Monday, September 28, 2015

Querying a Small Press

By Karen Jones Gowen

As a writer, one often feels there’s a special formula to unlocking acceptance from a submissions editor. I used to think so back when I was trying to place my first books. Now, as Managing Editor for WiDo Publishing, I can see how simple it is really, no magic involved. In this post, I’ll break it down to four basic steps.

1 . Have a polished manuscript ready for submitting

What I often see on writer and query blogs is this idea of the query letter’s vital importance, each word and paragraph a make or break deal. It’s true a well-written query can help get your manuscript read, but then the work must stand on its own. I’ve heard Allie, WiDo’s submission editor say more than once, “The query was written better than the manuscript.”

2. The right tone

What catches an editor’s eye in a query? Passion, personality, voice, and a reason to open your manuscript. A carefully crafted query matching every rule and guideline but with no life will not speak as well for what’s to come as will one exuding enthusiasm and strong voice.

Write like you’re communicating with your best friend, the one who loves your writing and can’t wait to read whatever you come out with next. This describes what the submissions editor will become if your manuscript is right for this publisher. Still, maintain professionalism and respect.

A few turn offs are mass market queries, too much familiarity, the “quirky” email to get attention, praising one’s own work “the best book you’ll see this year”, or other oddities such as emails hinting at an unstable personality.

3. Do your research and stay informed about the industry

Researching publishers, being part of informative groups like IWSG and writer groups on Facebook, blogging and communicating with others in the publishing industry can help a writer land a publishing contract. Or, if you choose instead to self-publish, you will be doing it from an informed position, having looked closely at the many options available for writers today.

Despite the abundance of information available online to writers, some are still oblivious to how the industry works. Following are a few examples taken, sadly, from real submissions:

  • Promoting the book as a film, even naming actors to star in the roles. Suitable material for a blog post, not a query letter.
  • A missive to the troubled world as spoken by a Supreme Being with subsequent rules of behavior. The Bible and other books revered by world religions already have this covered. And if God were to speak to us again, pretty sure it wouldn’t be by submitting His manuscript to a small press.
  • And there’s the sweet ones from youngsters saying “I’ve always wanted to be a writer and I’m sending you my book.” It’s harder to dismiss these hopeful letters with the typical formula rejection. Allie will give these young writers a few words of encouragement when she replies to them.

4. Storming the castle

After many rejections, writers can feel like publishing companies are the enemy and their editors the army blocking entrance to the castle. In fact, editors want to open the castle gate and usher in the right person. Publishers don’t exist without writers and manuscripts but it needs to be a good fit.

Once the manuscript is polished and ready to submit, research places to send it, write the query but don’t agonize over it, and follow the publisher’s guidelines when submitting. Do these simple things and you have every chance of getting an editor’s attention.

Karen Jones Gowen is the manager editor at WiDo Publishing, and you can find her at her BLOG and WEBSITE.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Pick Up the Pace

I'm not talking about how many words you write in a day or how many books you pound out on the keyboard each year. I mean the pacing in your novel. Proper pacing is what glues that book to the reader's hand so they can't put it down to make dinner or got to bed at a timely hour.

I've come up with a list of things I try to keep the pace going at a fast clip and keep those readers turning the pages for one more chapter. 

Cliffhangers.  Every writer has heard the advice to end a chapter with someone in jeopardy or a mystery to be revealed if only the reader turns the page.

Short. Keep paragraphs short. Use sentence fragments. Make your sentences succinct without flowery prose. Short scenes. Short chapters. It makes the story move fast and draws the reader into reading that next chapter because it's not that long.

Action!  Limit character thoughts. There's a place for that but it will slow the pace down.

Active Verbs and Voice.  Use those active verbs and limit the passive ones. Make verbs energetic.

Onomatopoeia.  Use words that that imitate the sound of something. This involves the senses of the reader and keeps the interest high. Sizzling heat. Buzzing bees.  Here's the definition if you're unfamiliar with Onomatopoeia.

In Media Res.  Start a scene in the middle. Skip the scenery description. If you're read The Hobbit, you know how such a beginning was once acceptable in literature. Don't try that today. Grab that reader on the first page by starting as something is happening.

Change Directions.  Nothing like surprise, an unexpected twist, to keep the reader hooked. And keep them thinking about your book long after they finish.

All writers are readers and I'm sure you've read a book that kept you up way past bedtime. What did the writer do to keep you turning the pages? What pacing devices were used? What would you add to my list?

Monday, September 14, 2015

NYT Best-Selling Author, Ruth Harris and the Creative Habit

The Creative Habit

Since we’re all creative people here, I want to mention the best book I have ever read about creativity. It’s The Creative Habit by the noted choreographer, Twyla Tharp.

An elegant book physically, pleasing to the eye and the hand, The Creative Habit is generous, authoritative, intelligent and well written. Each page brims with advice, specific how-to’s, questionnaires and exercises about how to open your mind, overcome fear, deal with failure, defeat distraction, clarify your thinking, make your way through confusion. There is guidance about how to find solutions when you know something’s wrong but don’t even know quite what the problem is or how to define it.

Using an extremely wide-ranging set of examples ranging from Homer to Proust, from Ulysses S Grand to Ludwig Wittgenstein and Pope LeoX, from Merce Cunningham and George Balanchine to Ansel Adams, Raymond Chandler, Mozart and Yogi Berra, TCH offers a detailed road map based on Ms. Tharp’s own journey to defining her own creative identity. Practical, down to earth and never flinching from the nitty-gritty, Ms. Tharp explains the importance of routine, ritual and setting goals, how to know the difference between a good idea and a bad idea, how to recognize ruts when you’re in one and she offers explicit guidelines about how to get out of them.

Her advice is useful for beginners—and also to more experienced creators. She candidly describes what, specifically, she did to make the transition from habits that served her well in the past to creating varying approaches that lead to exciting new break throughs.

You will find out about the value of “doing a verb” and about building a bridge to the next day, about the relationship between failure and success, the miracle of second chances and what to do when denial is no longer an option. It is hard for me to imagine any writer who won’t learn from or be inspired by a book that is part memoir, part manual, part how-to.

KISS AT KIHALI ... romantic suspense set in an African animal orphanage.
I wrote this book to help bring attention to the brutal poaching which is bringing rhinos and elephants to the brink of extinction and to the valiant men and women who are working to protect these vulnerable creatures.

Ruth Harris is a #1 Amazon and million-copy New York Times bestselling author and Romantic Times award winner for "best contemporary." Ruth writes about strong, savvy, witty women and her "emotional," "entertaining" books have been translated into 19 languages, sold in 30 countries, and were prominent selections of leading book clubs including the Literary Guild and the Book Of The Month Club. Reviewers have called Ruth’s books "brilliant," "steamy," "stylishly written," "richly plotted," "first-class entertainment" and "a sure thing."

Find Ruth - Blog, Twitter, Google+, and Anne R. Allen’s blog

Monday, September 7, 2015

EPub Formatting and Beyond

When e-books broke onto the market many years ago, there were numerous formats required to make it available to everyone. Today, EPub is universal - everyone accepts it, from Amazon to Barnes & noble to iTunes to Smashwords and more. A Mobi copy is good to have for people with Kindles, but all other devices accept ePubs. And when it comes to uploading your book, ePub is all you need.

I format books for authors into ePub and Mobi format. It’s taken much trial and error to learn how to do it properly. For those interested in doing it themselves, I offer the following invaluable sites for learning the process.

How do you create a ePub? Often you can format in Word and run it through conversion software. You can also create it in InDesign. Two sites that offer some great tips:

Apple’s ePub creation guide
Jane Friedman’s tips

There are a lot of ePub creators and creation services available:

EPubsoft EBook Converter

If you are creating the ePub yourself, you need to check it for errors. Two options available:

International Digital Publishing Forum and Validator

There are many errors that would cause your ePub to be rejected. ITunes in particular is very picky and requires a perfect file. The primary errors are:

Missing the “http://” in Web Address (replace all www with http://)
Image File Misidentified (image not anchored or improperly imbedded.)
No index (no table of contents or chapter markers)

For a list of other errors and how to fix them:


The final step is distributing your book to retailers. You can use a distribution service that will deliver your book to multiple retailers:

EBook Partnership

Or you can set up accounts with the individual platforms and upload directly:

Barnes & Noble

Get your book in ePub format today!

Don’t forget our IWSG Anthology Contest is open to members until November 1, 2015!

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

IWSG Post Day and Special Anniversary Announcement!

It’s time for another group posting of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group! Time to release our fears to the world – or offer encouragement to those who are feeling neurotic. If you’d like to join us, click on the tab above and sign up. We post the first Wednesday of every month. I encourage everyone to visit at least a dozen new blogs and leave a comment. Your words might be the encouragement someone needs.

Our awesome co-hosts today are Julie Flanders, Murees Dupé, Dolorah at Book Lover, Christine Rains, and Heather Gardner!

Today marks four years since the group began and two years since we opened the website. So what better way to celebrate than offer our members an amazing opportunity! Presenting…

The IWSG Short Story Contest 2015

After the success of last year’s IWSG Guide to Publishing and Beyond, we decided to create another book. This time it’s a short story competition with the top ten stories getting published in an anthology. (Authors will also receive royalties on sales.)

Eligibility: Any member of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group is encouraged to enter – blogging or Facebook member. The story must be previously unpublished. Entry is free.

Word count: 5000-6000

Theme: Alternate History/Parallel Universe. That’s right, we’ve decided to go the speculative route. This theme has plenty of scope and we’re open to pretty much anything along these lines, except erotica or graphic violence.

Story deadline: November 1st 2015

How to enter: Send your polished, formatted, previously unpublished story to TheIWSG at gmail dot com before the deadline passes. Make sure to include your contact details.

Judging: The IWSG admins will create a shortlist of the best stories. The shortlist will then be sent to our official judges:
Laura Maisano - Senior editor at Anaiah Press for their YA/NA Christian fiction
Russell Connor – Author and owner of Dark Filament Publishing Startup
Candace Havens – Editorial Director for the Covet, Select, Select Otherworld, Select Historical, Embrace, Indulgence for Entangled Publishing. She is also a nationally syndicated columnist and award-winning and best-selling author.
Dawn Frederick – Literary agent and the founder of Red Sofa Literary
Alice Speilburg – Founder of the Speilburg Literary Agency
Michelle Johnson – Literary agent and the founder of Inklings Literary Agency
Kendare Blake - Author
Lydia Moëd - Associate agent at The Rights Factory

Prizes: The winning stories will be edited and published by Freedom Fox Press next year in the IWSG anthology. Authors will receive royalties on books sold, both print and eBook. The top story will have the honor of giving the anthology its title. The winners will also receive an exclusive badge to display on their blog.

We’re excited to see the creativity and enthusiasm that’s such a part of this group put into action. So don your creative caps and start writing. And spread the word!

The #IWSG short story anthology contest is open! For details - #contest #shortstory #anthology