It has been a long road since I started writing my novel Blood Feud. The journey began in April of 2012. I remember it well — a month of straight writing where the ideas just flowed like water. They pooled onto the page with little effort as months of thinking about my story and characters finally found a permanent place on the page. My story flourished but my poor family suffered from neglect. So at the end of the month and about 50,000 words later, I took a break. A few weeks later I came back to my marvelous work of art to realize everything I had written was total crap. And that pretty much sums up the next four years. Awesome spurts of writing where words flowed and family suffered just to end up with… yep you guessed it, more crap.
That my friends is the way of the writer as I am sure some of you are quite familiar with.
But something happened in my fifth year of writing. During my sixtieth (and really that’s not much of an exaggeration) rewrite of Blood Feud, the crap fell away and a good story finally started to form. At least to the point where I felt confident enough to send my work to a professional author, editor, and friend (Michael Knost) so he could tell me it was crap too. And to my surprise, he said it was a pretty awesome story.
We’ve already talked about the query package and writing an effective cover letter, let’s get to the really hard part… the synopsis. First I want to say that I’ve found it’s impossible to write just one synopsis. To get a great synopsis, it’s better to do a few, because let’s face it your publisher is going to want more than the one to three page synopsis you submitted if they do accept your novel. They’ll most likely want a shorter blurb for the back cover. Also some publishers want more than a one to page synopsis when submitting to them, so why not just get them all done at once and be done with it.
For me it was easier to do the really long synopsis first. The chapter by chapter sum up of the entire novel, which reached a huge twenty pages. I doubt any publisher will want all of that, but it was good for me because I did not previously have what others might call an outline. Many of you may already have this chapter by chapter summary or outline completed. But I don’t do written outlines as I’m writing because I’m a pantser. I feel outlines distract from letting the story flow where it needs to go. So if you like to be organized and have a nice neat outline down before you even write the first word of your novel, then you can totally skip this step.
We talked about Novel Submission: The Query Package, but now let’s get more specific and discuss how to actually write a cover letter (and FYI, writing a novel cover letter is different than a short story cover letter, in fact there are some publications that don’t even require a cover letter for short story submissions).
The following post is an accumulation of what I learned from Gary A Braunbeck’s worksop on cover letters and synopses, research I’ve done, and my own observations as I wrote the cover letter for my novel.
Here are some important things to keep in mind as you begin to write the cover letter (or what some call a query letter)…
After many years, my novel is finally done, now comes the hardest part yet… it’s time to submit it. I have to admit, I’d rather write another entire novel from scratch then do what comes next, but paraphrasing Theodore Roosevelt, “anything worthwhile never comes easy.”
This summer I’ve been taking the first steps in getting my novel ready for submission by writing a kicks cover letter (or sometimes called a query letter) and a handful of synopses (because it’s not good enough to have just one synopsis, but that’s another post!).
The first step I took in writing the cover letter and synopsis was to do research and see how the professionals were doing it. And I was also lucky enough to take a workshop about cover letters and synopses from science fiction author Gray A. Braunbeck last September. After a frustrating search, I finally managed to find my notes from his workshop. Yay!
It’s like “the thing” every writer talks about in reference to writing… word count. Have you ever had a conversation about a project you are working on or another writer is working on without asking or telling about the word count? Impossible, right?
It’s always about the word count whether it is self-imposed or a count the publisher set. And it’s sad, because there is so much emphasis put on word count, a writer can be fooled into thinking it matters, when really it doesn’t.
Oh boy. I know I pissed off people with that statement. lol… Good, because what I have to say next is important, so listen up.
For years I have actively sought out slush readers to hear what they have to say about submitting stories, what the process is like, what kinds of things they have seen, and what sort of things they’ve learned once becoming a slush reader. I’ve read articles, I’ve sat on panels (most recently at Context in September), and I have even pondered the idea of becoming a slush reader myself. Well, finally I took the plunge. Last month I officially became a slush reader for Apex Magazine.
Here are some notes I took from a workshop I did by Linnea Sinclair when I went to Context a few weeks ago. I found them helpful and thought I would share.
Are you a writer or author?
Writer= isn’t serious about being published
Author= has published works
Writing is an art and craft, but it is also a BUSINESS!
All About the Art and Craft
You have to couple good writing with original thought.
Read as much as you can of what is available in the genre that you write and other genres as well.
Too many writers stop at the art, at the muse. Move past this and get into the craft of writing.
Craft is the only way to tame the muse.
Art lives in the emotions, but only craft can give your words life.
Craft allows you to refine your words.
Decent craft has good plot, logic, characterization and conflict.
It is the author’s job to manipulate the emotions of the reader.
All About the Business
Network! Meet and greet as many as people you can that will help you move forward as an author this includes other writers, editors, agents and publishers.
Do your homework! A subscription to Publisher’s Lunch is essential in this endeavor. It is a bible of information for finding agents and publishers. If you know what’s being published you can find how published it and what agents are looking for.
Build up your resume
Beware of the trend in New York. If you want to be picked up by big name publishers use New York as your source of information for what’s wanted on the market.
Have an elevator pitch ready to sell yourself. An elevator pitch is being able to pitch your story in the time it would take to ride an elevator.
Know your read-a-like.What current author do you write like? You should know this to give as a pitch to potential agents and publishers.
Analyze your own writing to discover where it fits and makes sure it’s in your query letter.
Be prepared to market your own work. In fact when submitting a novel manuscript, you should have a marketing plan already written up.