5 Steps to Writing a Stellar Query

It's the first step, the first impression. It will get you off that "slush" pile and into the editor's lap...well, figuratively anyway. So how do you write that stellar query letter so your work can be recognized?

Step 1: Study your market. Know what the publisher will and won't publish and don't waste either of your time.

Step 2: Find the right editor. A name will always get attention vs. "Dear Editor."

Step 3: Start strong. Your lead will keep them reading. Use your top fact or main hook and SELL IT!

Step 4: Keep it brief. A one-page query is appropriate for anything you're sending out, whether it's an article or a novel. Any longer and they'll start snoozing.

Step 5: Proofread. Misspellings will mark you as an amateur. If you want to be a professional, write like one.


Top Ten Christmas Books

There's nothing better than sitting around the fire with your children reading a Christmas classic. Here are the top ten for me:

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
The Polar Express by Chris VanAllsburg
The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus by L Frank Baum
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer by Barbara Hazen
The Night Before Christmas by Clement Clarke Moore
How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss
The Nutcracker by E T A Hoffmann
The Little Matchgirl by Jon Erickson
A Wish to be a Christmas Tree by Colleen Monroe
Frosty the Snowman by Jack Rollins

So Merry Christmas and Enjoy!!


Writing Your Synopsis

You think you've got a bite for your novel! The only problem is...the dreaded one-page synopsis. How can you possibly explain your masterpiece in just one page, and in a way that will have them interested in tackling the 400-page effort itself! Well, here's a few tips to get you started and hopefully get them hooked:

1) Don't confuse 'outline' with 'synopsis,' this isn't a scene-by-scene rendition of your book. Go back to your original outline and pick out the main points.
2) Keep your synopsis in present tense.
3) It's OK to single space and make sure you include the title, genre, word count, and YOUR NAME and contact information in the upper left-hand corner.
4) Continue the same writing style as your book in your synopsis: dark and brooding? light and humorous?
5) Don't include dialogue unless it's absolutely necessary.
6) Keep it simple, yet professional. You don't need to print in color or add clip art, have it bound or illustrated. Let your story speak for itself.


My Favorite Quotes on Writing

Elie Wiesel: Write only if you cannot live without writing. Write only what you alone can write.

Henry David Thoreau: Write while the heat is in you. The writer who postpones the recording of his thoughts uses an iron which has cooled to burn a hole with.

Sholem Asch: Writing comes more easily if you have something to say.

Jules Renard: Writing is an occupation in which you have to keep proving your talent to those who have none.

Jack London: You can't wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.

F. Scott Fitzgerald: You don't write because you want to say something. You write because you've got something to say.

William Shakespeare: If I chance to talk a little wild, forgive me.


The Courage to Write

Often the first thing that writers struggle with is the first thing that's necessary TO write: having courage. The stereotypical image of a writer sitting isolated in a room for days at a time didn't just materialize out of nowhere. Writers do tend to be a little more introspective and timid when it comes to one-on-one contact. They want to release their feelings and inhibitions on the page, instead of in public. But a writer can't grow if he's isolated and his craft won't benefit from self-imposed solitary confinement. The world is your canvas and to create vibrant characters and rich settings, you'll have to get out there! Here's a few other ideas to mull around if this is your nemesis:

*The more you write and find acceptance, the easier it will be to accept criticism when it does come and stand up against it when it's unfair.
* Giving in to your fears will only make it more difficult to write and so you have to learn to cope with them, whether it's speaking in public or sending out that first manuscript.
* Don't leap aimlessly and without a plan or you may just live out your worst fear and fail. Have goals and work towards them, letting failure merely be speedbumps on your road to success.
* In the end, believe in your writing enough that nothing can defeat it.


Creating and Maintaining Suspense

Hello Writers,

I've learned a lot during the time it took for me to write and publish my first book. One of the toughest things to figure out, though, was how to create and maintain suspense throughout a novel. Here's a few ideas I'd like to pass along:

*Location, location, location: The setting can add a lot to the suspense. Are you set on a windswept cliff above the rocky shoreline of England or in a deserted cabin surrounded by an expanse of forest? Probably sounds a little more exciting than in a split-level house in suburban America. (Though that can be worked with as well). But exotic locales and inherently mysterious sites can save you a lot of work.

*End each chapter with a cliffhanger. The idea is to keep readers turning pages into the wee hours, so avoid beginning a chapter with morning arriving and ending it as the sun sets. People can "go to sleep" in the middle of the chapter and then have the plot thicken and end on its highest note.

*Use strong words. Think compactly when you choose words. Take out unnecessary words, especially those that don't pack a punch. Choose verbs and adjectives carefully, avoiding common words. For example, use "crimson" instead of "red," "furious" instead of "mad."

*You must choose a worthy conflict for your book to revolve around. No one is going to care if a girl breaks up with her boyfriend. But if she's pregnant, her parents are going to kick her out of the house and a psychotic neighbor wants her baby...now you have suspense!


Self-Editing for the Writer

Hello Writers,

One of the toughest things about being a writer is the criticism we receive and the soul-searching that inevitably results because of it. When we write, we put our heart in its most vulnerable form out there and it can be painful when someone doesn't agree with what we've done. But to be a writer, especially one that seeks to be published, is to accept that every word you write may be analyzed. So, what's the best way to deal with this kind of scrutiny? Well, I've learned that I have to be my own best critic and editor before I even put it out there.

The art of self-editing can be invaluable to a writer. So here's a few tips that may improve your method:

1) Follow your own best instinct.

2) Elicit help from a critique group or others in the field.

3) Develop lateral thinking: "What's another way to go about this?"

4) Take a break if you need it. Coming back later can bring with it a fresh perspective.

5) Beware of dialogue that is too long and wordy. Remember that longer paragraphs slow the pace down; shorter paragraphs will speed things up.

6) Refresh grammar rules to avoid errors like splitting participles or using run-on sentences, punctuation and spelling errors like "your" for "you're." Remember, you're a professional!

7) Avoid verbosity (which is a big word for 'avoiding big words.')

8) Keep the tone of your work and characters consistent: Casual? Prose-like? Sharp and witty?

9) READ OUT LOUD! You'll catch errors in flow and structure more that way.

10) Remember that a book is never finished, it just finally gets published.