Category Archives: Queries

How to Write a Picture Book Query

1195237_old_lettersIn my role as co-admin for the query critique forum on 12 x 12, I recently wrote a post on writing a picture book query. 12 x 12 is closed to new memberships for 2016 (they will reopen again in January 2017), but I wanted share the post here, too, because while there is a lot of information out there on writing regular query letters, information on writing a picture book query is much harder to come by.

At the end of the post you’ll find some tips from professionals and some helpful resources.

Remember, agents/editors can differ in what they expect/want from a query letter (or cover letter), so please always check submission guidelines.

How to Write a Picture Book Query – The Basics

The Layout of a Picture Book Query

When writing a query letter for a picture book you will basically have three main paragraphs, plus your sign-off.

  1. Intro
  • Make sure you specifically address the agent you are querying (use Mr. or Ms. [last name]). DOUBLE CHECK you have spelled their name correctly.
  • Personalise to the agent. Why are you querying this agent with this story? Show you have done your research.
  • You can also include here the TITLE of your story (in all-caps), the word count and the age-range. Age-range is super important, as it shows you know your target audience. Some people include word count and age-range after the pitch and that’s okay, too.
  1. The pitch.
  • This is where you pitch your story. Think of it like a book jacket blurb—you want to entice the agent to read your story.
  • Keep it short (this is a point universally agreed upon by agents—picture book queries should be short and simple). Try to aim for three sentences for the pitch. Five sentences at the very maximum!
  • In a picture book query you should aim to tell your story in a nutshell, including the ending. You don’t have to give everything away—you can still keep a bit of mystery. There’s no need to tell how your characters get to that point—you still want to leave the agent/editor intrigued.
  • Here’s a helpful template to help boil down your plot: “When [catalyst of your story happens], [main character] [takes this action], however [these things happen to prevent character reaching their goal]. In the end [this happens/main character discovers this].”
  • It’s important to convey the tone and voice of your story in the query (this DOES NOT mean telling it in your character’s POV). Eg: Is your story funny? Make sure you convey that humour in the query.
  • After the pitch, you might include any comparative texts or mention any relevant information/market research (eg: if it has crossover appeal or there’s a gap in the market or it has content/back matter appropriate for classroom use).

3. Bio

  • Include any publishing credits or awards if you have any. (If you don’t, that’s okay!)
  • You can also include any relevant tertiary degrees or professions (eg: you’re writing a book on dinosaurs and you’re a palaeontologist).
  • Include if you are a member of SCBWI or 12 x 12 or any other significant/relevant associations.
  1. Sign off.
  • Let them know if you have other titles available to view upon their request. (No need to include specific titles, just a generic “I have several other completed titles available upon request” is all you need.)
  • Thank them for their time and consideration.
  • Don’t forget to include your contact details under your sign off. (In emails, contact details go after your signature, rather than at the top as is usual in snail mail.)

TIP: Be sure to read your query aloud! Not only will this help you catch any spelling/grammar mistakes, but it allows you to hear how it sounds.

Tips from Professionals

From agent Mary Kole of kidlit.com

  • Create an image in the agent’s mind.
  • “Even if you’re only writing the text, give me at least one concrete image to walk away from the query with… Describe a scene for me in a sentence that’ll give me a mental picture.”
  • Channel the voice of your book.
  • Keep it short and simple.
  • “Present the main characters, the main problem, and the resolution, then work in a hook.”

From picture book authors, and hosts of PB Lit Chat, Kathryn Apel and Karen Collum

  • Capture the heart and tone of your story.
  • Use a small section of text from your book. (eg: a line or phrase) This doesn’t mean quote a section of your story, but rather work the wording into your story description. Use the same fun words or slip in some of the imagery.
  • Keep it short.
  • Give the whole story in a nutshell, including the ending.

From agent Janet Reid of Query Shark

  • “You should not describe how you want the book laid out or offer illustrations (generally).” This means, don’t include page breaks in your manuscript or send a dummy or tell them you already have an illustrator lined up or include illustrations (unless, of course, YOU are an author/illustrator).
  • “Who is your audience? Who will buy this book?” ie: what age range is the book aimed at. Would this appeal to the parent of a child of this age range.
  • “Give me confidence that you’ve done research on how the industry works.”

From Emma Walton Hamilton (aka The Query Whisperer)

  • Make the agent feel as though you’ve done your homework.
  • Focus on the theme (this refers to the essence of your story).
  • Make it intriguing without giving away the whole
  • Be succinct. Two to three sentences for your pitch paragraph.
  • “Craft your sentences artfully—so that the query conveys both the strength of your writing skills and the spirit of your manuscript.”
  • Conclude with what your character learns in the end.

From agent Danielle Smith of Foreword Literary

  • Be concise—tell me what I need to know.

From agent Maria Vicente of P.S. Literary

  • Keep it short—you should be able to tell the plot in three to five sentences.
  • Know where your picture book belongs in the market.

As you can see there’s some recurring themes here:

**KEEP IT SHORT!**

**Know your audience/do your research.**

**Bring the tone/voice/theme/imagery/heart of your story into the query.**

 

Helpful Links/Sources:

Picture Book Queries on kidlit.com

Query Shark

How to Query a Picture Book on mariavicente.com

Picture Book Query Letters by Emma Walton Hamilton (from Write on Con 2011)

Writing a Picture Book Query on johartauthor.com

You might also like to check out Julie Hedlund (12 x 12 founder) and Emma Walton Hamilton’s course: The Complete Picture Book Submissions System (though it costs to do the course, even when it’s closed you can pick up a FREE 7-Step Submissions Checklist, which has some helpful hints on crafting your query).

If you become a member of 12 x 12 you not only get access to the query critique forum, but you also get access to webinars from agents, editors and other professionals that sometimes focus specifically on writing picture book queries (there’s one coming up this month for members ‘Cracking the Picture Book Query’). Registration opens to new members in January and February.

 

Please feel free to share below any useful resources/links you have come across in relation to PB query writing. Or perhaps you’ve received or heard advice from agents/editors at conferences, etc. you can share.

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Helpful Writing Sites and Blog Posts January 2011

Time for the first ‘Helpful Writing Sites and Blog Posts’ post of the the year. I’ve collected a lot of great picture book links through the 12 x 12 challenge Facebook group, but I also have a few links in other areas of writing, too.

Writing (General)

Some Advice to New or Aspiring Authors

Some great advice and tips for writers new to the writing/publishing journey.

How to Make a Boring Character Interesting

This post outlines the various reasons your character could be coming across as boring or flat and offers some solutions to make your character more interesting.

Five Tips for Revising Your Novel

Literary Agent Courtney Miller-Callihan gives five tips that look at your novel as a whole when doing revisions, including a tip on character names and another on dialogue tags.

What Will Make an Agent ‘Gong’ Your Query

Thirteen reasons why an agent will stop reading your query–things to avoid when writing query letters.

Grandma Mary Can’t Market Your Book

Whether you intend to self publish or go the traditional publishing route, authors need to consider marketing. This post gives 7 steps to building a marketing plan and reaching out to your readership. It even includes a nifty chart you can use.

When to Quit Querying and Self-Publish

This post does a great job of presenting the various aspects you need to consider if you’re thinking about self-publishing after having little success with querying. It takes a very honest look at the possible reasons your work may be getting rejected and whether self-publishing is a viable alternative and also gives the honest facts about what it takes to self-publish. I love how honest, balanced and unbiased this post is in regards to self-publishing vs. traditional publishing.

Writing for Children

9 Factors That Make a Picture Book Successful

If you are a picture book writer this is a post well worth reading. These are nine important elements to writing an effective picture book.

The 6 Most Common Mistakes Made by Aspiring Children’s Book Authors

6 common mistakes this editor sees made by picture book authors and some advice on how to avoid them.

For All Picture Book Writers, Read This

Links to a four-part interview with Vice President and Editorial Director of HarperCollins Children’s Books and a three-part interview with Golden Books/Random House Editorial Director. Lots of great little nuggets of advice for picture book writers in both interviews.

Picture Book Tips from Successful Agents

Children’s book author and editor Tamson Weston consulted with agents on what makes a picture book successful and shared the top five tips for making your submission stand out.

Writing Easy Readers – Or How To Get 2nd Graders to Love You

5 quick tips for appealing to early readers as shared by an author of children’s chapter books.

The Publisher Checklist

One of my resolutions/goals this year is to submit more. I was fully prepared to submit some of my stories last year and had everything ready to go. I had several polished stories and a checklist of publishers for each. Hesitation and procrastination held me back. I should have been sending more out as soon as I got replies back, but I hummed and hawed over whether the stories were really good enough and whether they needed more work before sending on to the next. I had a good year in 2011, though. My success rate for submissions in terms of short stories/competitions was nearly 50%. I should have submitted more! I also got positive feedback from publishers on some of my children’s stories, which should have encouraged me. So this year I’m resolved to submit more–especially in terms of my children’s stories.

The Publisher Checklist

When submitting, it’s vital to keep track of what is being sent to whom. That’s why I keep a publisher checklist as a spreadsheet in Excel. I want to share that with you, in case anyone else finds it helpful. Of course, it can be applied just as readily to agents if you happen to be submitting to agents.

– Name of publisher (or agency). Those highlighted in red are those who are currently closed to submissions. It’s a good idea to check back every now and then, though, as sometimes they reopen for short periods of time. Those highlighted in yellow are those to whom I have submitted and am waiting to hear back from (I haven’t started submitting this particular story yet). Those highlighted in blue are the ones I have heard back from.

– Contact name. Most publishers request for you to address the submission ‘to the editor’ or something along those lines, but for those who have a specific contact name I add them to the list. This is especially important if you are submitting to agents, as agents would prefer you address them by name rather than ‘dear agent’.

– Contact details. This is where I list their postal address and/or e-mail (depending on how they prefer you to submit). I also list their phone number.

– Query done? A simple yes or no here. As you can see, I’ve only written our a query/cover letter for Scholastic for this story at the time of this post. I usually write a generic query/cover letter for each story that’s ready to submit, then I copy it into a new Word document and tailor it to suit each individual publisher, keeping their individual guidelines in mind.

– E-mail/Post? Some publishers prefer submission by post, others by e-mail. It’s important to note this down as it will determine how you format your query/cover letter. (For example: a postal letter requires contact details at the top of the letter, whereas an e-mail requires them at the bottom.)

– Simultaneous submission? Here I note if a publisher specifically states they are not open to simultaneous submission (they will not accept submissions that have also been subbed elsewhere–it has to be exclusive). I also mark the box red so I don’t accidentally send to them when I’ve subbed to other publishers.

– Reread submission guidelines? Here I paste a link directly to the submission guidelines. I won’t send out my query/cover letter until I’ve marked this box with a green YES.

– Stamped self-addressed envelope? For those who require postal submission, a SSAE is required if you wish to receive a reply and your manuscript back (in the case of a rejection). This gets a tick when done.

– Sent? Once the submission had been sent this box gets a tick (plus the publisher gets highlighted in yellow).

– Date sent. So I can keep track of how long it’s been out on submission.

Expected wait time. This is how long they estimate it will take for you to receive a reply. Once I’ve sent the submission, I make note of what date I should expect to hear back from them.

– Reply received? Once I receive a reply, I note the date and whether it was a rejection or not. For a rejection I highlight this box red. For requested edits it gets highlighted yellow. And if it gets accepted: green.

– I then have subheadings for stages of edits if they have been requested (eg: edits requested, date edits sent).

It’s important to regularly recheck details and update the list. Addresses and contacts can change. Some publishers are only open at certain times or close down submissions if they don’t have room for anything new.

How do you keep track of your submissions? Do you keep some kind of checklist?

 

Helpful Writing Sites and Blog Post August/September 2011

As I didn’t post a Helpful Writing Sites post last month I’m combining my compilation of helpful links from both August and September into one post.

Writing

Identifying Your Fantasy Novel’s Subgenre

When querying your fantasy novel it’s best to be specific about your novel’s subgenre. This post gives a brief outline of each of the fantasy subgenres.

The Big Ol’ Genre Glossary

Taking it a step further than the above post, this post outlines all the various genres and their subgenres. A handy list to have when wanting to check which genre/subgenre your novel falls under.

En Dash vs. Em Dash

Not sure what the difference between them is? This posts helps clear it up.

There is a Learning Curve to Creating Ebooks

For those interested in self-publishing and creating your own ebooks, this post recommends two free programs you can use to convert your MS into ebook format.

Five Telltale Signs of an Amateur Writer

An acquiring editor tells how she can reject an MS in 8 seconds and lists the five telltale signs of an amateur writer.

10 Words Editors Hate

Be careful about using these ten words in your MS, as they may very well send your work to the ‘Do Not Publish’ pile. Some may surprise you.

Eight Reasons I Hate Your Book

There seem to be a few negative posts around lately, but helpful, none-the-less. In fact, I found this one to be VERY helpful. Freelance editor and agent intern, Cassandra Marshall, shares eight of the most annoying (and totally fixable) things she comes across in manuscripts. It helped me realise one of the biggest downfalls of my current WIP, it might help you with yours too.

10 Tips for Writing a Short Story

Short story writer, Amanda Lohrey, shares her tips for writing a first-rate short story.

Getting Your Children’s Book Published

A checklist of things you need to do when preparing to send your MS to publishers, specifically for children’s writers.

Besides Using Google, How Can I do Research For My Book?

Sometimes it can be hard to navigate Google to find the information you’re looking for. How can you be sure the information is accurate? This post has some great (and easy) tips on how to find accurate sources of information for your research.

14 Dos and Don’ts for Introducing Your Protagonist

Author Anne R. Allen gives a list of fourteen great points to take into consideration when introducing your story’s protagonist.

Querying/Submitting

Wherein I Answer an Awkward Question

A few months ago I wrote a post called Writers Beware. This post gives the same warning and similar advice to my post, but takes it a step further with some great information about vanity presses pretending to be traditional publishers.

The Biggest Submission Mistakes

Writers Relief interviewed a range of editors to find out what they considered to be the biggest submission mistakes.

Proper Manuscript Format

I’ve bookmarked this page. The post itself is presented as the manuscript would be formatted giving a visual example to go along with the explanation of how a manuscript should be properly formatted. This is especially helpful if a publisher/editor/agent does not have specific submission guidelines for manuscript format or requests standard manuscript format.

Motivation

You’re Kind of a Big Deal

Advice from an author who recently sold her book, and the long journey it took her to get there. She gives hope to those of us who are still hoping to get there some day.

Social Media

The Facebook Author Page: 10 Status Updates to Embrace, 10 to Avoid

Author and Novel Publicity president, Emlyn Chand, outlines the difference between Facebook page status updates that will engage and win you fans (and thus lead to book sales) and status updates that will annoy and drive away fans. In her words, “When it comes to self-promotion, less is more. If you promote yourself graciously, book sales will follow.”

5 Points to Ponder on Pottermore (for Writers)

A look at how writers can use J.K. Rowlings new Pottermore site as an example for creating an engaging website (even if you don’t have Ms. Rowlings budget).

Five Ways Authors Can Promote Books on Facebook

Tips for using your Facebook profile/page to promote your book (in a subtle way).

Book Promotion

Creating Effective Presentations for Schools

Some great tips from picture book author Tania McCartney on doing schools visits to promote your book, including how to keep your audience’s attention, taking age into account and what sort of content to include.

Just for Fun

A Day in the Life of a Writing Mum

If you’re a writing mum like me, I’m sure you will relate!

And one last link, because I just have to share…

You may have noticed a shiny new book cover on the sidebar of my blog for a soon-to-released anthology titled Eighty Nine (which includes my story ‘Eighteen for Life’). It’s a speculative fiction anthology embracing the year that was nineteen eighty nine. One of my fellow authors, Devin Watson, has created this little teaser trailer: Eighty Nine Book teaser trailer.

Helpful Writing Sites and Blog Posts March 2011

I’m excited this month to introduce a new addition to my blog. If you look up at the tabs above you will see a new one titled, ‘Helpful Writing Sites and Blog Posts Masterlist’. In this master list I have gathered all the links from all the past editions of ‘Helpful Writing Sites and Blog Posts’ into one place. This way you won’t have to go searching through all the past editions to find the link you’re looking for. To make it even easier, I’ve put the links under headings, such as: ‘dialogue’, ‘openings’ and ‘queries’, so if you’re looking for information on query writing, go to the ‘queries’ section or if you want a stronger opening, go to the ‘openings’ section. From now on, whenever I do one of these monthly posts, the links will get added to the master list.

Now, onto this month’s edition:

Writing

How to Get Published: A Flowchart

A great flowchart (and checklist) on the writing process and a great way to know if you’re ready to query.

My Writing Success: The ONE Thing That Helped Me Most

Author Jody Hedlund explains the one specific thing that helped her most on her journey towards writing success.

On Story Openings

Using their soon-to-be-published anthology of stories as examples, The Australian Literature Review outlines the elements of effective story opening lines.

Story Skeletons: Teaching Plot Structure with Picture Books

Although this post is meant to be a teaching tool for young readers/writers in the classroom, it’s a great post for writers of picture books as well. It focuses on the basic structures used in picture story books and includes examples of each structure.

Where Should a Second Chapter Start?

There’s always a big focus for writers on getting that first chapter perfect, but what about chapter two? This post looks at building a strong second chapter.

Five Ways to Show Emotion in Your Writing

Based on the book From Where You Dream: The Process of Writing Fiction by Robert Olen Butler, this post looks at expressing emotion in your writing with a focus on showing vs telling.

Genre Novels – Word Count Rules, Subgenres, and Guidelines for Getting Your Book Published

A short guide to word count rules and subgenres for the various genres (fantasy, romance, historical, mystery, thriller, horror, YA, and Western).

Ten Mistakes Writers Don’t See (But Can Easily Fix When They Do)

Before you submit your work, double-check to make sure you haven’t made any of these mistakes that are easy to fix. (Sometimes this is where a critique partner can come in handy.)

NOTE: For number one, I find Wordle is a helpful website for weeding out crutch words. For number nine, reading aloud is a great way to pick up on awkward phrasing.

The Doctor is in the House – Novel Diagnostics

An exploration of common problems found in the beginning of a manuscript that can be an indicator of problems in the rest of the manuscript.

Queries/Pitches

The Twitter Query

A look at how to write an effective query in only 140 characters.

Rites of Submission: Cover Letters and Query Letters

This article includes two sample letters: an example of what not to do (including common mistakes) and a successful letter.

How I Got My Agent (Part 1: The Parts of a Good Query)

Author Susan Dennard shares advice on writing a good query letter, using her own successful query letter as an example.

Synopsis

How to Write a 1 Page Synopsis

A break down of the key elements needed for a one page synopsis. Includes worksheet.

Motivation

On Sticking With It

A reminder from author/agent Mandy Hubbard that is hard to become published, and why it is important to stick to it and not give up.

Social Media

Twitter Hashtags for Writers

Using these writer hashtags on Twitter is a great way to meet fellow writers. A comprehensive list of writer hashtags, including a schedule of writer chats on Twitter.

8 Sentence to Immediately Cut From Your Twitter

These 8 bio mistakes may be costing you followers and you may want to avoid them. Includes two things you may want to include instead.

Blogging Tips: Tips for Increasing Your Followers and/or Subscribers

Rachael Harrie has some great simple tips for building up a following on your writing blog.

Facebook for Authors: How to Get Started

Agent Nathan Bransford gives some helpful tips on starting up a Facebook author page.

For Fun

9 Things Everyone Needs to Know About Writers.

Very funny and very true. Pass this list on to all your non-writing friends.

Speaking of Facebook author pages, I’ve just started one of my own. You can find it here: http://www.facebook.com/JoHartAuthor or on the Facebook link on the sidebar of this blog.

Pitches and Queries and Updates, Oh My!

I want to cover three separate topics today: the Twitter pitch, query critiques and an update on the 100 Stories for Queensland Anthology.

The Twitter Pitch

Earlier this week literary agent Jennifer Laughran (aka @literaticat) of Andrea Brown Literary agency decided to have a bit of fun on Twitter. She gave everyone one hour to tweet her a pitch of a (real or fake) manuscript. I LOVE Twitter pitches. You think it’s challenging to condense a 50-100k word manuscript into a 250 word query? Try condensing it into a 140 characters or less pitch. Not only do you need to capture the essence of the main plot of the story, but you have to make it hook too, which really boils down to showing what makes your story unique.

Following her ‘Tweet-a-query’ session, Jennifer Laughran posted her conclusions about Twitter pitches on her blog, stating “…the lessons here are applicable to the regular query process too.” You can find her post here, as well as the four pitches she thought stood out above the rest.

As another follow-up to the Twitter pitch session, teacher and writer Tamara posted on her blog a breakdown of the Twitter pitch. You can find her post here.

Query Critique

Last week I blogged about my endeavour to continually improve my query. As a recap, I’d been writing, revising and rewriting a query for my YA fantasy. I submitted to ABNA as a test for myself to see how effective my query was before submitting to agents. I didn’t pass the pitch round. So I have been revising and rewriting the query some more. In the meantime, I came across author Susan Dennard’s blog and she just happened to be starting a new feature on her blog where once a month she takes on ten queries and critiques them. She then randomly selects two of these queries to also go up on her blog for community critique (either as it is or with revisions following Susan’s critique). I was lucky enough to be one of the first ten to submit my query to her when she opened the gates for queries this month. She gave my query a fantastic critique (my main problem was being too vague, I needed to be more specific). Then, my query was selected as one of the two to be put up for community critique. I’ve received some more great feedback already. You can see it (and offer your own critique if you want to) here.

Susan next opens her doors for queries for critique on the 4th of April. It’s well worth submitting, because Susan gives great critique. You can opt not to be put in the draw for the community critique if you don’t want to, but Susan’s critique alone is worth it. Be quick though, because only the first ten get in each month.

Anthology Update

The 100 Stories for Queensland anthology (an anthology to raise money for those affected by the devastating floods in Queensland) was meant to be due for release on the 8th of March. Due to unavoidable circumstances, the release date has been pushed back. At this point I’m not sure when the new release date will be. I do know the anthology has already been edited and formatted and is currently being looked at by proofreaders. I’ll let you know when I know more.

5 Things I’ve Learned About Writing Query Letters

I recently decided to enter ABNA (Amazon’s Breakthrough Novel Awards) as a test to see if I could get past the pitch round. I’ve written and rewritten my pitch/query dozens of times, but still wasn’t sure if I was hitting the mark. I didn’t make it through the pitch round, and this confirmed for me that I need to work more on my pitching skills before I start querying my MS. Yesterday I wrote and rewrote my pitch a dozen more times. I read blog after blog on writing queries. Then I rewrote again. I’m still not sure if it’s there yet. I’m letting it sit for a few days now before I go back to it. But after reading so much information on queries, I thought I would share some of the most important things I’ve learned about writing queries – not just yesterday, but since I first started researching queries.

1. Make sure you include both the TITLE and WORD COUNT for your MS.

2. You need to include WHAT YOUR PROTAGONIST WANTS, WHAT IS PREVENTING THEM FROM ACHIEVING IT and WHAT IS AT STAKE IF THEY FAIL.

3. Keep your query BRIEF and CONCISE – don’t ramble or try to include every single plot point. 1 – 2 paragraphs is sufficient for describing your MS. Try to keep it under 250 words.

4. In your bio paragraph only include information relevant to writing or your subject area. Include relevant publishing credits and writing associations you are a member of. Don’t include how many dogs you own or that writing competition you won when you were twelve.

5. ALWAYS CHECK SUBMISSION GUIDELINES! I made this red, because most agents will tell you it’s their biggest pet peeve when writers don’t check guidelines before submitting. Make sure you spell the agent/editor’s name right. Make sure the agent/publishing house actually accepts submissions in your genre.

If you’re looking for some GREAT SITES ON QUERIES, here are some of the best I’ve come across:

Query Shark

How To Write A Query Letter

How I Got My Agent (The Parts of a Good Query)

Cover Letters and Query Letters

10 Common Query Mistakes

Checklist for Submitting

Some GREAT QUERY HASHTAGS to follow on Twitter:

#queries

#queryfest

#querychat

And finally, if you head over to Write on Con they have some great query critique competitions running at the moment. All you have to do is comment on the prize you want and you could win a query critique for your YA, MG or PB manuscript.

Helpful Writing Sites & Blog Posts February 2011 Edition

Before I do this month’s roundup of helpful writing sites and blog posts, I just want to send out my thoughts and prayers to those in New Zealand affected by the earthquake. If you wish to donate to the New Zealand Red Cross to help out those affected, here is a link: New Zealand Red Cross

Onto the most helpful sites and posts I’ve come across this month:

Writing

Punctuation Made Easy

This is by far the best site on punctuation I’ve found. It covers colons, semicolons, commas, dashes and apostrophes. It is very straightforward and clear and makes understanding how to use punctuation very easy. I always thought I was good at punctuation, but reading so many complicated posts on punctuation on the internet has often left me confused on whether I’m doing it right. This site is now my go to site when I need clarity.

The Very Basics: Ten Things All Writers Need To Do

Ten things writers should do if they want a shot at getting published.

Opening No Nos

Killzone author James Scott Bell outlines opening chapter no nos based on statements by literary agents.

Five Tips for Your First Five Pages

From things you shouldn’t do in your opening to things you should do.

Back to Basics – Dialog

This post explains the difference between a conversation and dialogue.

8 Ways to Pile on the Fear in Your Horror Fiction

Great post for horror writers looking for ways to amp up the fear factor in their writing.

The Power of Touch

A look at the way J.K. Rowling uses touch in the Harry Potter series as a way of showing emotion, rather than telling.

Creating a Magic System

A great post for fantasy writers on creating a magic system that fits best with the world in your novel.

Lovable and Admirable Characters

We all want to create characters our readers will want to read more about. Author Denise Jaden shares some advice she received about qualities your main character should have to ensure he/she is engaging and lovable.

How to Get the Biggest Bang for Your Plot Point

This post outlines where your main plot points occur in your manuscript and what you should be doing at these points to create a deeper connection with your reader.

Tightening Your (Manuscript’s) Belt

A checklist for eliminating unnecessary prose.

7 Ways Glee Can Improve Your Fiction Writing

Joanna Penn uses the popular TV show ‘Glee’ as a metaphor for ways to improve your writing.

Queries

How to Write a Bio for Your Query

Dot point list of what to include and also includes an example of what to do if you have no writing credentials.

What Your Query Says About Your Book

Your query letter is your first impression of your manuscript. This post tells you how much an agent can tell about your manuscript just by reading your query letter.

Query Me Crazy

Corinne Jackson shares an original query letter she wrote that kept getting rejected, tips she received from a literary agent to improve the query and a revised query she wrote using the tips from the agent that resulted in requests for  partials and fulls.

Just for Fun

The 46 Stages of Twitter

For anyone on Twitter, you’ll be able to relate to these ‘stages’.

Why You Should Double-Check Submission Guidelines

Only a couple of months ago I compiled a list of publishers to query. I made up a spreadsheet with details such as contact details, whether they accept e-mail or postal submissions and a link to their submission guidelines pages.

Today as I was polishing up a query letter to send out to one of the publishers I thought I should double-check their submission guidelines. I’m so glad I did, because some of their guidelines had changed drastically since my last visit. Their biggest change: previously they only accepted postal submissions, now they only accept e-mail submissions (postal submissions are now ignored). Imagine if I had simply gone by the details I had saved only few months ago – I would have been prepared to send my submission by post.

On double-checking another publisher’s guidelines I noted they are no longer accepting unsolicited submissions. If I hadn’t checked, I would have sent my submission and it would have been a waste.

The lesson here is to ALWAYS double-check the submission guidelines before you send, even if you think you know them already. Guidelines change, submissions close or open and editors/agents may leave. Yesterday the guidelines may have said to post your letter with your first three chapters to Paul Newton, but today the guidelines may say to e-mail your letter with a synopsis to Lisa Simpson or submissions are now closed until June.

And if you’re the kind of person to keep a spreadsheet or Word document with publisher details, make sure you update it regularly (and still double-check the publisher/agent’s website before you send).

Helpful Writing Sites & Blog Posts January 2011

The first helpful writing sites blog post for the year. I’ve come across quite a few good ones this month.

Writing Advice

Writing in the Age of Distraction

Tips on how to balance writing with social media/the internet. What I most like about this post is that Cory Doctorow outlines how the internet has benefited his writing as much as it’s been a distraction and that there can be balance – you don’t have to black-ban yourself from the internet to get writing done.

Back Story and Exposition

Brooke Johnson talks about mastering the skills of back story and exposition without resorting to the dreaded ‘info-dump’.

How to Write Intriguing Male and Female Characters

A post on how understanding gender differences can improve your writing in any genre.

Want to Get High (Concept)?

A post explaining what makes a story ‘high concept’.

The Increasing Importance of the First Chapter

Author Jody Hedlund explains why the first chapter is so important. She also includes a link to a post on ‘Potential First Chapter Problems’.

100 Stories for Queensland Update

While the submissions for the 100 Stories for Queensland Anthology closes today (there’s still just over 12 hours left to submit – it’s for a great cause), this post is worth reading if you are a short story writer. Scroll down the page a little and Nick Daw gives some great advice on writing short stories.

Queries

Is the Query System Dying?

Author Jody Hedlund talks about query statistics and how you can improve your chances of getting an agent.

The Difference Between ‘Pitch’ and ‘Query’

Query Shark, Janet Reid, outlines the difference between giving a verbal pitch to an agent and writing a query.

Your Professional Bio: Query Letter and Cover Letter Tips for Writers

As part of a query or cover letter, writers are asked to include a bio paragraph. This post outlines the things you should and shouldn’t include in your bio paragraph, and what to do if you have no writing credentials.

The Biggest Mistakes Writers Make When Querying Literary Agents

This is a long post, but well worth reading. J.M. Tohline e-mailed 100 literary agents and asked them the same question, “What is the single biggest mistake writers make when querying you?” This post looks at the answers received from these agents, including some of the detail agents went into when answering.

Synopses

How to Write a Synopsis for Your Novel

7 steps to writing an effective synopsis.  This post gives advice on how to avoid ending up with a boring summary of your story (‘and then this happened and then that happened’), and tells you how you can include the emotional twists and turns that make your story interesting.

Manuscript Submission

Checklist for Submission

This truly awesome checklist has been compiled by an editor/publisher. The comprehensive checklist includes everything you need to remember when submitting your manuscript. It even includes a handy printable version with check boxes.

Formatting Your Manuscript – The Silent Scream

All the things you can do to ‘keep your editor’s hair from turning white’.

*image by nuttakit