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.