Posted in books, creative writing, ebooks, marketing, publishing, query letter, self publishing, writing, writing advice, writing tips

Writing a blurb that catches reader’s attention

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It’s always a challenge to boil down and entire story into a few hundred words when writing a blurb. Most writers hate this part of publishing. We took all this time developing details and intricacies and now we have to take all of that back out and convince someone to buy it in two paragraphs or less.

How do you do that well?

Here’s a few things I’ve learned over the years.

A blurb is a sales pitch

The first sentence must grab the reader’s attention. Think of this sentence as an elevator pitch. It should capture the most interesting part of the story. That may be the conflict, mystery, romance, etc. Whatever it is that will most make readers want to check out your book, mention it in the first line.

This first sentence often sits by itself before the bulk of the blurb, giving it a better chance to catch the reader’s attention. The preview on most ebook retailers barely gives you more than a sentence or two before readers have to click “read more,” so make that first sentence count.

Format the blurb according to genre conventions

Contemporary romance tends to use short, 1-2 sentence paragraphs that highlight main points of the storyline. Historical romance tends to use longer paragraph with a more in-depth summary of each point of interest. Study blurbs on Amazon in your genre to make sure you’re formatting correctly.

Of course, sometimes you need to break out of conventions and do your own thing. Just make sure there’s a reason for using a unique format and that it conveys the tone or action of your story.

Typewriter illustrationStart with a formula that works

First, introduce the situation, then tell readers about the main problem or source of conflict, and indicate the twist without giving too much away. Effective blurbs often end with a question or with a sentence that sets the overall mood of the story.

Don’t give away the ending. This isn’t a synopsis. It’s a tease.

Leave the side characters out of it

Introduce the main characters and leave the side characters for the reader to discover once they start reading. It’s important to get readers interested in the characters right away. Give their name, a few important traits that make them unique or interesting, what their situation is, and what dilemma or conflict they’re going to face.

Don’t try to introduce side characters in the blurb. It only clutters the pitch and may make readers lose interest.

Use a cliffhanger

This isn’t a must, but for many stories a cliffhanger ending in a blurb will be a good nudge toward purchasing. Avoid giving away too much in a blurb. Present the problem and leave readers wondering how the character will overcome it.

This answer shouldn’t be too obvious, though. Even with books that are more formulaic, it’s important to make the reader curious about how this particular story will unfold. Most romances end in a happily-ever-after scenario, but they don’t all reach it the same way.

Open Blue BookChoose your words carefully

Communicate the tone of the story with words that fit the genre and situation. A dark thriller will use more intense wording while a rom-com will use light, fun words. Word choice should also match the time period and regional setting. It’s also all right to use hyperbole when appropriate, such as “unimaginable” for a shocking crime or “intoxicating” for a sudden and passionate romance, but don’t overdo it.

Keep it short and to the point

Blurbs should run 100-150 words in most cases. Don’t try to tell the reader everything you think might interest them. Stick to the important highlights.

It may be helpful to start writing a blurb with bullet points to sift out what should and shouldn’t be mentioned.

There’s no one correct way to right a blurb that will help sell a book, but starting with proven tactics and expanding from there can help you craft an enticing blurb.

Posted in journalism, publishing, query letter, writing

Getting to the editor

Working as the editorial assistant for a newspaper has given me some insights about getting past the general email account and to the editor’s virtual desk.

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I work for a small, local paper, but we still get a crazy amount of submissions and requests for op-eds and guest columnists. It was pretty overwhelming at first to learn how to filter these. The editor gave me the basics my first day and spent a couple weeks answering my questions about what was important and who was interested in what. I think I’ve gotten the hang of it pretty well now, and it’s taught me a few things that can be applied to both submitting fiction and articles.

Dear Editor

This isn’t a new realization, because this is the first thing I learned when I started querying fiction, but being on the other side of the query has impressed the importance of this piece of advice.

Figure out who you’re sending your query to!

Addressing an email to Dear Editor, the name of the paper/agency, hello everyone, or no salutation at all is a waving red flag to click the trash button.

Why?

For one, it shows the sender didn’t bother to do two minutes of homework to find out who they should be sending their query to. Second, it’s a clear indication that the sender used the BCC to hide that it’s a mass email to every publication they could find contact information for. Laziness, on both accounts. These types of emails are the first ones I weed out in the morning.

Why would I care about this?

Then next thing I look for when culling emails is relevance. As I said, I work at a small, local paper. Aside from AP wire stories, we only cover local issues and events. The first thing I check on media releases and PSAs is the dateline. If it’s out of our coverage area…trash.

The next thing I look for is whether or not it’s relevant content. For the newspaper I work for, this means it not only has to be a local issue, but it has to fit into one of our sections. We don’t have a technology section, or an aging gracefully section, or a rap music section. I still get emails about random topics or locations we don’t cover every day.

This applies to fiction publishers as well. If the agency or publisher doesn’t work with your genre, don’t waste your time querying them. It’s annoying and wastes their time, too. Your query is not going to make a publisher suddenly decide to take on a new genre any more than it will make a newspaper add a whole new section their readers aren’t interested in. Do your homework.

The lonely link

I am not clicking on random links. I’m just not. If some sends me a link or list of links saying So and So Author has a new article available, I am not clicking on it. To the trash it goes. Same goes for attachments with no description or information.

Let me tell you how to do your job…

There is a difference between doing your research and providing all the pertinent information (section, date, topic, etc.) and attempting to tell someone how to do their job. Emails demanding I place a certain PSA in a particular section on a particular day when neither matches up with our publishing schedule and section requirements is a quick way to irritate whoever is reading your email.

Are you starting to see a pattern here? Do your research! And be polite. Demands rarely go over well with anyone, and certainly not publishers and papers who receive dozens, if not hundreds, of submissions a day and have rules and requirements for every inch of the paper.

Be direct

Unless submission requirements specifically direct you to use the general account, send you query directly to whoever should actually be reading it. Newspapers, agencies, and publishing houses have specific people who deal with specific topics or genres. It takes more effort for me to figure out who should be looking at something, and it’s much more likely to get deleted.

If there’s a list of who handles what, and you’re invited to submit directly, for the love of God, figure out who might be interested in your work and send it directly to them! Your chances of it being seen will be much higher if the person who makes the decision sees it first. I don’t think I’m alone in prioritizing emails specifically sent to me over ones that are forwarded.

So, what should you do?

Basically the opposite of everything I just said.

  1. Address your email to the right person (and spell their name correctly).
  2. Only send relevant content the organization has stated they have an interest in.
  3. Provide a full and interesting description/query, not just a link or lazy “Are you interested in this?” with an attachment.
  4. Provide all the relevant or requested details without being pushy or demanding.
  5. Send queries to the right person.

Basically, put the time and effort in to figure out how to query an organization correctly and be polite about it.

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Posted in agents, query letter

Here I go again…

DeathtoStock_Desk5So, about 7 years ago, I started looking for an agent or publisher. I had two finished manuscripts I was ready to send out. I also had a toddler and a kindergartener and a very supportive husband. What else did I have going for me that would entice and agent or publisher to pick me up?

Nada.

Had no clue about social media (wasn’t even on Facebook), no website, no publishing cred, no writing degree, nothing.

Guess how it went?

Nobody was interested. I had a tiny handful of agents or publishers requests a few chapters, then nothing. Admittedly, the publishing climate at that time wasn’t terribly open and no one wanted to take on a newbie. So, I decided to self-publish. I started figuring out the whole social media and marketing thing. I kept writing. I got picked up by several publishers along the way, having good and bad experiences, and now have 20+ books published either traditionally or indie, and even made the USA Today Bestsellers list as part of an awesome box set.

Now what?

I’ve got it into my head that I want to try the agent route again. I don’t know how it will go, but I’m going to do it anyway. That’s a big cliff to jump off of because it involves a lot of research, waiting, heartache, and more waiting.

To anyone else who is thinking about joining the agent hunt, I thought I’d share a few resources that can make it a little easier.

TIPS FOR THE AGENT HUNT

Death_to_stock_communicate_hands_1https://querytracker.net/ — Great for finding agents accepting submissions and what genres they want, and keeping track of your queries and responses.

Twitter and Facebook — great for seeing what the agents you’re interested in are doing and looking for “right now” and also for getting to know their personality and if it’s someone you’d be comfortable working with.

http://www.publishersmarketplace.com/ — Great for seeing what agents have been up to lately, when they’re last sale was and what publishing house the sale was with.

http://www.agentquery.com/ — database of literary agents, who’s taking what, and how to submit.

Comparable titles — know what your book is up against and be ready to tell and agent why yours will fit right in with other popular books readers are currently gobbling up.

QUERY HELP

If you need help writing a strong query letter, I recently did a podcast on the topic. Just click the Write. Publish. Repeat. logo below.

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Posted in query letter

Writing a Query Letter: Part 4

To find the first part of this series, Click HERE. For Part 2, click HERE. Part 3, click HERE. To listen to the full discussion on the Write. Publish. Repeat. Podcast, click HERE.

Query Writing Tips

Now that you have the basics down, how do you actually write a GOOD query letter?

The blurb/summary is going to be a HUGE part of your pitch and often requires the most attention and revisions.

The next section will go over tips and tricks for writing a query letter that will grab an agent’s or publisher’s attention.

Open Blue BookWhen to write the Blurb?

Before or After?
Depends on the author

Before
Why would you do this?
Not as emotionally invested yet.
Not EVERYTHING feels important.
Focus your thoughts on the story highlights.
Which can help with writing.
Saves you from having to do it later.
Allows you to promote early.

After
Have the full concept in place.

Avoid having to rewrite due to plot changes.

Better idea of future plans.

Anatomy of a Blurb

Situation/Character intro

Problem/Conflict

Hope of Resolution

Tone/Mood

Invisible CastSituation/Character Intro

Jump in right away.
Situation and Character intro right away.
No wasting time with description/thought.
Intro the setting as well.

Who is this story about?
What situation makes their story interesting?

First sentence should introduce both.

Make them interesting!
YOU know them well, so present them in the best, most interesting light

Example:

“In 1938, a small crooked-legged racehorse received more press coverage than Hitler, Mussolini, Roosevelt or any other news figure.”(Seabiscuit, Laura Hillenbrand)

Don’t mislead!
If they start reading and it doesn’t hold up…they’ll put it down

Depressed young homeless womanProblem or Conflict

A hint of the plot…
What challenge is your MC up against?
Simplify as much as possible.There may be multiple conflicts that all seem important.
Focus on the MAIN conflict.

How is this conflict going to hurt/hinder your character?
Again…simplify to the main points. Pick the biggest, most detrimental effect to focus on in the blurb

The blurb is a teaser. Hook the agent/pub…leave them wanting more. This is usually better accomplished in a short blurb.

Some like to end on a question (but not a rule)
“As mouths water in anticipation, can the solemnity of the Church compare with the pagan passion of a chocolate éclair?”(Chocolat, Joanne Harris)

“Lisbeth Salander—outcast…enigma…avenger…”(The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Stieg Larsson)

End on a cliffhanger!

HopeHope of Resolution

Don’t be too depressing!

How will your character potentially thwart all the trouble the conflict is brewing?

Don’t reveal the end of the story, but DO suggest a possible escape.

Make readers want to solve the problem.

Tone and Mood

The tone or mood of your query should match the book.

Fun, dark, moody, silly, inspirational, etc.

Let readers know what is in store for them so they know what they’re getting into.

Join me next week for the final part of the Query Writing Workshop. Tips & Tricks, tracking queries, and query pacing.

Listen to the full discussion now on my new podcast!

Write. Publish. Repeat. Podcast: How to Write a Query Letter Without Going Completely Crazy

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Posted in query letter, writing tips

Writing a Query Letter: Part 3

To find the first part of this series, Click HERE. For Part 2, click HERE. To listen to the full discussion on the Write. Publish. Repeat. Podcast, click HERE.

Paragraph Two of the Query Letter

9e9dd-largestackofbooksMini-Synopsis
Similar to the back cover summary
100-250 words

Expand on your hook
Explain more about your Main characters…
Problems/conflicts…
How adversity changes them…

Read back covers of other books for examples!

Paragraph Three: Bio

Brand new Author?
(You may want to skip this)

  • What to include?
    Is it meaningful to the query?
    Does it show personality?
  • Keep it short
  • Keep it writing related
  • Education
  • Work
  • Personal experience
  • Research

Publishing Credits/Awards

  • Awards
    • If you’ve won them…INCLUDE THEM
      Don’t be modest, but don’t go overboard

Publishing credits (BE SPECIFIC)
Journals
Online/trade magazines

Unpublished?
You don’t need to say

Academic or Nonfiction?
Shows you know the process

DON’T INCLUDE:
Church news letter, credits unrelated to professional writing

Self-Published: Include or Not Include?

  • Timing
    • It will be discussed eventually
  • Doesn’t hurt your chances
  • Be confident
  • Be ready discuss success/failure
  • Do you consider it a Mistake/Irrelevant
    • Leave it out
  • Does it make you a more desirable client?
    • Depends on success – mention sales numbers, length of time on sale
      • Success to some agents/pub = 5000 sales (per month…)

Open Blue BookWhat NOT to Mention

  • Social media presence/platform
    • UNLESS you have A LOT of followers
    • Agents will Google you anyway
  • Marketing Plan
  • Years of effort and dedication
  • Family/friends opinions
  • Past rejections/near misses
  • Apologize
  • Compliment your work
  • Discuss $$ your book will make

Thank You/Closing

  • Thank the agent/pub
  • Time & consideration
  • Alert agent/pub full manuscript is available upon request
  • Mention if your book is being considered by another agency
  • Series potential/written
  • Include contact information basics
  • Only offer exclusives for a short time period
  • Only compare your book to another in terms of style, voice, theme (Not $$)

Join me next week for a discussion on writing a great blurb for your query.


Listen to the full discussion now on my new podcast!

Write. Publish. Repeat. Podcast: How to Write a Query Letter Without Going Completely Crazy

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Posted in query letter

Writing a Query Letter: Part 2

To find the first part of this series, Click HERE. To listen to the full discussion on the Write. Publish. Repeat. Podcast, click HERE.

123Parts of a Query Letter:

Paragraph One – The Hook
Personalization/Introduction
Book details
Hook

Paragraph Two
Mini-Synopsis
Think: back cover

Paragraph Three
Bio
Publishing credits/awards
Thank you/closing

Where do you start? Personalization

WhyPARAGRAPH ONE – INTRODUCTION
Why are you querying this agent?
Did you meet them somewhere?
Invitation/Request?
Researched their agency/house?
Referred?

Personalize
Make sure the agent or publisher knows why you chose their agency
NEVER open with DEAR AGENT/PUB
Find a connection – Research
Be professional

Paragraph One: Book Details

What are you selling?
Keep it simple
Title
Word count
Genre
Age group

This should all be in one sentence

Paragraph One: The Hook

The 3 elements
Character + conflict
Choices/stakes
Sizzle
Possible 4th element: setting/time period

Hook vs. Heart

Hook: What makes your book unique and interesting?

Heart: Why you’re story will affect readers.

Hook should be ONE SENTENCE.

What is sizzle?
Why your story is different from a million others
DON’T TELL THE ENDING

Hook Examples

5d093-alphabetvectorBridges of Madison County
When Robert Kincaid drives through the heat and dust of an Iowa summer and turns into Francesca Johnson’s farm lane looking for directions, the world-class photographer and the Iowa farm wife are joined in an experience that will haunt them forever.
The Kite Runner
An epic tale of fathers and sons, of friendship and betrayal, that takes us from Afghanistan in the final days of the monarchy to the atrocities of the present.
Wicked Hunger
Will the Roth siblings insatiable hunger for pain and suffering turn them into villains, or can they somehow find a way to become the heroes of their own dark story?

Join me next week for a discussion on Paragraph Two of the query.


Listen to the full discussion now on my new podcast!

Write. Publish. Repeat. Podcast: How to Write a Query Letter Without Going Completely Crazy


Posted in publishing, query letter

Writing a Query Letter: Part 1

The query writing process incorporates some of the most frustrating aspects of publishing.

But…it’s necessary no matter what publishing option you choose

Typewriter illustrationWhat is a query letter?

According to Jane Friedman, the CEO and co-founder of Open Road Integrated Media, this is the definition:

To seduce the agent or editor into reading or requesting your work. The query is so much of a sales piece that you should be able to write it without having written a single word of the manuscript.

In other words, it’s your pitch to agents, publishers, and readers.

Query Letter Basics

◦ONE PAGE

◦Pitch to “sell” your book

◦Professional letter

◦First impression

◦Book MUST be finished!

But First…

How to sift through the billion search results to find an agent to query?

Blond Business WomanQuery Tracker

Agent Query

Publisher’s Marketplace

Preditors and Editors

Dark Markets (Short Stories/Mags)

◦Agent Interviews

◦Be as SPECIFIC as possible

◦Social Media Stalking 😉

Nest week I’ll be discussing the parts of a query letter in detail, or if you want the full lecture now, check it out out on the Write. Publish. Repeat. Podcast now.

Write. Publish. Repeat. Podcast: How to Write a Query Letter Without Going Completely Crazy