Sunday, August 2, 2015

My Publisher Tells You What She's Looking For In A Query Letter

I have a treat for you! One half of the dynamic duo that is Mirror World Publishing, home to my soon to be released debut novel Sol of the Coliseum, fellow author and publisher Justine Alley Dowsett has stopped by to share what she, as a publisher, is looking for in a query letter. That's right! Query letter help directly from a publisher! How great is that!


A good or even great query letter is not going to guarantee publication with a small press or even a larger one, but it goes a long way toward your book being noticed and remembered and that can sometimes make all the difference. The best query letter I’ve ever received came from Elliot Baker for his novel, The Sun God’sHeir. Elliot has given me permission to share his query letter with you, so I want to discuss what makes it so great, so you can have an idea what an editor or publisher, like me, is looking for.
Here goes:

Dear Ms. Dowsett and Ms. Damodred,

(Even in the opening line, the author is showing that he has done his research and knows whom he is addressing +10 points.)

It was a pleasant surprise to read your request coming on the heels of my former publisher's unfortunate demise. Thank you for reaching out.

(Here the author mentions how he/she came across this opportunity. Something like this or really anything that creates a possible link the author has to the publisher will help to form an immediate connection in the publisher's mind and therefore make that author, or his book, stand out. +10 points.)

I am seeking a new home for The Sun God’s Heir.

(Direct and to the point. +10 points)

an epic metaphysical adventure with historical underpinnings

(He tells us what it is, the genre and possible target audience. Lets us know immediately if it is something we would be interested in.  And, it is. +10 points.)

complete at 105,000 words.

(This information is actually important. Crucial, even. It tells us how big of a project this is. Whether it's a short story, a novella or a full-length novel. In our case, we only publish full-length novels of 50,000+words, but might balk if it was 200,000+words as we don't have the time and man-power to dedicate to a project that size. No points awarded for this, it should just be included, every time.)

A possible well-worn comp would be Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series.

(Negative 1 point for shortening the word 'comparison'. This is a novel he is pitching and he is a writer, so we expect to see full words used. However, I like the comparison. You can't go wrong with comparing yourself to a well-loved and undisputedly well-written novel series. Not necessary, but it helps us to understand again the style and genre of your book as well as a possible target audience for it. )

I have completed the second book in the series along with ninety-thousand words of the third.

(Ok. It's a series, not a stand-alone. +10 points that he is pitching the first in the series and not all three. Obviously if we like the first enough to pick it up, we will probably end up publishing the series, but this way we only have to look at one book at a time. That being said, it's nice to know in advance that there will be more to come. It's good to be upfront about things like that. It lets the publisher make an informed decision and know what they are getting into should they choose to go forward.)

In 17th-century France, a young pacifist kills to protect the woman he loves, unwittingly opening a door for the reincarnation of an ancient Egyptian general determined to continue a reign of terror begun three thousand years ago.

(A concise synopsis that captures the imagination and also manages to show a hint of the author's style at the same time. Excellent +20 points.)

Taking up the sword will not be enough. Rene must reclaim his own ancient past to stop the red tide of slavery from engulfing the world.

Joined by a powerful sheikh, his sword wielding daughter, and a family of Maranos escaping the Spanish Inquisition, they fight their way through pirates, typhoons, and dark assassins to reach Morocco, the home of an occult sect that has waited for Rene through the eons.

(A little more information now that we're drawn in can't hurt. He tells us what's at stake, what we can expect, and again hints at genre and target audience.)

Published in July of 2014, I was pleased with the review response the work received on Amazon and elsewhere.

(Both mentions the author's history as well as how the book has been received so far by people who have read it, but doesn't dwell on the details. He also helpfully provides a link should we wish to research it further ourselves. +10 points)

I understand that everything is up for change in a re-publication, but I have acquired the images on the current cover anyway.

(Shows the author is both flexible and helpful and understands the publishing business. +10 points. Since authors and publishers are essentially entering into a business partnership, these qualities are important and it's nice to see them as early as the query letter.)
Attached please find the first three chapters and a brief synopsis. Thank you for your time. I look forward to hearing from you.

(This shows the author read the submission guidelines and has followed them. He is also again polite and subtly requesting a response from us. +10 points)


Elliot Baker

So that's... a lot of points, but the count isn't what's important and neither is following a template. What you need to do is be yourself, use your own writing style and hit all the highlights.  You're a writer. Let your writer’s 'voice' speak for you. If a publisher likes your style of writing and its present right from the query letter, that publisher or editor will be that much more inclined to like the rest of your work also. A query letter is basically just a first impression, so make it count! 


A big thanks to Elliot Baker for letting Allie critique his query letter here and a huge thanks to Justine for such an insightful post!

Be sure to check out the Coming Soon page over a Mirror World Press for a list of all their exciting new releases, including my own Sol of the Coliseum coming out next month!

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Writing Tips Tuesday: Making Weird Work by Charlie Holmberg

Welcome to another Writing Tips Tuesday! I am pleased to introduce the author of the amazing Paper Magician Trilogy, which includes the Wall Street Journal Best Seller "The Master Magician", Ms. Charlie Holmberg!


I’m sure you’ve heard the maxim that every possible story has been told, we just have to tell it a different way. According to Christopher Booker, there are only seven basic plotlines. It’s our job as writers to take one of these plotlines and make it seem new. To infuse it with something original. Or, as I’d like to discuss in this post, something weird.

What do I mean by “weird”? I mean something that is extremely original. As in adding an element to a story that isn’t just different, but completely obscure. An element that shakes hands with the bizarre.

I love weird elements in books, though to date my published works have been relatively tame. (Just you wait, world.) The reason weird is weird is because it’s vastly different—it’s not just thinking outside the box, but jumping into a new box entirely.

So, how does one make weird work?

The safe route is to change one aspect of the story into something weird: character, setting, magic, etc.

Let’s take the well-known story of Cinderella and make it interesting by adding a weird element:

Character. What if Cinderella were a leper? How would that change the story? (There’s nothing pretty or usual about leprosy, especially if we kept the romance element to the story.)

Setting. What if Cinderella happened in a world with intense volcanic activity? Or, staying closer to home, what if the story occurred under the reign of Ghengis Khan?

Magic. What if the price of magic was something bizarre—such as the organic materials being affected (pumpkin, mice, horses) turning into raging cannibals at midnight?

While these examples are off the top of my head, I highly recommend not using the first few ideas that come to mind when adding an element of weird to a story. Usually the first things we think of are either too obvious or too tame.

In addition to that, don’t overdo it. Imagine writing a story where Cinderella is a leper living in an alternate-universe where Ghengis Khan rules during a time of hyper volcanic activity, and all magic has zombie-esque consequences. It’s too much. It’s too weird, and that makes it hard for the reader to relate to the story (let alone understand it).

Going weird is something great to do if you’ve lost momentum with a current manuscript. Sometimes changing just one thing—especially for the bizarre—can breathe new life into an old project, or can plant a colorful seed for a story that’s still in its planning stages.

Want an example of making weird work? Read The Stormlight Archive by Brandon Sanderson. His worldbuilding is very new-box (why herd sheep when you could be raising giant crustaceans?).

What weird things have you encountered in fiction? What weird elements have you yourself employed?


Be sure to stop by Charilie's blog to share your thoughts on weird fiction and to congratulate her on the success of The Paper Magician Trilogy!

And tune in next week to read real tips from a real publisher on getting your book published. Really!

Friday, June 12, 2015

Read My Short Story: Virtual Ghosts

Please take a moment to check out my science fiction short story:

published today on Perihelion Science Fiction.

Also, this might be my new favorite writing quote:

“I want to do something splendid…
Something heroic or wonderful that won’t be forgotten after I’m dead…
I think I shall write books.”

-Louisa May Alcott

Have a great weekend!

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Writing Tip Tuesdays: Finding Your Muse By Sarah Foster

Welcome back for another Writing Tip Tuesday. I'm very happy to welcome today a fantastically The Faux Fountain Pen, Sarah Foster!
creative writer and blogger, you know her from her blog

Those of you who know Sarah probably also know Jordan, the teenage boy serving as her muse who lives in Sarah's head and occasionally makes appearances on Sarah's blog. Having such a strong relationship with her own, I asked Sarah to share how one finds a muse. Where does one come from? What's that connection like?

As usual, Sarah delivered. Please enjoy her post and then stop by her blog to share stories about how you found your muse.

Most writers have heard of a muse. If you don’t have one, you’ve probably heard or read about other writers struggling with theirs. Your muse can be a source of inspiration to write and figure things out, or it can be the person you blame when the writing isn’t going the way you’d hoped. You can love or hate your muse (or both, usually), but if you have one, then you understand this unique and bizarre relationship.

Most of the time, and we don’t usually like to admit this, a writer’s muse is imaginary. It’s that urge, that voice in your head that gives you ideas and motivates you to write. They don’t actually exist, but it’s much easier to blame someone else when you’re not feeling inspired. But it goes for the good times, as well. How else do you explain the random ideas that pop in your head? Or the sudden ability to bust out pages and pages of words out of nowhere? It always feels like it’s in someone else’s control.

Where exactly do you find your muse? It can be different for every writer. For me, though, it has always been a character from one of my stories. When I’m trying to write from this person’s point of view, it feels like he or she is always with me when I’m writing, telling me what happened to them and how I should write in their voices. It just feels natural to me that way. Other writers may have a completely separate person as their muse, one who isn’t a character in one of their stories. Your muse could be an animal, a fairy, or even an inanimate object. Or you may look at the muse as a more abstract entity, one that isn’t an actual person, but more of a spirit or force of inspiration.

Whether you want a muse or not, they may find you. When I started my current project, I wasn’t looking for a muse. I wasn’t even looking to write a story, but the idea struck me out of nowhere and consumed every second of thought so that it actually bothered me to not be writing. I thought it was my main character trying to fight his way out of my brain. Well, he may have fought his way onto the page, but he never actually left my brain.

I never expected to have a teenage boy for a muse, but Jordan is as real to me as any actual person I know. We brainstorm, we fight, we have random moments of witty banter. I let him take over my blog now and then. And sometimes we actually get around to writing. If I wasn’t a writer, this would probably be very strange. Why do I talk to this imaginary person inside my head? But I spend so much time every day trying to figure him out and write from his point of view, essentially pretending to be him. Why shouldn’t I talk to him? If he doesn’t feel real to me, then he isn’t going to feel real on the page.

If you understand your muse and have a strong connection, you may find that inspiration comes more easily. So embrace your muse! Talk to them, scream at them, bounce ideas off of them. If you get a great idea or pages of writing done, who cares how crazy it seems? I’ve always been a firm believer in listening to your characters, and the same could be said of muses. Treat them like they’re real people with their own thoughts, emotions, and opinions, and your writing will be better off for it.