M.J. on Writing: To Hire an Editor or Not to Hire an Editor…That is the Question!

No matter what stage your writing career is in, editing is a step you don’t want to skip! I dusted this blog off (originally posted on This Writer’s Life, 1/12) and decided to share it again. This type of information never gets old! I hope it helps!

MJ

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  Some welcome new, unpublished clients, while others prefer to work with already-published authors.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  

M.J. Kane- 2012 in Review!

Wow! Can you believe the year is almost over???? It’ll be 2013 in a few hours….This year by far has been my most productive year, well, besides giving birth that is! This is the first year I have ever set a goal and actually worked to see it to fruition. I posted my resolution in January 2012 and promised to write about what I did/did not do, so here it goes: (in order of that post)
* Be published by a publishing company: 
DONE!!! 5 Prince Publishing signed me in July and my debut novel, A Heart Not Easily Broken, was published in September!
*Sell a lot of books:

DONE! Hit Amazon Bestseller in Multicultural Romance within hours of publication (have managed to stay there for three months, now it’s off and on). It as also been on the African American Literature & Fiction, African American Romance, and African American Women’s Fiction  Amazon Bestseller lists.

*Be interviewed  by local radio and television stations:

Didn’t happen, but I have done a ton of blog interviews, guest posts, and features…Yay!!!

My manager, Lady Kayne and I.

*Participate in the Writer’s Conference in my city: (Library Headquarters):

ALMOST! Scheduling changed and instead of the conference, a community event was held where local artist, writers, and musicians had the opportunity to share their talent and work. I held my first official Meet and Great as a local author two weeks after my book was published. That was also the day my sales ranking on Amazon  hit its all time peak: #5 in Multicultural Romance and #17 in African American Literature & Fiction!

*Continue to make wonderful connections with other authors and readers: 

This will forever be an ongoing activity, and one I enjoy the most. Having the opportunity to talk to readers via Twitter, Facebook, or in person, and listen to them share their thoughts about my story and characters has been a wonderful experience. It has given me the motivation to continue to write and explore other topics and continue to bring my characters to life.

It is so interesting to go back and look at January’s blog. After writing my list, I spoke of my next thing to do, which was start working on the second book in The Butterfly Memoirs Series, Jaded. I am so glad I did. Here it is, a year later, and because I put in the work a year ago, my publisher will be getting the full MS in a few days with a publication date of March 2013! Whoo Hoo!! I am so excited about that. See what putting in the work a year ago did? It’s actually paying off!

Now, what does MJ have in store for 2013?

*New blog! Yep that’s right! This Writer’s Life has made the transition from Blogger to  Wordpress. All of my blogs have been moved.( Check out the pages entitled, Helpful Advice for Aspiring Authors and Quick Links to My Most Popular Posts for quick access.) The transition isn’t about Blogger because I have enjoyed working with this site. But I have two blogs that I write, this one and one for The Butterfly Memoirs. It’s taken a lot to keep both of them up and going for the past few months. With WordPress, I will be able to combine the two into one site, making blog writing content easier .

*New book release! As mentioned before, my second novel, Jaded, will be released in March. Now that I’ve learned my way around marketing and promoting one book, the challenge will be to do it with two! But before that comes final edits with my editor, final reads, and publishing day, and all the fun stuff in between. It’s work, sleepless nights for a while, and oh so worth it!

*Write book three in the Butterfly Memoirs Series: The third book, who’s title will not be released just yet, is a quarter of the way done. Characters have been outlined, story line plotted, even the first 6 chapters written.  As soon as Jaded is published, I’ll dive into writing this story and giving it the same amount of love and attention that was given to AHNEB and Jaded. So looking forward to it!

*Super Secret Project: Yep, it ‘s a secret, nope not sharing just yet, but keep an eye on my blog and  you’ll know in a few months….you’ll be glad you did.

*Radio Interview: Who knows, maybe I’ll be able to make it happen this year….LOL!

*Attend the Moonlight and Magnolias Georgia Romance Writer’s Conference or the Romance Writer’s of America Conference (to be held in my home town, hello!!!): Start the savings account, cause here I come!!!

So, those are my writing goals for 2013…how about you?

MJ