Things to Keep in Mind When You’re Writing That Cover Letter

cover-letter-impressive-resumesI’m quickly approaching the point in the writing process, where I need to start looking at  submission requirements for the agents/publishers I would like to contact with a proposal.

Agents and publishers have different requirements. It’s very important that you find out what those requirements are and follow them to the letter. Failure to do so could land your proposal in the rejection pile without being reviewed. It doesn’t matter how great you think your novel is. They will never know.

The first step to most proposals is the cover letter.  It should be no longer than one page. Not one and a bit, and not one in an uncomfortably small font. You may have a lot to say, but at this point, remember to keep it concise. Just because your plot is complex, doesn’t mean your letter needs to be.

The main aim of your cover letter is to give the agent/publisher more details about your manuscript and you, the author. Things like

  • manuscript title
  • genre
  • word count
  • manuscript blurb
  • market placement
  • target audience
  • author background
  • contact information (don’t forget this one)

Remember to follow the submission guidelines and tailor your letter to the requirements specified. For example, some ask you to say how you heard about them, and whether you have sent your work to other agents.

In every case, it is very important to address your letter to someone, rather than to a generic ‘To whom it may concern.’ Consider your cover letter an introduction to you and your work.

Also keep in mind that your cover letter, is the first impression any agent/publisher will have of your writing abilities. Therefore it should be straightforward and concise. Treat your cover letter as a business letter-after all that is what it is.

Lots of information and great examples of winning cover letters on the internet. I would recommend that you read a few, or maybe a lot-especially if this is your first attempt 🙂

-Jan Rouse

Things to Keep in Mind When You’re Writing That Cover Letter

Writing A Novel-What Is Your Hook?

untitledHave you noticed some of the books you pick up, you can’t put down. I have stayed up until 3:00-4:00 in the morning finishing a book, because I had to know how it ended. I’ve  changed my plans for the day, because I couldn’t stop reading. That’s the kind of book I want to write.

There’s a writer I’ve followed on scribophile, who is way beyond most of the other aspiring authors on the site. My biggest frustration with her, is she doesn’t post her work fast enough, and I have to wait to see what happens next. She is great at building suspense and ending a chapter right before the climax. You have to read the next chapter to find out what happened. Or, she will dangle a little carrot in front of you and lead you by the nose. Pair this with charming characters, and you have a winner.

So, what tools are available to a writer trying to hold their reader hostage?

  • Surprise-Curiosity kills the cat and your reader. What on your first page is the reader not expecting to see? What is your hook?
  • Mystery-The thing about curiosity is that the reader doesn’t know what’s going on; what’s going to happen next. That’s why they have to keep reading.
  • Conflict-Your reader isn’t looking for a perfect world filled with love, joy, and peace. That may be your ultimate goal and resolution, but it had better be a little rocky along the way. What on your first page sets up conflict?
  • Charm-Your reader has to like your characters and be drawn into their world. Those characters are like family, and it matters what happens to them.
  • Resonance-The reader has to be able to relate to what’s going on. Your writing should evoke or suggest images, memories, and emotions.

When you read that next great novel, think about why you can’t put it down. What is the author doing to keep you hooked. Are they using conflict, mystery, or maybe throwing in a couple surprises to pique your interest?

Hope this got you thinking. Make your novel inescapable.

-Jan R

 

Writing A Novel-What Is Your Hook?

Why Do Publishers Reject Your Manuscript?

1e7cba28f25210164154825f3d16c176After I completed the first very rough draft of my manuscript, I couldn’t wait to send it out to literary agents. It was a great story and I was soooo excited. What if I got more than one offer. I am a realist but a very positive one and I new that story was great.

When I started getting rejections, I was dumbfounded. I couldn’t believe it. Well as I like to say-you don’t know what you don’t know-and I didn’t know much of anything about writing and publishing.

All I knew, was I had a great story and maybe it wasn’t perfectly written, but publishing companies have editors-right? The answer of course is yes, but that editor is there to clean up a mostly polished manuscript. Publishing companies don’t have the time or money to put in to tearing your story apart and rewriting it for you.

If you’ve ever submitted to a literary agent or publisher, you know they don’t want your entire manuscript. They want a small segment of your writing/story. A professional editor can determine if your work is worth their time within the first two to three pages.

So what are they gleaning from such a small segment?

  • Editors can tell within the first two to three pages how much editing would be required to make a manuscript publishable.
  • Are you grabbing the readers attention from the beginning?
  • Have too many characters been introduced to quickly?
  • Are you head hopping (remember only one POV character per scene)?
  • Is the setting and tone interesting?
  • Is there too much throat clearing (skip the description and backstory and get this thing moving )?

An editor can answer all of these questions within the first two to three pages. If you find yourself saying, “but they didn’t get to the good stuff,” then you need to put the good stuff at the beginning.

One of my rejections did come with notes. A gracious literary agent praised my premise stating that in fact it was a very good one, but the novel was not ready. The list of shortcomings included: grammatical and structural errors, head hopping (something I had never heard before), on-the-nose-writing(another term I had never heard), and the dreaded dragging dialogue.

She ended the list by encouraging me to not give up, learn my craft, and apply it to what I had written. I would like to encourage anyone else who has received the dreaded rejection letter likewise. Literary agents and publishers are not our enemy. They want us to succeed. When we succeed, they succeed. Give them something to work with.

-Jan R

Why Do Publishers Reject Your Manuscript?

So You Thought You Were Finished?

208-6I read a quote the other day and thought I would share it on my blog. I don’t know who wrote it, as a name wasn’t provided. It reads as follows:

A lot of times that first manuscript needs to sashay out stage left in order for the real blockbuster to break into the spotlight.

If you’ve been working on your novel for a while, you know exactly what this writer was saying. My current manuscript is so different from the original, and while it’s not ready for submission, it is sooooo much better than it was after the first very rough draft.

As a newbie, I had no idea the work involved in creating a masterpiece worthy of publishing. I wrote my book and sent it out. It wasn’t until I started receiving the rejections and the one response explaining why it wasn’t ready for prime time that the truth sunk in.

I did have a completed manuscript, a great story, but it was missing the bells and whistles, that something that would make it stand out. Of course, the fact that it was full of grammatical and structural errors didn’t help my case either.

I read another quote years ago that has remained with me and I’ve used in several of my blogs.

Get it done and then get it good.

Don’t expect your first draft to be the final, finished, ready to go version. It won’t be. Once it is completed, the fun begins. At least I hope you enjoy it, since you will be working on that manuscript for quite some time.

If you are new to the writing scene, I would recommend a lot of reading. Not just books in your preferred genre, but also how to books from credible authors. I’ve found some excellent blogs, and of course, the internet is invaluable.

I would also recommend courses on creative writing and writing fiction. I’ve purchased classes through ‘Great Courses’ that were excellent and inexpensive. I’ve watched webinars and also signed up for a workshop through Holly Lisle on ‘How to revise your novel’.

You don’t know what you don’t know until it’s to late. Know this, your first draft is not ready, and it’s up to you to research, learn your craft and get it done.

-Jan R

So You Thought You Were Finished?

Is Your Novel Believable?

Writing fiction can be fun. You get to create your own world with your own characters and you can take your story anywhere you want to go. Right?Unknown

Well that statement is true to a certain degree. You do have a lot of leeway, but keep in mind your story has to make sense. It has to be believable to your readers. That’s were research comes in. Your plot may be fictitious but your details had better be correct.

Anachronisms-details out of place and time-can break a reader’s suspension of disbelief if they notice the error. If for example a character in ancient Egypt consults his watch instead of a sundial, or maybe, Scarlett O’Hara, from “Gone With The Wind”, comes prancing down the stairs in stilettos and a mini skirt; your reader would be instantly  drawn out of the story. These are extreme examples but I think it helps to make the point.

There’s no excuse for anachronisms or lack of detail.  Once you know what you are writing about, immerse yourself in the subject. If you want to write about fireman, you do a ride along, shadow a precinct, or become a volunteer firefighter. If your novel takes place in a school, interview teachers or volunteer.

You can also use social media to learn about people and places, by watching videos or listening to interviews.  The internet puts everything at your fingertips. My novel is set primarily in the Carolinas, but my main character is deployed to Iraq for a short period of time. I’ve never been to Iraq and have no intention of ever going there.  For that short, but important segment of my book, I watched a documentary and actual footage from Camp Baharia. I also read pages set up on the internet by marines returning from the area describing what it was like for them. My oldest son is a sergeant in the Marines and has served in Afghanistan, so I was able to glean some information from him as well. Point is, I did some research and found what I needed to make that small but very important part of my novel believable.

It is always best to set your novels in cities that you know.  A good example of this would be Nicholas Sparks. His books are set in North Carolina. That’s where he lives. He understands the culture and can provide the details his readers expect.

One word of caution is to remember your research and detail are the seasoning for the story, don’t make them center stage. Resist the urge to show off how much research you have done. You don’t want to bog your readers down with unnecessary information.

-Jan R

Is Your Novel Believable?

The Five Most Common Mistakes In Beginner Manuscripts(Repost)

I wish I could claim this post but it was actually written by Jerry Jenkins. I love his blogs. If you haven’t visited him, I would highly recommend you do. He did put a disclaimer at the end of this article saying it was ok to share with friends so I am in no way stealing his work. Hope this helps some one and hope you consider visiting his site.

It doesn’t sound fair.

It doesn’t seem right.

But here’s a dirty little secret of the writing life you need to hear:

Any veteran editor can tell within two minutes whether they’re going to reject your manuscript. 

It takes longer to decide whether they’ll recommend it for purchase, of course, but—sad to say—it can, and often does, go into the reject pile just that fast.

“What?” you say. “Before I’ve had a chance to wow them with my stupendous villain? Before my mind-blowing twist? Before my plot really takes off?”

Sorry.

And I’m not exaggerating.

Why?

Because the competition is so stiff and editors have so many manuscripts to read, you have only nanoseconds to grab them by the throat and hang on.

Every writing mentor hammers at this ad infinitum: Your editor is your first reader. 

Every word counts. You get one chance. You must capture them from the get-go.

Am I saying editors look for reasons to reject your work?

No, no, a thousand times no! They’re looking for the next Harry Potter!

Editors want you to succeed!

Then how can they know so quickly that your book won’t cut it?

In my lifetime in the business I’ve heard dozens of reasons, but let me give you my personal top five from my experience as both an editor and publisher:

  1. Throat-clearingThis is what editors call anything that comes before a story or chapter finally, really, begins. It usually consists of a page or two of scene setting and background. Get on with the story. Get your main character introduced, establish and upset some status quo, then plunge him into terrible trouble that reveals the engine of your story. Is it a quest, a journey, a challenge, what?There’ll be plenty of time to work in all those details that seemed so important while you were throat-clearing that would have cost you a sale. For now, your job is to start with a bang.
    1. Too many characters introduced too quickly

    I’m usually wary of generalizations or hard and fast rules, but almost any time I see more than three characters within the first few pages, my eyes start to swim. If I feel like I need a program to keep track of the players, I quickly lose interest. Your reader is trying to comprehend the story, and if you ask him to start cataloguing a cast of characters right away, you risk losing him. Keep things simple till the story has taken shape. 

    3.  Point of View violations                                                                                                Maintain a single Point of View (POV) for every scene. Violate that cardinal rule and you expose yourself as an amateur right out of the gate. Beginners often defend themselves against this criticism by citing classics by famous authors or citing J.K. Rowling, the exception who proves the rule.Times change. Readers’ tastes evolve. This is the rule for today, and it’s true of what sells.

    1. Clichés, and not just words and phrases

    There are also clichéd situations, like starting your story with the main character waking to an alarm clock, a character describing herself while looking in a full-length mirror, future love interests literally bumping into each other upon first meeting, etc.

    Avoid, too, beginning with an evocative, dramatic scene, and surprise, surprise, the main character wakes up to discover it’s all been a dream. There’s nothing wrong with dreams, but having them come as surprises has been used to death and takes all the air from the balloon of your story.

    It’s also a cliché to have your main character feel his heart pound, race, thud, or hammer; and then he gasps, sucks wind, his breath comes short… If you describe the scene properly, your reader should experience all that and you shouldn’t have to say your character did. Put your character into a rough enough situation, and the reader will know what he’s feeling without having to be told—and hopefully he’ll share his distress.

    1. Simply bad writing:
    • Written-ese

    This is what I call that special language we all tend to use when we forget to Just Say It. I recently edited this sentence from a beginner: “The firedrop from the pommel of Tambre’s sword shot past the shimmering silver mist of her involuntary dispersal.”

    I had to read a few more paragraphs to have a clue to what it even meant. That’s written-ese.

    Hollywood screenwriters coined this term for prose that exactly mirrors real life but fails to advance your plot. There’s nothing wrong with the words themselves, except that they could be synopsized to save the reader’s time and patience. A perfect example is replacing all the hi’s and hello’s and how are you’s that precede meaningful dialogue with something like: “After trading pleasantries, Jim asked Fred if he’d heard about what had happened to Tricia. ‘No, what?’”

    • Passive voice

    Avoid state-of-being verbs. Change sentences like “There was a man standing…” to “A man stood…”

    • Needless words

    The most famous rule in the bible of writing hints, The Elements of Style, is “Omit Needless Words,” which follows its own advice. This should be the hallmark of every writer.

    Example: The administrative assistant ushered me through the open door into the CEO’s office, and I sat down in a chair across from his big, wood desk.

    Edit: Obviously, there would be a door. And even more obviously, it would be open. If I sat, I would sit “down,” and naturally it would be in a chair. Because I’m seeing the CEO, a description of his desk would be notable only if it weren’t big or wood.

    Result: The administrative assistant ushered me into the CEO’s office, and I sat across from his desk.

    Re-examine these 5 common mistakes, and study more self-editing tips here, then share below your tips on how to turn rejections into sales.

    -Jan R

The Five Most Common Mistakes In Beginner Manuscripts(Repost)