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WRITING IN MULTIPLE GENRES

April 29, 2020

WRITING IN MULTIPLE GENRES

            Writers can sometimes be focused. That means we tend to stick to one genre, or one subject. Western writers tend to stick with westerns, while fantasy writers stick with fantasy. Non-fiction writers don’t even consider fiction, so on and so forth.

            However, nothing is an absolute.

            It’s natural for a writer to find a niche and stick with what they’re good at. On the other hand, there’s nothing wrong with branching out and trying something different. Most writers I know, at least the prolific ones, write in multiple genres.

MOTIVATION

            Some will call this the more artistic name for it, and that’ll be “the muse.”

            For other’s, there’s the mercenary approach. Instead of muse, it’s about money and that’s what they write for regardless of how they feel. Sometimes they’re given assignments to write this or that. It doesn’t matter to them. They write whatever the client wants. In a way, it’s like technical writing, but what I’m talking about here specifically is fiction writing. I mention this because I know a few of these writers that have a specialty genre, but they go where the money is. If someone asks them to write something in a particular genre, they do it because they’re trying to make a living. That’s their motivation. There is, of course, some artistic motivation mixed in because they obviously love what they do, but their prime motivation is to make a living at writing, so anything artistic takes second billing to making money.

            The majority of writers I know get their motivation from their feelings and inspiration (muse for lack of a better term). If they get an urge to write something specific, they go for it.

            That’s me. I have specific interests in multiple genres, so I take turns writing in each one, depending on which one rocks my boat at the moment.

PUBLISHING/MARKETING

            For some, a big stumbling block is how to switch gears from one genre to the next. Hurdles such as using different pen names, web sites, marketing strategies, appealing to different audiences can make your job a lot more complex once you’ve completed your manuscripts.

            Since I’ve written in multiple genres, I can only speak for myself. I’ve consulted with others who have also done so, with mixed results.

            #1 I’ve decided to go with my real name for everything.

            #2 I use a single web site with tabs for each genre.

            #3 I use multiple Facebook pages for each book series.

            #4 I’ve researched as best I can each audience for the genre and adjusted my publicity to that crowd.

IT’S NOT ROCKET SCIENCE

            You can make it as easy or as complex as you want. I decided to keep things simple and I can tell you, I’m a lot happier for it. Like I alluded to above, I’ve consulted with multiple authors that have written in multiple genres and seen what grief and successes they’ve had using different techniques. From their experience, I decided that for me, simple was the best.

            It may very well be different for you.

SUMMARY

            My best advice to you is:

            #1 First off, don’t try to put too many pans in the fire. Finish one book before you start on the next one.

            #2 Get to know each genre you write in, so you know at least a little on how to market it (and maybe how to write it as well – maybe you’re actually writing something else without realizing it).

            #3 Decide how you want to market it. Once you do, stick with it.

            #4 Have fun.

            Happy writing!

THE BACK COVER BLURB

April 22, 2020

This has been a never-ending source of irritation to me as a reader.

I’ve alluded to it many times here a Fred Central, but have never dedicated an article specifically to back cover blurbs. It’s time I did so.

PURPOSE

            To be blunt, the back cover blurb is a marketing tool.

            The blurb is like the cover. The cover is the first thing to attract the potential reader to your book. If you have a crappy cover, the reader is more than likely to skip your book to something more aesthetically pleasing. It’s a known fact that there are a few rebellious souls out there that seek out crappy covers, “juss cuz,” but don’t bet the bank on that and expect to have enough sales to afford a Starbucks coffee at the end of the quarter.

            After the cover comes some kind of verbiage about the story. What’s going on between the pages? What’s the subject of your masterpiece? Why should anyone read it? This is where you need to entice them to open the cover and explore further. This is where you have to grab them and make them want more.

MOST DIFFICULT TO WRITE?

            For some authors, the back cover blurb is the most difficult part of the book to write. Others have said it’s the synopsis, while some have stated it’s the pitch letter. For me, while back in the day, I found the synopsis the most challenging, nowadays, I don’t find any of them all that bad. However, if I had to pick one, I’d still say the most labor intensive is the synopsis. What does that say about the back cover blurb?

            To me, it’s not all that hard.

            Why?

            It has to be catchy, but simple. It’s a synopsis without giving away the big Kahuna. It’s a lure to entice the potential reader to buy your book. It’s a quick and dirty few lines that you should know off the top of your head already. You just have to put these words down into something intelligible and honest.

            Therefore…

            I don’t like to lie to my readers.

TRUTH IN ADVERTISING

            There’s nothing that irritates me more than picking up a book that looks interesting. While the covers have some sway, I’m not one that pays all that much attention unless the cover is super amateurish. On the other hand, if I’m going to read this book, I usually just take a glance at the cover and go right to the back blurb. That gives me some idea of what’s inside. I have other criteria which I’ve gone into plenty of times before, but the back blurb is important. What it says is what I expect to see when I read the book.

            I expect a certain amount of hyperbole. After all, it IS a marketing tool. However, I expect that blurb to actually be ABOUT the story.

            Too often, the blurb is not even (or barely) related to the story between the covers.

WHO WRITES THE BLURB?

            If you expect the marketing department at your publisher to take over these mundane tasks, think again! While they may very well do the cover and give you minimal input in the matter, one of the author tasks during the editing phase is to write the back cover blurb. Some marketing genius at the publishing house doesn’t do it. First off, they’re not going to read the book and dream this up. It’s up to you. Second. You’ll be lucky if the artist who does your cover even scans the story to get an idea of the book before they come up with the cover!

            Now, if you’re self-published, all that’s out the window anyway. You do it all, so there you go.

ATTRACTING AN AUDIENCE

            Often, the back cover blurb has elements of your pitch letter in it. Therefore, what you used to attract your agent you can use to attract your readers as well. Now, if it’s the second or more book of a series, or if you’re self-published, all bets are off. Then again, you’re still trying to attract people. Therefore, do yourself a favor and at least attract them with the truth.

            Ease up on the hyperbole if your blurb strays too far from the reality of the actual story!

EXAMPLE

            Jane always wanted to be an artist, but when she enrolled in the Chroma Institute, she had no idea what she was in for.

            Soon, her life turned upside down when killing started. If she wasn’t careful, she wouldn’t make it to graduation.

            Sounds like a great thriller about Jane and her horrible time at the Chroma Institute. The problem is that the story is about Alexa and Jane dies in the first scene. Also, it’s a romance and Jane is the only one that dies.

            While I changed the names and plot to protect the guilty, what I described is from a real blurb of a different book, different genre but the same thing, false advertising.

            The Amazon reviews reflected it as well. One and a half stars overall of something like fifty reviews.

            This was an exaggerated example, but there are plenty that are much more subtle but might as well be just as bad.

WHAT SHOULD A BLURB BE?

            The truth with just a hint of what’s to come.

            Given that I made that one above up out to illustrate a real one, let’s use it as the example again.

            Jane always wanted to be an artist, but when she enrolled in the Chroma Institute, she had no idea what she was in for.

            Soon, her life turned upside down when killing started. If she wasn’t careful, she wouldn’t make it to graduation.

            Say, the protagonist really is Jane and she wants to be an artist. She enrolls in the Chroma Institute, which is in an old Victorian mansion up on a hill in San Francisco.

            This is a murder mystery, a women-in-jeopardy thriller. Jane is single, after coming off a messy relationship with someone. She’s attracted to a tall dark stranger who’s a teacher/student at the institute. Bla bla bla. Mayhem ensues.

            Now that’s staying true to the blurb.

SUMMARY

            The blurb is your marketing tool. It should ring of truth, not mislead your reader.

            It needs to be catchy without going off the rails.

            Don’t anger your readers or alienate them.

            Your reviews will reflect that. I know I certainly let them know!

            Happy writing!

ON LOCKDOWN, WHAT DO YOU DO?

April 15, 2020

On lockdown, what do you do? Here at Fred Central, of course…the easy answer is to tell you to heed all the advice I’ve been giving you since 2012!
Throwing any potential ego aside, and giving it to you straight, I almost went back to square one and decided on something else instead of jumping on the bandwagon with “another one of those damn virus blogs.” However, why not? As writers, for those of you unfortunately, unemployed at the moment, you may have a lot of idle time on your hands.
I’m one of the lucky ones and have a mission-essential job, so for me, it’s the same ole’ same ole,’ except my extracurricular activities here in Nevada have been curtailed. Does that give me more time to write? So far it hasn’t, at least not yet. I’ve had plenty of stuff to do around the house, given it’s spring, but soon, that’ll pass and the doldrums will set in. I’ll soon have more writing time again.

WHAT TO DO?

This is a perfect time to be productive with your writing. If not on a particular project, then some other way of honing your chops. Below, I’m going to list some things you can do.

COMPLETE THAT MANUSCRIPT

This may sound obvious, but you’ve been piddling around with it for months, maybe years. Now’s the time to put the nose to the grindstone. Enough procrastination. Finish it. Stop making excuses and dive into your story.

RESEARCH

Not all of us are best-selling authors or have lots of money at our disposal to travel the world, experience the places we want to include in our stories. Now’s the perfect time to virtually travel to these places. Not only that, now’s the perfect time to background these places, contact locals, dig deep to eke out these minor details you want to add to give extra life to locales, people, things, whatever the case may be. After all, you can only sit and watch TV so long every day!

FLASH FICTION

A great way to hone your chops is to do a few flash fiction pieces. If you don’t, or even if you do have an MS in the works, it might not hurt to sidetrack for just a bit if you get a hint of unrelated inspiration. Slap down a short short or two that you can set aside for further perusal at a later date.

REVIEWS

I review every book I read, every CD I listen to, and a lot of movies I watch. I have currently over fifteen hundred reviews on Amazon. Folks, authors and other artists thrive on reviews. It not only pays it forward, but it hones your short story chops by tightening up your prose.

ON-LINE CRITIQUING

If you’re in a writer’s group, there’s a good chance they may be working on virtual meetings as you read this. If so, there’s a good chance you may be able to get in on some more detailed critiquing of your work. Plus you can critique others. Just keep in mind no blood on the floor. Critique the work, not the author!
If you live in a remote locale, this may be the perfect time to seek out an on-line group. Once you find one you’re comfortable with, you’re good to go.

SUMMARY

There are many ways to hone your writing chops. You can, of course, dig deep and read all of my articles! Then again, maybe you can dust off all those books on writing you bought but never even opened. You might learn something from them.
On the other hand, you may have plenty of time now to complete all those writing projects you’ve been putting off for so long.
Happy writing!

ATTENDING A CONFERENCE 2020 – WHAT TO DO?

April 7, 2020

Normally, this would be the part six of my pitching to an agent or publisher series. I’m dun didded with that part and am into actually attending a conference where you physically hand them the product you worked so diligently to perfect. However, as I say below, there’s a lot more to a conference than just pitching to an agent or publisher.
Unfortunately, this is 2020, and the plague has changed, at least for the first half of the year, how conferences are attended. In the case of the Las Vegas Writer’s Conference, the physical one at the Tuscany Hotel and Casino was cancelled in favor of a virtual conference, which from my understanding, was a resounding success.
I chose not to attend this year, the first time I’ve skipped a conference since 2005. It had nothing to do with either the potential quality of the conference or the organizers. I just simply did not want to sit in front of a computer all day when I already sit in front of a computer all day. It’s not the same as a physical presence. That being said, the rest of this article, pertains to going to a physical conference, which will resume once the plague is over. Wherever you live, you’re bound to have one available somewhere. Take advantage of it.

A LOT TO DO

There’s a lot more to do than just pitch to agents and publishers at writer’s conferences. Though that may be the primary goal for most, especially after forking out some big bucks, one would expect something substantial in return, like a contract, or at least a foot in the door. However, being published from the get-go isn’t necessarily the goal of everyone attending, nor should it have to be for you, especially if it’s your first one.
From the economic side, with what a conference costs nowadays, what is the payoff? Besides the obvious, what about learning more about the craft? Expanding your horizons? Networking? Let’s not forget that the majority of these conferences are dedicated to these other aspects. After all, they’re called conferences, not pitch sessions. With that in mind, many attendees approach a conference as a learning tool.
Since I already had manuscripts ready, my focus was on agents for the first one I attended. I paid little heed to the good stuff so I could get face time with so and so. That lasted about thirty minutes into the first conference in 2005. I not only found great pleasure in helping as a member of the staff, but I had some serious quality time with author James Rollins, one of my favorite writers. Then, when I had free time, I attended a class here and there and discovered I wasn’t as smart as I thought I was. Turns out there were some knowledgeable people there and many of the sessions helped me become a better writer.
At each and every conference I’ve attended, even though I’ve been part of the staff, I’ve always found time to attend classes, chat with all of the agents, publishers or authors and had a great time. You, as an attendee, should be able to study the agenda and will likely have a difficult time juggling the classes to be able to attend everything you want so you don’t miss everything.
One year, a friend and I wrote a screenplay. Two screenplay experts came that year and I attended two very different classes on screenplays. I learned some valuable info on how to improve our draft. Another year, after I’d become the local expert on point of view (which I’ve talked about here), we had an author talk about that (James Rollins again). I learned his side of things and we agreed on our approaches.
One year was the web site year. I knew my first book was coming at the end of that year, so I needed to start a web site. However, I didn’t have a clue how to do it. There were several classes on web sites and I attended them all. Because of those classes, I finally got off my butt and now, three hundred plus articles later, you’re reading this.
When I attend the meals, I like to sit at a different table each time. It’s really great to talk to a variety of people and hear what they’re up to. I’ve learned so much from other aspiring writers. We’re not alone in this passion! It’s always interesting to have a heart-to-heart with agents and publishers and get the latest juicy gossip and snide innuendo (sorry, my language for gossip and trends) from the world of publishing. I’ve learned so much about the inner workings of the publishing industry from just listening to them (This is another reason I decided not to attend the virtual conference). Nowadays, I have a favorite table I usually station myself at because I’m always early. It never fails that different people sit there each time, so I end up with a different crowd regardless and get to keep my favorite seat.

SUMMARY

Attending a writer’s conference is not just about getting a book deal. It’s about learning the craft of writing. It’s clearly a tough investment. I think it’s a lot better than spending a fortune on a garage full of poorly done books that nobody will read. Learn to do things right before you ever attempt to invest in something like that. Do it right the first time!
Happy writing!

PITCHING TO AN AGENT 2020 PART 5

April 1, 2020

THE SYNOPSIS

NOTE: Even though the 2020 Las Vegas Writer’s Conference has been changed to a virtual on-line event, due to “you know what,” query or pitch letters are still relevant to the writer.
I’ve decided to move on, having said enough about pitch letters for now. If any of you want more on them, just ask, and I’ll throw in some more at a later date.
DETAILED BREAKDOWN
The synopsis is a breakdown of your story. It’s another form of an outline, but in complete sentences, no bullets. The purpose of the synopsis is to tell your complete story to the agent or publisher. Specifically, you need to outline the main character, the main conflict, and the resolution. Yes, you must tell the ending. The synopsis tells the complete story, from beginning to end, in abbreviated form. The key is the length. For a pitch letter at a conference, and for some queries to agents, it should be one page. For some agent queries, it might be two to three pages. From there, where a full manuscript is requested, it could be three to ten pages, depending on the individual requirements of the agency. The key is to follow their instructions explicitly. As a general rule, stick to one page unless told otherwise. One good thing about sticking to these rigid requirements is that it keeps your writing tight.
CAN REVEAL FLAWS IN FLOW AND PLOT
A synopsis can be extremely hard to write properly. However, the synopsis can also be a very good way to reveal how well your story has been put together. It’s a good way to spot any red flags in flow and plot. When you break down your story into a few paragraphs, just to get the key plot elements, you’re going to see right away if it all holds together. If, at the end of your synopsis, you notice that the story doesn’t hold water, you may need to go back and do some rewriting!
One way to develop your synopsis is to start by describing each scene or each chapter (if you have a lot) in one bullet sentence. Compile all of these bullets and look them over for the key patterns. If something looks extraneous, maybe it shouldn’t be there. Once you have that down, turn these bullets into sentences and then organized paragraphs so that they flow together.
As for me, I have the whole story in my head. In my creative process, I only know where I want to start and where I want to end, the middle is a total surprise. You’ve heard that all before, right? Well, once I get going and write it all down, it becomes locked in my head. As I edit it over and over again, the plot and all the details become locked in so when I sit down to write my synopsis, I already have the big picture going for me. I don’t have to bullet out each chapter. However, I don’t expect all of you out there to write or create the same way I do, so I’m throwing that bullet method out for you.
NAME ONLY THE MAIN CHARACTER AND ANTAGONIST
The key elements are that you introduce the main character and maybe their adversary by name only. Everyone else remains unnamed. They’re just anonymous characters as far as the synopsis is concerned. The first time you name these one or two characters, you put them in italics. From then on, they’re in regular font. Don’t get bogged down in unnecessary details such as naming a whole bunch of characters, names or places in the story. Don’t list timelines either, especially on a one-page synopsis! Describe the plot, describe what happens, describe what, where, when, why and how the character gets from point A to point B in the story and what happens at the end. Nothing more, nothing less.
If you’re writing a two, three or more page synopsis, a few sentences per chapter might be appropriate unless you have eighty chapters. Again, if you do this, it should read almost like a short story. It should make sense on its own. If it doesn’t, you need to work on the plot of your book some more before you try pitching it.
SECOND SET OF EYES
The final element to all of this, before you ever even think of turning it in to an agent or publisher: Get someone or several other people to read it first! There’s nothing like second sets of eyes to see what you can’t!
SUMMARY
For a pitch letter at a conference, the synopsis should be one page, on the back of the pitch letter. For a synopsis to mail, follow the instructions from their web site.
First do bullets, then turn them into complete sentences.
Tell the entire story including the ending.
Only name the main character and the antagonist.
No example this time because it’ll give away the plot for any future readers.
You’ll just have to visualize.
Happy writing!

PITCHING TO AN AGENT 2020 PART 4

March 25, 2020

THE PITCH LETTER (QUERY LETTER)
(One That Worked)

NOTE: Even though the 2020 Las Vegas Writer’s Conference has been delayed indefinitely, due to “you know what,” query or pitch letters are still relevant to the writer.

EXAMPLE
Now I’m going to show you a pitch letter that worked. Below is the letter that I handed to the publisher that gave me the contract for my upcoming novel, Meleena’s Adventures – Treasure Of The Umbrunna. Keep in mind that I handed it to her at the Las Vegas Writer’s Conference and pitched to her in person. After I sold her on the idea, she had me send it along with the first 50 pages plus a synopsis, which was on the back of this letter.

I’ve included notes of explanation, where appropriate. I also left off the header, date, and a photo, which is something (the photo) you shouldn’t put on a letter you’re mailing out! For a conference, it’s okay, but a blind letter, the photo isn’t such a great idea. Also, I modified parts of it so as not to give away the actual plot in case anyone wants to read the book.

Re: Meleena’s Adventures – Treasure Of The Umbrunna

Fantasy – 79,500 words

Pen name: Ray Brooks (I have since dumped this idea and went with my real name – I’ve posted several articles since about my feelings on pen names).

All she wanted was to get rich, but in the end, will she sacrifice all to help another? If she isn’t careful, people may start to think she’s a decent person. (This is the pitch (or slug) line, the first thing I said to her (the publisher) after introducing myself.)

Meleena goes through life one picked pocket at a time. With a wild heart, she spends each night with a different man, and often wakes up in a strange place. When she goes after a valuable pearl hidden in a lost city called Slab, she figures this is the way to the easy life. An old magick user named Grel may hold the key to finding this pearl, and he insists she not go alone if she hopes to survive. Despite second thoughts and an aversion to working with others, she gathers a team and heads for the lost city. However, she’s not the only one after the pearl, and Meleena enters into a race to get there first. (This is the body of the text. It should be one paragraph, but I broke a rule and made it two short ones (see the second one below). It worked. They were condensed from the original. The whole point was that the entire letter had to fit on one page, letterhead, spacing, signature, credits, all of it. Keep it brief!)

As she fights her way to the lost city, Meleena discovers she’s out of her element in the wilds. Her companions help her survive, and she learns to trust others. After a hazardous journey, she reaches the pearl first, but is betrayed by one of her friends. After escaping, she learns that Grel has been manipulating her all along, and the pearl is not what it seems. Besides the monetary value, it’s the only way to provide a cure for the queen of her kingdom, Grel’s former lover. She’s now faced with making a huge profit or helping the queen. This isn’t the easy life she envisioned. (Notice it’s present-tense. That has nothing to do with how the story is actually written – in my case, third person past-tense. All query letters are written in present-tense.)

I’m a member of the Henderson Writer’s Group in Henderson, Nevada. My short story, The House, appeared in the anthology Between the Pages, 2003. The Walk Home was published in the story collection Writer’s Bloc 2006, The Basement in Writer’s Bloc 2, 2008, and Fun In The Outland in First Voyage, 2008. (Remember, relevant writing credits, which should include a writer’s group, if you’re in one. Though none of these stories are fantasy, the chances of the publisher checking, or finding those books were pretty slim, so I took the chance. Turns out, many of those books were for sale at the conference. Also, the titles could mean anything, and at least they show I’m a prolific and published writer. Just make sure if you do this, you don’t put something down that’s obviously not relevant. Note that I didn’t include the genre of each story. Since I’m now published, my bio and marketing sheets list the genres of each story).

Thank you for your time.

Sincerely,

Fred B. Rayworth

SUMMARY
There you go. An example, a visual aid, without giving away too much of the actual story, but hopefully, enticing you to read it. This example also gives you an idea of one way to successfully pitch to an agent. Next time, I’ll either go over some variations of the pitch letter, or move on to the synopsis, depending if I can find some good pitch letter examples I want to present without confusing you.

Happy writing!

PITCHING TO AN AGENT 2020 – PART 3

March 17, 2020

THE PITCH LETTER (QUERY LETTER)
(What Not To Do!)

NOTE: Even though the 2020 Las Vegas Writer’s Conference has been delayed indefinitely, due to “you know what,” query or pitch letters are still relevant to the writer.
In this part we’ll get down to some technical thingies. We’re going to go over what not to do. There’s nothing better than examples, visual aids, so to speak.
NEGATIVITY
I mentioned never to use negativity or put yourself down. Here are a few examples. Some are overt, while a few may be a bit more subtle.
I know you get lots of submissions, but before you throw mine in the slush pile, I’d appreciate if you’d give me a chance.
Ding ding ding! Red flag! You’re starting negative right out of the gate. Don’t even bring the subject up. In the first place, you should be starting with your slug line. Second, you’re giving the agent the perfect excuse to do just what you are hoping they won’t do.
I’ve been submitting to lots of agents, but was hoping you’d be the right one for my work.
Do I have to explain this one?
I’m a struggling writer and found your agency on line. I would like to present my character…
A little more subtle, but saying you are a struggling writer is not only a cliché, it’s a given and also a negative. No need to voice it. Scratch the first sentence.
Thank you for considering my work. I may not be the best writer in the world, but I know I’ve come up with a winner here.
You had him or her at the first sentence and blew it with the rest. Hack off that second sentence.
RELEVANCE
Now for a little biography sample.
I’m an accomplished writer with high grades in English grammar in high school and college. I excelled at all of my term papers and almost had an article published in the alumni newsletter but due to budget constraints, the issue was never printed. I had a short story called The Flag printed in Mystery Journal for Fiberglas Press, 1989.
She’s a mystery writer. The only relevant credit is the last one. The rest of it is pure fluff and irrelevant. Trash it. Inflating a bio with irrelevant material is no way to win friends with an agent. If you only have one credit, so be it. In the good old days, it was okay to throw in the kitchen sink. Nowadays, agents don’t have time to slog through all this crap looking for gems. You’re better off to keep it tight and right. Besides, almosts don’t count.
CONCEIT
I’m sure you get lots of really “great” stories at your agency, but now get ready for a real treat. XXX will blow you away.
Oh, please! Sarcasm, conceit, grammar problems, the list goes on.
SUMMARY
That’s it for now. The key is to use common sense and keep it straight. Next time, an example of a query letter that worked. From there I’ll discuss other forms of query letters and why they may or may not work.

PITCHING TO AN AGENT 2020 PART 2

March 11, 2020

THE PITCH LETTER (QUERY LETTER)

I need to tell you up front that this discussion pertains to pitching fiction and not non-fiction. When it comes to queries, they’re two different animals. I’ve never pitched non-fiction and don’t have a clue how to do it, so if that’s what you’re after, sorry! They’re called proposals, by the way.
Now that you’ve heard the inevitable (you’re going to have to do one unless you self-publish), how are you going to go about it? The easy answer is to tell you to go to the bookstore or the wyberry (library, sorry, I like to play with words) and stock up with literally (if that isn’t a metaphor) hundreds of books on writing query letters. Or, I could condense it all down for you and let you know what’s worked for me and what hasn’t. Keep in mind that you can come up with a generic letter, but trust me, you’ll have to modify it for each agent. Not only it is good to personalize each one, but many agents have their own ideas of what a query letter should contain. A generic query letter smacks of impersonalization. That, my friends, is a big red flag with a trash can bulls-eye right in the middle of it!
THE SLUG LINE
The slug line is probably the key element to the pitch letter. This is the bullet phrase, something you can cite off the top of your head that sums up the entire book in one killer line. If you were to sit down with an agent, face-to-face, after introductions, and he or she asks you about your book, this is the first words out of your mouth.
I cannot emphasize how important this slug or pitch line is. It should be done without hesitation, without forethought, and with confidence. It should have impact, grab attention, and sum up the book.
A BRIEF SUMMARY OF THE BOOK
Now that you have your slug line out, while it sums up the gist of the novel in a short phrase, the next thing to do is go into a brief summary of the story. This should be a very short paragraph summing up what the story is about but with just a bit more detail than the slug line. The slug line attracts their attention, whereas the summary gives them a more detailed, but brief picture of what the novel is about.
A BIT ABOUT YOURSELF
After you’ve given a summary of the book, it’s time for a bit about yourself (brief bio) (what makes you qualified to write the story). Of course, you don’t write just those things exactly. Remember, this is a letter to a person, not a machine. The key is that the letter should be brief, to the point and only contain relevant information. On top of that, it must be grammatically correct, contain no typos and something you might not always hear from others, it cannot contain any negatives or sarcasm.
NO NEGATIVITY
Whatever you do, do not put yourself or others down! Do not use sarcasm! I must step back and say that if the sarcasm is part of the plot or storyline, that’s something else. If it’s about you or other authors, do not use it!
DON’T GET CUTESEY-POO
Another thing never to do, well, something that is extremely risky and 99% of the time doesn’t work, is to write the query letter in character. Yes, I’m talking about your main character being a hard-bitten detective with a few screws loose upstairs. He or she writes the letter. It’s written on an old typewriter with a cigarette burn in one corner and coffee stains in another. The letter is folded wrong and you sign it with your character’s sloppy signature, typing your real name and address on the envelope. Cutesy-poo to-the-max, but most agents and publishers have been there and done that and can’t hit the trash can with it fast enough. Some may even respond with a nasty letter. A romance writer may send it on frilly stationary soaked in perfume. What if the agent is allergic to perfume?
Play it straight. No gags, no gimmicks to get yourself noticed. I’ve had more agents tell me they get extremely annoyed by these tactics and put these authors on their ***t lists. Keep that in mind.
PERFECT GRAMMAR – NO TYPOS
It’s extremely important the letter have no typos or grammatical errors. When an agent gets hold of it, if they see you can’t even write out a single page without an error, what will a novel or short story look like?
Next time, we break things down even further.
Happy writing!

PITCHING TO AN AGENT 2020 PART 1

March 4, 2020

THE PITCH LETTER (QUERY LETTER)

I originally published this article in 2012. I’d been attending the Las Vegas Writer’s Conference for seven years at that time. This was the second year of my web site. In fact, it was because of the writers conference that I started the web site. Not much has changed, but since the 2020 conference is around the corner, it’s time to dust off the old articles, and bring them out again. This is the second one in this 2020 series.
THE PITCH LETTER
Probably one of the hardest things an author has to write is the pitch letter. Yeah, I’ve probably said the hardest thing to write is the synopsis, or maybe the book blurb, but when you get right down to it, none of that matters if you can’t sell the book to an agent or publisher in the first place.
I’m reminded of the teen who doesn’t want to finish high school and comes up with the excuse, “Well Axl Rose of Guns N Roses never graduated, and look at him. He’s a big rock star millionaire.” Well, there’s ambition and dumb luck. He could just as easily have failed and never would’ve had anything to back himself up with. Mr. William Bruce Rose Jr. (his real name) might be the guy cleaning your pool while you’re making the big bucks because you went on to get a degree (nothing against pool cleaners). Why I bring this up is that some authors think their story is so hot they won’t need to sell it. Agents will be knocking their door down to buy it from them. A pitch letter, or trying to pitch their story isn’t on their radar. They can skip the hard work because their story is so hot, luck (agents and publishers) will seek them out.
Unfortunately, that doesn’t happen often in the real world. The funny thing is that I actually did see it happen once at the very first writer’s conference I attended in 2005. There was this teenage kid pitching a story he hadn’t even completed. He didn’t have a query letter or even any writing samples, as I recall. Yet when he pitched his idea to one of the YA (young adult genre) agents, she signed him on the spot! To this day, I don’t have any idea if anything ever came of that kid or his books (if he completed one), but it was one of those magic Axl Rose type moments, where lightning strikes. I was there to witness it.
Do you think it’ll happen to you? Fat chance! You, my friend, are going to have to work for it like the rest of us, if the numbers bear out. So, suck it up and start listening (or reading, if you want to get technical).
The pitch letter, or as it’s more widely known, the query letter, is your way of getting the attention of an agent or publisher. It’s a way of tapping them on the shoulder and saying “Hey, I’ve got something to show you.”
Agents and publishers get literally hundreds if not thousands of these letters per day/week/month. They’re always looking for the next best thing, something with which they can sell and make a ton of money. At the same time, they have to slog through all this crap. To get their attention, you need to be brief, to the point, no bull. Or as Jack Webb used to say in Dragnet, “Just the facts, Ma’am.”
BE CONCISE
In past posts, I’ve alluded to staying on track, keeping your story to the point and being concise. It’s critical you do that in a query letter. You’ve got just a few quick lines to blow their socks off, to pique their interest, to leave them wanting for more. By the time that agent or publisher reaches the end of that letter, they should know the story is a good fit for their agency, they should see that you have the chops to pull it off, and they should be intrigued by the premise, or pitch line. If you can pull off all three of those things, I can almost guarantee they’ll be asking for more.
Next time, I’ll discuss the structure of the pitch/query letter and some of the various forms.
Happy writing!

CONFERENCE TIME AGAIN 2020

February 26, 2020

This is the start of my annual conference article series. I’ll say right up from that last year I skipped this whole series. I was NOT a happy camper for many reasons I won’t go into. Things changed, not to my liking, and I’ll leave it at that, many things on a personal level. Business has returned to a better place this year, and I feel more comfortable.
For outsiders, the 2019 Las Vegas Writers Conference was a resounding success. We’ve developed a reputation as one of the best writers conferences in the nation, as mentioned in several top notch writers publications. It’s well deserved. As an attendee to every one since 2005, I can attest to that. I’ve seen this conference grow, change, and go through many different versions over the years. We have a reputation and a high standard.
This time I won’t go into too many details except to outline some of the reasons why this conference has gained its reputation. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be revisiting some of the articles from the past that are relevant to the conference. They’re more detailed and the info in them hasn’t changed all that much. Some things you may hear repeated and that’s because these things are an integral part of our success.
WHY THIS CONFERENCE?
          SIZE
One reason the Las Vegas Writer’s Conference is such a success is because of the size.
It’s an intimate setting. We’re limited in size to a smaller group which means everyone gets to interact with everyone.
          PRICE
There’s only one price. Once you pay the conference fee, that’s it. The only exception, is if you want to invite additional dinner guests. Then you have to pay extra for them. Otherwise, if you want to see any agent, publisher, or author, it’s included in the price of admission.
          INTIMATE SETTING
Everyone is accessible.
Throughout the three days, you have access to everyone. Not only do you have ample opportunities to set up appointments with agents and publishers, you interact with them in classes, during breaks, at meals, in the hallways. Everyone is available. It’s not like so and so is escorted in with a “possee” to the signing booth, does their scribbles on a book or two, does a couple of pitches and then leaves. They’re there for the duration.
          CLASSES
There are a variety of classes, the meat of the conference, that cover every aspect of the publishing and writing world. From writing to editing to marketing, there are almost always classes to cover everything you can think of and learn from. These classes are taught by the very people you come to pitch your work to.
          SUCCESSES
Every year, writers get successful pitches and queries to agents and publishers. While the return may be low, once in a while someone strikes gold. The chances of obtaining an agent are much higher with a face-to-face meeting than a random letter in the mailbox. Each year, someone obtains a big-time agent or publisher from our conference.
SUMMARY
The Las Vegas Writers Conference is one of the best in the nation for many reasons. As a writer, you should attend at least one if you’re serious about getting published, whether traditionally or self-published. Yeah, even self-published authors can get a lot of value out of this conference. There’s plenty to learn for self-pubbed authors as well, as you’re not excluded from the mix.
Happy writing!