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Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Writing Tip Wednesday--Queries & Submissions

Your book is finished, edited, and polished to a shine. You've written your synopsis and created a snappy tagline and intriguing blurbs. The time to query and/or submit has arrived!

A query letter is business correspondence. If you expect to be treated like a professional, you must present yourself as a professional. You don't remember how to write a business letter? Chicago Manual of Style and numerous other sources can help you with formatting, so I won't be giving a lesson on that. A little online research will yield hundreds of examples of query letters. Instead, here are some basic rules to follow for Queries and Submissions.

1) Identify your recipient(s). Have you researched this editor or agent to be sure he/she is accepting queries/submissions in your genre? Is the person male or female? Business greetings should consist of Mr., Miss, Mrs., Ms., etc. and a last name unless you are personally acquainted.

2) Send individual personalized emails to each recipient. Do NOT send a single mass query to multiple agents and/or editors. If you can't be bothered to address each one individually, why shouldn't they lump you in the junk mail?

3) Most editors and agents ask for specific information to be included in a query. Go to his/her website for details and instructions. Not following directions will often earn you an unopened, unanswered, deleted email. Their spam filters are set to recognize approved subject lines in many cases. Take a few minutes to research their query/submission guidelines.

4) Include your synopsis, sample chapters, and/or full manuscript ONLY if instructed to do so and in the manner indicated in the query/submission guidelines--in the body of the email or as attachments. NEVER instruct the person you're querying to go to your website/blog to read your material. Make a good first impression by following directions.

5) If the guidelines seem unclear, contact the editor or agent and ask for clarification. Don't guess.

6) Always thank the person for their time and consideration. A query is a job interview. Be polite.

7) Write the letter under your legal name. If you write under a pseudonym, include that name in your biography. You can also include a link to your website and/or blog. Do not write a query as one of your characters.

8) The closing should be professional--sincerely, regards, etc. No smiley faces/emoticons, **hugs**, or other casual quips. See the second paragraph above about being professional.

9) Be sure to include your contact information after your signature line.

10) Most editors and agents have a minimum response time for queries and submissions on their websites. Allow at least the minimum time before sending a follow-up email.

11) Check the query/submission guidelines about auto-response emails and whether rejections receive an email or no response. Knowing what to expect will make the waiting more bearable.

12) If you receive a rejection, do NOT send a nasty, condescending, snarky, etc. email. The query/submission process is a lot like buying a car or hiring a babysitter. Not every model/candidate will meet everyone's needs. Publishing is a small world, and no one wants to work with a difficult author.

13) Revise your query letter and/or rework your blurbs if you've gotten numerous rejections. Sometimes, a little change can make a big difference.

14) Keep writing while you're playing the waiting game. More writing means more practice and more material.

15) In case I haven't made a couple points clear, be professional and follow directions!

This post wraps up a year of writing craft topics. I'll be taking a few weeks' break to work on the finishing touches of my first self-published novel, Love Served Hot, and to compile/format my Writing Tip Wednesday blog into a writers' handbook for self-publication before I start on career and industry. Stay tuned for release dates!

Until next time, Happy Writing!

Mellanie Szereto
Romance...With A Kick!

Monday, October 21, 2013

Easy Recipe Time!

Although I wasn't crazy about this past summer's cooler temperatures and wetter-than-normal conditions, a few of my garden crops loved it! I am the proud owner of two bushels of sweet potatoes, about half of which are nearly as big as my head. Time to get creative!

Sweet Potato Hash Browns

1 large or 2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and grated
3 tablespoons butter or margarine, cut into 1 teaspoon pats
1/8 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice

Place half the butter in a large iron skillet. Top with grated sweet potato and sprinkle with pumpkin pie spice. Top with remaining butter. Cover and cook over medium heat for about 10 minutes. Cut hash browns into wedges and turn to brown the other side. Cover and cook another 10 minutes. Serve as a vegetable side dish or dessert!

Enjoy!

Mellanie Szereto
Romance...With A Kick!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Writing Tip Wednesday--Blurbs and Taglines

Your book is written. You've gone through numerous rounds of self-editing and sent it off to your critique partner(s), editor(s) and/or beta reader(s). While the story is still fresh in your mind, you have the perfect opportunity to write Blurbs and Taglines. Whether you plan to self-publish or submit to an editor or agent, you'll need to create a teaser to help sell your book.

Blurb (sometimes called logline) - a short description used for promotional purposes, including on the cover of a book. It's designed to hook the reader's interest in 25 to 150 words. I've seen the blurb referred to as a "short synopsis," but that's a misnomer since a synopsis reveals the ending. Let's stick with blurb.

Tagline - a short phrase or sentence used to spark interest in a book--usually less than 10 words--and also used in promotion and on the book cover. It's often a clever play on words or familiar phrases. A tagline serves a similar purpose to the marketing tool called "branding."

Are blurbs and taglines reminiscent of the dreaded synopsis? They can be--if they don't come easy to you. As with most aspects of writing, the more you practice, the better your skills.

Here's the method I use, in addition to getting feedback from my critique partners--including Cheryl Brooks, who is The Blurb Queen:

Make a list of themes, settings, important issues, words related to the plot, etc. This should include the characters' professions if they play a role in the story. In the case of my new series, Love on the Menu, I'm adding lots of food- and cooking-related words that fit the book's theme. Use your synopsis or timeline to help pinpoint the most important points of the story.
Word list for my upcoming release, Love Served Hot - nutritionist/dietician, chef, Irish, food, cooking, retirement village, eccentric retirees, love, death, healing, family, friendship, trust, foodgasms, eating, community, heat, kitchen, spice, entree, culinary, recipe

Choose your poison. Do you write long? Focus on the 150-word blurb first and then pare down your word count to 50 and 25. If you tend to add layering to your writing after a first draft, start with the shorter blurbs and add descriptive details. Or begin with the tagline, the shortest of them all.

From my list of words for Love Served Hot, I've created a tagline that plays on the well-known saying, "The way to a man's heart is through his stomach." The roles are reversed in my story, so my tagline will be "The way to a woman's heart..." This should trigger the original saying in the reader's mind and imply that food plays an important part in the story, even if it's only at a subconscious level.

My 25-word blurb is bare bones and doesn't mention character names. Here's my rough draft:
"Running a retirement village is far more exciting when the new chef’s creations give the acting director foodgasms, but he’d rather serve them up himself."
It needs a bit more punch, though, so I've tweak it a few words at a time until I created something I think will make readers want to buy the book.
"The hot new Irish chef’s delectable creations may give the lovely acting retirement village director foodgasms, but he would much rather serve them up personally." or
"The hot new Irish chef's delectable creations may give the acting director of a retirement village foodgasms, but he would rather serve them up personally."
Which one do you prefer?

I repeat this process for 50-word blurb, using more information about the characters and the story. Here's the rough draft for the 50-word blurb:
"Not only has Lilith Montgomery hired a chef who gives her foodgasms, he’s tall, hot, and Irish. Keeping the heat in the kitchen is going to be a problem. Falling head over stockpot for his boss wasn’t in the plan, but Flynn Hastings experiments with a recipe for love anyway."
After a few tweaks, the final version looks like this:
"Lilith Montgomery has hired a hot Irish chef whose culinary creations give her foodgasms. Keeping the heat in the kitchen is going to be tough. Falling head over stockpot for his new boss wasn’t part of his plan, but Flynn Hastings finds himself experimenting with a new recipe for love."

For the 150-word blurb, which will be one of my selling tools at online book retailers, I add even more details. My rough draft is 157 words.
"As acting director of her uncle’s retirement village, Lilith Montgomery must hire a chef to run the new restaurant. When she’s left with no other choice, she offers the job to an Irishman whose culinary creations give her foodgasms. Her past experiences with relationships make her determined to resist her attraction to him, even if it means sneaking into the kitchen at night for a taste of his delectable entrées.
Flynn Hastings is finally getting his life back on track after a long year of anger and guilt over his sister’s death. He’s back home near his family and has found the perfect job—with one small problem. His boss makes him want to cook in more than the kitchen. Putting aside his hard and fast rule about mixing business with pleasure, he sets his sights on Lilith. With luck and a lot of patience, their budding friendship will become more than a flash in the pan."
With some tightening and tweaking, I'll bring the count down to 150 words and use more concise wording. Did you notice any repeat words, awkward wording, unnecessary words? How would you change it?

With feedback from The Blurb Queen, I have my final version. And it's exactly 150 words! "As acting director of her uncle’s retirement village, Lilith Montgomery must hire a chef for the new restaurant. She’s interviewed several candidates, but instantly decides on the sexy Irishman whose culinary creations give her foodgasms. Her rotten luck with relationships makes her determined to resist her attraction to him, even if it means sneaking into the kitchen at night for a taste of his delectable entrées.
Flynn Hastings is finally getting his life back on track after a year of anger and guilt over his sister’s death. He’s returned home to be near his family and has found the perfect job—with one small problem. His boss makes him want to cook in more than the kitchen. Putting aside his hard and fast rule about mixing business with pleasure, he sets his sights on Lilith, hoping their budding friendship turns out to be more than a flash in the pan."
Did you notice those stronger descriptions? That sense of urgency grabs the reader's interest, hopefully resulting in the sale of a book.

If you're promoting a romance involving food, be sure the blurb reflects that. A romantic suspense should have hints at the danger the characters face. Remember, your blurbs and tagline should draw interest from your target readers. Make each word count, because you only have a few seconds before they click "buy" or scroll to the next book!

Next week, we'll talk about Queries & Submissions!

Mellanie Szereto
Romance...With A Kick!

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Writing Tip Wednesday--Self-Editing

Whether you wait until The End or make changes as you go, every manuscript needs Self-Editing. Even the most-experienced writer can make unintentional mistakes, like leaving out a word or referring to a character by the wrong name. So, when you're story is finished, set it aside for a couple days (or weeks) to lose some familiarity and then open it again to tackle self-edits.

As always, use the method that works best for you! Do you prefer fixing all problems in order on the first read-through? Would you rather focus on one area at a time--content before grammar and punctuation? If you know your weakest parts of writing craft, you might try looking at each of those issues separately. Learning to correct your errors will go a long way in improving your skills.

The first thing I look at when I'm ready to dive into the editing cave is formatting. Are my margins and indentations okay? How about all the other areas I covered in my standard manuscript formatting post? These are usually the most obvious and can set the (good or bad) tone for the editor, agent, beta reader, critique partner, contest judge, etc.

Depending on the length of the story, I might divide my editing process into more than one area. My content edits start with the plot, but I also include POV choice, internal dialogue, backstory vs. exposition, characterization, opening hook, GMC, pacing, logic lapses, choreography, timelines, character arc, author intrusion, research, independent body parts, setting, world building, creating sexual tension, internal and external conflicts, and foreshadowing in that first review. I add to the notes I've compiled if I'm writing a series.

Next, I focus on more basic craft--active vs. passive, POV, headhopping vs. transitions, POV glitches, showing vs. telling, repeat words, crutch words, misplaced modifiers, varying sentence structure, voice,and using the senses.

Since grammar and punctuation tend to be my strengths, I save those for last, ending my editing on a positive note. I check my g&p list--dialogue punctuation, comma splices, adverbs, adjectives, contractions, fragments, homophones, numbers in writing, using pronouns, punctuation rules, hyphens, and comma usage 1, 2, and 3.

Then again, sometimes I forge headfirst into all of it. There is NO right way! Just get that story ready for your critique partner(s) and/or beta reader(s). I'll talk more about critiquing and beta reading when I move on to career topics in the near future.

No matter what avenue you choose for publication (self-publishing or submitting to an editor or agent), you need to complete at least one more step. Identify the genre. You may also have to write a synopsis. I know what you're thinking--that if you self-pub, you get out of that particular task.

Guess what.

You still need Blurbs and Taglines, which can be just as challenging. We'll delve into those next week!

Mellanie Szereto
Romance...With A Kick!

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Writing Tip Wednesday--Foreshadowing

Foreshadowing--a subtle hint, warning, or indication that a specific event will occur in the future.

Although foreshadowing is often used in romantic suspense and mystery, it has its place in other genres as well. By giving hints about a future event in the story, you can build tension and anticipation. But be careful about obvious clues. If the reader already knows what's going to happen, she has no incentive to continue reading.

Red herrings can be effective under some circumstances, but don't neglect hints at the truth. Misleading the reader can backfire.

Also be sure to follow through when using foreshadowing. Implying someone in the book will die and not wrapping up that loose end creates the perfect opportunity for a reviewer/reader to criticize your story.

What makes effective foreshadowing?

Subtly is key. By using two or three almost invisible suggestions, the event can be planted in the reader's subconscious mind. The hints may or may not connect the dots. Sometimes, the reader will ask, "How did I not see that coming?". Other times, that gut feeling kicks in. The reader then gets that I-knew-it-was-going-to-happen satisfaction of correctly guessing the outcome.

Animals are often more intuitive about natural disturbances than humans. If a tornado will hit your small Midwestern town, the main character's cat might act strangely from the shifts in atmospheric pressure. I've often seen sudden behavior changes in my cats when a high- or low-pressure system starts moving into the area. Use these survival instincts to put careful suggestions into the reader's mind.

Use a dog's well-developed senses of smell, hearing, and sight to hint at something foreboding. While the hero thinks the whining and pacing means his dog simply needs to go out, the animal might actually know the villain is lurking outside or that Timmy fell in the well. Sorry, I couldn't resist a little Lassie humor! :)

A serious discussion can foreshadow the death of an important role model. Even an off-hand comment can come back to haunt your characters. Does the heroine always take the stairs? Perhaps, the reason isn't only because she prefers the exercise. Could she have a fear of elevators? That bit of information could lead to her getting stuck in the contraption with her hunky sworn enemy.

Avoid adding too many indications, especially strong ones, and giving away everything. Go for the "Aha!" moment instead of the predictable plot.

Next up--Self-Editing!

Mellanie Szereto
Romance...With A Kick!