Friday, October 30, 2009

20 Tips on Query Letters

This is another great post that came across the Guide to Literary Agents blog. Since we were talking about queries, I thought I'd share it.

Agent Janet Reid of FinePrint Literary Management gave an intensive workshop on queries at the South Carolina Writers Workshop. Here are 20 tips to writing an effective query, according to the Query Shark herself.


• Be professional. It’s a business letter—not a personal letter.

1. Regarding salutation and tone, err on the side of caution because formality is never out of place.
2. “Dear Agent” or “To Whom It May Concern,” however, is too impersonal.
3. Pet peeve: If you’re querying an agent’s direct e-mail (i.e. “janet@” and you address the query “Dear Agent,” you don’t come across as being too smart.

• Be comfortable with computers. Publishing is moving toward the electronic age, so move with it.

1. Have an e-mail address with your name in it (e.g., This shows her you are professional. How is she to take you seriously if your e-mail is
2. Have your own e-mail account—not one you share with a spouse.
3. Have a Gmail or Earthlink account. She says AOL is bad for queries because its spam filters sometimes eat e-mails without your knowledge, and you could be missing a reply.
4. Also, add the agents to your “safe senders” lists to ensure you receive their replies.

• Use a referral. Agents always move referrals to the top of the stack if someone they know vouches for the writer.

1. Do not, however, quote your rejection letters, friends, critique partners, paid editors, or conference critiques. These comments are not the same as referrals.


1. Don’t start with a rhetorical question. You’re talking to really sardonic people in New York City, and they’re not going to answer the question how you expect.
2. Get right to the main character—by name.
3. Tell who he/she is, and do it in as few words as possible.
4. Tell what happens to him or her—the initial point of conflict in the book.
5. Show two choices the main character faces as well as the consequences of those choices. The stakes must be high.


1. “Fiction novel.” A novel is fiction, so when someone writes “fiction novel,” not only is it redundant, it makes the writer sound ignorant.
2. “Surefire bestseller.” Let the agent be the one to decide that. Declaring your work to be the next best thing shows you know little about the industry—and that you’re probably too arrogant for the agent to want to work with you.
3. “Film potential.” Janet says, “First of all, you don’t know shit.” (See arrogance comment above) Also, she’s not a film agent. She just wants to know what the book is about.


1. Inspiration. You only have 250 words, so don’t waste them. Stick to showing her what the book is about because how you came up with the idea does not interest agents in the query. “It’s the equivalent of making sausages,” she says. “I do not want to see you do it.”
2. Personal information. It doesn’t matter to agents where you live or how many cats you have.
3. Sometimes work information is relevant to you being the only person able to write a particular book; however, sometimes the worst people to write certain types of books are those who actually do those occupations (e.g., cops hate cop shows, doctors criticize medical dramas). They know the reality of the job too deeply, and it doesn’t make for good fiction.


1. A query letter is the foundation upon which your publishing career rests, so remember: You can query too soon; you cannot query too late.

Janet Reid's publishing background includes 15 years in book publicity with clients both famous and infamous. She specializes in compelling fiction, particularly crime fiction, and narrative non-fiction, and she keeps a blog about agenting as well as a query critique blog.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Shameless Self-Promotion - First Review of my Novel

I hope y'all don't mind, but I recently received the first professional, independent review of my album, Deadly Vision. The novel hasn't been published yet, but my editor sought out an independent editor to review the book prior to her accepting to represent it. Not only did this give her impetus to represent the novel but it also gave her a review to pass on to the publishers to help her sell it.

Now, of course, I was a bit psyched when this came in, so if you don't mind, I'd like to share it with you. Feel free to pass this on to any publishers you'd like. :)

Here's my first review! Please send your thoughts.

The reader has a front row seat as Severin leads you into the world of virtual reality medicine and a graphic journey into the life in ER trauma care. Add to that some very surprising twists, well developed and quirky characters and you have a first rate thriller.

Todd Severin's Deadly Vision is one of the best Techno-thrillers I have read. He may be the new and improved Michael Crichton. This fast paced novel smoothly combines the author's fluency in both the medical field and the science of computer technology to escort the reader into the expanding world of virtual reality. Add Machiavellian politics, corporate espionage and murder and you have a novel the reader doesn't want to put down. I was highly entertained.

As an editor, I would add that this manuscript is well written and will require a minimum amount of editing. I'm impressed. Thank you for the opportunity to review his work.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Cold Querying Still Works

After locking myself away, secluded from society like the pictured monk, cold querying the entire state of New York and half the Atlantic Seaboard to find an agent to represent my medical thriller, I wondered how much trouble other writers had cold querying agents.

Then, like a streak of light, this was an interesting post that came across on the PubRants blog, which I found from the Guide to Literary Agents blog.

Guest blogger Megan Crewe, writing on agent Kristin Nelson's site, explains how she polled 270 successful fiction authors and asked them if they broke in with a referral (a personal connection with someone in the business) or whether they cold queried an agent with success.

The results came back and 62% of the authors got their agent with just a cold query. Pretty amazing - but more than that: encouraging! As agent Dan Lazar once saying that "A good query trumps all else - every time."

Don't know how good my query was, but I did get several requests to read the novel or for partials before I settled on the Bob DiForio Agency.

Now keep your fingers crossed on that sale!

So take hope!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

One of my favorite writing blogs

I only subscribe to two writing blogs, and this is one of them. As writers, we're all operating ont he borderline of desperate to get our books published. Desperate and gullible. That's where Writers Beware comes in. Constantly, there's a feed of information on scams, traps, gimmicks, and other unsavory stuff we don't want to get involved in.

Here's an example from their latest post. Check them out at

Here are eight words you never want to hear from a publisher that is considering your manuscript for publication:

"How many books are you planning to order?"

Many writers are aware that it's a major red flag when a publisher's contract includes a clause requiring authors to buy their own books, or to commit to some kind of sales guarantee. Since an outlay of cash is a condition of publication, this is vanity publishing--what we at Writer Beware call "back-end" vanity publishing, since you're buying into the end of the publication process (finished books) rather than the beginning (paying for the book to be produced).

Stealthier back-end vanity publishers rely on pressure and encouragement, rather than contract clauses, to get authors to purchase their own books. They may produce "author manuals" that extol self-purchases with promises of huge profits, or employ "publicists" whose sole job is convincing authors that buying their books for re-sale is essential to success, or offer frequent special deals and discounts (buy 50 books, get 10 free!) to make self-purchases as attractive as a sale on canned soup at the grocery store. Since inexperienced authors may not know a lot about how publishing is supposed to work, they can be easily ensnared by this kind of deception.

Still other publishers that focus on author self-purchases are well-intentioned amateur efforts run by people who have no professional publishing experience, little or no financing, and, often, no concrete business plan. Because of their lack of capitalization and marketing expertise, it's very tempting for such publishers to settle into a business model where they rely on their authors as their principal customer base and sales force. This creates a closed loop, in which published books are marketed mainly to the books' creators--all but eliminating the publisher’s risk, and even possibly, guaranteeing a small profit. It’s this kind of publisher that’s most likely to ask you the question with which I began this post, rather than surprising you with contractual purchase requirements or bombarding you with special offers post-publication--since its intentions are basically benign, and it's not consciously trying to deceive or screw you.

Intentions aside, the author is the loser in all three of these scenarios. A publisher that relies on its authors as a main or major source of income is considerably reducing--if not entirely removing--its incentive to market and distribute the books it publishes. Why should it bother trying to sell books to the public, when it can turn its authors into customers? Why should it expend money and effort on getting books into the hands of readers, when it can persuade writers to function as an unpaid sales force, buying their own books and then re-selling them?

In each case, the publisher is failing to do what publishers are supposed to do: get books out into the world. While it's certainly true that authors nowadays are expected to self-promote, the self-promotion an author can do and the marketing a publisher should do are two different things--and without your publisher's active marketing and distribution support (I'm not talking here about writing press releases or getting books listed on Amazon), you have very little platform on which to build your self-promotion efforts. You're likely to wind up in much the same position as if you'd self-published--except that you'll probably have a more restrictive contract, a less professional product, and, in the case of the more unscrupulous back-end vanities, a considerably smaller bank account.

So if a publisher asks you about your plans for buying your own book, be on your guard. Even if the publisher isn’t obviously a vanity, even if it assures you that it's only collecting preliminary data and declares that your answer will have no bearing on its decision, the mere fact that it's thinking about author self-purchases at this early stage of the game is reason enough to move on.

(This post, by the way, was inspired by a real example: Black Rose Writing, which recently moved from just asking about authors' purchase plans, to actually including a purchase requirement in its contract.)

Friday, October 2, 2009

Yes, go ahead and yell at me!

Ok, ok, I know, once again I've been MIA for a while. I apologize.

Believe me, I'm not giving up on the writing affair, and I'm actually really touched (and flattered) when I logged in today and saw how many followers there are of this blog. It made me feel really guilty that I've been so poor in updating recently.

My novel is currently making the rounds in New York, handled by my agent at the Bob DiForio Literary Agency. I've heard rumors of nibbles, maybe even a few deep sniffs, but so far no one has devoured the complete dish. Please keep your fingers crossed.

This blog will explode in activity once a publisher takes a bite, because I plan on updating you with every issue, stumbling block, hurdle I have to jump through towards publication in an effort to try and help you avoid those same problems.

Also, this blog will explode in activity once I get started on my next novel, another medical thriller, that I'm currently researching. My outlining process is a little unique and really fun for me, so I can't wait to share it with you.

So why the dearth of posting of late? Because I'm slightly schizophrenic in my activities. Some of you may know that I also run a music site, The Ripple Effect, with my partner, the Pope. Well, one thing has lead to another and another, so now, in addition to our radio show on Blogtalkradio, we've just started our own record company, Ripple Music. We're currently working with 4 bands to get some really nice colored vinyl releases ready and out to the world. With that, we also formed a music publishing company, Ripple Songs.

So between it all, I haven't yet found the time to write.

But things are moving along well. Once the company is up and running, all the legal done, I'll have some free time and get back to writing and updating.

Thanks again, so much, for your support. I'm really flattered and appreciative.

I promise, regular updates will start again soon.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Writing the Query Letter - Key Point #1

As promised, we're going to do a series of posts on writing the query letter, including examples of query's that worked. Eventually, I'll post my query as well and we can dissect it together.

To start with, there are tons of references on how to write a query, and I've read them all, but it never really seems to make it easier to write one. The problem is effectively summarizing the hook of your story, making it eye catching, without being overly flamboyant or non-professional. In fact, that word professional, is the key in writing your query. The agent wants to know that you are a serious writer, understand professional demands, and can adhere to them. We've all heard of the queries written on pink paper or with cursive font because the author wanted to "stand out." Unfortunately, those tricks will make the author stand out . . . in a bad way!

Key #1: Be professional at all times.

This excerpt comes from the Guide to Literary Agents Blog.


"The first thing to think about when you sit down to write a query letter is that, in a lot of ways, it’s similar to writing a cover letter for a job application. You’re addressing your letter to a person who’s never met you before, and who sorts through hundreds of such letters a day. This crucial first contact is your chance to demonstrate that you’re smart, professional, and interesting. The way to convey those traits is through the tone and content of your letter. The tone should be professional, specific and engaging—never general, overly familiar or abrasive. Make sure your letter is well written and grammatically correct. And make sure to include all of your contact information, including your mailing address, phone number and e-mail address.

"These suggestions may sound obvious, but you’d be surprised how many letters I get that leave out vital contact information, start out with 'Hi Mollie—' instead of 'Dear Ms. Glick:', or include unprofessional phrases such as, 'You’ll probably just throw this letter out like the other agents have.' Occasionally, I get a letter written in a lighter, more humorous tone, and that’s OK—as long as the letter reflects the kind of book the author is querying me about (i.e., a humorous nonfiction book or funny novel) and it still includes all the information I need to know. But if in doubt, stick with a professional tone, and include a one- or two-line quote from the book to give the agent a taste of its voice.

"Like a cover letter, your query letter should be no longer than a page. It should include your contact information, a salutation, a paragraph describing your book, and a paragraph explaining why you’re the perfect person to write that book. Lets take a closer look at each of these components."

- Excerpted from the article "Write a Killer Query Letter: How to Hook an Agent," by Mollie Glick, in the 2010 Guide to Literary Agents.

More coming as we examine this in depth. Having written several queries, some that worked, many that didn't, we'll look at my letters and examine for strengths and weaknesses.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Yup, You Knew One Day It Would Happen, I'm Back

Gotta admit, it's been so long since I logged on that I almost forgot my password. Two months, my how time flies.

I'd like to thank all of you who continue to support this blog. Your comments mean a lot to me.

So, why's it been so long since my last post?

Two reasons really. First, my writing has been on hold because the Ripple has been sucking away all my time. It's stunning how fast things have grown over there. Wonderful fun, yes, but a massive time sink. I'm going to have to do some major time budgeting between writing and rippling once I start on the next novel.

And secondly, in truth, I haven't had much to write about. My original idea for this blog was to use my experience revising, querying, selling, publishing my novel as a way to pass on tips that I'm learning to you. My thought was that maybe my experience could help you along the path with your own writing. Also, I wanted to share that experience so we all could be there together, learning the joys, pains, tribulations of this darned difficult path we've chosen.

Along those lines, I hadn't had much to write about. Once I finished the revision and went through the Ten Point Revision Strategy, not much was happening. A long time was spent searching for the right agent.

But now I have news to report. Deadly Vision is being handled by a great agency that seems very excited to work with it. Even better, they hired an independent outside editor to read the book and review it. I suspect they did this before they agreed to handle it, to get another opinion. I don't know if this is a common practice with agents, to hire outside editors as another opinion, but it's an interesting concept.

Anyways, the editor read the novel and . . . loved it. Actually called the book the work of the next "new and improved Michael Crichton." With that the novel has been sent to publishers and we'll see what happens.

If you all would like, I'll post that first review of the novel. It's an interesting concept, being reviewed before the book is sold, as an agent's guide and agent marketing tool.

So now I've got lots to write about, as the book moves through the publishing channels.

In the meantime, let's get back to queries. These seem to be the bane of most writers, including myself. My next several posts will be about how to write an effective query letter. I've got some great references to share, and we'll post actual successful query letters so you can see what works and what doesn't. I'll even post my query which resulted in my novel being read by several agencies and eventually landing me with my agent.

Stay tuned. I'll be back.


Friday, May 15, 2009

What Agents Hate to See in the Slush Pile

I found this interesting article on the Guide to Literary Agents blog, an excellent writing resource, and one of the few blogs that I subscribe to. The topic was Agents and the Slushpile: Ten Reasons they Stop Reading, and I thought I'd share it with you.

Here are the top 10:

10. Overdone description that doesn’t move the story forward
9. Spoon-feeding the reader what the character is thinking
8. Having the characters address each other repeatedly by name, as in, “John, let’s go!”
7. Introducing a character with first and last name, as in, “John Smith entered the room.”
6. Beginning a story with dialogue
5. Opening with a cliché
4. Yanking the reader out of the action with backstory
3. Not giving the reader a sense of place or where the story is going
2. Characters are MIA until bottom of page 2
1. Telling instead of showing

Lots of these are items we've discussed in our Ten -Point Revision Strategy. Lots of great points we need to keep our eyes on.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Rewriting the novel - quotes from our peers

At the moment, I'm kind of in writing stasis. The novel has been mailed out to agents, and I'm waiting for that special person to fall in love with it. I've done most of the research for the new novel, but haven't begun the actual writing process as I've been too busy taking care of other projects.

My father, with whom I wrote the TriEnergetics book ( has formulated an idea for another book, so I need to write and prepare a non-fiction proposal. Very different than a fiction query. My Ripple Effect partner ( and I are in the finalizing portion of forming a new business for the Ripple, so I need to write a business plan. And finally, I have some long lecture trips coming up this month, so I need to write and prepare some lectures.

All of which keeps me from writing.

But I'll get there. We'll write off May as a lost-writing month, but come June, I hope to be roaring back.

In the meantime, I found these quotes from your fellow writing peers on the internet and thought I'd share them with you, a way of sharing the anguish you feel about your rewrite. Let me know if any of these resonate with you, and also let me know how you're doing on your rewriting (and rewriting and rewriting.)

Tips on Rewriting From Your Peers

"At this point, it seems that no matter how far away I get from the work of rewriting (lawyering during the day, playing music at night, watching TV with my son, etc), I am always having thoughts and ideas about changing the bar room scene to this way or revising the dialogue between MC and chick #2 that way. Too often these flashes of utter brilliance would dissolve as quickly as they appeared. Unfortunately, they lack the manners to appear only when I am at the computer.
So I carry a tiny digital voice recorder at all times. After carrying it for a while, I've found it increasingly easier for my mind to summon chunks of text from the draft and to think through rewrites in my head, which I then articulate into the recorder. This has yielded some exhilarating results and improved my time management too."
- Peter

"A well-published author read an early ms of mine and gave me the best tip I've ever had. 'This is good,' he said, 'but more color, more smell.' "
- David

"I know one thing - revision is just that: a new vision. The story changes and grows during that process and there are many surprises for the writer. Another friend compared the revision process to a pop-bead necklace. You find the thread that runs through the book. Then you pick and choose what beads to string on that thread. Some you will put aside, some you will keep, sometimes you’ll have to find brand new beads not used before."
- Sharon

"From Stephen King's memoir On Writing: An editor wrote to him on a rejected manuscript: "2nd draft = 1st draft - 10%. Good luck." This has always helped me. In the first draft you simply write the story. Get it down and out and properly archived. Then go back later and operate. One last point, also from Master King, is to be sure and let your first draft rest after it's written. Save it on your thumb drive, your hard drive, and on paper and walk away from it. Don't even think about it for at least a month. Chronological and psychological distance are key to the revision process."
- Ted

"Don't look at (rewriting) as a daunting task. If you do, you will feel like you will never get it done - and I know people who don't. I am one of these writers who personally loves editing and this is why: I think of my end result. I can see just how great my story is going to be once all the polish is on and it's glossy and shiny."
- Madison

"When I'm ready to do a rewrite, I read the 'original' out loud and anywhere I stumble--that gets changed/rewritten/deleted or at the very least fixed so it can read more smoothly. And along this line, reading to a mirror (of what you think might be your last rewrite) helps you get used to reading to an audience (even if it's only an audience of one) and picks up even more rough spots."
- Dia

"My suggestions: 1) Don't rewrite until you've finished the first draft. 2) Take a break. This way, when you come back to it, you can get that lovely feeling of it being written by someone else - and therefore fair game for criticism and cutting! 3) Use a good thesaurus if you must, or really work at re-thinking what you want to communicate - this will bring up some great language, and improve your style."
- Drew

"It is in rewrites that love of language is expressed. First drafts are for inspiration, concept, and organization. Then the fun part comes - get the details right."
- Gene

"Once I have committed to write about the contents, it then becomes a part of my life. There of course is the initial composition. Then I put it aside for a month or two and perform a re-write. Put that re-write aside for the same period of time and do it again. Ad infinitum, until it's press time."
- Bob

Thursday, April 30, 2009

ThrillerFest in July - Will You Be Going

If you're writing a thriller, odds are you know about this already, but just in case you don't, here's a little update on ThrillerFest. I'm not sure yet if I'm going. My beautiful wife and I are working hard to see if we can fit it into our schedule. But if you're writing a thriller, you probably ought to give it a shot.

thrillerfest-logo09-400.jpgThe place to be for thriller lovers is New York in July. It'll be hot outside but inside ... it'll be hot, too! Hot bestsellers, hot topics, hot authors. Better than going to the beach with your favorite new thriller book! You can mingle with your favorite thriller authors instead.

A preliminary schedule is available now at CraftFest, held July 8-9, 2009, is devoted to writers of all levels, including aspiring writers working on their first books. AgentFest, on the afternoon of July 9th, will thrill you in a different fashion if you're looking for an agent. Over forty top agents will be available to hear your pitch.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Printing the Manuscript - Terror and Anguish Wrapped Up in One Hour and 15 Minutes

Does anyone have the same anguish I have. The same fear and absolute dread I feel. The acidic pit boring through my stomach lining like battery acid through an unprotected cornea. The abject terror that I only experience when I'm doing one specific task. One thing that should be so simple, so painless, yet it's usually frustrating enough to make this grown man want to stand on his desk and smash his chair against the wall.

Yes, I'm talking about my absolute least favorite writing activity. . . printing the novel.

(Aarrrgggghhhhh! Run away in terrror)

It's amazing how much trepidation I feel when I know it's time to print the entire manuscript. It shouldn't be this hard, but it is, every time.

I'm not talking about insecurities, or worries that the manuscript isn't good enough or will be rejected. I can deal with those. That's all part of being a writer. What I can't deal with are technical problems that always seem to arise, like flies hoovering over a dumpster, during the printing process. And damn, if there doesn't always seem to be at least one.

Can anyone relate to this or is this my private burden?

I went out and bought the most reliable, fastest printer I could, hoping to ease the process, to no avail. Still, a mini-drama every time.

Twice this evening, the printing job stopped midway through for no apparent reason other than a micro-shift in the wind direction over lower Angola. When I restarted the job after the first stoppage, it did restart, at the beginning, reprinting the entire 258 pages that it had already printed before it stopped the first time. Leaving me searching for newer and more exciting swear words (perhaps in an exotic language) and wondering what to do with the half-finished, printed novel now lying in a heap on my floor.

I dare never leave the side of the printer, watching each and every page like a nursery school teacher watching her kids over recess. Checking to make sure the paper doesn't jam or the printer doesn't spit out one page of text over the length of two pages that were stuck together. Occasionally, the printer spits our blank pages for no apparent reason, these have to be fished out. Each page crawls out of the printer unleashing a Stephen King novel's worth of terrible possibilities.

As the job progresses, the printer gets so internally warm that the outgoing paper starts to curl. This, of course, makes it lie irregular on the receiving bed so the next page printed scrolls underneath the previous page. Or pushes it off the printer on to the floor. So I stand there, watching each page come out, tapping the paper down so it lines up properly. Page after page.

For one hour and fifteen minutes.

Wait. . . the paper's jammed. Got to start the whole thing over again.

Ah, the joys of publishing.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

An incredibly short post today, but an important one, one that I'm trying to integrate into my head, heart and soul. It's all based around a quote I heard recently, don't recall where. As I was going back to make a few changes to my opening chapter, searching to find the key sentences to make that chapter come alive, the quote jumped back into my head, and somehow, it all made sense.

Now I won't say that this simple quote solved all my problems with the chapter, but I do think it helped me to focus and what may have been missing.

Here's the quote:

Live Your Life Out Loud.

You may have seen this one before. I certainly won't claim credit for it. People use it refer to everything from creating the life you want to getting tattoos and nose piercings.

But for writing, it suddenly resonated with me. Don't be timid. Don't be afraid. Be big and bold and out there. Create big scenes and big characters and big situations. Not bombastic, but not withheld. Let go of the inner critic and just write. Or perhaps . . .

Write Your Novel Out Loud.

Don't be afraid. Just do it.

Hmmmm, words for thought. Time to get back to writing. Please send me your thoughts on this.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Best Blogs by Literary Agents

Right now, I'm knee deep in the Literary Agent quest. The novel is being reviewed by a few agents in New York, and I'm waiting to see where my future lies.

I need to get started on writing the next novel, but I keep tweaking the opening to the last book, constantly trying to find a way to make in unputdownable. (that's a word right, to not be able to be put down? Anyways, it is now.)

In the meantime, as I've been browsing so many agents pages, I thought I'd share with you this list that came from the Guide To Literary Agents site. It's a very informative, helpful list of insider information. Hope it helps you on your quest. This is the list of the Writer's Digest 5 best agent blog pages.

1. Pub Rants

Denver-based agent Kristin Nelson of Nelson Literary has kept this blog up for several years, and has covered just about every topic - contracts, queries, book covers, you name it. It's one of the best all-around agent blogs out there.

2. Nathan Bransford

Sure he looks young, but Nathan, an agent at Curtis Brown in San Francisco, knows a lot about publishing, and his blog is wide in scope. He hosts small contests, talks queries, discusses the craft of writing, keeps writers' spirits up, and does it all blogging through the night. Each week, he has a roundup news post that links to dozens of stories and happenings in the publishing world.

3. Rachelle Gardner

Rachelle, at Wordserve, hasn't been agenting that long - just two years or so, and her blog was very new last year when it ended up on our 101 short list. So why did we include it last year? Because we saw potential and wisdom, and Rachelle has only upped the ante by blogging more and more. Although she specializes in Christian/inspirational works, her advice is universal and practical - dissecting book proposals and sharing query tips.

4. Query Shark

There are more "query critique" sites now, but this site was one of the first and still the best. Agent Janet Reid of FinePrint Literary invites writers to submit queries for dissection and criticism/praise. If you wonder what a query looks like - or, more so, what a good query looks like, just visit Query Shark.
The site isn't updated as often as the others on this list, but there's a reason for that. (See No. 5)

5. Janet Reid

That's right. Janet Reid runs not only the Query Shark blog but also her own blog about agenting and publishing. She talks about all things agenting and publishing, and her brutal-honesty style is like no other.

Although there was only room for five, there are several other great agent blogs to visit. Off the top of my head, I would encourage you to visit The Swivet (Colleen Lindsay of FinePrint), Dystel & Goderich (a community agent blog), and BookEnds.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Again, too much time has passed since I last posted. All for good reasons though. The research on my new novel is mostly completed and the outlining process has begun. I'm also in the process of forming a record label with my wife and "other brother from another mother." So my time has been sapped.

I've gone back and am re-evaluating my first few chapters of the prior manuscript, looking to see if I can make them even better.

Along those lines, I found this advice over Feed Blitz and thought I'd share it with you all.

This is titled, "Advice on Revising From Your Peers," and falls nicely in with my Ten Point Revision Strategy. Let me know your thoughts on these pearls and if you find this useful.

"As you work your way through each scene in a novel ask yourself:
  • What is happening in this scene?
  • Why is it important?
  • Is it believable?
  • What is the conflict? Who wants what, and who or what won’t let them have it?
  • What does this scene contribute specifically and integrally to the plot? How does it drive it?
  • Can it be cut, partially or completely, and not effect the plot?
  • Can the integral part of the scene be folded into another scene, and the rest eliminated?
  • When does the scene occur?
  • Would the plot be better served if you moved the scene to another place in the unfolding of the story?
  • From whose point of view is this scene experienced?
  • How does this character contribute to the plot? Can another character do it so you can eliminate this one, or combine the two into one character?
  • Where is this person?
  • What is the POV character in the scene doing?
  • What is he/she feeling emotionally about what’s happening in the scene?
  • What is he/she feeling emotionally about things outside the scene?
  • What is he/she seeing? Hearing? Touching? Even smelling and tasting?
  • Can you exchange “he said”s and “she said”s with action?
  • Can you exchange passive verbs with active ones?
  • Can you exchange adverbs (“ly” words) with action?
  • What does each paragraph within the scene contribute? Can it be eliminated?
  • What does each sentence within the scene contribute? Can it be eliminated?

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

How're You Doing with Your Writing?

Busy, busy, busy.

Got lots of things popping around in the hopper right now.

The trick, I've found, is to stay obsessively organized when multiple projects are working.

My novel is currently being read by an agent in New York. Please cross your fingers for me, and I'll do the same for you when yours is ready.

I've done a lot of work on query letters, short synopsis, and full synopsis. We'll talk more about that stuff in later posts.

In the meantime, I've been outlining and researching the next novel. Love that part. More posts to come.

So, while I'm waiting to get to all that, how're you doing with your writing? I'd love it if everyone who pops on over to this blog, dropped a little comment on where you are in your writing, what's working and what's holding you up. We're all in this together!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Summing it Up - Writing the Novel Synopsis

I was going to write a post today about the art of writing the novel synopsis, but then I came upon this eloquent article that just says it better than I ever could. I've taken this from, which I've found to be an excellent source of information.

You can find them in my Resource Guide to the right, and a direct link to this original post is

I hope you find this as helpful for you as it has been for me. And thank you Sheila Kelly for writing it.

We'll rejoin later and talk about the two page synopsis versus the longer, full-novel synopsis. You will definitely need them both when submitting to agents.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Facing the Facts - Dealing with Rejection

I'd like this post to be more interactive than my last several posts. So to do that, I'd like to ask all of you a question.

How do you deal with rejection?

With my work currently making the rounds through New York, it's a fact of life that not everyone's going to love it. Lot's of form letters will come back, lot's of terse answers and lot's of rejection.

We all develop our own strategies for dealing with this. My preferred strategy is blissful denial and unbridled optimism. I've heard of writers who wallpaper their entire room with rejection letters. This, me to seems defeatist and bizarre. I handle my rejections differently. When a rejection note comes, I read it, trying to gleam any useful information that it may contain (if it is a personal letter with direct references to my work. Form letters are of no value) then I file the letter away in a file clearly labeled "Try Again."

Now, this might seem Pollyanna or sugar-coated to you, but I'll tell you it's a lot more positive and focused to get a letter, call it a try-again letter and file it accordingly. And truth is, I've gone back to the try-again file, pulled out a letter, contacted that person and had success at a later date. Persistence pays off. Never take "no" for an answer. Just keep pushing straight ahead.

As Robert Dugoni, the best writing teacher I've ever had says, "Be a bulldog."

So I'm a bulldog, and bulldog's don't accept rejection.

What's your strategy?

Monday, February 2, 2009

Very quick update today.

Two page synopsis is done. New cover letter/query is done.

Contacted my agent, who wants to see the book.

I'll start some posts about how I went about the query and the synopsis this week, but first, to the post office!

My dog is happy.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Formatting Issues

Now that the novel is finished, I have my most dreaded task still ahead; writing the two page summary. Honestly, I hate this part. What could be harder than summarizing your years of work into 2 short pages?

I'll have some tips and techniques for summaries coming soon, but before we get there, I wanted to clean up on final aspect of the Final Read: format.

I get asked lots of questions on word count for a thriller, font to use, etc. The basics of writing. The same stuff I had so many questions about. So in this post I wanted to clarify issues of page format, as taught to me by a New York agent. I wanted to do this in proper novel format, but blogger won't let me. Still, the information below is correct.

left margin: header: your last name/title
right margin page # at right, or in footer

(four or five lines)

Chapter Title (centered)

(two or three lines)

One tab indent (five spaces) --start first paragraph. Everything in a standard font, i.e. Times New Roman, or Courier. Always 12 point. DO NOT add an extra space after sentences. One space, that's it. Do not underline lieu of italics. Left justify only. Double space.

Indent each new paragraph with tab key.

Do not add extra double space between paragraphs, just indent.

One inch margins minimum.

Does anyone have any other suggestions?

Keep writing

Friday, January 23, 2009

Final Read and Final Changes

I don't usually take space in this blog to talk about personal affairs, but I did promise in my sub-header text that I was going to share everything with you as this novel heads towards completion, publication and it's eventual Nobel Prize :)

Anyways, I'm happy to report that this morning I put the finishing touches on the final read through (and there was much rejoicing!) After going through the Ten-Point Revision Strategy, incorporating the extra few points, I can honestly say that this is the tightest version of the novel yet. My final act, other than one last spell check, was to use the search command to help me incorporate my last revision point; eliminating "feeling" words.

Setting the search for "felt" 95 entries came up where I used the word felt. Such as "he felt his heart begin to race," etc. After re-reading each entry, there were times when I wanted to keep the "feeling" word, whether for cadence, pausing, or an intentional distancing of the character from the act, ie., when one of my character's is dying and he can feel his oxygen content dropping in his blood. But about half the time, I rewrote the sentence to remove the word. "She felt her anger rising," became "her anger surged," or such.

Tomorrow, I write the cover letter and the book goes off to my agent. On the off chance, she is no longer interested, hates it or puts out a contract on my head, I'm going to write a new query as well. I imagine then, my next few posts will be on query writing, which is always a fun and challenging thing to do.

Moving forward feels so good.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Of Key Importance - Saving Your Work

I used to have a dog named Sara (well, I have three of them right now, all Lhasa's, but what I'm talking about was many years ago.) Sara, a yellow lab mix, was a rescue, previously badly abused and terrified of men. For some reason, she bonded with me instantly, crawling across the lawn on her belly before placating herself at my feet at the doggie adoption day. She looked up at me with those big brown eyes as if to say, I know you're a nice man, please take me home. So, I did.

Sara was a wonderful dog, by my side every instant of every day. Her favorite place to hang out with me when I was writing was at my feet, underneath my desk. She'd lie down on my toes and patiently wait for about 2 hours of writing time, before she'd pop her head up onto my lap saying, "that's enough, let's go walk." I'd ignore her for a while, and she'd nudge me harder, and harder. Eventually, she'd jump her front paws onto my lap and start scratching me. "Let's go," she'd say. No more writing, let's play!"

It was a game we played every day, and I loved it.

Which brings me to the subject of today's post.

One morning, after a particularly inspired bit of writing, Sara started her routine. I'd cranked out 15 pages of beautifully (in my mind) written first draft, moving through some key scenes and solving some difficult problems. I was flying. It was the best nonstop run of writing I'd had in a long time.

Then it disappeared.

Sara, per her routine, moved to plop her head onto my lap and in doing so, her butt sat on the on/off button on my surge protector, shutting it off. My eyes gaped. My jaw dropped. But no amount of praying was going to solve this problem. I'd lost it all. Wanting to scream, instead, I looked down into the lovely brown eyes of my dog, smiled, and took her for a walk.

But I learned my lesson that day. Now, I'm compulsive about saving my work, and I'd like to encourage you, if you aren't already, to do the same.

When I'm writing, my hand instinctively guides the cursor to the save icon every page. Never, will I let more than one page be finished without saving. It's become an unconscious habit for me. At first, I thought that this repetitive stopping of writing to save the work would slow down my writing or inspiration. It doesn't. As I said, it's unconscious for me now, and perhaps the security it gives makes writing easier.

When I'm revising, rereading, I save my work after every single change. Each sentence that is modified, I hit the save icon. Every single time.

And it doesn't stop there. After each writing session, I back up all my work on a series of flash drives. I hope you're all doing this, but I didn't learn of it before too long ago, so maybe some of you haven't done this yet. Flash drives are now amazingly inexpensive, hold a tremendous amount of data, and can bring you a wealth of security. I have three flash drives that I save my novel onto after each morning session. One drive goes into my desk. One drive goes into my briefcase, which is always with me when I leave the house, and one drive is attached to my keyring, which always goes with me when I travel.

Flash drives can be fun, and you should have fun with it. Writing is fun, but it's also your love, your passion. Let the flash drive be a reflection of that fun, that love. Not that I'm into hamburgers or anything, but that picture sure makes me laugh.

It may sound strange, but I like having my novel with me at all times. In my pocket, in my case. That way, should anything ever happen to my home, the novel is safe.

Compulsive, I know. But I've worked too hard for too long on this to lose it now.

Besides, Sara would want it that way.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Revision Strategy - Choose the Right Words - Eliminate Feeling Words

A nice little tidbit that I picked up the other day. I've always know this, seen it in my own writing, but never actually put it down as a strategy point before. So today we're going to rectify that.

Here's our new point to consider in our revision strategy.

Eliminate Feeling Words.

Now what does that mean? Quite simply, eliminate the words that we use to describe our senses, but not the words that describe the sensory experience. This process will tighten your writing, force you to choose better verbs, tighter sentences, better descriptors.

So what's an example? How about this?

He felt the cold barrel of the gun pressed against his temple.

Now remove the "sense" word, and it becomes. The cold barrel of the gun pressed against his temple.

Which one do you feel is tighter? Which one conveys more drama? Which one seems more sensory?

I'm back adding a paragraph here, based on the excellent comments this post has received, but the points brought up are too important to leave to a chance finding in the comment section.

By using the "feeling word," as a writer, you are distancing the reader from the character's POV by telling them what the character is feeling, rather than putting them inside the character's body and letting them feel it themselves. Saying, "he felt the . . . " takes away from the immediacy of the moment, creating a pause that pulls the reader back.

In other words, don't tell the reader what the character felt, describe the sensation. Again, the "cold barrel of the gun pressed against his temple," is much more immediate, sensory evocative, and threatening. It is what's happening.

Of course, there's always exceptions, and there are plenty of times when I may really want the "he felt," in the sentence, but I'm trying to really look at my sentences, my length, my tightness, and this can be a simple, powerful and effective tool.

What are your thoughts?

Monday, January 12, 2009

Writing the Novel - Which Font is Best?

This is a question I get asked a lot, and as simple as it seems, it can create a lot of confusion.

What is the best font to use for my novel?

The simple answer is to use whatever works for you, is appealing to your eye, and most importantly, easy to read.

The more involved answer is that agents do have preferences. They don't want anything flashy or creative or flamboyant. Beginning writers often try to play with different fonts as a way to express their individuality or creativity. Nothing screams out amateur greater than this. The font is not where you will stand out to an agent, it's the writing. A flamboyant font is enough of a red flag for agents to toss your manuscript into the trash.

What agents want is a professional looking (and reading) manuscript that follows strict format. They also want a font that is easy to read.

Originally, I wrote in Courier because I was told it was the most neutral. I've since switched because the spacing between the letters creates too many pages for the word count. After speaking with Robert Dugoni, I now use exclusively, Times New Roman, and have since learned that this is a very commonly used, accepted font with professional writers.

Other basic fonts should be acceptable, but the beauty of Times New Roman is that the page count you'll get using this font is nearly identical to the page count for the finished product. In other words, my novel at 102,000 words is 454 pages, just as it will appear when printed (or close to it.)

Save the standing out for your writing. When it comes to font, it's best to blend in with the rest.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

That All Important First Chapter - Six Tips to Getting it Right

Nothing in your book will work if you don't get that all important first chapter off the ground. No agent will read it if you make mistakes right off the bat. So, as we're heading into our final revisions, here's somethings to watch out for to avoid that first chapter clunker.

1) Description: Don't start your book off with page after page, or even paragraph after paragraph of description. Not even sentence after sentence. Don't describe the characters in detail, or the setting, or the mood. There's time for all that later. Introduce the characters, preferably in action, at or just before a big moment. Then you'll get your story off the ground. Description can come later, but even then, with modulation. There's no room in today's writing for endlessly, long, leisurely descriptive passages. I skip over reading those. Don't you?

And no matter what else you do, don't start your book with descriptions of the weather.

2) POV: From the get-go, make sure your POV is tight and clear and your voice firm and strong. Don't be wishy washy, you'll lose the reader.

3) Action: As I said before, get the action going right away. There's no room for a chapter where nothing happens. Readers respond to scenes that start in media res.

4) Avoid Chiches and Cheesy Hooks: Draw the reader in naturally, with your story, not some prefab cheesy hook you think will get their attention. Avoid dream scenes, completely if possible, but certainly in the first chapter.

5) Backstory: We talked about this in the dreaded info dump. Don't launch into backstory on characters or place before you get into the plot. Readers don't care about your character until you make them care. You make them care by their actions, not their story.

6) Dialogue: Right from the start, make sure your dialogue is tight and strong. Again, don't be afraid to show strong voice. It's the only way.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

More Editing Tips - Writer's Common Mistakes

I found this article at On Writing, and felt it was very well done. Another nice set of tips to add to the Ten Point Revision Strategy.

More Common Mistakes Writer's Make. I'm guilty of quite a few of these myself.

1) Spelling. We all rely too much on the spell checker. Nothing cries out amateur more than gross misspellings in a submission. The spell checker only finds words that are misspelled from its vocabulary, which may have no relation to how they're used in your sentence. The misuse of there/their and they're is a great example. One I make too often.

2) Grammar. It's important to maintain consistency in your use of grammar. I tend to write with quite a few sentence fragments, which is my style. Others right with run-on sentences as a style. Neither is good or bad, just be aware of grammar rules. Break them only when you know them. The On Writing article stresses maintenance of tense also. Can't argue with that.

3) Homophones and similar looking words. Another item that your spell checker won't pick up. Pour or pore. You have to know which is which.

4) Punctuation. Not my forte, but always try to use the proper punctuation, proper use of commas, colons, semi's, etc. I've probably broken the rules ten times in this post alone.

5) Maintenance of Point of View. Old rules are changing. You can shift from one point of view to another in the same chapter now. Even in the same paragraph. But you must do it clearly and elegantly.

I'll keep my eye out for these errors as I'm finishing this final read.

More soon.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

The Final Read Through

Happy New Year, everyone. I hope you all find this year to be happy, healthy, and successful.

I'm back from my research trip and have volumes of material socked away in my mind for location, people, culture, texture. There's nothing like going someplace fully with the intention of researching for a novel to help you see all the little nuances you'd miss as a tourist.

Traveling has set me back a bit on writing here, which I plan to rectify this year. Look for an update at least once a week as my novel is completed, goes off to the agent, to the publisher and beyond. I'll keep you all posted on all the tricks and tips I learn along the way.

The other set back was on the goal of finishing the book by 12/31. I'm a touch off, but not too bad. Which brings me to the all-important subject of today's post: The Final Read Through.

After going through the whole novel, following the Ten Point Revision Strategy we've discussed, there's still one, immensely important task to do. The Final Read Through.

In order to do this, you must get some distance from the book. Many authors suggest putting the book into the desk drawer to let it cool. For me, the trip to Turkey was perfect. I didn't bring my computer, I didn't work on anything else. I didn't read novels or book or magazines on writing. I let my brain cool. With that, I knew that when I got home, I'd be able to re-approach the novel with fresh eyes.

The goal of this read is to really check for language flow. By this time, after completing the Ten Points, character should be solid. Premise should be like a rock. Major description, flow, pace, all of it should be where you want it. With this read, you're just trying to see how the book. . . reads.

I make little changes to sentences. One thing I really try to do is to limit the amount of times that I back into a sentence. An example:

Sitting on the back porch, Doug reached for his glass of wine.

That phraseology is called, backing into a sentence. the subject is Doug, the action is reaching for the wine, the first clause is purely descriptive.

Now there's nothing wrong with occasionally backing into a sentence. The grammer is ok, and it's nice to use this phraseology to break up the constant; subject-verb sequence. But it can be over done. Check your writing. Occasional is ok, too much is too much.

I also focus on length of sentences, which usually tend to be too long. For the most part, shorter is better. Keep the book moving along with well clipped sentences.

Word selection we've already gone over with the Ten Points, but here again is an opportunity to make sure each word is really working for you. Saying exactly what you want it to do, as powerfully as possible without the need for modifiers to strengthen it.

I'm on chapter 8 of this read. Hopefully I'll be done by next week.

Then it's off.

I'll keep you posted.