QUERY LETTER FORMAT FOR NOVELS

Seems I saw this subject pop up quite a bit on social media this past fall. Right now, we’re in kind of a recognized submission dead zone. (Submissions generally stop between now and the new year. Writers spend their holidays polishing up new books and queries. I’d be remiss if I didn’t include this fun fact, though: I did sell my first novel during the holiday season, so there are certainly always exceptions to the rule.) Still, since this is generally the time of the year of pretty intense submission prep, I thought I’d tackle the subject head-on: How to squeeze all your tons of info on your novel into a single page query.

I know when you first start out it just seems completely impossible. You have SO MUCH TO SAY ABOUT YOUR BOOK.

The good news is, like everything else in life, that which seems impossible is actually not quite as complicated as you would make it out to be, first glance.

The queries I’ve written generally follow the same format:

  1. A third of the page devoted to the book itself—talking the storyline here. Think in terms of jacket copy.
  2. A third of the page devoted to the importance of the book—how it fits into the market, how you believe it fills a hole. If it’s children’s literature, how the book would be useful in a classroom, etc.
  3. A third of the page devoted to your credentials.

That’s it.

If this is your first book to query, #1 especially sounds easier than done, I’m sure. It’s always so hard to squeeze your book down to a paragraph or two. One tip is to boil the book down to ONE SENTENCE and then build the paragraph(s) up from there. You really should have a one-sentence pitch on hand, anyway, before you start approaching agents or editors. Also, my jacket copy has frequently been pulled from my initial queries, so I can’t stress how really important #1 is.

Don’t be too literal about the division into thirds. Of course each project is different. Each author is different, too—if you don’t have much of a publishing history, that’s fine. Everyone has to start somewhere. But if you don’t have it, you don’t need to dwell on it. Focus on the project instead. Your understanding of where your book fits into and stands out from an already crowded marketplace will be more valuable to a potential publishing house than your background, anyway. (Trust me on that one—I had a master’s in English, teaching experience, and previous publications, and they didn’t help me get in the door any faster. It was all about the project at hand.)

So there you have it: an easy, three-part query letter. Best of luck getting your submissions in order for ’19!

GET TO KNOW YOUR CHARACTER – WITH A SECRET

We’ve been discussing how to find teen voices this month over at my YA authors blog, YA Outside the Lines. As we discussed the various techniques we all used to tap back into our younger selves (and younger voices), it became apparent to me that a character’s voice can be elusive, regardless of genre or age category. It can be elusive even if you’ve written several books before.

For the most part, when the voice is hard to find, I believe it’s because you don’t quite know who your character is yet.

And often, the best way to find out who they are is to get them to tell you a secret.

What is your character hiding? It could be anything–something they’ve done in the past, something they’re afraid might happen. They might have a secret plan or agenda. Do they have a relationship they’re trying to keep secret? That relationship might be romantic, but it might also be a familial one.  For example, in my first YA, A BLUE SO DARK, Aura is trying desperately to keep her mother’s deterioration (she’s schizophrenic) from the outside world.

The secret doesn’t have to be dark. Do they have a secret dream? A wish? A crush?

Do they have a secret passion? Or hobby? Do they have a secret friend?

The reason secrets work is that they’re the most private, personal parts of ourselves. When a character shares a secret, you know them in a new way. You’re instantly closer. And often, understanding them better means you’re well on your way to finding their voice.

INVENT YOUR OWN SUPERHERO: E-BOOK + CLASSROOM IDEAS

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Having been involved in the craft of storytelling since my own elementary days, and having visited classes as a professional author to discuss writing techniques, I’ve developed what I believe to be the perfect guide to creating innovative characters and dynamic action that will both tweak the imaginations of advanced writers AND jumpstart or encourage the most reluctant young writer. Now available in a lower-cost e-book format (simply use your own notebook to answer the prompts listed in the e-version).

INVENT YOUR OWN SUPERHERO: A BRAINSTORMING JOURNAL uses creating a new “superhero” as an enticement for young writers. This is more than just a fun exercise, though, as it introduces writers to the recognized elements of solid storytelling: conflict, character motivation, backstory, foreshadowing, etc.

The workbook also introduces young authors to the importance of crafting solid characters who grow and change throughout their stories. The journal also provides insight into how “heroes” and “arch-enemies” can even find common ground.

IDEAS FOR CLASSROOM USE

While journals and workbooks are often geared toward individual use, INVENT YOUR OWN SUPERHERO would also make a great ongoing classroom project. After reading each prompt aloud, teachers could instruct their students to brainstorm either on their own or collectively (in small groups or as a class). Individual brainstorming allows students to rely on their own creativity, of course, but less creatively-inclined students might benefit from group brainstorming—after the group brainstorming is complete, each student can then write his or her own stories. It’s much easier to write a story once you have a roadmap (it would be a fantastic confidence-builder), and it would also be a fascinating exercise for the students to see how each one of them takes the same basic characters and / or storyline and turns it into something different from the other young writers in their class!

SNAG YOUR OWN COPY

INVENT YOUR OWN SUPERHERO is available as an e-book here: http://bit.ly/HeroJournalEBook and as a print book here: http://bit.ly/HeroJournal

I would also love to hear how this workbook benefits your class or young writers’ group. You can contact me at any time at hollyschindlerbooks (at) gmail (dot) com.

Happy writing!

Holly

SUPER SUSAN! (INSPIRATION FOR INVENT YOUR OWN SUPERHERO)

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: If you’re writing for young readers, your old stuff is just a goldmine. And by “old stuff,” I mean anything that allows you to connect with who you were as a teen or fifth grader or college freshman, etc.

When I wrote my first YA, A BLUE SO DARK, I dug through all the old spiral-bound notebooks I filled with poetry throughout high school. Not only did it help me get back into the right teen voice, a few of those poems actually worked their way into the finished book (tweaked a bit to fit the events of the novel).

Last year, I bumped into this gem–it appears to be an old school project (I’m thinking I was about 8 when I did this, since that’s when I learned cursive) in which I invented a superhero. My creation?

SUPER SUSAN!

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Check out that impressive glitter work–and that’s real yarn hair! Pretty super, if I do say so myself.

When Susan is not being super, she is mild-mannered Susan Crawford:

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I’m not sure what Susan Crawford does, exactly. Maybe librarian? I probably would have liked a librarian.

Here I am brainstorming Super Susan’s abilities:

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And here’s my short piece on Super Susan:

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Susan’s true superpower? According to that last paragraph, it’s kindness.

I got such a kick out of this, and I wanted to give other young writers an opportunity to invent a superhero of his or her own. The end result? A brainstorming journal:

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In this journal, young writers will not only create a new superhero, they’ll also learn the basics of crafting strong characters, building solid conflict, and finding an emotionally satisfying story conclusion.

The journal also asks writers to consider how their characters change. Taking a page from the Super Susan book, the journal encourages writers to give their heroes a chance to show kindness to their enemy. By showing kindness, writers can see how those heroes and enemies can actually find common ground, maybe even join forces.

I hope your young writers come up with something amazing. Well–actually, I don’t hope. I know they will. Snag your own copy here.

NEW RELEASE: INVENT YOUR OWN SUPERHERO

I’ve released my first writing how-to book for kids!

INVENT YOUR OWN SUPERHERO: A BRAINSTORMING JOURNAL

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Create a brand-new superhero with never-before-seen powers and the perfect arch-enemy. Learn to tell an exciting story!

Psst: And it’s fun, too!
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Award-winning author Holly Schindler turns her attention to helping young writers learn the craft of storytelling. Yes, this activity book is a guide for creating a new superhero, but it also uses brainstorming prompts to take young authors through the process of constructing a story with solid characters, plenty of pulse-pounding conflict, and a satisfying ending. Great for individual or classroom use. Suggested grades: 3-8.

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Okay, okay, it’s my first writing how-to book for anybody, regardless of age. But this is specifically geared toward young writers. I’d suggest it for grades 3-8, but since every child develops at their own rate, of course it could also work for someone slightly older or younger, as well.

What does this writing journal offer?

Help creating a brand-new superhero with never-before-seen powers and the perfect arch-enemy.
A step-by-step guide that teaches kids to tell an exciting story.
Most importantly, it’s fun, too!

Yes, this activity book will guide users through creating a new superhero, but it’s so much more! This journal uses brainstorming prompts to take young authors through the process of constructing a story with solid characters, plenty of pulse-pounding conflict, and a satisfying ending.

Really, by using the hook of creating a new “superhero,” I’m introducing kids to the concept of “pre-writing,” or planning out a story before writing it. This journal gives them a starting point for how to become a “plotter” rather than a “pantser.” (A plotter outlines a story first, and a pantser literally flies by the seat of their pants, or wings every single book they write.) The farther along I get, the more I think the worst thing a writer could ever be is a lifelong pantser. There’s no way I could meet every single deadline writing that way. Professional writers need to master the art of outlining, brainstorming, and pre-writing in order to organize their thoughts BEFORE writing the first draft. Otherwise, they’re quickly overwhelmed. Projects gets delayed or even sidelined completely.

How does it work?

The journal contains both informative text and numbered brainstorming prompts. These prompts take young authors first through the process of creating a solid hero and worthy opponent (arch-enemy). Once the young authors understand their characters, they can then begin to craft the conflict and story resolution, as well.

Sneak peek:

As you can see from these sample pages, the journal introduces young writers to concepts like “foreshadowing” and “backstory,” and provides thoughts on how to “flesh out” characters and find an ending in which not only good prevails but characters change and grow as well.

What will young authors create?

Anything they want! Students can take all the ideas they generate here to then write a short story or book, illustrate a comic, even devise a script for a movie or play that can be acted out. The journal includes several blank pages in the back to get started with their projects, but after all this brainstorming, they might find they need far more paper to finish…maybe even a whole spiral-bound notebook!

Great for both individuals and classrooms!

Available at Amazon: http://bit.ly/HeroJournal

Best wishes in writing!

Holly

ARE YOU WRITING LETTERS OF AUTHORIAL INTENT? (NO, THEY’RE NOT QUERIES)

Piggybacking on last week’s post on retyping revisions, I wanted to share another technique I’ve found to be particularly powerful during the revision process: the letter of authorial intent.

Sometimes, it’s hard to know where to get started with a revision. And while it’s true that consulting beta readers or critique groups can offer authors some great guidance, it’s also unfortunately true that conflicting advice (or advice you don’t 100% agree with) can leave you feeling more confused or lost than ever…in the darkest of times, you can even wonder if your project’s hit a dead-end.

At this point, I’d recommend writing what I’ve come to refer to as a letter of authorial intent.

WHAT THE HECK IS THIS THING, ANYWAY?

It is in no way a query. A query is short and it’s jacket copy. It tries to entice someone else to read your book. This is a letter to yourself. In it, you’re literally describing what you intended, as the author, for this book to be. The important thing to remember is that this letter has nothing to do with the book you actually wrote. Not at this point. This letter is describing the book you dreamed of. The book you intended to write. Reconnect with your just-inspired self. What got you excited in the first place? What was the initial spark?

Spiral out from there. Let yourself go. Don’t worry if your thoughts hop around. Just get them down at this point. This is a total brain-dump, a stream-of-consciousness freewrite. What themes did you want to include? What about the characters? Who did you imagine they would be?

Get every last thing you wanted this book to be down on paper. Write it in longhand, type it, dictate it. Whatever it takes to let all the ideas flow naturally.

REVISE YOUR LETTER

Now that you’ve got it all down, organize it. Remember, this is a letter for you, so there really are no hard-and-fast rules. It’s all about what works best for you—and for this project! I do shuffle all my thoughts by topic (Character, Theme, etc.) Really, this step is more of a logical reordering than it’s technically a revision. You don’t care how the letter is phrased; you’re actually creating a kind of checklist.

Once I’ve gotten my own letter of authorial intent organized, I usually:

WRITE A ONE-SENTENCE PITCH

And the pitch is based solely on the letter, not the manuscript. If the book you described in your own letter actually existed, how would you pitch it in one sentence?

COMPARE YOUR LETTER WITH YOUR BOOK

This is the fun part (at least, I think it’s fun). Put your authorial letter of intent (and that one-sentence pitch) next to your manuscript. Does the manuscript live up to the pitch? Does the manuscript accomplish what you originally set out to do? Do not go easy on yourself! Identify the areas where you feel you didn’t hit the mark. Why? What separates the current WIP’s main character from the character you originally imagined? Are the themes and messages present in this WIP? Are they present but perhaps not in the way or to the extent you planned? Why?

By comparing your original goals to the current manuscript, you can begin to identify holes or weaknesses. From there, you can begin to brainstorm ideas on how to fix those weaknesses.

A FANTASTIC SIDE-BONUS

I’ve found that by reconnecting with what originally inspired me, I often find myself reinfected with that original excitement and the high of the initial spark of inspiration. The kind of excitement that can help a writer power through a tough revision…

WHY YOU SHOULD RETYPE YOUR REVISION (YES, THE WHOLE THING)

We’ve all got manuscripts we’ve had forever. Perhaps they haven’t sold, or we just don’t feel they’ve ever really found their way. We’ve written and rewritten them again.

At this point, one of the best things you can do for your manuscript is retype it.

I’ve offered this suggestion before to fellow writers. As soon as I do, they gasp with utter, complete, total horror.

But I’m serious. I’ve done it before, many times. Print your current manuscript, put it on the desk or table next to you, and start retyping.

WHY, you ask, WOULD I DO SUCH A TIME-WASTING, RIDICULOUS THING?????

Because by trying to save time with a quickie cutting and pasting job, we can wind up spending (or wasting, depending on your point of view) far more time (multiple rewrites + multiple submissions + multiple wait times). We can often get to the best manuscript in a shorter period of time by just giving a manuscript a fresh re-type.

Here’s what I mean:

TYPING MAKES YOU RETHINK EVERY SINGLE WORD

The speed of reading is fast. Without realizing it, our eyes zip through sentences, paragraphs, whole chapters when we re-examine our manuscripts. Often, they zip too quickly for us to fully reconsider if that’s what we want to say.

The speed of writing is slow. And even though I’m a fast typist, I’ll admit, retyping is just plain not fun. You don’t want to type anything that’s not the highest quality. We’re far more willing to delete during this process. We’re far more anxious to get to the good stuff. To cut to the chase. It leads to a far tighter story.

TYPING MAKES YOUR MANUSCRIPT FEEL MORE COHESIVE

By now, you know that “retyping” doesn’t literally mean just doing secretarial work. When you retype, you shouldn’t be mindlessly copying text. You should be rethinking every line in your book.

When we cut and paste and “spot-revise” (tackle specific scenes or chapters, leaving the rest of the manuscript in place), the voice of the book stops feeling cohesive, especially if those revisions took place over several months—maybe even years. An author is in a different mindset every single time he or she sits down to work on a manuscript. If you’re retyping—and rethinking every single word, tweaking and revising along the way—the voice of the book begins to tighten. It’s being told by a person in the same mindset from front to back.

RETYPING CREATES SPACE FOR AH-HA! MOMENTS

This goes back to the slow pace of writing. Retyping and rethinking along the way means that you’re now rethinking literally everything about your book. Two or three chapters in, you often get hit with new revelations—not just about phrasing or line edits, but about structure and plot. And because you’re already retyping, you won’t think twice about an overhaul. The chapter in the middle suddenly becomes the opening scene. It doesn’t matter—you’re already committed to retyping every single word, so you’re actually less worried about the implications of making such sweeping changes.

YES, RETYPING OFTEN LEADS TO WRITING

New scenes, new chapters. Fresh characters. New plot twists. A more satisfying ending. You can wind up writing large swaths of the book. It can, occasionally, become a completely different project. A better one. A more cohesive, tighter one. All because you simply sat down to retype.