Thursday, September 28, 2017

When Your Pitch/Blurb Don't Match Your Story

How do we decide on a book to read? In most cases, we take a look at the premise of the book the author and publisher have provided for us on the back cover. We do the same thing when we watch movie previews. But, when these two are not in alignment and what you promise is not what you deliver, you are not only letting down your reader, but likely causing that reader to not buy your future books.

I want to bring this up because, as an agent, we often work with that little blurb you send to us in a query, or what you tell us in a pitch session. If you get us hooked, we will be looking forward to reading that story you promised us. But it is really disappointing when you send something that is not what you claimed.

Do I think authors are doing this intentionally? Absolutely not. The problem is likely an issue of an author thinking what they have is really what they claim it is. They may have been told their story is one thing, but, because the author, and likely the person who told them this, are not knowledgeable enough, the mistake happens.

I am reading a current project right now where the author has done just this. This is supposed to be a romantic suspense, but after the initial first chapter/prologue, there has been nothing about anything with a suspense element. In this case, this author probably intended this book to be a romantic suspense and then felt the need to get side-tracked to tell more about the characters. However, at this point, I am over 1/3 of the way through the book and I am ready to put the book down. Why? What the person promised is not happening.

Again, I get that these are probably accidental mistakes. But the bigger issue here are authors who are trying to publish books and to move into the professional writing realm lacking the basic skills of knowing what their books are, or how to describe their books accurately. This is something we have seen more and more lately. Authors who write stories and then start submitting left and right, but not being fully ready to submit.

What is frustrating is that there are likely really good authors out there, but due to their lack of training and education, they will likely end up receiving a ton of rejections and may even give up.

What does this tell us? Learn the business. Learn how to identify your story. Learn how to present your story.

By the way, as a side note. I do teach workshops in this. If your writing chapter would be interested in having me come for the workshop, let me know.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

More Lessons From Shark Tank (and other reality tv shows)

I have talked about Shark Tank here in the past and I want to bring up something I often see on this show, as well as some of those competitive cooking shows and then to extend this to what we often see from writers when working with editors and agents.

Every now and then, as we watch these shows, we see people who get rejected by the Sharks or eliminated from the competition. For many they are pretty humble about this and walk away saying they learned a lot from the experience and are planning to use what they have learned for future projects. However, there are always those few who make comments as they walk away about how "they will just prove those Sharks wrong" or how "They know what they do works and is the right thing." This is where the problems lies.

When these people come to these shows, they are coming there to get feedback from "the experts." These are people who have been successful with what they do and know what they are talking about. If those Sharks or judges said something did not work or was not going to be successful, there was a reason for it. This was not an issue of people "just not getting it" or someone who doesn't know what they are talking about. Remember, these are the experts.

Every now and them as an agent, I get a response back from an writer that I rejected who intends on telling me that I was completely wrong and that I will be proven wrong when they make millions of dollars from the book I rejected. I just passed on a writer just recently who submitted a story that was not romance or women's fiction. The author still proceeded to write back to tell me I clearly did not understand why the book was perfect and why I needed to sign it. Arguing is not the best approach.

I have even heard authors at writing conferences telling me the reason they were self-publishing their books is because the traditional publishers clearly didn't know what they were doing. Let' think about that comment for a minute? Really?

I also work with other companies providing reviews and critiques for authors. Even in these situations, we hear authors, after not getting the information they wanted to hear, proceed to argue that the specialist, who they went to in the first place, just doesn't know what they are doing.

This is a business where getting feedback is a a part of the process. Sometimes, the feedback we get might be different, or simply not what we want to hear. This does not mean it is wrong.

When I talk to authors about moving to being a professional writer, I often ask them if they can handle the fact that people may not like your work, or may give you negative feedback. Can you handle the pressure? Can you handle the truth? It is easy to say yes, but look deep inside. If not, this may not be the place for you!

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Do You Have Time To Be A Professional Writer?

I was talking to a writer today and this person was talking about how the latest project had been going. The author said that nothing had really happened for the last year or so because "I had to focus my attention on my family." When I heard this, it really got me thinking about why so many authors just are not cut out for being a professional writer. It comes down to priorities and dedication.

Now, before I go any further, I do want to say that in no way am I saying an author should ignore his or her family. Things come up. There are times when the writing will simply have to be put on hold and it should not take priority over your family. I do this with the agency. Although there are times hen the agency takes a full priority, there will also be times when I have to put on the breaks and simply say, my family comes first.


Too often, writers start creating reasons why the story is not getting written or their writing is on a hiatus. These are not reasons, these become excuses.

Being a professional writer is to view this work as a job. You might already have a full time job, but now, as a writer, you have a second full time job. You can't just tell your boss you aren't going to be at work for a year and the same goes for you being a professional writer. This is even more important if you have an agent you are working with, or maybe you are working directly with an editor.

As an author, you have to find time to focus on your craft daily or at the least, several times a week. This means putting some work into that story. It means taking time to research the industry. It means taking time to at least do some planning. It also means, if you have an agent or editor, to keep that person updated on your projects and to not disappear off the map.

For some of you out there, you might be thinking about making the jump to be a professional writer. You have a great story. Maybe you have pitched this story to an editor or agent at a conference and this person is interested. Before you make that jump, you need to take the time to consider if you are REALLY ready to make this commitment. If you have a busy life with kids, a crazy work schedule, or outside activities that will make your writing only happen "when you have time" then you ARE NOT READY and you SHOULD NOT make this jump.

As an agent, when I heard this author talk, I got really frustrated. This author talked about how the agent had signed this person but really wasn't making much progress on selling that first book. The odds are, this agent has assumed, due to lack of work or communication, that this author is done, and there is no reason to pursue the book.

I always say that writing is for everyone. I say that everyone has a story to tell. BUT, not everyone is or should be a professional writer.

Today may be your wake-up call. Think about it!

Monday, September 25, 2017

We Are Living In A Digital Age - Use it!

I spent the weekend working through a ton of submissions, and, as usual, I found myself rejecting a ton of authors who cannot read, or simply believe they can just ignore the rules. Of course, I do believe the real issue is that these authors, who seem to believe they have a grasp on technology, really have no clue how to use the tools in front of them.

As all of you who follow this blog know, I represent ONLY romance and women's fiction. That is it! The information is out there for my agency, like it is for every other editor and agent in the business. We take the time to keep up our websites. We take the time to post, every now and then on social media what we are looking for. And yet, authors do not seem to take the time to use the tools in front of them. Instead, they dive on website clearinghouses that claim to have the most information on editors and agents, click on an email and then madly start sending submissions to everyone on the list. They do not take the time to read or research!

Are you getting a feeling that this is a rant? Yep, it sure is. But I do want to take this beyond those people who probably have no business being in the publishing industry because they cannot do their research. I want to talk to those of you who do your research on the editors and agents.

The present world population has more access to information than any other generation before. You can take virtual tours of museums in foreign countries. You can access primary sources that had once only been available to people who were high ranking professors and major universities. Use these sources! Quit relying on asking quick questions on those social media groups you are part of and then running with that information. Quit tapping into Wikipedia and thinking this is the end-all-be-all of research. Look for real information! Look for research from people who know their stuff, and quit using the research from the people who claim to be experts.

So who are those people who "claim to be the experts?" I am going to target the historical authors on this one. These are the people at conferences who (yes, I know I a stereotyping but you will get the idea). These are those people who are "retired" but have spent the last "x number of years" really digging deep into this research. They are the people who will throw out dates and states left and right, and proclaim their expertise. Probably not a good source.

Here is another example. I think the world of the people who do the SCA re-enactments. The Society for Creative Anachronisms is a great group of people. But, far too many are people who simply have "learned their history" from other SCA people who claimed to have been experts. Not always the best source.

I don't care why type of writing you do, it is your responsibility as an author to present accurate information to your readers. Don't make things up. Don't just run to a "sourcebook" or Wikipedia for that crucial information. Use the tools in front of you. Trust me, it will make a world of difference.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Publishers Are Not To The Reasons For Low Sales

I hear a lot of authors complaining about the availability of their books to the consumer. They scream that their publisher is telling them their sales are not that strong, and yet, their books are not out there for people to buy. Harlequin Historicals, for example, made a decision to reduce their North American print influence. The books are available, but either through purchase on online avenues such as Amazon, or their DTC (Direct to Consumer) programs. Still, the availability is not as strong and authors blame the publisher,

But what we have to remember is that publishers are not just sitting around in a boardroom and saying, "I have an idea, let's just cut a line for the heck of it" or "I know, let's just not sell our product there." They make these decisions based on sales figures and what the consumers were doing.

Yesterday I spoke of publishers cutting authors and the reasons behind it. Many of these decisions are based on sales figures. If the sales are not there and the publisher is not making the money, then the publisher cannot pay the author. It is an issue of supply and demand.

When the recession hit, we saw a decline in brick and mortar bookstores. Many blamed it on bad marketing. Many blamed it on business models. One of the biggest realities, however, was the issue of the consumer. Buying books is a luxury and people had to make decisions. The days of hitting the bookstore and dumping $100+ on books was replaced with groceries and the essentials. This is something archaeologists and historians know. We know how well a culture worked by the amount of artwork that was produced. If we find a clay pot with artwork on it, this meant that the culture was doing well because the person who created the pot had the luxury of taking the time to paint the pot. The same goes for buying books.

It is a shame, but the consumers today are just focused on different things. They want their Netflix. They live busy lives so the days of getting up and reading the newspaper on a Sunday morning are gone. We get up and are on the road immediately with kids, business and the real world. Finding time to sit down and read it just not there. And if we are not taking the time for books, we won't be buying those books.

Going back to the Harlequin Historical line. Why is it that the big market for these books is in Europe? These consumers are reading, and when they are reading, they are buying books.

If we want to see an increase in sales, we have to push for people to read. We need to push for schools to encourage reading, not just for a grade and not to pass Accelerated Reading tests, but to read for pleasure. We have to encourage people to pick up a book and get their faces out of their phones as they binge watch The Bachelor. As a culture, we need to invest in books and literacy and not just tossing iPads and laptops to students who do nothing but play Angry Birds and watch YouTube. Tech is fine, but we have to use it as a tool, not a toy.

So, why are sales low. We as a culture are not buying the books. Don't blame the publishers. Again, it is not like they are saying they want to make decisions to lose money. They are reacting to the sales figures from the consumers like you and me who are not buying the products.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Why Previously Successful Authors Find Success In The Digital Market

As I said yesterday, I was reading an article about how the big publishers were just not signing some of those authors who had made them a lot of money in the past. The author of this article was really trying hard to show that the publishers were making some big mistakes but that these big name authors really didn't need the publishers anyway. As I read the article, I started to realize that this author was missing some big points.

One point that the article made was that these big name people were really finding big success in the digital market. I am not going to deny that. But we have to examine a couple of other avenues though and not just look at this one piece of data. First of all, these authors already have a following. If you get on Amazon or Barnes and Noble looking for a digital book to download, how many of you take the time to see how that established author, the one you already love , published that book. The odds are you don't. You went to that author because you knew who that author was. You had read their works. So why is it the James Patterson's of the world find that success. Because we know James Patterson. It isn't because of the technology.

The second aspect is to really examine what books are these authors putting out there digitally? In many cases, they are re-releasing their back lists. Many authors do this. After a book has run out of steam, the authors get their rights back from the publisher and then move the book on in another format. Some go digital. Some produce it as print. Some do both. In other words, these are not new books. The thing to remember though is that these authors, again, had a following

There is also a third angle that is missing, but something that the traditional publishers figured out with the rise of the e-publishing industry. They produced those books in multiple formats. Look, James Patterson is not stopping publishing his books in print format. When we look at sales figures for authors, we often see the gross sales. We see a combination of BOTH print and digital. Sure, when we look at royalty statements, we break those down, but in many cases, that breakdown doesn't always make it out to the outside world.

Now let's look at why the big publishers are "cutting" those big name people. This author seems to be implying that it is again the digital market that is making the publishers re-think who they sign. They bring it all back to money. There is a part of this that is true. The article does mention how the publishers really cut the mid-list authors. Prior to the recession, publishers took the chances. They can't anymore. But why cut the prior big money earners? There could be other variables.

The first has to do with agents like me. We push for bigger advances for our authors who have worked their butts off for the publishers. Each contract, we want to push for more money for our authors. We want to see them get the raises. But there is a tipping point though. At some point. if the advance is larger than the payout, the publishers simply will not go any further. If the author and the agent feel that they just are not getting what they want, they leave? They turn to digital publishing or self-publishing with less over-head (or so it seems) and they make up the money that way. In other words the publisher didn't necessarily cut the author... the author decided to leave.

The last variable is one that authors simply don't want to admit to. The quality of the book is simply not there anymore. They were hot at one time, but now the books are outdated, repetitive and show no advancement with the times. It is unfortunate, but I see this too often. The spark we saw early in a career for an author is just not there. The writing is just not strong. This, unfortunately will lead to less exciting reviews and that, in turn, leads to lower sales. So, why did the publisher not sign the author to a new contract? The writing is just not that strong.

So, what is the point of all this? It is something I am constantly pounding with people. We are living in a data driven world. The numbers tell us what we should be doing. But we have to remember that those numbers, may have more variables than we are considering. While this article I read sparked some interesting points, it is only the tip of the iceberg.

Monday, September 18, 2017

If Tech Doesn't Change, Digital Market Won't Stand A Chance

I am going to spend the next couple of days taking a look at the current state of publishing and really trying examine what is REALLY happening. I started thinking about this after reading an article that came to me over social media about publishers deciding to cut their major money making writers and the reasons why this particular author thought it was happening. That will actually be for a later post. Today, however, I want to talk about tech.

When the e-publishing world took off about 10 years ago, publishers were screaming about how amazing this was going to be and proclaimed that everyone would have e-readers eventually. I always found that interesting because I remember hearing the same thing back in the 80's when people were proclaiming that everyone would have a computer in their home. Of course, today we can see that prediction is not true. Just go into any school and you will find that in some cases, only 50% of the students have computers in their home.

But what about the digital publishing. Didn't those numbers go through the roof? Sure they did. There was a huge rise in actual e-readers (computer devices designed strictly for e-reading) AND the traditional publishers were releasing their books BOTH as print and e-pubs. It was a hot new trend and everyone got on board with it.

In recent years, however, we have seen a plateau and even a decline in e-readers. Print sales were starting to outsell those in the digital market. So what happened?

I would argue three things. The first two are easy. The fascination over the digital book was just not there anymore. It is like the toys we give to kids at Christmas. Hot toys through January, and not so hot when the novelty runs out.

The second has to do with the price. When the digital books came out, these were less expensive options for the readers. Think of it: Buy a print book for $14.99 or a digital book for $5.99? No logic needed here. But then there was the push to not short change the authors so the prices leveled out and... again, no logic needed here.

It is the third point that I want to look at that I believe is really the big issue. I was at my local Target yesterday looking for a few things and, like usual, I like to make a quick trip through the book and tech departments. As I walked through, the sales clerks were hyping up all of the latest gadgets and telling people the great characteristics. This told me everything...

First of all, the hype was on the quality of the screen. This allowed the user better quality as they streamed Netflix and Hulu to binge watch the last season of their favorite shows. The hype was on the sound so they could better listen to their Spotify and Pandora. Nothing about the e-reader capability. In other words, we are not using this technology like we did with the e-readers.

The second thing they hyped was really the nail in the coffin for the e-reader industry. These phones were not as large or as "clunky" as their predecessors. We are living in a world where we want things compact. Not good for reading.

This, my friends, will be the death of the digital e-reader market. Look at the iPads and other tablets. These too are shrinking in size because people don't want to carry around large clunky devices. And for the e-reading population, this means that those novels will now be harder to read.

I don't know if you have ever tried to read a novel on your phone, but it is pretty damn difficult. No, this is not an issue of my eyesight going downhill in my old age. It is the simple truth that reading a story in  really tiny font is hard on the eyes. Why do you think we hype up using a 12 point font when we type documents? It is the ease on the eyes.

 (I re-typed this for you to show you what I mean) I don't know if you have ever tried to read a novel on your phone, but it is pretty damn difficult. No, this is not an issue of my eyesight going downhill in my old age. It is the simple truth that reading a story in  really tiny font is hard on the eyes. Why do you think we hype up using a 12 point font when we type documents? It is the ease on the eyes.

Look, don't get me wrong. I love tech, but it will be the tech that is going to destroy the digital world. Until we decide to create a product that will work for reading books in a relaxed setting, to really enjoy that summer read by the pool, then I am sorry, but that market is just not going to last. We also have to get away from using these as nothing more than portable televisions.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

What It Takes To Be A Published Author

To be a published author requires a lot more than simply having a book printed and available or someone to buy. Being a published author requires a level of professionalism and a dedication to the craft and the industry. Unfortunately, with the rise of "self-publishing" avenues that allow people to just post books, that commitment to the craft and industry is often missed.

Let me say, before going any further, that I am not against the self-publishing model. There are a lot of cases where this is the best approach for an author, due to the nature of the book he or she is writing, or the genre. However, there are still far too many people that I see out there at conferences who proclaim being a published author and really are only people who have written "something", "printed" something and are now "selling" something.

The industry of publishing and writing is unique in that people can certainly be writers and enjoy telling stories or just writing something. This is creative writing. This is a chance to explore personal emotions and feelings. However, this is also an industry where people can turn that hobby into a business. It is that shift that, if done properly can turn that hobby writer into a professional writer.

As I said, being a professional writer requires thinking of this as not just a hobby. Think of how you approach any other job. You show up to work on time. You dress the part. You act the part. Being in a job is not just a matter of saying that you are. It isn't like those commercials that say "I'm not a doctor but I play one on TV."

I bring this up because I see far too many authors at conferences, or get submissions from people who seem to forget that the editors and agents out there are doing this for a living. They seem to forget that when they show up at a conference and are not being "professional" it is a reflection on the whole industry.

So, if you are a hobby writer, I applaud you and please, continue that way if you wish to. But, if you are ready to make the jump to being a professional writer, or you are one, consider the fact that you are now in a writing career. This is a job.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017


I am sending out a big thank you to all of you who donated to the EQUUS FOUNDATION, promoted it through your sharing through social media, and certainly just sending great vibes.

As I have said over the last several months, the team at Equus has been really working hard to help out horses as they transition from one career to another, or simply are saved from being shoved aside.

Even if you were not able to help out this time, please take the time to visit the Equus Foundation site and help them out! Please also note that I will likely be doing some more fundraisers in the future and we want to do all that we can.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Question from a Writer - Part 2

I've been doing a lot of research about how to query an agent and one of the things that is hardest for me is how to define the genre of a manuscript. I've not submitted anything to anyone yet because I'm afraid of sending to someone outside of what they accept. I have read that you accept women's fiction and romance, both of which I think one of my manuscripts would fall under, but not exclusively. Also, none of my writings really adhere to one type of "aesthetic," if that makes sense. I read an article that said in the beginning (of attempting to be published) you should write for a specific audience so that you are certain of your place. Is that good advice? I feel like it would be good if my goal was to only be published (which of course it is) but I also want to be entertaining and not pigeonhole myself. All of this is very confusing. I feel like I might be ready to pursue something with my writing, but I just want to make sure I'm doing it right. 

We answered the red part of the question yesterday. Today, we are going to take the time to focus on the second part of this author's question (Marked in Blue).

Like knowing your genre, knowing where you want your story and who you want to write for is important. Every publisher out there has a different voice and style. Although they all write similar genres, the voice is different. Some lean more toward a literary voice, some more of a commercial voice. This would also apply for someone interested in writing for a series line such as Harlequin or Entangled, of they are considering a single title line. Even the difference between print and e-publishing has a different voice. You have to think of who would be buying these books. 

As you think of where your story would go, consider the types of stories that you read. Look at your "go to" authors and check out the publishers. You will likely find that you are drawn more to one voice than the other.

After you have found this out, really spend the time dissecting the writing styles. Look beyond the plots and focus instead on style and structure. How much do they rely on secondary characters? Balance between narration and dialogue. It's the small things.

You are really looking for the right fit.

Now the second part of this was the issue of being "pigeon holed." I hear so many authors complain about this. When I start talking about genres and subgenres, you always get this group of authors who don't want to be told what to write. This issue here s that you DO want to be pigeon-holed. You want to create a voice and style that your readers will want to gravitate to. You want to create a brand that people will know you for. There is nothing to say you can't change to a new voice later, but for new authors, create that brand. 

That should relieve your tension!

Hope these two days helped! Thanks for the question!

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Question from a Writer - Part 1

I am going to answer this one in two parts. Each day, I will highlight what question I am answering...

I've been doing a lot of research about how to query an agent and one of the things that is hardest for me is how to define the genre of a manuscript. I've not submitted anything to anyone yet because I'm afraid of sending to someone outside of what they accept. I have read that you accept women's fiction and romance, both of which I think one of my manuscripts would fall under, but not exclusively. Also, none of my writings really adhere to one type of "aesthetic," if that makes sense. I read an article that said in the beginning (of attempting to be published) you should write for a specific audience so that you are certain of your place. Is that good advice? I feel like it would be good if my goal was to only be published (which of course it is) but I also want to be entertaining and not pigeonhole myself. All of this is very confusing. I feel like I might be ready to pursue something with my writing, but I just want to make sure I'm doing it right. 

I want to focus today on really understanding what genre you write. I am betting that this author is not talking so much the genre but the sub-genre of writing. This is really an important issue on several different levels. The first is something the author pointed out in her question, "I am afraid of sending to someone outside of what they accept." On a second level, submitting something and not knowing your genre (or sub-genre) displays what you know of the business and this may reflect poorly on you as an author.

For today, I am going to focus in on the portion of her question talking about romance and women's fiction, but, in reality, this works for every genre you might write.

The key in determining what genre or sub-genre you write is to focus in on both the main story arc and the message, or your take away of the book. Let's focus on the first one and then fine-tune it with the second part.

In the case of romance, the central story arc is the building of the relationship between the two characters toward the happily ever after moment. All of the story elements focus on the relationship. We watch them getting to know each other, going through the struggles of the early relationship building and finding a way to overcome those obstacles. 

Now, it is important to note that the level of sensuality and heat is entirely up to you. Too often, writers seem to believe that if they put the sex in the story then it is a romance, but if they leave it out, it is women's fiction. Not true. The key is, as I point out, the central story arc. 

When it comes to women's fiction, I want to start with a definition. I have found that true women's fiction focuses on the female journey. It is the opportunity for the reader to see the world through the female lens and see how these characters work through the realities of life. These stories may or may not have a happily ever after (although we do want to see a satisfying conclusion to how they worked through the issues in their life) and these stories may or may not have a romance included.

I noted that there was a second level and this was the message you wanted to include in the story. This is going to shape the sub-genre, or even determine if the story is a romance or women's fiction piece. If, for example, you have a romance but the central focus is to show how faith guides the characters toward happiness, the odds are you are looking at an Inspirational Romance. If you say that the story is about this building of the relationship, but the focus in the heroine coming to grips with balancing her relationship with her career, and not so much the relationship, you are likely looking at a women's fiction piece. 

Another way of determining what your genre would be, is to take a trip to the bookstore and find the shelf you believe your story would be sitting on. Look around it and see what those other stories look like. Read the covers and look at the themes. Honestly, I recommend this to a lot of male writers who believe they are writing romance. I show them a cover and ask them if this is their book. When they cringe, they realize the story is probably general fiction. 

I also like to take an approach of just talking about your story out loud. I do this with authors who pitch to me face to face. Many times, authors come in and want to read their pitch to me, or crank out the memorized version of their pitch. The problem is that they are often describing a book they want their story to be, and not what the story is. 

I have had authors come in telling me they have this romance with a little suspense to it. When they pitch the story to me, however, they spend the entire time talking about the suspense and never once mention the romance. This is telling me the odds are, we're simply looking at a suspense story. Even if the hero and heroine decide to have a relationship in the middle of tracking down the bad guys, the focus is the suspense and not the romance. Again, think about that central story arc.

I saw the same thing when an author came in and pitched a story that she said was not an inspirational  She said she didn't want to write in that genre and didn't want to be told otherwise. However, when she pitched the story, the whole focus was on the faith element. Regardless of what she wanted, she was writing an inspirational story.

Hope this helps... Tomorrow we focus on the issue of writing for a market.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Grammar Tip For A Wednesday - The SEMI-COLON

I am someone who really loves this punctuation mark. The semi colon ROCKS! as far as I am concerned. Unfortunately, far too many people have no idea how to use the semi-colon, and I fear, this is one of the reasons why so many editors try to get people to avoid using it. Not that it doesn't work in the writing, but the editors simply don't want to spend the time teaching the writers how to use it correctly. I will also add that if you are someone who seriously uses your grammar checker, MSWord frequently recommends using a semi-colon when it is probably not the right place.

So, for all of you, here is your brief grammar lesson for the day.

Let's begin with the basics. If you notice, a semi-colon is made up of a period and a common. This is important for the first part of the usage.

When we use a period in our writing, we are separating two sentences. The same goes for a semi-colon. You have to insure that the phrase before the semi-colon is an independent clause (i.e. a sentence) and the phrase after the semi colon is also an independent clause (also a sentence). This means that there is a subject and predicate on either side.

The second part of the semi-colon is a comma. This means that it is connecting together two ideas that need to be combined. This, however needs to be more than simply a connection of the same topic. This is an idea concept. I always like to think that there is a relationship between the two ideas and separating them with a period simply weakens the thought, but bringing the ideas together really enhances the message.

Now, here is one more twist. The second clause after the semi-colon may or may not include a transition word or phrase. I am personally someone who believes if you are going to use a semi-colon, you add the phrase to show the connection between the two thoughts. These can be things such as however, on the other hand, furthermore and so on. As I said, though, you can just skip the phrase, but personally, if you are going to do that, I would simply recommend using a period.

It is this last point that the grammar checkers tend to recommend putting in a semi-colon. The programs sees words in the sentence that seem to suggest a subject and a predicate in the beginning and a subject and predicate in the end of the sentence. Remember, though, the computer cannot read so it has no idea if those are connected together.

If you feel your writing is choppy due to a lot of shorter sentences, using a semi-colon may add to the fluency of your writing.

Hope this one helps! If you want more information on these, check out my favorite grammar book, A WRITER'S REFERENCE 

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

What Is Your Story's Take-Away

There are a lot of times when I have read a novel and, after closing the book, had to ask myself what the point of the book really was. OK, I have to admit that most of the time, I never make it to the end of the book when I have that thought. You may have experienced the same thing before. What we are talking about here is the theme of the story, or to bring it more to a modern day concept, the take-away.

Now, this concept is one that is normally seen if business but it can really be used with authors as they think about their novels. Let's start with the definition, right off of the ol' Internet:

noun: take-away
  1. 1.
    a key fact, point, or idea to be remembered, typically one emerging from a discussion or meeting.
    "the main takeaway for me is that we need to continue to communicate all the things we're doing for our customers"

Now, when it comes to your story, you need to be thinking of what you want the reader to be thinking about when he or she hits that last page of the book. You can also think of this as the thesis of your book. It is important to know that we are not talking about the type of book (i.e. this is a coming of age story, or a story of lost love found), we are talking about something we can learn from this story.

If you have that point in mind before you even start writing your novel, your story will have focus. All of the actions, dialogue and scenes that happen in the story add one more piece of the lesson puzzle you are providing for your reader.

What you will also find is that the take-away of your story will also feed the high concept and marketing you will use when submitting to editors or agents. This will also assist the people in the business and marketing departments of your publisher as they work on promotion work for your novel.

Please note that this is not likely something you can just put in after you wrote your story. Sure, you can likely manufacture a generic idea, but the problem is that all of  the things you put in the story may or may not support that message.

So, what is your take-away? Not sure? Find it before you write today!

Monday, September 4, 2017

Mass Mailing Queries Will Equal Rejections

Simultaneous submissions is a normal practice. In other words, sending one query out at a time is not necessarily the best approach. However, far too many authors are making huge mistakes by how they approach this concept. Sending your story to everyone who is an acquiring editor or agent is not going to get the results you want. Unless, of course, your goal is to go for the record number of rejections.

Before you even start sending out those queries, I cannot scream enough about the importance of doing your research and knowing why your story is being sent to that particular person. Your story does not fit with everyone out there.

Why do I bring this up? I sent out a message on social media at the end of August noting that I was re-opening Greyhaus for submissions Sept. 1st. I also noted that it was important to review what I was looking for, what I want in particular, and more importantly, the things I do not represent. On August 31st, my in box was flooded with submissions. Now here is what was funny about this.

  1. I said not to send anything until Sept. 1.
  2. Every submission, with the exception of one, was a project I do not represent. 
Clearly these people are working on the record for number of rejections.

So, how do you handle simultaneous submissions? The answer is quite easy. Treat each and every query as if this is the only one you are sending out. Review exactly what that person wants and then tailor your letter just for that person.

Every letter needs to be drafted individually, highlighting different things about your project for every editor and agent. As I always tell people, your query is just like a cover letter for a resume. You want to showcase your experience.

I would also add that you cannot just put standard generic phrases in those queries. For example "I am very impressed with the work you do with your clients and would love to have your expertise." Really? Do you even know who those clients are? Why do you think you and your writing would fit with me.

Finally, and this is a really big one. Including everyone in an email is an automatic rejection. Adding, to whom it may concern or dear agent/editor will also get that rejection. 

These are not hoops to jump through and ways we try to trick you. Editors and agents view this as a business and we expect our writers to also view their writing career as a full time job.