is a presentation of your manuscript shortened into brief paragraphs in the effort to draw an agent/publisher’s attention to your work. A well-written query letter can lead to a request for more information about your project: a full synopsis, a request for the first couple of chapters, or the entire manuscript. The goal is to receive a request for representation (agent) or publication (publisher). But like writing, in order to tell a good story, it takes research and planning  in order to make the process flow smoothly.

So, what steps should you take?

First of all, research the agent/publisher you want to submit your letter to. No two agents or publishers are alike.

  • Agents:  Visit the personal pages of agents on the company websites. Most will tell you if they are looking new clients.  Some welcome new, unpublished clients, while others prefer to work with already-published authors. Some have a wish list with the types of stories or genres they are looking for. Knowing this before you waste time sending them your work saves time on both of your parts. Submitting a query of a Sci-Fi story to an agent interested in only Romance novels is asking for rejection.
  • Publishers:  Whether you’re looking to self-pub through a vanity press, Indie Press, or Traditional Publisher, you MUST read the submission guidelines. No two are alike. For example, one publisher may want your manuscript  typed and submitted in 12 point Times New Roman font, while another may request 11 point Calibri. (Yep, I had that happen!). If I hadn’t read the submission guidelines and assumed they wanted the manuscript written in standard Times New Roman, my manuscript would be ignored for not following their guidelines before they read the first line!

Prepare various files ahead of time to save time. While researching agents/publishers, make note of what type of file they want you to send. (Note: this is the age of digital. Gone are the days of only mailing your manuscript or query letter. Most require emails, not snail mail. ‘Snail mail’ –traditional mailing- can add longer wait time to getting a response to your request).

Here are the various requests I ran across:

  • Query letter– that’s all they want. Keep it short and simple, to the point.  Open with a hook that leaves wanting to know more. Talk briefly about your writing experience (if applicable) and where samples of your work can be found. Leave with a respectful and professional closing. Be sure to include correct contact information for phone, email, mailing. (Note: if including social networking information, know that they WILL research you before contacting you. Having an unprofessional presence online can cause them to lose interest, regardless of how great your story is.)
  • Query and Sample Chapter (s) or Pages In addition to the standard query, some want to sample your writing voice. Here is where having a strong opening to your story comes in. The first three chapters are your make or break it points in your novel. If an agent or acquiring editor can’t get hooked then, then they push your work to the trash pile and send the dreaded ‘rejection form’ letter. Create separate files for the following page counts: 5 pages, 20 pages, 50 pages. (or 1st chapter to 1st-3rd chapters).
  • Query and Synopsis The dreaded synopsis letter can take more work to write than the 350 page novel it’s being written about. The point is to share the highlights of your story, from beginning to, yep, the actual end…not the lead up to the end. They want to know how the story ends to decide if what happens in the middle is worth the time to read. Synopsis request can be as brief as one page, to as lengthy as 4 pages. Prepare a one-page, three-page, and four-page to have on hand. No need to pull hair out after writing a one-page synopsis and run across a request for a four-page and have to start all over again.
  • Query, Synopsis, and Full Manuscript:  Not many will ask for a full manuscript from the get go, but some do.  Be sure to have your manuscript completed BEFORE submitting it. Agents/Publishers want to see a finished product, not one that is incomplete. If they like what they see, they will want to jump on it. If they have to start working with you by giving you a deadline to finish the project, it could be a turn off.  As a rule, most manuscript requests come in the form of the following:*12 point Times New Roman font  *1 inch margins (all around) *double spaced (entire document, without space between paragraphs)

***Be sure to have your manuscript edited and as clean as possible. DO NOT SEND ROUGH DRAFTS! Try to have your work as close to professionally edited as possible. Not doing so and having blatant misspellings and punctuation errors can result in rejection of your work! ***

Once you have these things in place, you are nearly ready to start querying! With so many agents and publishers out there, it’s hard to keep up with what information was sent to which publisher and when. I suggest creating a spreadsheet to make note of the dates and information sent. If you don’t have time to make your own, visit QueryTracker.com. Create a profile, make notes of sent responses and request, as well as look up information about the agents/publishers you’re interested in. There’s also an area that allows you to view comments from others about their experience with those agents/publishers and turnaround time for responses.

The query process is time-consuming and a real test of your will and patience. The pay off; seeing your work in the hands of readers.  This is the time to grow thick skin. Prepare to get rejection letters, either as form responses or the very rare letter with actual feedback.  Take it with a grain of salt and look for the good part. No, I am not saying being told NO, is a good feeling, but sometimes it’s comical. I got one that said, “No, not interested.”…that was it, no hello, no Ms. Kane, nothing.  I laughed my butt off because it appeared that particular person was having a bad day.  I could only imagine what it’s like to trudge through a ton of emails day after day in search of a line that catches your attention. Just because they said no didn’t mean it was about me or my work. Remember my above comment: Wish List. If looking for the next hot book about Vampires is what is on everyone’s list, your next love story that’s about the average Joe won’t get a second look, no matter how well it’s written.

Don’t be afraid to explore your publishing options. If you don’t have the time or patience to look into self-publishing, then look at Indie Publishing companies.  They still request the same type of information as the big publishers, but you have a better opportunity to have your writing voice heard. The beauty of going Indie is being able to tell your story the way you want to without being told what you can or can’t write.

I survived the query gambit,  kept my writing voice, and ignored the negative responses that told me ‘no’. And now I am an Amazon Bestselling Author. 🙂

Here are a few links to articles on writing query letters synopsis. Good luck!!

MJ

eHow.com- Query Letter Sample Search

eHow.com- How to write a Synopsis Search 

Query Tracker.net  

Life on This Side of Publication: Part Two- To Publication and Beyond!

Last week I shared my experience in query land. Today, I’ll continue with life ‘after publication’…the reality.
Yep, reality, sounds funny, right? 
Think about it, you’ve spent months, even years, living in ‘fantasy land’, then emerge from your writing cocoon in search of an agent or publisher. You’ve either signed a contract or decided to self-publish.  Your book is now available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble as an eBook or paperback. You’ve tweeted it, shared it, posted, and hyped it up. Anticipation has been growing and your future fans are lining up with dollars in hand for the big release day. Now all you do is sit back, relax, tell your friends and family they are  now looking at a published author, and watch the money roll in. Right?
WRONG!

This, my friends, is where the REAL WORK BEGINS! Yep, I said it! W-O-R-K!!!
Did I fail to mention a lack of sleep????
Sorry, I jumped ahead of myself again. Let’s back it up a bit….
Amazon Rank for October 4, 2012 – #16 Multicultural Romance  (Peaked at #4)  and #41 in African-American Literature & Fiction (Peaked at #17) – Paid Books #3181 (Peaked at #1717)
First, there are the days leading up to the big release. The contract has been signed, the publication date announced, and editor assigned. Your version of the final manuscript has been submitted and now you wait for the edits to start rolling in. A dead line is given. Then you’re off to the races! What happens next?
First you deal with your editor, your new best friend and avid supporter because they are now invested in the project as much as you are. You accept or reject suggested changes, they make sure the storyline is consistent, all the facts have been checked, and the character’s names have not changed. Once you both are satisfied with the results (and let’s face it, you’re a professional now and a deadline is a deadline!) the manuscript is next sent to the line-editor. Their job it is to check everything again…line-by-line, every period, comma, hyphen, exclamation point…yep, all the extremely technical stuff that you and your editor didn’t see. And believe me people, regardless of what level of publication you’re at, whether it’s self-pub and you hire an editor, e-pub and you’re working with editors, or even one of the Big Six-traditionally pubbed where thr is a team of editors…there WILL  be errors that make it into the work, regardless of how many eyes look at it…it’s called human imperfection! (I have read three Nora Robert’s new releases this year, all hardback, and every one of them had errors, be it technical, or even storyline, or   what character’s POV we were supposed to be in, and again, this is in books from a TRADITIONALLY PUBLISHED BESTSELLING AUTHOR!)
Once your book has been sent through the ringer, you now have the final read, your last chance to (hopefully!) find any errors and point them out. Final changes are made, then it’s off to publication!
Now what?
You now must figure out how to promote your work. Unless you have a Nora Roberts budget and backing from the Big Boys, it’s up to you to push your book. Blog tours, promos on Facebook , Twitter, Google+, websites…the list goes on and on. In the end, you get what you put in. The more work you do, the better the results. The less work you do…you got it, no results. The truth of the matter is, you can sit at your computer and talk about, copy/past, share, and tweet all day long, but in the end it’s up to the readers to choose your work. Just because you promoted in twenty spots does not me your going to get at least twenty sales for the day.  
So what do you do?
 Me and my manager, Lady Kayne of  Major Movement Inc.,  at my first official meet/greet as a published  author! 
You keep talking about it, keep promoting, and sell not just your work, but yourself as well.
But that’s not all! In the mist of promoting, you now must continue to write…because hey, one book wasn’t all you planed on publishing, right? Whether you’re writing a series, like I am, or you’re selling standalone novels…writing, plotting, and planning the next story doesn’t stop. If anything, your new readers will be craving more of you work!
Congratulations! You are now a published author with fans!!! And fans need to be sated!
Good luck with finding a happy balance between being an author, promoter, wife/father, and parent… and if you have a nine-to-five job, you’ve got to work to pay your bills, and manage all of this wonderful stuff in between!!!
But guess what, after all the headache, the sleepless nights as you struggle to keep your sales rankings up on Amazon, religiously check your ranking every hour upon the hour, even at two A.M….it’s all worth it in the 
end! 
MJ
Connect with me on the following sites: 

To Hire an Editor or Not to Hire an Editor…That is the Question!

Editors. In the world of writing, we all need one. The question is when.

During my writing journey, I’ve heard various tales, feedback, and opinions.

No, don’t hire an editor to read your work before submitting. You’ll be wasting money. Let the publisher pay for it.

Yes, hire an editor; it could increase your quality of your product and give you an opportunity to actually find and agent and/or publisher.

Decisions, decisions, decisions.

When it all comes down to it, the true question is: how much money do you want to invest?


Two years ago, the thought of an editor reviewing my work scared me. The idea of someone ripping it to shreds, and spitting it back at me, demanding that it be re-written because it wasn’t good enough, had me cursing the profession. I pushed that thought aside and focused on writing a story I wanted to tell. Next, I focused on learning as much as I could about sentence structure, setting up the paragraphs, scene breaks, chapter breaks, and POV changes. Then, I built the infamous repeated/passive word list to tighten up my prose. I’ve gone over my list so many times while doing my own edits, I rarely have to pull it up to know what words to avoid. In fact, when I write a scene, I now catch those words and change them before they hit the screen.

However, that doesn’t cover everything. There are still the annoying details of correct grammar usage, using the right word tense, and spelling. Unless you were a serious English major in high school, college, or took a class specifically for this type of detail, there’s no possible way you’ll ever be able to catch every errorl. To be honest, no one ever will, even if that’s what he or she does for a living. Why? Because we are all human. And humans make mistakes, whether we want to believe it or not.

A perfect example: how many times have we as readers picked up a novel by one of our favorite New York Times Bestselling authors who have the backing of a big name publishing house, only to discover a major editing error? Come on, we’ve all done that. Why? Human imperfection. No matter how many hands and eyes touch a manuscript is read, no matter how many attempts are made to dot all the ‘Is’ and cross all the ‘Ts’, humans make errors, especially if it is your own writing.

So, what does that mean for the aspiring author, or for an author who is self- published?

It means you have a decision to make. How much do you want to invest in yourself?

The investment is not only about money; it’s also about time.

If you decide to use an editor, how do you know you’ve found an editor you can work with and who is qualified? Of course, the first thing everyone looks for is reputation. Word of mouth from other authors in your writing network is great, too. Nevertheless, in the end, it comes down to one-on-one communication. Does the editor understand your type of writing ? Do they edit a lot of work in your genre? Will they be able to understand the rules of the genre you’re writing? What time-frame are you looking for? Will it take a few days or a few weeks before they return your work? What type of editing are you paying for?

Type of editing? If this is new to you, then it’s something you must know. There are several types of editing available. What’s the differences?

Copywriter or Copy-Editing:
Their job is to be sure your story is written well and logically structured. Correct grammar and spelling is checked, as well as ensuring the manuscript fits the publishers ‘style’. They ask questions of the author and check story facts.

Content Editor:
Their job is to ensure your work meets the standards for accuracy and style. They check for spelling, grammar, coherence, consistent style. They also proofread to be sure copy-editing work has been completed.

Proofreader:
In the publishing world, a proofreader is generally the last person to see your manuscript after it’s been through other editors’ hands and before it goes to print. Their job is to do a final read through to catch any mistakes the first editor may have missed. This is generally the most affordable.

If you are not shopping your manuscript around and have decided to self-publish, you should seriously consider having at least one of these editors review your work. Depending on what phase of your writing career you are in, it may not be in your budget. If you go the proofreading route, then know, you MUST review your work again after it is returned. If you don’t and there are issues that were pointed out and you don’t review them, it is on you, not the editor.

So, what route will you choose?

Here’s what I’ve learned. Today’s agents are meticulous. Not only does your story have to engage them and keep them interested for at least the first three chapters, the quality of your writing has to as well. Sending them an unedited copy – and by that I mean, work you haven’t spent time searching for errors yourself – makes a difference. The cleaner the read, the more focused on the story they will be, not the plethora of errors littering the pages. Taking that amount of time, or money, also lets them know that you, the author, are willing to put in the work it takes to make a better product. With the current economy, every business is looking for ways to cut down their expenses. If you walk in the door offering a product they can spend less money on before making it available for sale, you increase your chances of them choosing your manuscript.

Sell yourself.

Here’s another fact you must remember: if you decided to use an editor…don’t just pay them and expect what they send to you in return doesn’t need to be reviewed. Any editor, especially a professional, will tell you that after they do their magic, it’s up to you, the author, to review your manuscript. Just because they make changes or suggestions does not mean you have to accept it. It’s up to your discretion. But, you still have to re-read your work from beginning to end. It’s up to you to put that stamp of approval on it before sending it out into the world . That requires more work on your part. If you don’t do the work, then you will have to deal with the consequences of any un-corrected errors. The editor’s job is to work with you, which means you in turn must work with them.

I’ve had the opportunity to talk to a proofreader many of you may have seen on Facebook or Twitter, @TJProofs. She shared some helpful information on how to determine what type of editor you need, depending on the amount of work you’ve put into cleaning up your manuscript.

“A proofreader, which is my specialty, is generally the last person you see. They focus on clean manuscripts, after they’ve run their gamut (through a publisher), but many people try to skip the steps. The fact of the matter is, if you are horrible at punctuation, you choose a copy-editor. If you feel you’ve got punctuation licked, but your story needs a scouring for consistency, you may choose a content editor. If you have a great idea, but need someone to go through your MS with a fine-toothed-comb – rewriting sentences for clarity, passive statements, content, and punctuation – then you need a full-scale editor.” 


To learn more about TJ and the services she offers, visit her at www.ManuscriptProofing.com. Other places where she can be found are:

Facebook, Twitter
Blog: manuscriptproofing.blogspot.com
Email: TJProofs@gmail.com or TJ@ManuscriptProofing.com

I hope this information has been informative. Whether or not you choose to use the services of any of the above editors, I wish you the best on your writing journey!

MJ