I’ve watched peers worry over query letters for so long that the fact I have yet to send any to agents or editors for a completed manuscript feels strange. Perhaps I’m lucky. I have written query letters for the fun of it and to query editors about the marketability of incomplete manuscripts. (Turns out my suspicions that I love writing hard sells were correct.) On the sidelines, the steps are less intimidating.
From my observations, these are what I see as the steps toward an effective letter for a (YA to adult) novel manuscript. The most valuable part of this post is what I understand the best: where writers can go online for good advice writing the letter.
Step 1. Prepare the manuscript.
This is easily the longest step in the process, taking anytime from a few months to a few decades to complete.
Step 2. Study up on the expectations of what a query letter should look like.
Knowing what to expect takes away much of the fear from any new experience. Here’s a shortlist of trustworthy sources.
Unlike many features of the publishing process, the query letter has not significantly in the past ten years. The biggest change might be the form of address in all professional letters. In general, it’s not a good idea to guess that “Mr.” with all names that look masculine to you and “Ms.” goes with all the feminine names. Certainly avoid “Sir” or “Madam” as a default. “Mx.” is rising in popularity, but so is using full names without a title. Follow one of the oldest pieces of advice: Know you who’re addressing. Research the agent or editor before sending your query.
Note: Conflicting Advice and Other Ambiguity
You won’t get every part exactly correct for every agent or editor. That’s not possible. Think about the decisions you’ve already made. Writing a novel is a series of decisions about characterization, settings, themes, and plot. You’ve already worked through that. So keep moving forward. Remember that nothing is perfect all the time.
Step 4. Collect feedback.
This part should feel familiar. You’d collected feedback for your manuscript, didn’t you?
Now it’s time to ask your most trusted manuscript readers to read your letter. This can be easy if you modify your usual questions. “Do you recognize the novel in your description? Is the letter easy to read?”
One place to go for free professional feedback is Query Shark. Even if your query isn’t chosen by Jane Reid for critique, comparing past critiques to what you wrote is a good practice while waiting.
Step 5. Polish the letter.
Make sure to check for editing errors, either with precise people or your favorite editing software.
Steps 6. Send off the letter!
After you know you’ve written an enticing letter, send it away from you to where it belongs. Anxiety might kick in, so…
Step 7. Distract yourself with new writing.
Stay busy enough, and you can get a break from worrying about querying.
Is this helpful? Feel free to comment with how you feel about the query process.
My first ebook is available exclusively as an Amazon Kindle download.
This sword and sorcery fantasy is a short story based (very) loosely on my research of medieval Wales. The ebook will be offered for free as an All Hallow’s Eve deal from tomorrow (Monday) through Thursday. Subscribers of Kindle Unlimited will continue to have the option of a free download past New Year’s.
Please consider leaving a review if you enjoy the story! You’re also free to complain if you don’t. Honesty helps.
Selling a story on Amazon is a new, and a somewhat intimidating experience for me. I’m troubleshooting as I go and hoping that the ebook is satisfying to buyers.
quotes and lessons from MileHiCon 50, a literary speculative fiction convention
Modeling the World in Fiction
There’s a quality of fiction that’s modeling–that’s showing a model of the world.
Author Paolo Bacigalupi said this last Friday during a panel discussion. His line is one of the best things I heard at the convention. That’s one of my favorite uses of fiction: the modeling.
The World of Horror
Bacigalupi shared a showcase slot with another author, Lawrence Watt-Evans, a former president of the Horror Writers Association (HWA). He explained that Horror has gone through cycles since the late 17th century. The “Horror” genre label developed in the 1970s.
We’re calling it Dark Fantasy now. Because people don’t know they don’t like that.
I really should’ve asked Watt-Evans more questions about what counts as a dark fantasy while I had the chance. Since that opportunity has past–Do you agree? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments about the Dark Fantasy and Horror connection.
Imagining Fiction for the World
There’s a question I repeatedly asked myself at last weekend’s convention: Why am I not sitting on panels?
I can often answer audience questions. I’ve been watching the publishing world that long. (I mainly attend panels anymore to see interesting authors talk, not as much to hear what they say.)
Of course knowing how to answer questions isn’t enough. My uninspiring author’s bio is a problem. (Uninspiring? It’s depressing.)
Where do I see myself…?
MileHiCon (ten years ago?) was the first big literary event I’d seen. One of my writing dreams since that first experience has been to sit on an authors’ discussion panel. I imagine sitting at the table with professionals, facing a room full of people willing to listen to our thoughts about storytelling. Someone else is the moderator in this dream, so I’m only responsible for playing the part of a new panelist.
With the type of luck woven into my life, I’m fairly certain that first time would have its nightmare moments. A fellow panelist might pick a fight, an audience member could interrupt every few minutes, an emergency can divert everyone into defensive mode, or anything of the kind would happen. I would gratefully accept the risks.
How does imagination become reality?
How? I’ve decided to try harder to sit on an author’s panel at an upcoming MileHiCon or another worthwhile event.
I need credentials in publishing or a related subject. Why should anyone care what I say? (Why do you?) For credentials, I need more experience.
Related to the need for more authorial experience, I have reconsidered setting aside a short story I love, one that’s been cycling through readers and rewrites for too long. I’m publishing that short story under my Blacklyn byline.
Upcoming eBook Release
“Grotesquery” is a melancholy fantasy about a wizard, a grotesque stone guardian, and their medieval-fort city. The story is also social commentary about today’s world, though that might only be my interpretation.
My goals in publishing this short ebook are (1) learn more about Amazon Kindle Direct to test out features I might need for longer works, if self-publishing, and (2) share this fantasy story with more people.
Please help spread the word to any readers who might like literary short fantasy.
Answer: The A stands for several names I’ve gone by offline. You may continue on with however you know me. Members of the Society for Creative Anachronism are familiar with how that works.
Do we not know each other yet? The L stands for “Lynn”, which I use in a variety of places. “Lynn” has stuck better than many of the nicknames used for me.
So you know, no one calls me “Al”. I might not recognize it or “A.L.” (which isn’t the easiest to say, anyway) when called out in public. Addressing me as “Blacklyn” is fine.
Question: What Does “Blacklyn” Mean?
Answer: I smashed two family names together for one that sounds better to me and the kind poll-takers on Twitter. My aim is to suit the grumpy urban fantasy, mournful science fiction, and twisted folktale-inspired stories that make up most of my fiction.
Do you have more questions? You’re welcome to ask below or use the Contact form linked in my site’s main menu.
A few days ago, I saw a Facebook post from a woman who complained that she didn’t want to see panels by “boring, old, white, cisgender men” at the upcoming World Science Fiction Convention. Now, I’ve always fought against discrimination based on age, race, sexual orientation, and gender, so I was kind of surprised that this person managed to offend me at every single level. I can’t help it if I was born sixty years ago, male, white, and cisgender.
Worldcon 76 was this weekend. This is a huge event in Science Fiction publishing every year. The Hugo Awards are selected by WorldCon members and announced at the event.
In his post, Farland mentions none of discrimination against young, non-white, and/or transgender professionals. He declares his offense at a comment on Facebook from “a woman” who comes off in his description as someone he might not know and that might not have even been directing comments at him.
Meanwhile, many authors face regular, focused attacks based on age, race, sexual orientation, and gender–as well as ethnicity, residency, physical ability, and socioeconomic status.
I could accept his ignorance if not for the racist comment–“With the Hugos, white men in particular are not even getting on the ballots, much less winning.”
Think about that. Not even getting on the ballots, much less winning.
The 2018 Hugo finalists for Best Novel include John Scalzi and Kim Stanley Robinson. The identities of these widely famous identities doesn’t appear to be in any debate. White men were clearly on this year’s Hugo ballots.
White men’s works have won major literary awards this year. Sam J. Miller’s The Art of Starving won the latest of The Nebula Awards‘ Andre Norton Award for Outstanding Young Adult Science Fiction or Fantasy Book.
This implies that all David Farland notices are people who are different than him. White men weren’t the only people whose stories were nominated and chosen for awards. How is that surprising? A rough estimate is that around 10% of the world’s adults are white men. Offense that any other statistical group receives recognition would stem from an assumption that a particular minority deserves the majority of awards every year. Farland’s false statement drew a line between White Men and The People Who Don’t Deserve Recognition.
I can’t sympathize with someone complaining about having to endure an angry Facebook post, a pen name when/if writing in Romance, and the potential lose of privilege in recognition events. All the rest of us endure the same things plus discrimination in the writing world not mentioned in a post supposedly on that topic.
Advice for Writers
Farland’s advice comes up in writing groups. What follows is my attempt to preemptively address what he shared in “Discrimination in the Writing World”. He gave four points of advice that are supposed to help deal with discrimination in publishing.
First, work harder and try to write better than your competition. Make sure that the quality of your work stands out.
This is obvious. Isn’t it?
I guess we can look at it from the angle that fellow authors are competition instead of comrades who provide support in a publishing career. That’s true in competitions. For example, an author aiming for a literary award might see others who wrote similar stories that year as competition leading up to nominations.
Then Farland stated,
Second, forget about awards. So many of them are rigged nowadays that they don’t mean much.
This advice is more confusing. When weren’t awards rigged? There’s also a few who do better at quality control than the rest. Those are the names many readers in the genre recognize.
I had to remind myself that Farland is talking to a particular audience that might’ve believed, deep down, that they deserve more awards because of their skin color, ethnicity, gender, and political leaning.
Let’s continue on to the part about awards not meaning much.
In the past few years, non-men, non-whites, and non-Americans have been pushing more for a place on awards ballots. Competition no longer looks the way that it did. That doesn’t make the awards meaningless to the writers who value award recognition from readers and peers.
A big-name award isn’t essential for a good writing career. I’m confident of that after watching publishing for ten years. Not every writer cares about awards. Some do. Some don’t. Dismissing other writers’ dreams is unhelpful.
Third, as you build up a library of well-written books that can’t find a publisher, maybe you should just consider self-publishing your works.
Here is good advice!
Independent (compared to trade) publishers do better in certain genres than others these days. Creating several books to be released close together is said to help with ebook marketing in particular.
Finally, he acknowledged,
Fourth, many authors try to create gender-neutral names to hide their identity, and some authors even go further, creating pseudonyms that misidentify their gender.
This is acknowledgement, not advice. Choosing a gender-neutral or misgendering pseudonym is an old practice. The sisters Charlotte, Emily, and Anne Brontë (Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell) are oft-cited examples. Almost everyone who reads in English knows of Joanne Rowling is J. K. Rowling and Robert Galbraith.
There is a history of men using feminine pseudonyms in Romance. Two contemporary examples are British authors:
Peter O’Donnell (1920–2010) under the byline “Madeline Brent”
Christopher Wood (1935–2015) who wrote as Rosie Dixon and Penny Sutton in addition to several masculine pen name across genres
Also, marketing is not a concern for all writers with gender-neutral pen names. People whose parents gave them names not strongly associated with one gender might use their existing name instead of creating a gendered pseudonym. Gender-neutral pen names are also used by authors outside of the gender binary who might not want to deal with the baggage of their assigned names.
I hope readers remember not to make assumptions about an author’s gender from the name on a cover. Declaring gender is not often the primary purpose of a pen name.
Fiction writers more often want readers to see a story before questioning who wrote it.
For the curious, planned protests and a MAGA (Trump-supporting) group beside Worldcon didn’t seem to have stopped participants from enjoying themselves.
Looks like the protests at Worldcon are turning into a double nothingburger smeared with Tribble sauce and tossed in the trash.
Gee, almost like most people came to #WorldCon76 to actually enjoy themselves instead of hating on one another.
When I posted “NaNoWriMo 2018: Late to Camp“, we were already in the second week of July. I’d committed to a new project and no cabin for encouragement. Feeling alone and behind schedule makes for an intimidating start.
Fortunately, Camp is far more relaxed than the big NaNoWriMo challenge in November. A few people joined me in a new cabin. They helped me commit to my goal.
Fifty (50) pages. Rewrite / Rework and polish several short stories to make them ready again for market submissions.
The checks are for finished stories. I also wrote at least one new story from scratch, with characters I hadn’t worked on before. The most recent newcomer to my story files is flash fantasy.
My virtual backpack is full of the thousands of new and polished sentences collected this month. I want to thank all the Scribes for Queer Stories members for helping me focus. You three gave me a reason to log on and encouragement in the story that’s the hardest for me to finish.
Horror Lesson during Camp
Genre labels are hard! When works fit into multiple sub-genres, choosing which one feels the most accurate can take a few tries. I changed the genres of several stories through the month.
One of the lessons I’ve learned this month is that recognizing a horror story is a unique challenge. In most literary categories, a general consensus determines the categories’ boundaries. As a genre of emotion, the responsibility for choosing the Horror label is placed on the author. What was the author’s intention?
I wrote in “Hands Writing Ire” that “I’m not sure I can understand the writer whose primary goal is to frighten or disgust readers.” Now I’m not sure that wanting to disturb readers “encourage new thoughts and feelings” is significantly different.
What is the story when frightening and disgusting the readers is the intention to create another mood?
Let’s talk about that next week. I’ll gather published opinions during the wait.
The question bothered me earlier this week. Is my classification of darker works appropriate?
I’ve always heard the Horror genre defined by the author’s intentions, along the lines of “Horror is anything meant to scare the reader.” That makes sense, though it’s strange to acknowledge that I don’t ever write horror stories. No matter how dark or gruesome my fiction gets, my intention is to convey ideas and present character.
Turns out, I think like a speculative fiction writer, not a writer of horror. Disturbing readers is a way to encourage new thoughts and feelings.
I’m not sure I can understand the writer whose primary goal is to frighten or disgust readers. That’s even with maybe living with one.
Whine and Brag
I’m reworking five short stories for my Camp NaNoWriMo project. The longest is complete. My cabin is small, but guess who’s leading it? Yeah, I am.
The group is really relaxed. I’m a touch worried about disappearing on them at the end like what happened last year, but they can get on without me if that were to happen.
Another temporary lead I’ve taken is for a short story contest in the SFFWorld Writing forums. That’s low-maintenance, too. Writers responded to my prompt! The best time to push for enthusiasm might be in the middle of August.
The work-in-progress at this time for Camp NaNoWriMo is also my entry to the contest.
What Else is Cooking
I’m waiting to hear back on six story submissions. One of them is to the final issue of the speculative fiction magazine Shimmer. By the way, that Shimmer issue will be out November 2018, with an anthology to be released in late 2018.
In the moments when reading is easier, I’m making my way through Stephen King’s revision of Gunslinger.
Though my focus this month remains on my short stories, I know many of the writers I see online are holding on to completed book manuscripts in need of homes.
Are you ready for an agent or content editor?
Manuscript Wish Tracking
I came upon resources for querying publishing agents that is now in Www-writing resources! This is a permanent addition unless I hear of problems with the programs.
An agent takes on much of the market research for books. Find ones looking for your manuscript at Manuscript Wish List. The online QueryTracker can help with organizing submissions to agents.
Many publishing professionals and hopefuls meet up on social media. One of the ways writers can find interested agents is through Twitter hashtag events known as pitch parties. The next Twitter pitch party for unpublished fiction and non-fiction is #pit2pub–tomorrow (July 18)! Learn more about the event at Kristin D. Van Risseghem’s #Pit2Pub page.
Readers use genre to narrow down their interests. Librarians and reviewers want to know how to tag or shelf books. Authors need to reach a suitable audience to sell a story, whether it’s an agent or editor who asked for work in a specific genre or ebook buyers searching on categories.
At least among authors and us nerds who catalogue our books, one question that repeatedly comes up in publishing is What is Contemporary Fantasy?
Note: One of many ongoing debates among fiction authors is when to capitalize genre names. My preference is to differentiate between a type of story (fantasy) and the genre (Fantasy, capitalized as a proper noun). That’s what you will see here.
Most people figure out what Fantasy is without much effort. There’s magic or fantastical creatures. Contemporary Fantasy is harder to define. Let’s try!
A Slice of the Fantasy Timeline
Fantasy is divided up in several ways, each way working for distinct purposes. To pick out Contemporary Fantasy, we can divide the genre on a loose timeline that relates to our world.
Science Fantasy overlaps the Historical Fantasy up through the far future, but does not look like the world we live in today. (Star Wars is a popular example.)
Contemporary Fantasy is set in our present time and in a world that mostly looks like ours.
This breakdown doesn’t include all of Fantasy; however, it makes the point for the one sub-genre we’re discussing.
Contemporary Fantasy is set in our present time and in a world that mostly looks like ours.
An easy way to remember this is to remember the definition of contemporary. It’s from a Medieval Latin word,contemporarius, which means con-(“with, together”) plus temporarius(“of time”), coming from tempus(“time”). “Contemporary” is another way of saying “present-time” or “modern”.
An uncommon use of Contemporary Fantasy is for a category of fantasy fiction that is written in modern times but is not necessarily set in the present. That would mean my folktale-inspired fiction set in an alternate twelfth-century Germany would be contemporary fantasy. This definition appears to be used only in literature studies.
Related Fantasy Subgenres
Here’s an intermediate-level breakdown on genres for the curious.
Contemporary Fantasy is sometimes an umbrella category for Urban Fantasy, Paranormal Romance, Mythic Fiction, Noir Fantasy, or Dark Fantasy.
Contemporary Fantasy is sometimes an umbrella category
Urban Fantasy is set in a current city or densely populated area that would be recognizable to the area’s real-life residents except for the fiction’s addition of magic or fantastical creatures (e.g., vampires, werewolves, and ghosts).
When Urban Fantasy is action chick lit involving sexy, magical creatures and a Happily Ever After (or For Now) ending, it’s Paranormal Romance. In bookstores, PR covers are identifiable by a lean-proportioned, scantily-dressed, but introspective model or two. PR is often seen as another sub-genre within UF.
Mythic Romance draws from myths and more Literary techniques than the Action-inspired Paranormal Romance.
Noir Fantasy is a type of noir-style crime story with strong fantasy elements. Dark Fantasy contains elements of horror.
A book belonging to any of these sub-genres can be Contemporary Fantasy. Remember,
Contemporary Fantasy is set in our present time and in a world that mostly looks like ours.
Historical, post-apocalyptic future, and alien other-world fantasy stories belong to other categories. They aren’t considered contemporary.
Everyone likes examples, yeah? Here a few of contemporary fantasy.