What To Have Before You Query (a checklist)

Dear Authors – I want to read your book.

Not just as a fellow author, or editor, or someone in publishing. I want to read your book because I’m a reader first and foremost and, by golly!, I need more books in my life! The good news is, I’m not the only one who wants to read your book. There are agents and editors who want the book you’re writing. To get to them, you need to write a query and put together a submission packet.

Now, I know that somewhere in my website I’ve published this list before. I’ve talked about queries, synopsis writing, and your packet, but I can’t find that today, so here it is again! This submission packet checklist works well whether you’re querying a ‘zine, a major media outlet for an essay, a small press, or an agent.

SUBMISSION PACKET:
1. A researched list of names to query written down in a document with relevant contact and query information. Verify the agent/publisher is open to queries before sending anything. 

 

2. A finished and polished manuscript or non-fiction proposal. Not almost done. Not unedited. Not “still tweaking”. Make sure the manuscript is complete and edited before you send any of of the following. Why? Because there is always a chance that, five minutes after sending the query, the agent will ask for a full and you do not want to say, “Oh, I need to write the ending real quick…”

3. A polished query

4. A folder on your computer where you keep all of the following data so that sending a submission out is a matter of a copy/paste/attach and you can respond quickly to all requests.

Proper Formatting… (Note –  This is the industry standard, but doesn’t make or break anything. Check the submission guidelines before sending. Also, this doesn’t mean you have to write like this. Use any font you want while typing, just format the final document before querying.)
Manuscripts: 12pt TNR font, double-space, page numbers and TITLE/author name at top
Synopsis: 12pt TNR font, double space between paragraphs only, ALL CAPS the first time a new name is mentioned, TITLE/synopsis/author name and page number at top
Query: 12pt TNR, double space between paragraphs

In the folder saved as separate files for ease of attachment to an email…
Query
Short Synopsis
Long Synopsis
Author Bio
First 5 Pages
First 10 Pages
First 50 Pages
First 3 Chapters
Partial Manuscript
Full Manuscript
Sample Art (if you are an author/illustrator)

Query Help Available Now!

Every book needs an editor. Whether you are an indie author building your self-publishing empire, a niche author working with a scrappy small press, or a wordy warrior scaling the dangerous peaks of traditional publishing – you will need an editor.

Over the course of your career you will probably have several editors. Over the course of a book you will have at least two editors with most publishers (a content or developmental editor and the line editor). For an author who is serious about their career these aren’t luxuries, editors are the secret prep step that makes readers come back for each dazzling story you write.

Getting your story in front of an editor is the hard part. If you’re an indie author you can hire an editor (like me – hi!) to do the work, but for the other avenues of publishing you need to query and get your book under contract first. The best way to do that is with a great query (it reads like the back-of-book blurb) and fantastic opening chapters. If your query isn’t getting the results you want it may need some professional attention.

I offer affordable rates for submission packet critiques, query critiques, contest critiques, and even pre-write consults if you want want to bounce an idea off an industry professional while you’re getting started. Openings are available now, so why not turn your story into a success story? Hire the help you need today!
To reserve a space please contact me at liana.brooks1@gmail.com

Submission Packet Critique (synopsis, query, and first 5 pages) $25
Indie Author Special (blurb, 5 twitter pitches, and first 5 pages) $25 
First Chapter
 (up to 20 pages)  $50.00 and a 1 work-week turn around time
Contest Critique (first 50 pages + blurb) $100
Full Manuscript Critique $1.00 a page minimum of 200 pages
Prewrite Consult (one-on-one time to help you develop the story before you write) starting at $20
A La Carte (add-ons and package deals) starting at $5
Emergency Fee to Jump the Queue  $50
* all page counts are double-spaced, Times New Roman, size 12 font, formatted for Microsoft Word *
To reserve a space please contact me at liana.brooks1@gmail.com

 

How To Write A Synopsis

One of the things I’ve noticed while editing for clients and helping with Son Of A Pitch is that many authors are intimidated by the synopsis. This is a standard part of most query packets and something that many authors hate writing.

A synopsis is just that: a brief summary of a book. It’s usually between 2-5 pages in length and dull as dirt. Because it is very challenging for authors to summarize their book, and because the synopsis is a very dry read, many people dismiss it as unimportant. They’ll dash off a synopsis, run spellcheck, and call it a day. That’s not the way to get an agent or sell your book.

WHY A SYNOPSIS?
The synopsis allows agents to see a summary of your book without reading the full manuscript. It’s a shorter time investment, which is better for business, and it allows them to see if your plot jumps the shark thirty chapters in. It also tells an agent where your marketing skills are at.

If you can make a synopsis with few adjectives and limited description exciting, you’ll be just fine. If you can’t, well, the agent has to decide if they want to invest the time in helping you learn.

WHY DO AUTHORS NEED SYNOPSIS WRITING SKILLS?
Here’s the dirty little secret most querying authors don’t know… your query and synopsis writing can make or break your career.

I don’t mean in terms of finding an agent either. A query becomes the basis for your back-of-cover blurb, i.e. that thing that actually sells your books to readers. The only difference between a query and a back-of-cover-blurb is you add the word count to the query. Even Indie authors need to know how to write one well.

A synopsis becomes the basis for selling your second book. After you’ve sold your debut novel it is common for agents to try and sell your next novel on spec. That means you write the blurb, the synopsis, and the first three chapters/30 pages of a new novel and try to sell it on that alone. In the case of a multi-book deal like the one I had for the Time and Shadows series, I had THE DAY BEFORE written and I sold the other two after I sent a synopsis in for them. The synopsis was the basis for the outline when I was writing. It was how I proved to my agent and editor that I had some idea where this series was going.

The sooner you learn to write a good synopsis, the better off you’ll be.

HOW DO YOU WRITE A SYNOPSIS?
– Finish the book
– Summarize each scene with one sentence
– Add additional information that is relevant for understanding character choices (fears, motivations, goals)
– Read through to make sure the plot and motivations are clear
– Add any words necessary to tie the sentences together (next, then, after)
– Edit for typos and grammar errors

One thing I have found DOESN’T work is trying to explain the book’s backstory in the first chapter of the synopsis. Case in point, the original synopsis for THE DAY BEFORE vs the synopsis that I sent to Marlene Stringer.

Synopsis 1: This was before the R&R that killed Sam’s fiancé. Notice how dull it sounds. This isn’t the opening chapter either. This is just filler.  

Samantha Rose is a junior agent with the Commonwealth Bureau of Investigation, the main government body responsible for investigating violent crimes. While the Commonwealth borders stretch from the Panama Canal to the Arctic Circle, the bureau doesn’t see a reason to station Sam anywhere fun after she took personal leave to care for her father within six months of being hired. For her sins, she’s stationed in Alabama District 3 with a misogynistic boss who still thinks the United States shouldn’t have joined the Commonwealth.

Sam is bound and determined to handle every case with cool efficiency, no mistakes allowed. If Senior Agent Marrins had nothing to complain about, he can’t deny her promotion and the transfer to Washington DC where Sam’s fiancé lives. When she’s told to wrap up a Jane Doe case that looks like a dumped clone to investigate the vandalism at a government-funded lab, Sam thinks she’s found her way out of the rural south.

 

Synopsis 2: Written over a year later. It incorporated advice from agents, workshops, and fellow authors. It gets to the book right away, focuses on the plot, and shows the agent what the story was. 

When a trucker finds a dismembered body on the side of the road junior agent SAMANTHA ROSE is the one responsible for finding a name for Jane Doe. Senior agent ROBERT MARRINS thinks the dead woman is clone. The coroner, LINSEY MACKENZIE thinks Jane was tortured to death but her fingerprints don’t match anyone in the database. MacKenzie’s fingerprints were found on the body, but this is dismissed because everyone believes he forgot to put his gloves on when Jane first arrived at the county morgue.

Sam is also assigned to look into the break-in at Novikov-Veltman Nova Laboratory by her boss, Senior Agent ROBERT MARRINS.

At the lab, DETECTIVE ALTIN walks Sam through the crime scene. Sam is introduced to DOCTOR EMIR and to Doctor Emir’s assistant HENRY TROOM. Sam is concerned by the disappearance of the two security guards, MORDICAI ROBBINS and MELODY CHIMES. It looks like the lab break-in is an inside job.

 

Can you see the difference?

A good synopsis may be dull in places, but it still sells the story. Happy writing!

Need more help? A query packet critique costs $25 and includes a full synopsis critique. 

Friendsgiving Feedback Follow-Up!

Remember back in November when we did the free query critique thing? This morning, awesome news was in my in-box!

Just wanted to send you a quick thank you. I sent out my first batch of queries this month with the query you critiqued. So far, I’ve gotten 3 full requests and 1 partial. I’ve still got quite a few outstanding queries, but I wanted to let you know how much I appreciated your assistance. 
– AUTHOR

Prior to the query critique this author felt they were struggling. The original query wasn’t getting much traction. With the new query… four sent queries, four page requests. I really loved the query and the premise of the book, and I’m hoping the author will email me soon to say they’ve signed with an agent!

I don’t have any more critique-giveaways planned at the moment (but I probably will later this year) you can always book a Query Packet Critique if you want me to help you with your query, first five pages, and synopsis.

 

Friendsgiving Critique #2

friendsgivingfeedbackQuery #2 was one I picked out because I love UF and I haven’t seen Norse mythology done well recently (maybe I missed a book?). 

The original query is in black, my notes are in red, and my rewrite is at the bottom. 
– L 

 

MARK OF THE VALKYRIE is a 75,000 word contemporary fantasy novel that should appeal to fans of the October Daye books by Seannan McGuire and the Mercy Thompson series by Patricia Briggs. This paragraph should be at the bottom. Start with a sentence that demands attention.

Erin Hawke is the daughter of a Valkyrie, but prefers Scrabble to spear practice, and running her pub to heroic adventuring. Her mother, Sigrun, is intent on forging Erin into her image of a Valkyrie, despite Erin’s longstanding belieif belief that Choosing the Slain is the furthest thing from what she wants to do for eternity. Fed up with having a disappointment for a daughter, Sigrun gives Erin a test with her life on the line Cut this (. Erin must) find the source of an interdimensional disturbance that is drawing the Nine Worlds dangerously close together. Erin has to remember her much ignored lessons to complete this task.

Her challenge will take her through the turbulence between the Nine Worlds, where she’ll face problems bartending never prepared her for. Fighting rock wyrms and Dark Elves will be the least of her worries. Combine those two sentences for more snap and clarity. Erin will need to learn what secrets Sigrun has been keeping from her. Secrets that could lead to destruction that makes Ragnarok look like a nice day at the park. Failing this test means losing the life she’s worked to build, but success means leaving her home to join the ranks of the Valkyrie. It’s up to Erin to find an outcome more to her liking. I’d like a punchier ending. All the details of a good query are here, but it’s lacking a Voice. I want to hear you in the story. I want to hear the author’s confidence and humor and emotion in a query. This sounds very sterile. It’s clean, but it’s needs the author’s final touch to make it perfect.

MARK OF THE VALKYRIE is the first in a series. Say instead, “has series potential” … you will need to be able to sell this as a stand alone. The market is volatile and a series can be a tough sell. Not that it can’t happen, but the rule of thumb is that the first book should always be able to stand alone. My urban fantasy short story “Daybreak” was published in Salt Lake Community College’s Folio magazine.

This is a very clean query so there isn’t much to rewrite. This is what I came up with…

Erin Hawke loves Scrabble, watching Animal Planet, and running the Bastard’s Brew, her beloved Irish pub in Ohio. It’s a perfect life, except it’s not exactly hers. Erin was born as a Valkyrie, one of the Choosers of Slain meant to bring worthy souls to Valhalla, and her mother is p****ed she’s not practicing with a spear or riding into battle reaping souls.

Her mother, Sigrun, decides there’s only one reasonable way to solve their impasse: send Erin to find the source of an interdimensional disturbance between the Nine Worlds or die trying. If Erin returns victorious she’ll be swept up with the rest of the Norse pantheon. If she fails, Sigrun has arranged a tasteful funeral. Either way, there is no Scrabble in her future.

Bartending didn’t prepare Erin to fight rock wyrms or Dark Elves, but she’s bright enough to know that Sigrun isn’t telling the whole truth. There are secrets in Valhalla that could make Ragnarok look like a nice day at the park. Maybe, if she can unravel the lies spun around her, Erin can save the day and get back to mixing cocktails before happy hour. Or maybe she’ll find out of Hel is any good at Scrabble.

MARK OF THE VALKYRIE is a 75,000 word contemporary fantasy novel with series potential that should appeal to fans of the October Daye books by Seannan McGuire and the Mercy Thompson series by Patricia Briggs. My urban fantasy short story “Daybreak” was published in Salt Lake Community College’s Folio magazine.

Readers, what do you think? Leave feedback in the comments below and don’t forget to check out the Romantic Suspense query HERE

Friendsgiving Critique #1

friendsgivingfeedback

The query is one of the hardest parts of writing a book. Even if you aren’t looking for an agent or a publisher you will write something similar. The query is, essentially, the back-of-book blurb with an additional paragraph containing personal details (previous publications, relevant platform, word count, ect). I picked this one to critique because it is written by an author who has a disability (something I can relate to because of Ehlers-Danlos), and because it’s romantic suspense, which is one of my favorite things to read. 

The original query is in black, my notes are in red, and my rewrite is at the bottom. 
– L 

 

Dear [Agent Name],

Christine was born with only three fingers on her left hand, a minor issue in most people’s eyes but to Christine it’s huge. Ever since a mean girl This reference feels dated and I recommend cutting it unless this person becomes a reoccurring character. Remember, it can take several years for a book to hit the shelves and On Trend today is dated in a few years. told her, “Christine, don’t deceive The word GIRL implies young, and deceive isn’t a word I associate with kids  yourself. No man will ever want to put a ring on that hand,” she has believed she is disqualified This strikes me as an odd word choice, but if it’s in keeping with the tone of the book, it’s fine. from being loved. She had one serious relationship in her life, but it ended badly. She has accepted that she will never be loved. What is Christine’s motivation? What is she doing with her life while she isn’t falling in love? I’d like to see that.

Then she meets Paul. White space is our friend! This is not normally a trick I use for queries, but this is a sentence that needs the space to have impact.

Paul does not This isn’t a formal letter, go ahead and use contractions. care about her hand. Christine begins to hope that she has a chance at love. When a beautiful woman makes a very forward pass at Paul, all of Christine’s insecurities resurface and she walks out on Paul, fearing that he would wake up one day and regret being with her. She had already been betrayed once. She refused to let it happen again. Her heart could not take it. If their relationship was going to end, it would be by her choice, in her timing. I don’t love the fact that you’re describing her running away without stopping to figure out what is happening. If I read this on the back of a book, I’d pass, even if it is well-written. I recommend giving her a stronger reason for leaving.She accepts a job out of state and starts packing to move.

Heartbroken and believing that Christine is gone, Paul is without hope until he discovers that the out of state job Christine was heading to had fallen through. With hope renewed, he buys an engagement ring for Christine even while she still refuses to speak to him. Paul has a secretive national security job that sometimes puts him in danger. See, this is a big deal. Unpack this! His secrets can be the reason Christine doubted him. He is accustomed to taking chances and succeeding even when the odds are stacked against him.

While many forces, including Christine’s stubbornness and a violent drug cartel that wants Paul dead, seem determined to keep them apart, Paul is determined that they will be together. This is promising! 🙂 

WITH THIS RING, a romance, is 66,000 HUGE PROBLEM!!! For an adult romance novel you need a minimum of 70,000 words. Very few agents or editors will even give this manuscript a chance because the word count is too low (the high end is 100,000 words for romance and 120,000 for epic fantasy/SF – just FYI). You need to go through your manuscript and find places where you glossed over the action or skipped some details and get those words in there. words long. Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.

 

THE REWRITE – I didn’t have a copy of the novel so I made up as many facts as I had to…

Successful lawyer Christine SURNAME is on a partnership track at a prestigious law firm and she doesn’t plan on little things like love, or being born missing two fingers, hold her back. This presents Christine’s circumstances and driving motivation. Not that there aren’t a few offers on the table, it’s just that she’s been burned before and she doesn’t need another heartbreak. Her incredibly hunky neighbor, Paul SURNAME, hasn’t let her cold shoulder stop him from trying to win her heart. From homemade sushi to fried plantains, Paul’s been dipping into his family cookbook trying to find the way to Christine’s heart, and it’s working. This introduces the love interest and the interpersonal conflict as of Page 1.

In between stories about his Jamaican grandmother feuding with his Vietnamese aunts over the proper way to cure a cold sore Paul has left out one, very important, personal detail There was a note in the original query and Paul being Black/Asian and I tried to work it into the query. He’s an undercover CIA agent on the verge of breaking open the biggest case in agency history. Senators, cartel leaders, and a Canadian ambassador… it’s going to make headlines. But when Christine walks in on him talking to his handler, things go south, fast. Here the big conflict is introduced.

When a job offer from a dirty judge puts Christine in the center of his case, Paul decides it’s time to tell Christine the truth. He’s madly in love with her, he wants their honeymoon to be in Italy, and if she isn’t careful her career-making case is going to end with her in a shallow grave. Paul has the ring all picked out, now all he needs is for Christine to give him a second chance. And here the stakes are set. The reader knows it will only be True Love that keeps the couple alive, and we’re excited to see how it all plays out

WITH THIS RING, a romance, is 75,000 words long. Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.

 

 

Well, Readers, would you pick up this book? 

Leave your responses, suggestions, and encouragements for the author in the comments below!