Sometimes I forget to stop and appreciate how pretty this corner of the world is. It’s been a busy week with lots of ups and downs. Today is a good time to stop, enjoy the view, smell the briny ocean air, and soak up the precious sunshine that’s so rare here in the rainy west.
The query letter…
Dreaded. Hated. Feared. Reviled. The query letter is a necessary requirement for getting your story in front of literary agents and editors.
More importantly, the query letter is what sells your books to readers.
Yup, that’s right, even indie authors write query letters.
Grab the nearest fiction book, flip it over, the blurb on the back? That’s a query letter.
In fact, if you look at the blurb on EVEN VILLAINS FALL IN LOVE, that is the query I sent out. That’s the query that got me pulled out a slush pile of a small press and put my first novella into print. If we changed anything it was probably a comma, but that’s it.
If you believe the rumors you know that Doctor Charm, the wickedly sexy super villain, retired in shame seven years ago after his last fight with the super hero Zephyr Girl. The fact that the charming Evan Smith-father of four and husband of the too-beautiful-to-be-real Tabitha-bears a resemblance to the defeated Doctor is pure coincidence. And, please, ignore the minions.
Everything is perfect in the Smith household, until Tabitha announces her return to work as a super hero. Evan was hoping to keep her distracted until after he rigged the presidential election, but – genius that he is – Evan has a backup plan.
In his basement lab, Evan has a machine whose sole purpose is keeping Tabitha hungry for him. But children and labs don’t mix. The machine is broken, and Tabitha storms out, claiming she no longer knows him.
World domination takes a back seat to meeting his daughters’ demands to get Mommy back right now. This time his genius isn’t going to be enough-he’s going to need both his evil alter-ego, and the blooming super abilities of his children to save his wife. But even his most charming self might not be enough to save their marriage.
“But, wait!” all the hopeful authors cry. “Isn’t there more to the query letter than this?”
You are correct, dear author! This is what a full query letter looks like. This one is one of about a dozen variants I sent out for THE DAY BEFORE.
YELLOW – the body of the query or the Back Of Book Blurb (BoBB)
RED – crucial data: genre/title/word count
– It’s word count not page count because page count will change with formatting and font choice. Everyone wants the word count.
BLUE – Writing credits. This is 100% optional. If you have no previous writing credits and no platform (I am a forensic scientist writing about a forensic scientist type ‘o thing) skip this part. I was querying THE DAY BEFORE after having established a working relationship with Breathless Press, so I listed them. If I hadn’t, I would have left this paragraph out entirely.
Open with the agent or editor’s name (properly spelled), and close with something polite.
HOW TO WRITE THE BODY OF A QUERY:
This is the actual difficult part. What do you put in a query? How much of the story do you tell? How do you keep the story interesting?
It’s easiest to write the query – or at least a rough draft of the query – before you write the book. That way you don’t have extra information cluttering up the blurb. This is a tease, a burlesque literary performance, not the full monty. Focus on the opening scenes of book leading to the call to action. The normal farm boy who pulls a sword from the stone, not the politics of Britain. The little girl finding a magic wardrobe, not the White Witch.
Here’s your formula:
– General Introduction Paragraph (Main character’s name and goals)
– Call to Action (What the character wants and why they can’t get it)
– The Stakes (What happens if they don’t get what they want)
– Word count and Title
– Biographical information including writing credits
– Close the letter
Let’s apply this to a story… For fun, let’s do ROMEO AND JULIET…
“In Verona, a city of blood feuds, corrupt politics, and grudges held for generations Romeo Montague’s only goal is to dodge his father’s enemies (and his father’s ambitions) long enough to meet the beautiful Rosaline. When his best friend wins an invitation to the hottest party of the summer, Romeo can’t pass up the chance to meet the woman of his dreams, even if it means sneaking into the Capulet’s turf.
While searching for Rosaline, Romeo finds Juliet, the heir to the Capulet fortune. She’s beautiful, intelligent, and everything his parents would love in a daughter-in-law, except for her name. If Romeo can win Juliet’s love he might bring peace to feuding Verona. If he can’t, there’s a shallow grave waiting for him in the Capulet’s backyard.
IN FAIR VERONA is a historical romance novel/historic novel with romantic elements complete at 80,000 words.
I have a degree in history, with an emphasis in Italian history and have lived in Verona for the past six years. This is my first novel.
Thank you for your time and interest,
Okay… well… it’s something, right? It doesn’t hint at the murder or star-crossed lovers, or the tragic tone. But it gets the idea across. But, it’s only 175 words (a full query letter should be around 250 words) and it relies heavily on everyone knowing the story of Romeo and Juliet. This is a solid rough draft, but not enough to sell the book to a reader, and ultimately that’s all you are doing. It doesn’t matter if the query letter is going to an agent or an editor, you are targeting a reader.
What would make this query work? With the IN FAIR VERONA query I have two choices because of the genre. If my book has more emphasis on history, rather than the romance, I could focus on Verona: the year, the clothes, the politics… with enough research anyone could write a very realistic romantic thriller about the ill-fated lovers. (P.S. If you do, please let me know because I’d love to read it!)
The other option, and the one I’d pick if this was Genre Romance (with a happy ending) would be to give Juliet a paragraph of her own.
THINGS TO REMEMBER WHILE WRITING THE BLURB
One of the reasons that query for THE DAY BEFORE didn’t work well (less than 20% request rate) was because it didn’t capture the tone of the series well. It gives away too much information and makes the whole book sound pretty boring. Look at your copy of THE DAY BEFORE. See the blurb there? See how it reflects the tone, style, and mood of the book without giving away too much of the plot?
Agent Samantha Rose has been exiled to a backwater assignment for the Commonwealth Bureau of Investigation, a death knell for her career. But then Sam catches a break—a murder—that could give her the boost she needs to get her life back on track. There’s a snag, though: the body is a clone, and technically that means it’s not a homicide. And yet, something about the body raises questions, not only for her, but for coroner Linsey Mackenzie.
The more they dig, the more they realize nothing about this case is what it seems … and for Sam, nothing about Mac is what it seems, either.
This case might be the way out for her, but that way could be in a body bag.
What does this have?
1) Name of the main character – Agent Sam Rose (her rank lets readers know even more about her)
2) What the main character wants – To get her career back on track
3) A major obstacle for the main character – The questions
4) The stakes – The threat of her going home in a body bag
Notice that one thing these queries don’t do is give away the ending. Authors are often tempted to do this (especially when writing Genre Romance where the Happily Ever After is required) but you don’t want to do that. If the reader can get the whole book from the blurb they aren’t going to spend money on it. And, at the end of the day, it’s really nice to get paid for all your hard work.
QUERY DO’S AND DONT’S
– Do read the blurbs for your comp titles (similar titles in your genre)
– Do read the blurbs for bestsellers in your genre
– Do research agents, editors, and publishers before sending your work out
– Do follow the query guidelines on the submission page
– Don’t query before your book is finished, edited and polished
– Don’t CC multiple agents/editors on a single email thread
– Don’t call, text, or stalk an agent/editor who you sent a query to
– Don’t worry about rejections – all you need is one yes
Want More? The expanded version of this post with examples and more information is available to Patreon supporters.
Want help with your query? I do query critique for Indie and Traditional authors for $25.
Winter break is officially over and that means you’re probably expecting some blog posts. Let’s be honest, so was I! But, in the grand tradition of school kids everywhere, my youngest started the second semester with a fever that kept her home. That in turn meant I just rescheduled the next two weeks to catch up on everything I was supposed to do today.
This is what physicists call Entropy, normal people call Chaos, and some people call Murphy’s Law. If things can wrong, they will!
The good news is I am alive, I have a new prescription of designer iron pills so I can keep the chronic anemia in check, and new books are getting written. The bad news is that the blog is not a top priority at the moment. There are some behind-the-scenes things happening with editing, and Inkprint Press, and new books, and Real Life that are keeping me busy. Something has to slide, the blog is most likely to slide.
All the information you need to find my books, my buy links, and me are readily available. Writing tips are available if you are looking for those.
Twitter: my main lifeline to the world outside Washington. I’m always here talking about everything.
Facebook: Strictly books and SF stuff.
Pintrest: Boards for my books… I don’t use it much but there may be some Polar Terror and LAWS OF ATTRACTION updates soon.
Patreon: Short stories, behind-the-scene stuff, long form posts of the short posts you see here.
Tumblr: Fandom stuff. Come for the Star Trek jokes and stay for the Humans Are Weird posts (proceed with caution).
2018 is coming and that means people are starting to think about their goals. Yay! Goals!
To help everyone get closer to achieving their dreams in 2018 I’m putting together a series of How To posts for publishing.
How To Start A Novel
How To Plot A Novel
How To Write Your First Draft
How To Start Editing
How To Polish A Manuscript
How To Write A Query
How To Write A Synopsis
How To Pick a Publishing Route (Indie vs Small Press vs Big Press)
How To Prepare For A Writing Career
Wherever you’re at in your publishing journey – whether you just really want to write a book or if 2018 is the year you plan to publish – there will be something here for you!
Let’s make 2018 the year your dreams come true!
The things every author really needs but probably won’t mention.
Waterproof Keyboard by Logitech – I’ve had two of these so far (the keys are not kid-proof) and having a washable, waterproof, regular keyboard has been a lifesaver more than once. Authors eat at their desks. They type with sticky fingers. Sometimes they cry. This keyboard clicks and clacks like a normal keyboard, but is waterproof, tear-proof, sink-proof, alcohol-proof, and coffee-proof… it’ll survive rough drafts, late night edits, and award’s night.
Folding Keyboard from Microsoft – Best. Present. Ever. My crit partner in Europe sent me my first folding keyboard as a gift and I wound up writing most of CONVERGENCE POINT and DECOHERENCE on it. Waterproof, durable, and almost full-sized this thing fits easily in a purse or (larger) pant’s pocket. The keys have a nice give to them which makes typing easy. And it hooks up to any screen via bluetooth so you can email chapters to yourself (or your crit partner). This is a Must Have for authors with long commutes or who spend a lot of time watching kids at practice. I keep one in my purse so I can write on the go, and one by my bed so I can write if I wake up in the middle of the night. I haven’t charged either of them in over two months and the batteries are still fine.
Post-It Notes – Not glamorous, but so good for plotting. Get a sticky plot unstuck with these stickies.
Pens – Every author has a favorite writing utensil and without fail it will go missing. I love the Pilot G2 pens (07), but check your author’s writing space to see what they use. Trust me, you can never go wrong with pens. If you want something a little bit fancier check out SpacePen.
Notebook – I keep a small notebook with me at all times, just in case. There are thousands of cute and amazing notebooks suitable for your author’s lifestyle, so go find one that reflects what they love! Evil Supply Co is a great place for the villains out there. Etsy also has an amazing collection of unique and personalized notebooks worthy of your attention.
Curated from extensive polling of other authors these are the books that helped make the book you love great!
NO PLOT NO PROBLEM – This one is from Chris Baty of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) fame. This is the book for the person who says they want to write a novel but doesn’t have ideas, or any idea how to start, or really any clue what they’re doing. It’s for the author who needs to answer WHAT do I write?
2000 to 10,000 – This is based on Rachel’s original blog post HERE and is a great resource for authors who are figuring out HOW to write rather than WHAT to write. Perfect for the author in your life who worries that they’ll never get all their great ideas down on paper. Caveat! Tell your author not to worry about how many words they actual get. The goal here is to improve word count, not hit the magical 10k a day. You can be an amazing, published, award-winning author on a lot less.
THE EMOTION THESAURUS – You can buy the whole set of thesaurus(us/i/?) for around $45, but the Emotion Thesaurus is the one I use the most. This is the book you reach for when your editor says, “Show him being suspicious!” and you’re at a loss for words.
DESCRIBER’S DICTIONARY – This is another book that I regularly reach for while editing. Whether you’re describing architecture, cloud types, or shapes of mountains this is a phenomenal resource for anyone who gets stuck going, “The mountain was pointy” and then crying for three hours. Save your author a headache and give them this handy resource!
BOOK OF POISONS – A Must Have for the crime writing set, this book has detailed lists of poisons, symptoms, and where you could find the poison. There are several books in this series, so surprise the mastermind in your life with books on forensics, crime scenes, and more! They’ll thank you later. Or kill you… Maybe play it safe and buy them a non-work present to go with this.
WHAT KINGS ATE AND WIZARDS DRANK – For the fantasy writers wondering what their ranger would actually eat while hacking through the bushes, this is your How-To guide for feeding people in a low-tech society. Krista did amazing research on this, cooked some of the recipes, and your fantasy author will thank you for this. HUSTLERS, HARLOTS, AND HEROES is a Regency/Steampunk reference guide by the same author.
WRITING FIGHT SCENES – Not everyone is a natural brawler and it’s sometimes hard to put Kick-kick-slash-scream-kick into words. Enter this highly recommended guide. This is the resource for the author who wants to write a fight and just doesn’t know how.
The little things matter. Keep your writer happy and fueled with these cute gifts that scream BUY MY BOOK!!!
I’M WRITING Sign – Let everyone know that the author is busy with this sign perfect for hanging on the office door, over the window, or off the desk.
Bookish Clothing – Out Of Print Clothing has amazing t-shirts, socks, mugs, and more with some of the best books ever written!
Litographs – A whole novel on a t-shirt is a bit of a novelty, but if your author is a fan of books they’ll be a fan of these too. They have everything from Shakespeare, to Maya Angelou, to Marissa Meyer’s CINDER. It’s one of the places where I walk in and say, “Yes, please, one of everything.”
Sweet Things– Showing a slight Chicago bias here, but Fannie May Trinidads are my favorite treat. (subtle-hints-r-us) Sweet treats for late-night writing sessions are always welcome.
Have a gift you think authors will love? Leave a link in the comments below!
These links are all affiliate-free. I don’t make anything from recommending them to you. If you’d like to support me by buying my books you can do that at your local indie book store or…
Amazon | Barnes and Noble | Kobo
Or you can support me on Patreon
Here’s the thing… certain emotions are easy to evoke and others are very hard to master and write.
Anger. Hate. Rage. Fear. <– negative emotions are the easiest to write because they rely on primal instinct programmed into the human brain by thousands of years of evolution. Within cultures there are certain things that will always evoke rage (and this is why not all books translate well to other cultures). Certain fears are universal.
Every bestseller every written has a Universal Fear driving at least the opening act of the book if not the whole book itself. Most bestsellers use “I fear I am worthless.” or “I fear death.” as their driving focus. Everything from PRIDE AND PREJUDICE to HARRY POTTER has used this and it’s why it sells so well.
It’s also why Romance isn’t taken seriously at times.
Romance promises as a happy romantic ending. Which means the two most common universal fears are utterly erased by the genre requirements alone. No one is going to die. The characters are going to be loved and feel worthwhile by the end of the book.
Since readers are programmed by society to instinctively fear those things some people have trouble relating to a romance story where they must latch onto something other than fear to get through a book.
Joy. Humor. Laughter. Happiness. <— positive emotions are really hard to write because they are complex emotions. There is nothing that makes people universally happy. I know, it’s shocking. Not kittens. Not puppies. Not a mother’s love. That thing you love, adore, and can’t live without? Yeah, someone hates it.
This is why writing satire or humor is so difficult. It’s why happy books are dismissed as fluffy or silly. They have a much narrower audience. The author has to reach into the reader’s head and manipulate their emotions so that they can feel soaring triumph. There isn’t a shortcut to writing happiness.
LOVE. <– Such a complex thing. Little understood. Hard to define. Ever roving about. Love, especially sexual and romantic love, are so individual that there will never be a One Size Fits All.
When an author sets out to write a romance they have to convince the reader not only to abandon fear but they have to write humans who are complex, convincing, and through storytelling explain the psychology of these individuals so the reader goes, “Yes, yes! I see it! I see why these two are perfect together and could never be with anyone else!”
It’s at once something many people have an innate talent for (hello, shippers!) and that many people don’t understand. Understanding love requires a very unselfish, un-egocentric view of the world. You have to think like someone else. And then, as the author, you have to create a way for a reader to easily step into the mind of someone else and understand this attraction without using shortcuts like “I saw her and got a boner. It’s love!” Because that isn’t.
It’s easy to write bad romance. It’s easy to use shortcuts and script the book like a film. But where films can rely on music and facial expressions to convey the complexity of emotion a writer only has words. There is no soundtrack for Chapter 7. There is no set of words in the English language that properly express the depth of feeling, the longing and desire, of seeing someone you treasure turn and smile at someone else and knowing from the depths of your soul that you would give up everything just to keep them smiling.
Writing a good romance means balancing internal and external conflict, knowing a person’s weaknesses and strengths, and pairing them with someone(s) who fill in their gaps, boost their strengths, and make them happy at the same time. And then, after all of that, you have to find readers who will understand and appreciate the characters you’ve written. You have to make the reader fall in love too.
Done well Romance is the most complex literary form.
Done poorly it’s just bad writing.
Sit down, kids, it’s time for some honest talk about life, the universe, and publishing as we know it.
A couple weeks ago I posted about the fact that I was seriously considering not writing or publishing any more Heroes and Villains books. And, like you probably know because half the regular blog readers emailed me, that didn’t go over with my Lovelies and Villains very well. You want Book 4. And probably Book 5 and 6 so all the kids get a book. For this to happen there are two major hurdles to overcome.
- Heroes and Villains needs to be a financially viable project that will not leave me hundreds of dollars in debt.
- Maria/Strike is an actual villain, not an anti-hero, and her story requires the kind of huge redemption arc reserved exclusively for male heroes in Western Literature
The second problem is a writing one I can solve. Maria made bad choices, she’s a true villain, she will have to face the consequences of her choices and she’ll have to really have the full redemption arc. Plenty of male heroes have had the same arc over the years. It can be done.
The first problem is something that needs to be addressed as a group.
To date, EVEN VILLAINS FALL IN LOVE is my most-pirated book. That’s an awful thing to say and it’s kind of vague so let me break down the numbers for you.
5000 sales on opening week <– this is enough to hit the NYT Bestseller List
3000 copies <– the average number of sales per title over its entire life span on the shelf
300 copies per year <– the average sales for a traditionally published book
300 copies ever <– the average number of sales for an indie/small press book
800 copies per month <– the average number of pirated copies of EVEN VILLAINS FALL IN LOVE every month
For a book that retails around $3.99/ebook (earning $2.79 per copy before taxes… after tax that’s $1.40), the lifetime earnings of a book don’t cover expenses.
Cost of publishing a book:
Author time – 4 months at minimum wage of $7.25/hr – $4000
Developmental edits – $200 for a novella
Line Edits – $500 – $800 is standard
Cover Art – $300 is the low end of the artist I’ve used for the other Heroes & Villains books
Just creating a book and publishing it costs money up front. The bigger the press, the more editors and artists to pay, and the more that cost goes up. When 800 copies a month are stolen, that hits the bottom line hard. It means that the Heroes & Villains already-released books aren’t selling enough copies to cover the expense of writing and publishing the future books.
That’s the goal with writing. The first book will probably be published at a large loss, the second a smaller loss, by books three and four the author wants to be earning a steady income from advances or royalties. If those earlier books aren’t earning enough to cover the bills, the author has to find another job. Most authors do. Almost every author I know works a day job. Most authors do. Almost every author I know works a day job for exactly this reason. So if we want more Heroes & Villains books, this is the Major Hurdle we have to tackle.
This week, I’m setting up a Patreon account. You don’t have to sign up for years and years – there’s freedom to just sign up for a month or two and then drop. But if we want more Heroes & Villains books, this is the most viable way I can see to make it happen.
$200 per month will allow me 10 hrs of time to dedicate to writing super villains and superheroes.
$1 – Eternal Gratitude (and chapters of your favorite Villains!)
$2 – Copy of the final ebook in mobi, epub, and PDF (must back 3 chapters at this level)
$5 – Behind-the-scenes… plotting notes, deleted scenes, discussion of villain motivations – one extra post guaranteed per month – and you’ll get named in the acknowledgments at the back of the book.
$10 – Q & A posts …. ask questions and get answers for questions about writing, editing, life, the universe, and everything – 2 Q&A posts per month – plus all previous tiers
$20 – Print copy of the final book (signed and shipped internationally) plus all the previous tiers.
$100 – Stan Lee Cameo (hop in-hop out level) … most people do not have a few hundred to drop on an author every month, but for one chapter? Do that and I’ll sit down with you to design an original character that will have a cameo in the current book I’m posting. Become a minor superhero, a spy, a doctor, or just the fun side character running with an ice cream maker.
The goal will be to post 2 chapters per month from THE POLAR TERROR (the first few chapters will be open for everyone), HEROES AND VILLAINS 4, 5, and 6. And, if all goes well, THE POLAR TERROR will get additional stories set at the children’s hospital.
The Heroes and Villains stories are usually 40,000 words, which is about 80 hours of rough draft writing time + editing. It usually takes 9-12 months for these books to go from rough draft to final on-the-shelf version. The chapters will be lightly edited before going on Patreon (similar to BODIES IN MOTION during summer 2017). THE POLAR TERROR will probably be closer to the 20,000 word mark. Probably.
I know, asking for anything before you see a final, polished product is a leap of faith. I’m asking you to invest in me, my stories, my career. I’m asking you to take a chance on me.
Ready to get started? CLICK HERE to go to my Patreon page.
Between today and November 25th I am accepting new editing clients to fill a limited number of holiday slots. These slots will have 2-3 week turn-around times (time needed depends on length of manuscript) and are reserved exclusively for new clients on a first-come-first-serve basis.
What genres will I edit?
Science fiction, fantasy, urban fantasy, paranormal, romance, and crime fiction for any age group. If it goes boom, bang, or crash, I can help.
Why let me edit your work?
I started beta reading and critiquing in 2005. Prior to that I was a newspaper editor for a local paper. I’m a hybrid author with experience prepping books for Big 5 publishers, agents, small presses, and self-publication. I know what people are looking for right now and I know how to fix your manuscript.
Email me for samples of my editing style or referrals.
Why hire an editor?
There are no good writers, only good editors. And while every author should learn to edit themselves, we all need help on every book.
None of the books you love went unedited. There isn’t a single book on the bestseller list that wasn’t worked on by an editor. You can write a book alone, but you cannot prepare it for publication alone. A good editor won’t rewrite your book, but they will tell you what needs to be fixed, what needs to be cut, and what needs to be kept.
Every writer is at a different stage of development. All writers (including me) have trouble editing their own work. A fresh set of eyes can not only improve your writing, but can help you refine your style so you stand our in a crowd.
Do you have more questions?
You can always email me at liana.brooks1 @ gmail.com, subject- Editing Question, if you have a question that isn’t answered here.
FREE FALL, my next SF adventure, has been in the works since late 2015 and is finally finished and out with the last line of critters. Ready for some writing stats?
Word Count: 80,000
Corpse Count: 2 named characters + random guards (RIP Guards)
Chapters: 9 (but they are long chapters with breaks)
Themes: Family, diaspora, identity, friendship
Subgenre: Space heist!
Inspiration: The Train Job/Firefly
Rep: One mixed race, two demisexuals, one bi-guy. (There are various POC but skin tone doesn’t factor into the story for the most part.)
For The Fans Of… If you like my writing, Ocean’s 11, Firefly, Dark Matter, or Killjoys you’ll probably get a kick out of this one.
Pub Date: There is no publication date or publisher attached to FREE FALL at the moment. When that changes I will let you know.
What’s Next? Tomorrow I’m going to sit down with the plot for LAWS OF ATTRACTION, the sequel to BODIES IN MOTION. I already have 11k written and I’m expecting to finish the first draft before February.