This is your friendly neighborhood blog maven here to bring you the first Writer Wednesdays, where we shall cover topics ranging from the ins and outs of publishing, writing tips, trends, and any information we can share to make your writing journey a little smoother.
With Sword & Silk officially opening their doors this week, we would like to dedicate the first Writer Wednesday to crafting a Submission Package.
Be sure to hop on the Twitter this evening at 8 PM EST with the #MeetSSBooks tag to chat with us, ask any burning questions, and eat all the ice cream. Now, let’s talk shop!
The Query Trenches are arduous. Agent and Publisher tastes and preferences are varied, and each step of the journey requires a massive time sink. To start your querying journey there are three words you should keep in head through every step, every rejection, every request:
Passion, Patience, Persistence.
Authors, Agents, Publishers, we are all in this business because we are passionate about stories and the art of storytelling. Patience, because every part of this process takes time. Behind Passion and Patience, there is persistence. It is easy to be discouraged by rejection, by the passage of time without success, but persistence is how we keep diving into the query trenches, time and time again, until we find a connection.
The Submission Package
Before you begin querying, take the time to craft:
The One Sentence Pitch- Not only will this be useful for Twitter Pitch events, but crafting a one line pitch is vital to helping sell your book. You need to be able to distill your book into short form text to market it. Your short pitch will include the Main Flavor/ Character, the Conflict, and the Stakes/ Obstacle of your novel.
This step should take time, as you must condense a 50k+ novel into not only a sentence, but one that provides the most punch. For example, here are two restructured pitches from Writer’s Digest:
NOT: “A burning skyscraper threatens the lives of thousands, including a pregnant woman trapped on the top floor.”
INSTEAD: “A former firefighter, fired for insubordination, races to save the lives of thousands of people in a burning skyscraper, including his pregnant wife.”
NOT: ”High-school students turned zombies seek vengeance on the town officials who closed their school for budget reasons.”
INSTEAD: ”A high-school prom queen and the bad boy she secretly loves lead their friends-turned-zombies in a battle to get their school reopened.”
The Query- Taking the time to craft your short pitch will make your query letter that much easier. There are typically four elements to every query letter- The Details, the Pitch, the Bio, and the Closer. The Details or "Housekeeping" include the genre/ category, the word, and the title/subtitle. The Pitch includes those critical elements of the story we discussed above. Your short bio should be around 100 words or so, where you can include previous work, awards, and achievements. Your closing line should be no more than a sentence. A query letter should be no longer than 1 page. The easiest query trap to fall in is trying to cram details of your world building and plot details that should be included in the synopsis. This is a precise snapshot of your story.
The Blurb- The Blurb is a step up from crafting your one liner. Blurbs are your novel in 1 to 2 paragraphs, are often featured on the back or inside cover of your novel and should include the hook you created with your one liner. This means you will feature the same elements as your one sentence pitch, the main characters/ flavor, the opening conflict, and the stakes/ obstacle, with the added context of why your book should appeal to readers, usually through genre keywords. Your blurb should be no more than one to two paragraphs.
Here is an example for the Reedsy Blog featuring the blurb from Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander, which is a blending of fantasy, historical, and romance:
Scottish Highlands, 1945. Claire Randall, a former British combat nurse, is just back from the war and reunited with her husband on a second honeymoon when she walks through a standing stone in one of the ancient circles that dot the British Isles. Suddenly she is a Sassenach—an “outlander”—in a Scotland torn by war and raiding clans in the year of Our Lord . . . 1743.
Claire is catapulted into the intrigues of a world that threatens her life, and may shatter her heart. Marooned amid danger, passion, and violence, Claire learns her only chance of safety lies in Jamie Fraser, a gallant young Scots warrior. What begins in compulsion becomes urgent need, and Claire finds herself torn between two very different men, in two irreconcilable lives.
To quote Reedsy's breakdown of the blurb: The Main Characters/ Flavor: Claire Randall, a former Combat nurse, recently reunited with husband
The Opening Conflict: Trapped in the past, she must rely on a man who could tempt her away from her marriage oaths.
The Stakes/ Obstacle: Survival and fidelity
Genre keywords aka Why Read This: Passion, compulsion, torn between, shatter her heart
The Synopsis- A synopsis can be as tricky to write as a query. You are given more space to expand on the details of your story, but that space quickly disappears. There are three key features that should be included in your synopsis: the complete story arc, the voice/unique elements of your story, and the ending/ resolution of the story, which is not included in your blurb or query. The synopsis still needs a level of concise wording and should be not more than 1 to 2 pages single spaced. One method to tackle writing a synopsis is to create a story map of key plot points to guide you in writing an arc. For spec lit writers, the synopsis is also where you highlight your world building.
The Sample- More accurately, the samples. Before querying, your novel should be tidied up, but initially most agents and publishers will ask you for sample pages instead of the whole novel. Sample pages often vary in length but it can help streamline the submission process to have files set aside with the first 5 pages, 10 pages, and 20 or 50 pages to attach to outgoing queries. This also makes it easier if the agent uses a Query Me system or asks for you to copy and paste the first five pages of your text into the body of an email. You will already have the five pages set aside and ready to go.
A Sub List- Yes, this business is very subjective and agents/ publishers are often looking for specific genres. If you are about to take the querying plunge, it will save you a lot of time and frustration to do some preemptive research. Check out the MSWL, or Manuscript Wish List, website (listed in the links below!) and search which agents/ publishers are accepting your genre. Go to individual publisher and house websites to see what genres they take. This will help you find red flags, such as story elements or sub genres they don’t want. Check out their twitter and/ or their website to make sure they are currently open to queries. And keep a list of who and when you send out queries to. Some houses allow you to query more than one agent/ editor in their house, some are one and done. Many list a response window or response expectation on their websites so you know roughly when you will hear back from them.
And there you have it, an overview of the submission package. Some elements may vary depending on publishers but having these elements ready to go before you begin your querying journey will at least give you a leg up and hopefully lower the stress of the process. Shove it all into a handy folder in your files so you have all your info ready to go at the click of a mouse. And remember, Passion, Patience, and Persistence.
We hope to see your submission package in our inboxes soon!
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