First things first: an ENORMOUS (terribly belated!) thank you to everyone who voted in my poll on Twitter-style novel pitches. With your help, I went into #PitMad with enthusiasm–and I’m thrilled to report, not without result. By the close of December 1, my pitches for my 1920s historical novel had received a total of four likes–two by literary agencies, and two by independent publishing companies. I’ve since fired off all requested queries, synopses, and reading samples. Thus far, one entity has requested a full manuscript. Hooray! One entity has given the project a pass. Awww…. (This is an excellent example of how peculiar art businesses like writing are–what prompts one person to seek more will be un-alluring to the next.) Where things go from here, literally only God knows. But it’s encouraging when people out in the mystical realm of publication evidence interest in your ideas. And despite my temptation to be discouraged by one person’s “no,” I’m also in wholehearted concurrence with The Baffled King blog: when someone requests a full manuscript after reading your sample pages, it’s essential to make a moment to celebrate that victory, even if no contract follows after. Little victories are victories nonetheless.
Baby steps, right?
My next move as I await feedback from my three still-ongoing submissions (there’s a grim amount of waiting involved in the writing profession) is to enter Writer’s Digest’s 29th Dear Lucky Agent contest: http://tinyurl.com/zodcsgo. A free, monthly competition judged by a literary agent (this time, it’s Elise Erickson of Harold Ober Associates), each contest focuses on a different genre. Since this month’s iteration highlights historical fiction, I figured I’d give it a whirl. With the contest entry requirements being relatively minimal–a novel logline, the first page of your completed manuscript, and two mentions of the contest on social media–it could hardly be easier to enter. And as the prizes are an agent review of the first pages of your manuscript and a copy of either the Guide to Literary Agents 2017 or the Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market 2017, I figure the time-spent-entering to possible-benefits-gained ratio is pretty solid.
All that to say, it’s been crazy-busy around my authorial neck of the woods (hence my recent blog-absence). In the past weeks, I completed a chapter on women in Don Quijote for inclusion in a forthcoming anthology. I wrote and rewrote and rewrote my query letter. I pulled together the dreaded novel synopsis, shrinking hundreds of pages of narrative into a 1.5 page nugget. I dragged a final reviewing comb through my sample chapters, tugging out knots, smoothing over frizzy ends. And now I’m working on this contest submission. It’d be an understatement to say my long Christmas weekend was well-timed to offer much-needed R&R. But this busyness has also yielded a trove of writerly resources I’m keen to share.
So for those intrepid writers/submitters out there, here are things I’ve enjoying having in my toolkit:
- How to Write Attention-Grabbing Query & Cover Letters: This twenty-year old book has some outdated bits. (For instance, it focuses on an older style of synopsis: 10-25 pages long, written with careful attention to each chapter.) But the query letter portion still applies, and the bird’s eye view of publishing and its pitching documents offers a nice summary of the business.
- Writers Market Guide (current year) and The Guide to Literary Agents (current year): Again, these books offer authoritative overviews of the publishing industry. All the editions I’ve owned have included excellent sections on query letter-writing, complete with examples of letters falling in both the what-to-do and what-not-to-do categories. Additional articles front-end agent and publisher listings, covering useful topics like “Create Your Writer Platform” and “How to Find Success in the Magazine World.”
- The Book Doctors: This entity is headed by author/agent Arielle Eckstut and author David Henry Sterry. Among other services, they offer a regular, free online query critiquing session. You simply email them your query when the call goes out, then hope yours is randomly drawn for review. Mine was, and I found their feedback hugely helpful. They identified issues about which I was totally clueless. Now, two revisions later, I feel more confident in the letter I’m firing off in hopes of wooing agents.
- Graeme Shimmin’s article on Loglines: Full-disclosure: I have yet to submit my aforementioned contest entry, so I can’t say I’ve road-tested this formula. But I found this short write-up helpful in providing an angle for approaching the beastly logline (a one sentence summary of your book’s plot). I’ve consequently ended up with a logline more thoroughly parsed than I might’ve otherwise.
- Jane Friedman’s article on novel synopses: Short, succinct, and easy to follow, I found myself repeatedly returning to this article over others. Something about it just clicked for me, with Friedman’s straightforward guidance offering clarity and direction. She also lists additional synopsis-writing resources at the end of her essay, which is where I found this next gem….
- How to Write a Novel’s step-by-step guide to building a synopsis: My approach to writing doesn’t tend to involve many tools like outlines, tables, etc.;
I’m more of a discover-as-I-write kinda girl. But several projects have absolutely required the deployment of such organizational tactics. (This included the dénouement sequence in my 1920s novel whose simultaneous triple narratives forced me to outline and draw a map of the scene’s locale.) I was going to eschew this article’s technique… until I found myself staring at the dreaded blank page and its blinking cursor for about ten minutes. I then realized I was in way over my head trying to squeeze a novel onto 1.5 pages without a plan of attack. This article’s well-structured approach, in which I scrawled the answer to 24 questions about my novel on 24 notecards, allowing for their arrangement into logical order, was a God-send. It also provided a handy-dandy checklist for ensuring I’d squeezed every necessary motive, emotion, and plot-point into my wee summary.
Sadly, there’s no magic spell to make composing submission documents easy. Composing queries, synopses, loglines, and their ilk still isn’t particularly fun. But with tools in hand, it feels a little less like an impenetrable, occult art. May these resources prove as helpful to you as they’ve felt to me.
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