|12-07-2009, 08:38 PM||#1|
Join Date: Dec 2009
Key Considerations for Getting Published, by Bestselling Author R.J. Pineiro
Dear MobileRead Community,
I would like to start a thread that focuses on the basic elements of getting published that have served me well after 20 years writing fiction and 14 published novels (my latest novel is MELTDOWN, a Global Climate Thriller). The steps below are meant to provoke thought and discussion, so don't be shy about asking questions. The only dumb question is the one that was never asked.
For more information on my writing feel free to visit my site at ww.rjpineiro.com.
1. The Query Letter. This is where you must shine because it is the first handshake, the first impression that the potential agent will have of you. And it starts with the very first sentence, which will either hook them to keep reading (or not). I would not be surprised if most—if not all—of the agents who may have rejected your work never got to the actual sample chapter. In fact, I doubt they got to the end of your query letter. They likely put your submission aside after the first or second paragraph of the query letter because it probably came across as flat, boring, lacking passion. My suggestion here for any aspiring author wishing to hook an agent is to read a book called “HOW TO WRITE IRRESISTABLE QUERY LETTERS” by Lisa Collier Cool. It will take you through the basic elements of the letter, including the “hook,” that very first sentence that will draw the agent in to keep reading. You will have to spend considerable time thinking about this crucial opening line, because if it doesn’t work, they will not keep reading (remember that these agents get hundreds—if not thousands—of unsolicited submissions each week and they will only pick less than one percent from that “slush pile.”) Once you hook them, you need to give them a very quick but powerful sense why you book is better than others in the same genre or subgenre (but be carefully about sounding arrogant here. You need to be confident, but not arrogant, or the submission will be rejected). You also need to cover here why you are qualified to write it (again, careful about arrogance). Then, towards the end of the letter, after you get them excited about why they should read that sample chapter, you should inform them that you have a full manuscript and how long it is (and by the way, careful on the length here as publishers—and agents—do worry about the economics of manufacturing a first novel that’s too long. You should shoot for no more than 400-500 manuscript pages, which will yield a paperback in the 300-page range).
2. The Manuscript. This is where a writer must demonstrate not only talent but also maturity in the execution of a story. I have read many manuscripts that have tension and good characterization and plotting but which have “amateur hour” written all over them from a mechanical perspective and are in desperate need of the expert hand of professional copyediting. Nothing turns off prospective agents more than a poorly executed manuscript packed with rookie mistakes (how many “this will not work for us” replies have you received?) Now, you don’t need to go and spend a small fortune retaining a copyeditor (though it could give you the upper hand vs. a writer who did not) if you arm yourself with what I consider the four essential books of the trade: They are, THE ELEMENTS OF STYLE by Strunk and White, HOW TO PREPARE YOUR MANUSCRIPT FOR A PUBLISHER, by David Carroll, CREATING UNFORGETTABLE CHARACTERS, by Lisa Seger, and PLOT AND STRUCTURE, by James Scott Bell. Now, I’m not advocating you get those exact four books (though those four worked well for me), but that you consider assistance in those four key areas: 1. Mechanics, 2. Manuscript preparation, 3. Characterization, and 4. Plotting & Structure. Think of it as covering all the bases. It isn’t enough to get the mechanics down, like basic grammar and avoiding word over use, but that needs to be the supporting structure to polishing the characterization and plotting to take the existing tension/conflict to a higher level. Some of the polishing may come in the form of achieving the right balance of descriptive adjectives and action verbs. Remember that under-describing something is just as bad as over-describing it. The right amount of descriptive instruments is what will help “show” the readers the scene to the point that they are completely immersed in the illusion of the story (and this is where having flawless mechanics is critical, because plotting/characterization/mechanical flaws are like bumps in the road that will distract readers from an otherwise pleasurable experience.
3. Copyediting Services. If you follow the advice in #2 and still wish to take your carefully written (and rewritten) manuscript to an even higher level of quality, the next step is retaining a professional copyeditor. Keep in mind that you don’t need to spend a fortune getting your manuscript copyedited especially in this difficult economic times as I’m sure there are plenty of good but unemployed copyeditors out there. Because English is my second language, I did enroll the services of a professional copyeditor to help me clean up my first novel, and it made the world of difference as my next five submissions to agencies resulted in four accepts. Back then (1989) I paid a dollar per manuscript page, so for a 400-500-page manuscript that translated into $400-$500, which isn’t a small amount. I imagine with inflation that may have gone up, but then again, it should have come down a little in the past couple of years. I would just look at the back of the Writers’ Digest magazine or other such writer’s service and “phone interview” a few copy-editing services (that’s how I found mine way back). I would ask them to show evidence of the writers they helped get published recently. I would ask them for their payment terms. Typically you should pay half up front and half after getting back the revised manuscript and editorial letter. You should expect a detailed editorial letter addressing the major problems with the manuscript (they are typically a few pages long single space), plus a marked-up copy of the manuscript itself. Don’t be shy here. You are hiring them to do a service to you, so make sure you get what you pay for. I also recommend that before you send it in you take another crack at revising your work after reviewing the books I recommended earlier, but the way to do this is you want to read the ones about characterization and plotting first, then take one or two of your favorite novels (make sure that they are not just your favorites but that they were also commercially successful), and re-read them with an eye towards understanding how that author developed his/her characters and the plot. Don’t be afraid to underline passages in the novel, etc. What you are doing is now STUDYING real authors execute their trade, which will help reinforce what you studied in the self-help books. Then, armed with that, dive into your own work while browsing through the mechanical books (the ones on style and manuscript prep) to generate a better revision, which you can then send to a copyeditor for final polishing
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