Guest Post

HAVE A BOOK TO PROMOTE? Lyrical Pens welcomes guest posts. Answer a questionnaire or create your own post. FYI, up front: This site is a definite PG-13. For details, contact cj

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Query letter and rejections

cj Sez: So you’re finally ready to query an agent.
Then it’s time to put on your rhino hide, because only about 4% of queries get accepted, according to one article I read. Pick up a copy of Writer's Market, and you’ll find an agent’s  acceptance rate in the listing. Any one of several reasons could send your query straight to the trashcan. You’ll have a better chance of being one of the accepted few if you pre-emptively resolve some of those reasons for rejection.

Just about the first reason for a rejection is failing to follow the submission guidelines.  Guidelines are out there because they define the format the agent recognizes and wants to see. Pay attention to them, every detail, if you want to make it at least as far as the slush pile. If an agent asks for five pages, do not send more, even if your writing buddy did. Does s/he want eMail or snail mail? If the guidelines spell out Times New Roman or Courier 12 point font, don’t send Ariel or Georgia because that’s what you normally use. Change the document to fit the requirements. Remember that every agent has different requirements, so be sure to research the guidelines for each. And for heaven’s sake, if the agent is one of several in an agency, pick the one that works with your genre (I’ll touch on that next) and put the person’s name on the address line. “Dear Agent” will receive exactly the attention it deserves.

Make sure the agent you’re querying wants the genre you're writing. You don’t want to send a query for a memoir to an agent who handles only paranormal romance. That’s an extreme example, I know, but not researching what genre the agent is accepting is a sure way to get rejected.

Again, you can Google your research or start with Writer's Market (available at many libraries) or and search for agents who represent your specific genre. Visit agents' websites. Since information provided by outside sources may be outdated, always defer to the instructions on the agent's website

Another reason for rejection could be that your query letter needs help, maybe a lot of help. Many writers I know hate writing query letters (me included) almost as much as creating synopses and that can come through in the letter.

I won’t go into detail, but here’s a quick overview on what to include: The opening paragraph is similar to an elevator pitch, those 25 words that need to do more than pique the agent’s interest. You want the agent to fall in love with the premise of your story. The second paragraph should be a brief (NOT detailed) synopsis of the story itself, the protagonist’s obstacles and what s/he does to overcome them. The third paragraph is briefly about you … include writing credentials, awards, electronic presence (i.e., Facebook, blog, Twitter) if you have them, and any special platform. By platform, I mean if you are or were a cop, you have an exceptional platform from which to write police procedurals. You can also mention that you read on the website that the agent is interested in “such and such kind of stories’ and that your manuscript fits into that category. Always close the letter with a call to action; i.e., “I’d be happy to send you the full manuscript and look forward to hearing from you.” Be sure to include your contact info; i.e., name, address, phone, eMail address,

Do a Google search for query letters, and you’ll find a slew of examples, including some from established agents who are trying to improve the process of getting your book published. 

In addition to the format of the letter, you must pay attention to spelling and grammar. Have as many eyes as possible read over your query letter. I can guarantee each one will find something to challenge, some of it valid, some of it not. Put it aside for a couple of days, then print it off in a smaller or larger print and read it out loud. Hire an editor if you must. The query letter is your first contact with a possible agent, and it needs to be perfect.

I can’t talk with any first-hand knowledge about non-fiction because that’s not my forté. What I do know about non-fiction is that you will need a book proposal, a few sample chapters, and a cover letter. The book proposal requires specific components and will run ten or more pages. A Google search for examples can get you started in the right direction. If you know a published non-fiction writer, you might ask her/him about the process.

Don't be afraid to fail
Lastly, persistence is de rigueur. If you get rejected by an agent, keep on sending out the queries. Many now-famous authors had their share of rejections. *

Margaret Mitchell received 38 rejections of Gone With the Wind.
J. K. Rowling submitted Harry Potter to 12 publishing houses, all of which rejected it.
Gertrude Stein submitted poems for 22 years before having one accepted. 
John Grisham’s A Time to Kill was rejected by 16 publishers before he found an agent who eventually rejected him as well.
Louisa May Alcott was told to stick to teaching.
William Saroyan received an astonishing 7,000 rejection slips before selling his first short story.

Are you up to the challenge of rejections? I hope so. 

Okay, time to quit this tome. You-all guys keep on keeping on, and I’ll try to do the same. 

Choosing Carter  -- Kindle  /  Nook  /  Kobo   /  iTunes/iBook
Deadly Star --  Kindle  / Nook  / Kobo

(PS:  The toons are from my Facebook page, and by the way, Choosing Carter didn’t win the Author Shout Cover Wars, but the design received a lot of compliments. That’s as good as a win for me. If you voted for it, thanks for taking the time to zip on over there. I appreciate it.)

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Some writerly quotes for encouragement

cj Sez: Maybe one of these quotes will be helpful as you strive to keep on keeping on writing:

“It is perfectly okay to write garbage—as long as you edit brilliantly.” –C. J. Cherryh

“Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere.” –Anne Lamott

“If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.” –Elmore Leonard

“Easy reading is damn hard writing.” –Nathaniel Hawthorne

“If I waited for perfection…I would never write a word.” –Margaret Atwood

“To survive, you must tell stories.” –Umberto Eco

“A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit.” –Richard Bach

“Good writing is rewriting.” –Truman Capote

 “I try to create sympathy for my characters, then turn the monsters loose. –Stephen King

“It’s none of their business that you have to learn to write. Let them think you were born that way.”  –Ernest Hemingway

“If you can tell stories, create characters, device incidents, and have sincerity and passion, it doesn’t matter a damn how you write.” –Somerset Maugham

cj's dream writing space (sigh)
“You do it a day at a time. You write as well as you can, you put it in the mail, you leave it under submission, you never leave it at home.” –James Lee Burke

“E.L. Doctorow said once that ‘Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.’ You don’t have to see where you’re going, you don’t have to see your destination or everything you will pass along the way. You just have to see two or three feet ahead of you. This is right up there with the best advice on writing, or life, I have ever heard.” – Anne Lamott (Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life.)

“The most important things to remember about back story are that (a) everyone has a history and (b) most of it isn’t very interesting.” –Stephen King

“Writing—the art of communicating thoughts to the mind, through eye—is the great invention of the world.” –Abraham Lincoln

A personal request:  I would really appreciate your vote for Choosing Carter in the Author Shout Cover Wars challenge...if you're so inclined and the cover appeals to you. This is kind of a cross between a beauty contest and a popularity contest. You can vote once a day beginning today through 8 a.m. EST next Sunday, Feb. 28.

Stop by to vote and/or share this page so that all your friends can vote. Thanks for your help!

Okay, you-all guys keep on keeping on, and I’ll try to do the same.

Choosing Carter  -- Kindle  /  Nook  /  Kobo   /  iTunes/iBook

Deadly Star --  Kindle  / Nook  / Kobo

Sunday, February 14, 2016

A few thoughts on self-publishing

     cj Sez:  When a newly fledged writer, curious about trying her wings at self-publishing, asked me how, I realized that, although I have taken classes and practiced with the manuscript formatting, I am a traditionally published author . . . I definitely need to know more about the self-publishing process. So, I started reading. What follows is some of my top-of-mind thoughts on the subject:

You can publish a manuscript yourself if you’re interested in becoming a little more computer/publication/pricing/distribution literate. If you’re confident in designing a cover yourself using templates; check out: Joel Friedlander's book of templates )

Some popular programs for formatting books are: (text is from a Google search):

Guides for formatting eBooks:  Smashwords (Smashwords Style Guide - How to Format Your Ebook ... › ... › Authorship

The Smashwords Style Guide has helped indie authors produce and publish over 130,000 high-quality ebooks. 200,000 copies of the Smashwords Style Guide have downloaded! This guide offers simple step-by-step instructions to create and format an ebook using Microsoft Word.

CreateSpace provides free tools to help you self-publish and distribute your books, DVDs, CDs, and video downloads on-demand.

Scrivener is a word-processing/writing program for authors. If you create your manuscript in Scrivener, the program will direct you how to export your document to ePub or Kindle formats (including Smashwords and CreateSpace) that sell on Amazon … ( the Ebook is readable on e-readers).

If the thought of learning how to format/export your document for publication is daunting, find reputable people you can hire to format a manuscript to print and digital book and then get a graphic designer for the cover. These should be people recommended by a self-published author you know or like to read. Check out the acknowledgements in his/her book for those names. You might even contact the author.

Being a member of writing group can be especially helpful in your quest. Members of groups such as SCBWI are able to call upon each other for questions about agents, publishing companies, contract clauses, et al. (I’m a member of Sisters-in-Crime, an international group of mystery writers, and I see a lot of freshman writers asking questions of the organization’s members. Always, there are members who have had similar experiences and are willing to offer an informed response.)

Never sign a contract with agent or publisher without having someone look at it first…a lawyer is best because you could be signing away lifetime rights or obligations. I heard the sad story of a lady who thought she signed a contract to pay a publisher $5,000 to print her book. She misunderstood some of the legalese in the clauses, and it ended up costing her more than twice that amount because she couldn’t get out of the contract, and they threatened to sue. Plus, the manuscript wasn’t edited. That opened the door for typos and just plain printing mistakes … the kind of thing that damages the author’s writerly reputation and causes readers to hesitate buying another of her books. The reputation of the self-publishing industry suffers damage as well.

The lesson learned is to never pay a “publisher” to edit/publish your book.

Some small legitimate publishers will help an author self-publish a book and employ a contract clause that requires the author to buy a certain number of books at a price that may equate to about 70% of the list price. That can wind up costing hundreds, but it may be worth it since by selling all those copies yourself, you get all the sales price—not just the royalties (an important contract clause).

If you decide to try the traditional approach for publication and seek out an agent or publisher, Google “submissions for (the genre you'e interested in).” A few dozen names will pop up; some good ones, some not so good. (A clue: Other than a standard fee, reputable agents/publishers do not charge the author for the privilege of representing/publishing the novel.)

Check out a potential site (* see below), make sure your manuscript is perfectly edited before you submit, and follow the site’s submission directions to a “T.” (*One source to check for scams and if someone is reputable is “Preditors & Editors”  )

Google “query letters” for dos and don’ts on your submission letter.

Whether your novel is to be traditionally published or self-published, there is one last caveat from the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators site: Make your manuscript great. Before you start sending your story to publishers, you will need to make sure it is as good as it can possibly be.  
Choosing Carter & Deadly Star are part of this ! 
Okay, readers, if you have more information to add to this, we'd love to pass it along. Now, you’all guys keep on keeping on, and I’ll try to do the same.

Choosing Carter  -- Kindle  /  Nook  /  Kobo   /  iTunes/iBook

Deadly Star --  Kindle  / Nook  / Kobo

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Turning nouns into verbs

cj Sez:  Okay, it’s half-time in the Super Bowl and that’s all the time I have to get this post out. So bear with me if there are more than a couple of typos. (sigh)

Reviews and Sales:

Another InD’tale review excerpt:  “Bryn has been her brother’s savior many times. The choices she is forced to make will resonate with the reader long after the story is finished.”

Publisher Crimson Romance is having a Valentine’s Sale on Amazon for the whole month of February. Choosing Carter and Deadly Star are among the deals. There is a HUGE selection. And, both novels are Free to Kindle Unlimited subscribers. 

Now for the post:   

A couple of years ago friend sent me this quote from a fellow blogger, Sol Sanders:  “Perhaps the glory of the English language is that it so expressive. Its remarkable heterogeneous origins have given it an almost limitless vocabulary. And American English, particularly, has used that tool with an enormous flexibility to make it the international means of communication. One is able with a minimum of linguistic dexterity to capture every meaning, or almost every nuance.”

Mr. Sanders’s comments were part of an introduction to his essay on what today’s journalism and media do with the English language. The gist of his post is that journalists and media people overcomplicate their sentences with words that muddy their meanings rather than clarifying them—changing nouns into verbs and, perhaps, calling a shovel a “hand-held, earth-moving tool.” My take on this is that media and journalists employ an old trick of confusing the issue to persuade readers to their (the writer/editor) points of view

Turning nouns into verbs seems a clever way to uncomplicated sentences, but these may also confuse the issue (one I particularly dislike is “impactful;” a noun turned into a verb turned into an adjective by adding ful on the end. What the Sam Hill does that mean?).

The truth is, the English is a living language. It’s constantly evolving as we create new words and new definitions to compliment new technology. The caveat is that the generations cease to understand each other at an almost exponential pace. Many times I need an interpreter to understand teen-talk, and I think if I texted (a noun turned into a verb because of technology), I’d forget how to spell.  I sympathize with teachers who deal with this on a daily basis.

For me as a genre writer, the gloriously expressive English language is what makes my craft so fascinating.

Yes, I use nouns as verbs. Yes, I deliberately obfuscate . . . (adding the disclaimer that it’s for the sake of mystery). I am drawn to the syntax, symbolism, and syncopation of a well-drafted sentence that is the hallmark of successful mystery/thriller/suspense novelists. It’s using that “minimum of linguistic dexterity to capture every meaning, or almost every nuance” that appeals to me, and, I think, to readers of those genres. They want to try to decipher the code, find the clues, and solve the crime. I like trying to confuse the issue.

I’m still working on my craft. How are you doing with your genre?

Okay, back to the football game. You-all guys keep on keeping on and I’ll try to do the same. 

Choosing Carter  -- Kindle  /  Nook  /  Kobo   /  iTunes/iBook
Deadly Star --  Kindle  / Nook  / Kobo