Friday, November 4, 2016

Query Do's and Don'ts

The first and most important step, is to write a fantastic novel and edit it thoroughly. Only send your very best work because you don't get a second chance to make a first impression. Competition is fierce so your book needs to be not only brilliant, but grammatically clean and structurally sound to get noticed. Never send a first draft. Ever. No one is that good, and if you think you're the one exception, you're wrong and such arrogance will not serve you well in this industry.

Now to the do's and don'ts!

It's a careful balance of professionalism, knowing your audience (the agents), enthusiasm for your work, and knowing how to put it all together. Learning how to mix all this and come out with an outstanding query letter is not easy.

Don't confuse enthusiasm for your work with overconfidence.
Don't say things like: 'there isn't another book like this on the market', or 'this will blow away Twilight', are red flags, not good points. If your book isn't like anything on the market then an agent is going to wonder if they'll even be able to sell it. Making a statement like the second one is arrogant and may come back to take a chunk out of your posterior.
Do express it's uniqueness.
Do be respectful of other author's work when making comparisons, don't put their book down.
Do make sure you're accurate in your comparison. Make sure you've read the book you're comparing yours to.
Don't say you're the next J.K. Rowling or Stephen King.
Do say your work is in the vein of such and such, or has the stylistic spice of such and such, or that your style of suspense or intrigue is reminiscent of such and such's work.
Do keep the query short and to the point. A query should fit on one page and involve no more than four paragraphs.
Don't tell us who loved your book. It won't help unless it was a well known author who is endorsing you.
Don't tell us your life story or include personal information not relevant to your writing.
Do list literary awards, publications, relevant education.

Last, but certainly not least:
Do read and follow submission guidelines.

Best of luck in the querying trenches!

Monday, August 22, 2016

Time and Place for Backstory

There is a time and place for backstory and the beginning of your novel is not it. Beginning with backstory is a good way to get automatically rejected by many agents and editors. However, backstory is not the same as a prologue. Backstory is talking about something that has already happened where a prologue is something that is happening~even if it's in the past. The difference is action. Most agents and editors want the story to start right away. Readers want a sense that something is happening, there is something at stake, and there is a way to save what is at stake.

The inciting incident should be as close to the beginning of your novel as you can get it. This doesn't mean it has to be in the first chapter so long as what comes first is pertinent to the story and is exciting, suspenseful, or interesting enough to start the novel with. Not sure what the inciting incident is? It is the event which occurs and sets the entire novel in motion. Example: In Harry Potter it was the arrival of the letter from Hogwarts.

Backstory can be sprinkled in later, after the reader is invested in the character and is hooked enough to keep turning pages. Only then will they tolerate or enjoy the lull of backstory. Five to ten pages in before doing it is a good rule to follow. Wait as long as you can and use that hidden info to build suspense, tension, and curiosity in the reader. And when you do bring it in, don't do paragraph upon paragraph of info dump for no reason. Have the backstory triggered by something currently going on so it flows naturally. Think of it like flavoring your food. If you overdo it, no one will eat it. If it is sprinkled in at the right time and just the right amount, it will enrich the story~not detract from it.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Queries That Get Read

A good, professionally query letter can mean the difference between an agent and an editor continuing to read material pasted below, requesting pages/chapters, or rejecting. As horrible and daunting as it can seem, you need to be able to write a good query letter. Snarky, clever, or rhetorical themes barely ever work so try to stay away from them. Be clear, concise, and professional. Here is what a good query should look like:

Dear Ms. McCorkle, 

Due to your interest in steampunk/historical/paranormal (whatever genre your book is that I am interested in. Not all three, don't list all three. Pick the one your genre is that you know I'm looking for. Don't know, find out by reading my personal blog or profile page at City Owl), I'm confident you'll enjoy my steampunk (or whatever genre it is) novel, Such and Such (insert actual title). It is complete and polished at 90,000 words (read my word length preferences, know them, try to stay within them, understand that if you don't your book could be rejected based solely on that, or that I will ask you to either beef it up or cut it down).

Optional: Short one-sentence pitch goes here that states the problem, stakes, and solution that must be accomplished. Think of this as your quick one-liner to catch my attention. It can stretch into two sentences, but not over that. Think Twitter pitch length.

Paragraph One: with more detail hitting on the interesting or unique points of your novel that introduces us to the main characters and makes us want to know more about them. 

Paragraph Two: This is the meat and potatoes, the why, the risks, the rewards. 

Paragraph Three: Author bio. Keep it short and sweet and RELEVANT. Literary awards, memberships (RWA, SFWA, etc.), other published novels (self-published novels that sold over 5,000 copies warrants mentioning) and who they are published with, etc. Personal things that are relevant to the story may be included but aren't necessary. Education history isn't necessary and won't get you read any quicker. 

Thank you for your time and consideration, I look forward to hearing from you.


Jane Doe 
Twitter / Facebook / Instagram

(Include links to your social media accounts, they can make a difference)

See how nice and short that is? It needs to fit on a single page. Concise is key! Last but most certainly not least: If the submission guidelines call for you to paste pages or material into the bottom of the email, don't forget to do so. It's frustrating to have to ask for material that wasn't included despite submission guidelines stating to do so. Doing your homework on submission guidelines, what a publisher/agent is looking for, and what they like is important on many levels.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Show Don't Tell

Today I'm going to give you a huge tip on how to get through agents and editors slush piles. This is a pet peeve of most in the industry as it is a sign of lazy writing.

One of the biggest pitfalls of writing, and one of the top 10 reasons I reject a manuscript, is telling instead of showing. Telling is passive writing. Or to put it another way; it is the telling of something that has already happened and is in the past. Not to be confused with past tense, that's entirely different. Past tense, present tense, those are styles you choose to write in (I'm actually a huge fan of past tense. I prefer it). Telling is more akin to information dump where you go into backstory of some kind or another that the character is recalling (not to be confused with a flashback. That doesn't mean you can do it as a flashback and get away with it with me. I dislike flashbacks immensely).

Showing is active writing of something that is currently happening. There is a time and a place to tell instead of show, but it needs to be done sparingly and appropriately. In the beginning of your novel is not the place to do it. A good rule of thumb is to do your best to not tell, info dump, or give back story for at least the first ten pages.

Until the reader cares about your characters and is vested in them you don't want to go into backstory. Your first chapter needs to hook the reader, entice and interest them with questions and mystery. Only then will they keep reading and tolerate things like backstory. When you do add it in later remember not to do an information dump where you just 'tell' the reader the backstory. Try to 'show' it and work it in naturally where it fits with things that prompt it.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

How To Pitch In Person

Next week I'll be taking pitches at one of the biggest conventions for romance writers, readers, and publishers. That's right, I'll be at the Romantic Times Book Lover's Convention!

Almost all writers are nervous about pitching in person, but hopefully I can help alleviate some of that. First, agents and editors expect you to be nervous so don't worry if you giggle too much, ramble off topic, or get starry eyed. Here are some tips to make a great first impression:

Be passionate about your book, but be able to get to the heart of the story in under three minutes. Which is to say, have a great hook sentence that lays out the problem, stakes, and solution. Or, to put it another way, hook them with an interesting sentence (not a run-on one, think Twitter pitch length) that introduces the protagonist, the problem, and hits the main point of what the story is about.

Then give a short paragraph or two that highlights the really interesting parts of your story (much like a query letter, short and to the point). You want to leave plenty of time for the editor to ask questions. An elevator pitch is between 1 and 3 minutes long and gives you time to introduce yourself, talk about your experience, awards, that kind of thing (Pitch-A-Palooza). Longer pitch sessions (appointments) give you ten minutes. To keep from rambling carry a notebook or note cards with your pitch written down. Try not to read off it unless you have to, but have it just in case.

After you've prepared the pitch based off your query letter then it's time to try it out on people. Pitch it to your significant other, your friends, family, even your cat or dog. Get it down to where you know it and can rattle it off at any given time.

Tips To Get You Ahead: If you're pitching me and are reading this before hand you are already several strides ahead of the game. Read through my wish list, read my expected manuscript lengths, know the submission requirements of City Owl. In other words, do your homework on those you plan to pitch to. And relax, especially if you're pitching me. I'm laid back and easy to talk to. I'll help walk you through it if you get stuck.

Personal Tips: I do not like passive voice (overuse of was, were, that kind of thing). If you use this too much in your manuscript, it is not for me. A little is unavoidable, but too much is not good. I do not like info dump, telling, and back story that isn't worked in well and sparingly (and preferably after the first five pages or later. Later is better). I'm an editor, not an agent. I am not there to 'represent' your book, I'm there to consider publishing it. Not the same thing. Not by far. I like good pacing with a healthy dose of action. I'm partial to third person past tense. First person past tense is alright too. Present tense makes me twitchy. It isn't an instant no, but it had better be amazingly well done so that I hardly even notice it. Have cards on hand to give to me!

What NOT to do: Don't pitch to someone randomly outside of pitch sessions unless they ask about your book. If they ask about your book, that's an invitation to pitch so rattle off that elevator pitch. No means no. Don't push or argue the point. It will not help matters. Don't bring gimmicks, drawings, or reviews from friends or family who have read your manuscript. Your work will speak for itself and if it can't, well, then it can't and that says enough.

More tips to come before the convention!

Monday, March 14, 2016

What To Look For When Editing

You've finished your first draft and are eager to query agents or editors. But don't! Resisting that urge and taking the time to properly edit your novel will increase its chances of success exponentially. That said, when editing your own work it can be really hard to look at your novel objectively. You worked hard for months, maybe even years, taking the hatchet to it can be a bit traumatic. But for the sake of the novel, it must be done. Take off the rose colored glasses and prepare to polish that baby up. The better the piece of work you submit is, the more professional you look.

Spelling & Grammar: Spellcheck is wonderful but it doesn't catch everything and it makes mistakes. Use it, but don't rely on it alone. Check thoroughly for grammar issues. To polish to a high sheen, read and be familiar with The Elements of Style. It's an industry standard for the most part. Root out too much passive voice and telling.

Arcs & Pacing: Check for plot holes, twist tie-ups, plot arc, and character arcs. Check for consistency and pacing (a read aloud round of editing makes this part easier). Don't be afraid to cut. Try to cut anything that doesn't accomplish something for your novel, meaning for the protagonist, antagonist, or the plot. If you find a scene that doesn't have a purpose, delete it. This is not to say that you can't set a scene, just don't go off on a wild tangent that isn't going to tie in later.

Format: Know the format publishers expect to see your work in. Usually that's 12 font, double spaced, 1 inch margins all around, with the title of the work & your name as a header and the page numbers as a footer. A title page with contact information can also be helpful.

How many rounds of editing you do before submitting is really up to you. A good rule of thumb is at least two rounds, more if you aren't spot on with your spelling and grammar to begin with.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Is An Online Presence Important?

Yes and no. If you have a negative online presence, it can absolutely turn off agents and editors. If you have no presence, then you don't have any bad habits or negative impact issues they have to worry about. However, if you have an excellent online presence with a strong following, agents and editors notice that as well. Personally, I like to see an author that has established themselves in a positive and relative manner somehow online. It shows they are ready and willing to do the work.

Today a lot of successful authors not only have a great website, but they blog, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, or have a Facebook page. Do you have to do all of these things to have a strong web presence? Absolutely not. Like most things in life, pick the things you're good at and focus on them. If you like to chat in an almost texting style format, then Twitter might be for you. If you like to talk about all the things that interest you, post pictures, and such, then Facebook or Instagram might be for you. Blogging might be for you if you have something to share with others. The thing to remember about blogging is that if its all about you, people will lose interest. They want to read about something that interests them or that helps them in some way. Once you're published and famous, then they'll love to hear all about you, but save most of that content for that point in time. That said, there is nothing wrong with a newsletter that others can sign up for. In fact, every author should have one.

So should you wait until your published to begin all this? Not necessarily. Beginning these things now will allow people to get to know you a bit and start to build readers, which is what the publishing industry refers to as a platform. Even if you only gather a few people, at least you have begun. The best part about it is you will have started to meet people with similar interests and you'll have started to network. And as we all know, networking is key in the literary field!

Sunday, February 28, 2016

The Owls Are Going To Vegas

City Owl is going to Vegas, baby! This April the Romantic Times Book Lover's Convention is going to be in Vegas and City Owl editors will be there to mingle, present workshops, and yes, take pitches. If you have never been to an RT Book lover's Convention, you are missing out because they are the place to be for readers of romance, writers of romance, and the agents and publishers who represent and publish them.

Our editors (myself included) will be taking pitches both at individual signups, and at the Pitch-A-Palooza, so if you aren't able to sign up for a longer, individual pitch, never fear, you can catch us at the big pitch party. Pitching in person is a great opportunity to show your enthusiasm, professionalism, and dedication, as well as to get a feel for the person you may potentially be working with. I highly recommend it if you've never done it.

Here are the links and our wish lists if you'd like to sign up for the longer 10 minute pitch sessions with us:

Acquiring Editor
Steampunk, Dystopian, Fantasy, Sci-Fi, Paranormal, Historical
(All with romantic elements)

Executive Editor
Urban Fantasy, Paranormal Romance, Medieval, Renaissance, Native American Romance, Contemporary Romantic Suspense, Sci-fi romance

Executive Editor

If you don't get to sign up for the longer pitches, come see us on Saturday at Pitch-A-Palooza and have your three minute pitch ready.

And don't forget to add City Owl's Write The Fight Workshop and Publisher Meet and Greet to your agenda! And look for our authors at the big book fair on Saturday!

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Understanding Passive Voice

Passive voice is considered one of the great evils of writing. However, there are times when it is appropriate, and even recommended, to use. Knowing when to use it is the mark of an experienced writer. First you have to understand what passive voice is. Think of it this way:

Passive voice: the subject (noun often) is receiving an action.
Active voice: the subject (noun, often) is performing an action.

A few examples:

Passive: The belles of the ball were gliding across the floor.
Active: The belles of the ball glided across the floor.

Passive: It is the intention of the belles to attract a husband.
Active: The belles intend to attract husbands.

The culprits are often the words: is, was, were, are. Seek these out and come up with ways to rework your sentence to make it more active. Think of the action happening now, rather than telling about the fact that it did happen. The time to use passive voice is when you are telling about something that already happened. But be careful, most action needs to be happening currently, even when you're telling in past tense third person. That is the tricky part. 

Monday, January 4, 2016

What I Hope 2016 Brings

Happy new year to all! Here is what I'll be looking for in 2016:

To be a bit more specific:

I've been getting quite a few submission that don't have strong romantic elements. This is a MUST for City Owl. I've also been getting YA. There are great publishers out there who publish YA, we are NOT one of them. No YA. The level of romantic element all depends on the story, as does the heat level. At City Owl we publish all heat levels except for all out erotica (at this time). Strong, clean (grammar) writing, with great characters (who ARC), great world-building, and enough description to put me there, are what I look for in each manuscript. To break the sex part down, sex that moves the plot is fine, but it must not be the plot.

In Steampunk: Inventive, unique, with strong world-building and great character arcs will grab my attention. Outside of Victorian London is a plus. This is always at the top of my list.

In Dystopian: Originality is key. Vampire and zombie apocalypses have been done to death, as has corrupt governments, so if you have something different, I want to read it! But, if it involves zombies or vampires and is outstanding, I'll still consider it.

Science Fiction: While I'll take hard sci-fi (centers on ideas and plausible tech), it has to blow me away and have great characters, military, slip-stream, space-opera (my favorite), and cyberpunk, send it my way. No time travel unless it is outstanding. Write something Whedonesque? For the love of Joss, send it my way (as long as it fits the aforementioned romance criteria).

Fantasy: I love epic but it has to be original, strong writing, and character driven. Write another sub-genre of fantasy? Try me. Again, romantic elements are a must.

Paranormal: I want something unique, not just your run of the mill vampire or werewolf story that has been told a million times over. Bring on the ghosts and other paranormals! But if you have a really original werewolf or vampire story, send it my way. Again, romantic elements are a must.

Historical: I will look at a limited amount of historical romance so long as the setting or time in history catches my interest. Got a good strong romance set somewhere or sometime interesting? Send it my way.

I'll stress again, because it keeps getting missed: All submissions must be for adults and have romantic elements. If your polished work matches any of the descriptions above, feel free to query me directly at: hmccorkle (at) cityowlpress (dot) com. Please include a query and the first ten pages pasted into the body of the email. No attachments until I ask for them! Best of luck!