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QueryDice #45: Romantic Suspense

The following is a query critique. Comments, suggestions and discussion are welcome and we hope you join in. I can only offer one opinion. The author of the query and I would love to hear yours. 

Dear Ms. Ruth,

Until his socialite sister took a swan dive out her penthouse window, FBI Agent Jonah White’s life had been fairly simple: track down bad guys and slap a pair of silver bracelets on them. (I like the voice here!) Haunted by his failure to protect his little sister, the lawman is left with a Texas-sized guilty conscience gnawing at his heart. He’d do anything to prove she was murdered. There’s just one small glitch: the prime suspect has already been bagged and tagged, and the inheritance money stolen from Jonah’s sister is long gone. This starts to wobble here. How is the money being long gone a glitch in Jonah’s plan to catch the killer?

Disobeying orders, Jonah goes undercover to seduce the killer’s young widow, Maya Savantes. But falling in love with Maya – a possible accomplice to murder – definitely wasn’t part of the plan. As he tries to sidestep Maya’s suspicions, and ignore his own growing feelings, he learns two things: 1) there’s a pissed off, trigger-happy loan shark willing to put both Maya and Jonah in his sights to get the inheritance money, and 2) Maya’s husband isn’t so dead after all. <– This paragraph would be far better written from Maya’s point-of-view. Romances are often very heavily dependent on the heroine’s point-of-view, probably because most of the readers are women. I’d like to hear her voice, her side of things, and then see how that ties into Jonah’s troubles in a third paragraph that brings everything together.

The loan shark muddies the waters and confuses the readers because it is not fully explained. Why would the loan shark have any chance of getting inheritance money, which I thought was long gone? I worry there might be a plot hole in there, and agents will worry too unless you explain this fully. I love the last sentence, though, and I’m VERY intrigued by Jonah falling in love with the widow of his sister’s killer! There is a good story in here, we just need a little more information from the right characters, and a little less information about things not completely central to the romance or to the suspense.

[redacted] (75,000 words) is a romantic suspense novel set in Hill’s Creek, Texas, a fictitious town where the kinfolk like their secrets the way they like their steaks: big and juicy. I’m a Romance Writers of America member and a 2nd place finalist in the 2011 Dixie First Chapter contest.<–very good to know. This was a great bio paragraph.

Thank you for considering my book for representation.

[redacted]

QueryDice #44: Women’s Fiction…I think

The following is a query critique. Comments, suggestions and discussion are welcome and we hope you join in. I can only offer one opinion. The author of the query and I would love to hear yours. 

Dear QueryDice, (the author noted that she would have used the agent’s name when querying. The proper way to do this is a simple “Dear Mr. or Ms. SoandSo.”)

Randi hopes rejoining her old band, ‘Raptor Snatch,’ [no quotation marks necessary for the name of a band] will cure her depression. [From how deep into Randi’s past has she unearthed her involvement with the band? How old is she? Age helps to create relatability in a query.]Music is more than just a job for Randi – it’s the rock and roll fuel for her rise from the ashes of the past eleven months.  [What happened in the past eleven months?]Nothing is going to stand in the way of her comeback. Nothing! Certainly not a jealous rival band hell bent on stealing Raptor Snatch’s place in the spotlight.

They may call themselves, ‘Slutmaster,’ [again, no quotation marks or comma necessary] but their combined sexual conquests don’t equal a trip to third base. What they lack in sexual – and musical prowess, they make up for in sabotage. [what does Slutmaster’s sexual prowess have to do with Randi’s life?]

Slutmaster lingers at Raptor Snatch’s performances, slinging glares around like Mardi Gras beads. They cancel some of Raptor Snatch’s gigs. [How?] They give anonymous tips to  night club security accusing Randi’s band members of theft.  Slutmaster’s weaselly tactics are getting under Randi’s skin more than Kelvin, her sexy lead guitar player. But Randi didn’t claw her way out of an emotional abyss to give up without a fight.

Can Randi hold her band – and herself   together, and hit the stage singing? Or will this rock and roll phoenix’s comeback go up in flames?

[I like this. The band names are hilarious, and I love Randi’s endeavor to use a band to revolutionize her life. But something is missing. I need to know what it was about Randi’s life that inspired her to join a band called Raptor Snatch, of all things, and how she expects being in that band will make her life better. The most important things to divulge in a query for any story are 1. what the main character wants 2. what is in her way and 3. how she plans to get around that. From this query, I am unsure what Randi really wants. What is it about her life that is unsatisfactory to her? In other words, what exactly is at stake here? I can see that Slutmaster is in Randi’s way of achieving a goal and that she is going to get around that by fighting back. But how will she fight back, and what, aside from Raptor Snatch, might Randi lose if she can’t defeat Slutmaster. 

Aside from that, I’m curious about this story…I might like to see it if I felt Randi had something more than the band at stake.] 

[redacted] is complete at 83,000 words. [This is, I believe, women’s fiction, but it is helpful to an agent to know what YOU think it is. Because if you think this is mystery, then I’m sorry to tell you this really sucks. If you think it’s romance, then you’ve placed the focus of the query on all the wrong things.]

I am currently a librarian; I lurked there for so long recommending books to patrons and shushing people, that I suspect they only hired me so it would be less creepy. Now I’m armed with a name tag, and a thin veneer of credibility. I’m also a musician with synesthesia which is as interesting, and more irritating than it sounds! <– I like this paragraph, not because I care that you’re a librarian, but because it is chock-full of personality. I’d love to hear more of that voice in the query! 

Thanks for your time and consideration.
[redacted]

QueryDice #43: Women’s Fiction

The following is a query critique. Comments, suggestions and discussion are welcome and we hope you join in. I can only offer one opinion. The author of the query and I would love to hear yours. 

Dear Ms. Ruth,

The greeting card world was in crisis. Hook Up cards were outselling Engagement cards, Divorce cards were more popular than Wedding Cards and Valentine’s Day looked like it was on the chopping block.
Amanda Downing is about to change all that.  Of course she hadn’t planned on writing greeting cards, she really wanted to be writing best selling books about love.   And she definitely hadn’t planned on falling in love with the man who specialized in Divorce cards, but  I don’t really need the information that comes before my words here, the tenses are mixed and I’m a little confused…begin your query here —> when her graduate school plans fell through, twenty two year old Amanda finds herself accepting a temporary job at Sunshine Greeting Card Company.
However, Sunshine Greeting isn’t an average place.  The company was founded on love letters and it’s its owner has extremely eccentric hiring practices.  As Amanda moves from Humorous Birthday with Kathy (I don’t really need her name), the vegan (is Vegan an adjective used  to describe a person?), depressed, Slam Poet, to the Infertility Department where she works with an ex convict and a rapper (this is funny!), she learns enough about love to fill a book.  Her book.  But does she know enough about love to rescue Valentine’s Day (the holiday or the department?) from a cynical, heartbroken man?  It’s worth a try.

It sounds to me like the conflict here is not that Amanda started working at a greeting card manufacturer, but rather that someone there has decided to cut Valentines Day out. I need to know why this is important to Amanda, how she sets about fixing the situation, and what sort of relationship she has with the antagonist. This query was very short, but if you cut out the beginning and focus on the conflict, it’ll be leagues better than the one I’ve just read. That being said, stick with it, author! This story sounds like so much fun. Good luck!

        Sunshine Greeting is a completed 84,000 word women’s fiction novel.  As a physician and a mother, I have found that humor is often the best way to get someone’s attention.  And I want their attention.  This novel is fun and over the top, but, at it’s core, [redacted] uses greeting cards to show how devalued love has become in our bad news obsessed society.  Thank you for your time.
[redacted]

Lauren Ruth is Entangled in Entangled!

I have decided to take my career in a new direction. (SlushPileTales and The QueryDice will of course live on!)

I have jumped aboard the stellar, taking-the-world-by-storm, romance publisher, Entangled! I am now the assistant publisher of two Entangled imprints: Covet and Bliss.

As a publishing professional, I generally have my ears perked up and I’ve been watching Entangled’s successes since its launch, including New York Times, Barnes & Noble and USA Today bestsellers and agreements with major distributors, so I was more than overjoyed to become a part of this brilliant, avant-garde endeavor that just might have the power to change parts of publishing forever. Combining the best of traditional and indie publishing, Entangled offers the high royalty rates of small epublishers, while still placing a heavy emphasis on a quality product, professional marketing and bold, sexy covers.

My jumping aboard coincides with the launch of Covet and (coming soon) Bliss. I’m hugely excited to show off our titles (click on covers for more info!):

Author Business Cards (Part 2)

“This is a great post, Lauren, and your advice is sound. I would just like to suggest that conferees not overlook one fact: that the agents will not the largest segment of the intended audience for your business card. We all get excited about meeting agents at conferences, and once in a blue moon, an agent/author match is made. More important might be the networking you do with other writers and even presenters. Your relationships with these people will inspire and sustain you through many years of polishing your craft, and may eventually lead you to that perfect advocate for your work (my friend’s agent is looking for exactly what you write…). You might also meet other writers with expertise that can help you with your project in one way or another (research, ms swap, etc.). So include at least an e-mail address for that reason, and distribute your cards widely—and the agent, especially as one as kind as Lauren, can feel free to ignore it! ;)“–Kathryn Craft, on “Author Business Cards” 4/6/12

This is an excellent point, which is why I’ve created a new post about it. Kathryn is right: there are more contacts to be made at conferences than just editors and agents. Critique partners in particular are a huge help when you’re learning and honing your craft, and even when you’re continuing with success. And of course events like Romantic Times Booklovers’ Convention which is in Chicago right now, are well-attended by fans and readers, booksellers, librarians and of course other authors.

Also, many authors provide services to their peers. One aspiring author comes to mind who specializes in marketing, because she is marketeer for a living. Some authors offer freelance copyediting or proofreading services. Some specialize in web design. If you offer one of these services, it would be a travesty not to include it on your business card. I still think the following things are important to place on your card, no matter who you hand it to:

1.Your name (and your pseudonym)

2. Professional-looking photo. Also to jog the memory.

3. Email address.

4. Your genre or subgenre (or both).

5. Your tagline.

6. QR code. This was Dotti Enderle’s idea and I just had to include it. Excellent idea. QR codes could link to your author site, blog, Twitter, Facebook, Amazon sales page, etc., or some combination thereof. They’re free to generate and they’re a great link between your physical presence and your virtual presence.

7. Pitch on the back of the card. Your peers might also find it difficult to remember having made a connection with you, and if you’ve spoken about your book with that person, the pitch will jog his or her memory.

I’d love to hear more smart marketing ideas!

Author Business Cards

I’m going to go out on a limb and be riskily honest. When authors hand me business cards at conferences, I politely take them, glance down at them for the three seconds etiquette dictates, and then I never look at them again. I throw them out when I get home.

Hang on, hang on. Quit your outraged rabble-rabble and hear me out. Please. By throwing out an author’s business card, I’m not throwing them out. I just can’t remember who they are by that business card. It’s a generic-looking piece of cardstock with butterflies on it. Even though the author claims to write women’s fiction in which no butterflies are featured. I’m not calling that author’s cell. I’m not emailing her to see what’s up. And here’s the last nail in the business card’s coffin: there is only one reason I would need to be in contact with the author, and that is if I requested material. And if I requested material, I’d have the author’s email address when the proposal or manuscript was delivered to my trusty inbox.

At my last conference, The Portland Rose City Romance Writer’s Conference in Vancouver, WA, I received the typical stack of author business cards. I glanced them over with bored, half-lidded eyes. Yeah, yeah, more business cards. That’s not to say I didn’t like the authors–I did!–just not the cards so much.

And then an author handed me a business card after pitching her very interesting book to me in the lobby of the hotel. I took one look and my attitude about author business cards was forever changed. I saved this business card not only because I liked the author’s book and her professionalism and apparent dedication to her dream, but because her pitch was on the back of the card! Looking at this card days later, I knew exactly who this author was. I knew what her book was, I remembered our conversation and her energy. I even remembered how we laughed about the faces people make in their Facebook photos. (Ever see the duck-face teenage girls make? Or the classic shot taken from the ceiling?)

Here are some suggestions for stellar business cards:

1. Print your pitch on the back of the card. It’s okay if your card needs to be a little bigger than a business card. The agent or editor isn’t putting it in her wallet with her kid’s school photo anyway. But don’t hand them an index card, either.

2. Put your photo on the front of the card. This doesn’t make you vain, and it doesn’t make you look self-centered. Make sure, however, that you’re not making the Facebook duck-face, and that it’s only a head shot. You might have a great body, but we don’t care because we don’t recognize you by it. We want to see your face, because that’s what we were looking at when you were pitching.

3. Have a tag-line that you use during your pitch that is quick and compelling. The line should be simple and should express a.) what you write b.) your personal brand of that genre. For example, here’s a great one from Christina Dodd: “Classic romance that sizzles.” From four words set in a snappy way, we can tell she writes historical romance and specifically, it’s very hot. But she didn’t say “I write hot historicals” either. She was witty about it.

4. Personally (and I can’t speak for other agents) I do not need your address and phone number. I’m not stopping by your house, and I’m probably not dialing you (or really, anyone else. Email is king). You can include your email address if you want to. But I probably won’t be emailing you. If I requested material, I’m expecting you to email it to me. Make sure that email address is professional, as in Lauren@LaurenRuth.com. If I see that your email address is PinkKittenGurl@gmail.com or “Holla!@aol.com, I’ll assume you’re out partying and not serious about being an author. A website or blog address is great to have on your card.

5. Don’t get cute. You might really love butterflies. They’re iconic to you. You might enjoy the aesthetics of lighthouses, or the calm the comes over you when you see puppies. I don’t care. If I see a puppy, I will rightfully assume your book is about puppies. And if you write mysteries about a P.I., you’re giving me the wrong idea. If you write erotic romance and you have a huge lighthouse in the middle of your business card, I’ll think it’s phallic humor. Is this a joke to you?

6. Be clear and concise. If you have a branded look with colors and graphics, go ahead and put it on the card if you’re going to be consistent about it. Otherwise, a white background is fine. Making your card neon will not make you stand out, it will hurt my eyes. And that’s all I’ll remember about that card. Do not use a font you think is pretty, but I have to strain to read. I won’t strain, I’ll just put it down. Times New Roman is ol’ faithful.

I’d love to hear your great marketing ideas!

 

LR

 

Say What You Mean What You Say

You might have gotten the hint by now that I’m the one of the world’s most obsessive word-geeks. I work hard not to obviously cringe when people misspeak. I’ve learned the hard way that for some reason people don’t like that. 😉 I will notice your spelling error, your grammar blunder and, most irritating to me, your misuse of words. I find that I have more respect for people and hold them in higher esteem when they speak correctly, particularly when they observe some obscure rule to which no one pays any heed…like spelling the plural of thesis as theses. Nice.

In my queries, I am pleased to announce that spelling and grammar errors are remarkably few (my nerves thank you). I love that writers these days take the time to use a spelling and grammar checker, to have the piece read by someone else, etc.

But. The misuse and overuse of common words, both in my slush pile and in every day speech is becoming more and more frequent. I’ll admit it: you lose credibility and esteem (in my eyes anyway) when you don’t have a strong enough command of the language on which you’re trying to capitalize. I do it too. I make mistakes in my own speech. The other day someone brought to my attention that I have a slight lisp and I pronounce both “then” and “than” the same way. Now I have a complex. So I’m opening up a forum for word pet-peeves. What gets on your nerves? My own pet-peeves (taken from actual queries) follow…

“She has countless pairs of shoes in her closet…” Well, since she’s able to count the shoes, they’re not countless. Misuse.

“She arrived at Barney’s looking phenomenal and…” So she looked so great it was a phenomenon? This word means that she would need to have been like a phenomenon. When the blind can suddenly see it is phenomenal. It is not phenomenal when someone gets a new hairdo. I know a person who uses this word compulsively all the time to describe food, movies, experiences, everything. She must have a great life, surrounded by all this phenomena! Misuse.

The word “awesome”: Unless your awe has been inspired by something, it is not awesome. If my boss tells me I can leave early today, I should not say, “Awesome!” because it isn’t. Am I in awe of that? Misuse.

“I could care less…” Couldn’t.

“All the sudden…” Don’t even get me started…

“She literally jumped out of her skin…” No she didn’t. That would be really gross. Please be careful with this word. Literally means whatever you say people will need to take literally.

The word “awkward.” Just because a social interaction is uncomfortable doesn’t mean its awkward. For it to be awkward, it would need to not function the way it is supposed to. Like a stool with only two legs.

“Due to the Vietnam War, his entire family was decimated…” The word “decimate” means to reduce to 10% of the original. Exactly 10%. Sometimes it is used informally to mean that something was drastically reduced, but never entirely destroyed. So “he” should have one-in-ten family members, but this author meant “his” family was gone. I see this misuse at least once a week.

“He was taken back by the rudeness…” Aback.

She wanted to dress up as a witch for Halloween but thought it was too original…” This says the opposite of what the author wanted to say. It says that a witch costume would have been a fresh, new take on a Halloween costume, which is not the case.

For all intensive purposes…” Intents and purposes.

“She had myriad of excuses…” You could either say, “She had a myriad of excuses” or “She had myriad excuses…”

What say you, readers?

Stacey Kennedy on Social Media

Social media has become the best way to promote your book for free. It is fast becoming the best way to promote your book, period. It’s not so easy though…it takes time, effort and even a little bit of ingenuity. Here’s published author, Stacey Kennedy, on social media:

You have yourself a nice shiny contract! You’re an author. You’ve made it. Now what?

Social media is one of the most important things you can do when you have that first release out. So how do you get your name out there and get a loyalty of readers behind you? There are many ways to do this, and I’m sure others can add to my list—so please do so—but today I’m going to stick to the big two.

Facebook:

I absolutely love Facebook. In fact, I think I might not be able to live without it. But here is one BIG lesson about Facebook: people want to be your friend. Of course they would, right? If you go on Facebook and expect to post promotional stuff, and think you’re going to interest your readers, you’re wrong. Facebook is a social place that people want to chat, share, and get to know you. So connect with readers in your genre, talk to them, and that is the best way to gain more followers.

Big no-no’s on Facebook:

  1. Never add someone to a group without permission. This will only anger someone and cause them to write something nasty on your wall.
  2. Do not send excerpts of your work out. I can’t tell you how many emails I get from other authors who promote their work this way. Whenever I get one, I simply delete the email, and remove them from my friends list. So, I’d imagine I’m not alone in this. Post reviews of your work, do a guest blog, an interview to show us how fabulous your book is.
  3. Never—and I can’t stress this one enough–send out a group email promoting your work. I’ve seen a few times an author get ripped apart for doing this, and it’s horrible to watch, especially when the author didn’t realize that they had made a terrible Facebook mistake. When you add someone to a group email, they will get every email that is sent. Trust me, once one person gets angry because you’ve added them, you’ll receive a lot of the same responses. Do you really want a hundred people to see how angry you’ve made others?

Twitter:

At first, I scratched my head over Twitter. I found it so impersonal and didn’t really understand it. But after I got used to writing in 140 characters or less, which is in no way easy, I found it’s a great way to reach out to a huge following. Not only to readers, but book bloggers (who are great to have on your side). For me, most of who I follow, and follow me, are other authors. But I love that. It’s a great way to hear news going on in the book industry, support my fellow authors, and reach out to their followers as well.

Twitter, though, has one HUGE promotional tool. Hashtags. For example, if you receive a review, you can retweet that review and use the hastag, #paranormalromance, or whatever relates to your book. So, that smashing review of yours will reach every person that follows that hashtag. Pretty darn good promotion!

Big no-no’s on Twitter:

  1. Complain. Seems simple, right? Sadly, I’ve seen it way too often. The truth of the matter is this, 140 characters are not many words, and what you say can be misunderstood. Plus, I don’t know about y’all, but it gets very old listening to someone rant constantly. I have removed quite a few people I followed for this very reason.
  2. Diss other authors. Recently, I saw a perfect example of this of when an author posted on Twitter discussing how poorly another author’s grammar was. No names were used, thankfully, but it still leaves a not-so-good impression. Always remember that it’s not only your friends reading your post, but it could very well be your dream agent. Do you really want them to read you talking this way?
  3. Promote on every tweet. Use Twitter to say something witty, interesting, share news, guest blogs, giveaways—anything like that. But remember to keep your promotion to the minimal. People are on Twitter to read interesting stuff, not be overwhelmed with the same promotion snippets over and over again. While you might think that sending out promotional tweets will gain new followers and make your book look like the best book in the world, it will undoubtedly do the exact opposite, and only annoy those reading it.

All you need to remember is these are “social” places. People want to talk to you and get to know you. Show your “voice” that is found in your stories and be, simply put, interesting! Yes, they’re unbelievable promotional platforms, but use them wisely. And avoid all the “do not do’s” above. The last thing any new author needs is a backlash because they tried to promote their book in the wrong way.

Enjoy Facebook and Twitter! They’re fun places, and a great place to meet new people who love books as much as you do!

Thanks, Stacey! And, readers: what is your social-media pet-peeve?

Seriously?

The other day, I received “requested material” from an author I didn’t remember. The author had written the standard message: something to the effect of, “Thanks so much for your interest. As requested, attached, please find my proposal…” So I started reading…and immediately wondered what had made me request the full. It was definitely, shall we say, not my cup of tea. I kept reading, seeking an answer. Why would I have seen a glimmer of hope in this? Had I requested it by accident?

When I went through my simple rejection procedure, I had my answer: the author had never even queried me with anything. If he had, it would have been in my folder of queries, it would have had my response attached to it, it would have been logged in my Excel spreadsheet of every query I’ve ever gotten and my reaction to each. The author hadn’t just sent an email to the wrong person, since it was addressed politely to me, specifically. He had lied.

Sigh. Seriously?

One Author’s Journey…

 

*waves* Big thanks to Lauren for letting me stop by today! I thought I would share a little about me before we get to chitchatting!

I’m Stacey Kennedy. I write urban fantasy/paranormal and erotic romance. I’m published with quite a few epublishers and have two new releases coming out this year with Ellora’s Cave and Loose Id.

I started writing as an escape from dirty diapers and screaming kids. As a stay at home mom—which all moms I’m sure will agree with me—it became a necessity to be creative and keep my brain active. What better way to do that then get lost in another world for a little while.

Originally, I had tried to go the agent route but rejection after rejection told me something was amiss. Clearly, right?! Now looking back, I can see I was in no way ready to submit to agents and had a lot to learn. Luckily, for me, an editor at an epublisher saw potential in my story and took me under her wing. From there, I wrote and wrote…and wrote some more. I submitted to different epublishers to work with new editors to learn as much as I could. I soaked up all the knowledge they had to offer and over the year I have been published, my writing improved and I owe all my editors a huge thank you for that.

After about eighteen ebook releases—some novellas—I had written an urban fantasy romance that I submitted to a few epublishers, only to get the “BIG R”. Bummer! Yes, I pouted, cursed and would not dare look at the story. I let it sit on my hard drive for a good four months until I got over the rejections, and then decided I needed to do something with it.

That story introduced me to self-publishing. I did a lot of research, talked to other self-published authors, made connections to find an editor, cover artist, etc. Then I went for it and uploaded my book to online stores. To my utter shock, the story went straight to Amazon Kindle’s bestseller list and stayed there. By far this is my bestselling book so this tells you that just because your story is rejected doesn’t mean there is no potential there.

Lastly, just this past week I signed with the lovely agent, Lauren Ruth to start another journey in my writing career. To say that I’m excited would be a huge understatement. I’m thrilled and eager for see what the future holds for team, “Lauren and Stacey”!

So where am I going with this all?

Whatever choice you want to make for your career is your choice. No matter what you’ve heard—and we’ve all heard many opinions—there is no “right” path to take in publishing.  I have done nearly all of them, epublished, self-published and now I have an agent. All three I have loved for different reasons and plan to continue using these methods of publishing.

If you want to have an agent represent you, go for it. You want to self-publish, go for it! You want to epublish, go for it! If one doesn’t work out for you, write another story and try something else. That’s what is so fantastic about the publishing world, we as authors have so many options.

Personally, I think as long as you are doing what you love and capture that in a story then readers will take notice. At the end of the day it’s not really about how you get your books into the hands of readers, it’s only that they read the story you’ve slaved over and is your baby.

I’d love to hear from you all, what method of publishing have you used or what’s your “dream” publisher?

 

Stacey Kennedy blogs here and maintains a website here.

 

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