July 26

How to write a query letter

manwritesletterYou will notice that most book publishers will not accept unsolicited submissions of manuscripts or proposals. So how do you break through the submission barrier?

One way is to get an agent, of course, but another way is the query letter. This is similar in content to the cover letter of your proposal, in that you want to present in a few paragraphs the best parts of your proposal. A good way to do it is with a simple, three-paragraph outline:

PARAGRAPH 1: Hook them with a problem, a story, a question. Make sure it’s a good one. If it’s a problem, it needs to be important, with universal appeal. If it’s a story, it has to be a grabber. If it’s a question, it has to be compelling. Don’t use a question that begins with, “Did you know that . . . ?” Some editors are likely to respond, “Yes, I know that, and I don’t care.” And into the wastebasket it goes!

Some authors use the first paragraph of the book’s introduction or first chapter for this kind of opening hook. That can work very well sometimes — and if it doesn’t work, you should ask yourself why. If that paragraph doesn’t grab the editor in the query letter, maybe it’s not the best way to begin the introduction or the first chapter, either!

PARAGRAPH 2: An abbreviated version of your premise statement (what the book is about), and two or three of your most telling arguments from the proposal.

PARAGRAPH 3: Details about length, format (do you envision it as a soft-cover trade book, mass-market, hardcover “gift” book? Usually it’s soft-cover trade), and how soon the manuscript will be ready (unless it’s ready now). Finally, you conclude by asking if the publisher would like to see the proposal, and end with, “I look forward to hearing from you.”

In case you are wondering, no, it does not have to be a postal letter. You can send this to an editor by email. However, finding an editors email may be the hardest part of the submission process! If it isnt in The Christian Writers Market Guide, or in the publishers website, you may be forced to depend on the postal service.


July 24

Plagiarism? Well, I don’t know . . .

DriscollYou may have heard about the recent decision by Tyndale House Publishers to put the next book by mega-church pastor Mark Driscoll on hold, and not to reprint his previous one. Driscoll has been accused of plagiarism, because passages in his last book sound very similar to that of another author.

Even though I’m not a real fan of Mark Driscoll, I do wonder if he really was fully to blame, and if Tyndale should be assuming more responsibility for the problem. The passages would have been fine, the critics say, if they had been put in quotes and been footnoted. As an editor, I know that would normally be the responsibility of the author, but I also know that publishers who want to sign with a big-name author have to do a lot of the extra work, such as checking on quotes and footnotes.

So many of these preachers get books published which are little more than edited transcriptions of their sermons, and it is very common for quoted material in a sermon to be mistaken for the preacher’s own words. Sometimes a preacher will indicate that he is quoting by just his tone of voice; he thinks he is making it clear what he’s doing, but not everyone in the audience knows that he’s quoted someone else. Then the transcriber doesn’t always catch it, and then the editor, getting it second-hand or even third-hand, transcribed from spoken to written form, misses it completely, especially if the editor is not experienced with editing a transcriptions (a very difficult process, I can say from experience). And of course, in a sermon, a preacher would not quote someone and then say, “From the book, Faith, Hope and Love, by Joe Schmo, pages 53-54.”

Tyndale’s editors may or may not be at fault here, but one thing I can say for sure: editing transcribed material can be very difficult. I went crazy one time working with a transcription of A.W. Tozer sermons—I found that the transcriber even wrote out quotes from hymns and poems as regular text, making it look in the transcription like Tozer was saying it, not quoting it. I only caught those because they rhymed!

Mark Driscoll is quite controversial, and there are a variety of other issues for which he has fallen under criticism, all of which may be well-deserved. But as for this charge of plagiarism, I suspect he should be given the benefit of the doubt.

May 12

Leave a Comment, Win an Audiobook

Exploding Speakeasy FrntCoverFinalWant to win a copy of the new audio version of my novel, The Case of the Exploding Speakeasy? Just leave a comment below, and enter yourself into a drawing for a chance to get a free audio download.

To refresh your memory, here’s what the book is about: Sherlock Holmes’ smarter brother, Mycroft, joins Thomas Watson, Dr. Watson’s son, in 1920s Philadelphia to investigate the mysterious explosion at a speakeasy, which killed the owner and his card-playing buddies.

What should you comment about? Anything you’d like!

Tell me what you think of mystery novels.

Tell me what you think of the 1920s.

Tell me about your own struggles with Christian writing.

I’ll announce the winner next week.

April 23

New E-Book Coming Soon!

Hello, folks! I want to announce that my new e-book, published by Sonfire Media, is expected to be available on Amazon by May 1. A Christian Writer’s Guide to the Book Proposal expands The Book Proposal on what I told you about proposals in Concept to Contract.

The book proposal, as I’ve probably told you before, is an abbreviated and specialized business plan for your book. Remember, if you are submitting the book to a traditional publisher, you are asking them to invest a substantial amount of their company’s capital in your book, and so you need to show them why you are a good risk.

The book proposal can also serve as a writing plan for your book, keeping you on track. This assumes, of course, that you write the proposal before finishing the book, a practice I strongly recommend.

Finally, the book proposal also serves as a marketing plan for your book, providing you ticklers for where to focus your marketing efforts, and raw text for writing promotional material. I always keep my proposal handy and refer to it, even after the book gets published.

So check out A Christian Writer’s Guide to the Book Proposal. It’s expected to be the first in a series of how-to guides for Christian writers!

March 19

How to Evaluate a “Traditional” Publisher

file000336334439Next month my first E-book is being published. Or, to put it more accurately, my first book is being published that debuts on the market as an E-book. (I have published other books that began their lives as printed books, and were later, in one case almost simultaneously, made into E-books.)

Did you notice how qualified I had to make that statement? And I have to make it even more so: I published the book (the title is A Christian Writer’s Guide to the Book Proposal) through a traditional publisher (Sonfire Media). About now you are probably totally confused, because many people think the term traditional publisher means a publisher that only publishes printed (ink-and-paper) books on an offset press.

But if you use that definition for traditional publisher, you are not likely to find many left in this world. With the proliferation and affordability of different forms of reproduction, just about every publisher (and certainly every commercially viable publisher) has found it necessary to publish in multiple formats: E-book, offset printing, and/or micropress (photocopy) printing. Even audiobooks have had a resurgence. (By the way, look for my novel, The Case of the Exploding Speakeasy, to come out in audio format soon!)

So when you’re looking at publishers, don’t let them snow you with their claims of “a whole new way of publishing” when all they really mean is they publish E-books, or they do short-run printing. Don’t focus on the method of production; instead, look at what they do for you, the author.

Ask some pointed questions about distribution and promotion. What distribution channels (whether web-based or brick-and-mortar booksellers) do they use? Will they help you as an author with promoting your book, and back you up with their own publicity efforts? When I worked for a commercial publisher, we usually had an initial marketing meeting with the author to make sure we were all on the same page as to the audiences we were selling the book to, as well as what promotion and publicity would be most effective.

One aspect of production you should focus on is the quality of the design of the book, whether electronic or paper. Is the book professionally typeset? Is the layout appealing to the eye? (Some E-book publishers will try to tell you that layout and typesetting is irrelevant in electronic form; not true. The look of an E-book page is certainly different, but quality is never irrelevant, and it’s easy to tell a well-designed E-book from a bad one.)

If the book is printed on paper, the publisher should send you a typeset version to review before it goes to press. Is the page design attractive? Is it easy to read? (Visually, I mean; if it’s hard to read because it’s poorly written, and your editor has not improved it, that’s and entirely different problem you and your editor have to deal with!)

Some publishers offer optional marketing packages (i.e., you have to pay for them) to authors. This is not self-publishing, where the author pays for all aspects of the publishing process, including editing and printing/production costs. These packages should be optional, reasonably priced (something you can recoup in a few months of royalties), and ought to consist of marketing efforts that are over and above what a typical publisher would normally do. Authors ought to be prepared to invest several hundred dollars in self-promotion of their book, whether they get a package from their publisher or come up with their own.

December 30

Six Reasons to Write a Book Proposal

file000909879658I just sent the text of my next book (A Christian Writer’s Guide to the Book Proposal ) to the editor at Sonfire Media, and I hope you will consider it when it comes out in the new year. The book is based on a concept that most editors understand, but far too many authors just don’t seem to get: there are more reasons to write a book proposal than to try to sell the book to a publisher.

Let me give you six reasons why you should write a proposal before you write the book, whether you are writing nonfiction or fiction, and even if you already have a contract, or plan to self-publish:

1. A book proposal forces you to think through your book—how to describe it, how to categorize it, and how to sell it to the reader.

2. It forces you to ask a tough question: “Who would want to read this book?” In other words, who is your audience?

3. It forces you to ask another tough question: “Has this idea been done before?” What makes it distinctive?

4. It forces you to start thinking about marketing and promotion, and what unique opportunities and contacts you might have to get this book into the hands of readers.

5. It serves as a guide to writing the book, keeping you on track and helping you avoid leaving out things you planned to include in the book.

6. Finally, a book proposal provides the motivation and encouragement to start writing the book and to keep you going through the first draft and revisions.

When Sonfire Media, the folks who published Writing the Christian Nonfiction Book: Concept to Contract, asked me to follow up that book with a volume on book proposals, I happily signed a contract. Guess what my next step was? That’s right—I wrote a proposal!

December 19

Have You Considered a Sequel?

sequelWhen you are writing a proposal for your book, it is optional, but often helpful, to include a paragraph discussion of the possibilities of sequels, subsidiary rights, and spinoffs.

The question of a sequel is likely to be obvious to fiction writers. Maybe your story doesn’t really end at the last page. The same characters, locations, and situations may inspire you to a second novel. But if you are writing nonfiction, don’t assume that the possibility of one or more sequels is exclusive to novelists. The book I am currently working on, for example, is going to be (I hope) the first in a series of Christian writer’s guides—covering such topics as brainstorming and outlining, writing the first draft, polishing the draft for final submission, and so on.

Then there’s the question of subsidiary rights (selling the right to put your book into another language or medium) and spinoffs (products—mostly non-book items—that are based on your book). Here is your chance to dream and brainstorm, but try to temper your imagination. I’m sure every novelist thinks their story could be a major motion picture, and every author of a Christian living title feels their book ought to be adapted for video or a live conference venue, but try to think about your manuscript objectively.

Are there any specific features to your book that would play well in a different medium? How might your book have spinoffs? Could this lend itself to training courses, videos, a tie-in devotional book, etc.? Don’t go overboard with this, but perhaps there are additional possibilities. A quick visit to a Christian bookstore may spark some ideas.

In this paragraph section of your book proposal (remember to make it one paragraph), it is usually better to lean to the general rather than specific. In other words, you might say that your novel has stage or screen possibilities, and briefly explain why (high-action story, scenic setting, etc.), but don’t say that it should be a Hollywood movie with specific actors in the lead roles. (Yes, some authors actually do this!) You may suggest a companion devotional for your nonfiction book, but don’t go into specifics on length and content. Remember that you are talking to professionals, who are likely to see the possibilities better than you. The point is to give them some food for thought, not to outline an entire plan.

December 9

Getting Endorsements

ReadingBookWhen you’ve finished a first draft of your book, or even just the first several chapters, you should show it to a few sympathetic friends — preferably those who are knowledgeable or interested in the subject of your book. If they are prominent (not necessarily “big-name,” just someone who would command a certain amount of respect), all the better.

Compile their responses, and determine if there are revisions you need to make based on their reactions. More than likely, however, they will have some positive things to say. Put those statements in a section of your revised book proposal entitled, “Endorsements.” However, I would avoid asking the the people quoted below for an endorsement:

The last time I was in Spain I got through six Jeffrey Archer novels. I must remember to take enough toilet paper next time.” —— Bob Monkhouse

Once you’ve put one of his books down, you simply can’t pick it up again.” —— Mark Twain (talking about Henry James)

The covers of this book are too far apart.” —— Ambrose Bierce

“Dr. Donne’s verses are like the peace of God; they pass all understanding.” —— King James I

This is not a novel to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force.” —— Dorothy Parker