Now that you want to get your work published, it’s time to write a query letter!
It’s understandable to be a bit anxious about this. Practice will help a lot, not just with writing better queries, but also with your nervousness. Understand that many famous authors were rejected several times before they were published. So keep on plugging and try not to get discouraged.
Query Letter Basics
First things first: always do what the publisher says you should do. Seriously. Queries are cover letters accompanying your submissions to a publisher or agent. They can vary in length, but Job One is always to do what the recipient wants. That is, if the recipient wants it as an attachment, send an attachment. If they want it in the body of the email or sent via snail mail or faxed, then do that. Double-spaced? Do it. Times New Roman font? Why, that’s suddenly your favorite font, too!
The last thing you want to do is annoy the recipient of your letter. So follow directions to the letter. Unsure of an instruction? How about asking on Twitter? Do not let your manuscript get a rejection under a technicality.
Rather than giving you an example, it’s probably best to link to a successful modern query letter. Now imagine your work, with a showcase like that. Change the genre if necessary, the character names, etc., and you’ve got the bare bones of a query letter.
Suggestion: check several successful query letters, particularly those which are fairly recent and are in your genre. If they are the queries which your actual target admires, then so much the better.
Keep plugging. Queries are a rite of passage for every author. They will get easier as you keep on doing them.
So, swag is necessary when you go on the road. Work a convention at a dealer’s table, or get your book into a library, and you may need a little extra something to give away. Hence here are a few choices.
Bookmarks, a Very Common Form of Swag
Maybe the best and closest kind of giveaway item is the humble bookmark. In one sense, it’s perfect because it relates directly to books and reading. And you can spend as much or as little as you like. Plus maybe you only want something straightforward, perhaps a section of your cover, often printed on one side on heavy cardboard stock. And that’s great!
Because you’ve got some real estate, consider some additions, such as your website or even a QR code for a discount off one of your books. However, I suggest leaving one side blank for notes. While that’s not strictly necessarily, it may end up cheaper for you, not to mention it having an actual purpose.
Bookmarks are particularly useful because not only can you put them in your own books, you can put them in library or bookstore books. Yes, they might be removed and discarded. However, you need to consider that these are loss leaders; you need to be ready to lose some cash on these.
These seem hit or miss. If you go to conventions and run a table or booth, you will need cards. And again, try to keep the back blank. Pro tip: use matte. Shiny card stock costs more and it makes it harder to write on the card. Because you want people writing on your cards. Oh, and don’t be stingy with them. Give them away. Meet someone? Give them a card. Someone stops by your table? Give them a card. Like bookmarks, these will be discarded by a lot of people. Accept that as a cost of doing business.
These can work really well if you have a fantastic and memorable cover design, or a great catch phrase. Imagine a tee shirt which has your cover on the front and your catch phrase on the back. You can make people into walking billboards this way. Be ready to give a lot of these away, and maybe even use them as contest prizes. Most people will not purchase these unless you become really famous. Again, this is a cost of doing business.
Toys and Action Figures
Funko Pops lets you design your own male and female characters. But volume is an issue here. And so is the startup cost. The blank figures in that link are almost $10 apiece. Hence a large run of these may not be in the cards – so take advantage of their rareness and play on the scarcity aspect when giving these away or selling them.
For other types of action figures, look at prices and consider what you want to settle with. If the figure doesn’t end up looking a lot like you, how will that make you feel? If the answer is ‘terrible, of course’, then you might want to do something else with your swag budget.
Swag: Some Takeaways
Giving away swag may seem counterintuitive. After all, you want to make money, rather than spend it. But if you are new on the scene, it can be a great way to get noticed and show how you’re different from all the rest.
Here’s what they mean. A Ghost Town is, essentially, either a more or less empty community or one without deep engagement. People may come in after an initial push and then just abandon the place. Now, the converse to this is people who hang around forever and never seem to convert to paying customers of any sort. In a commercial enterprise, that’s no good, either. But definitely you need for people to hang around, at least a little bit.
Land of 1,000 Flowers
Land of 1,000 Flowers is where there’s perhaps a little bit of everything but there is little connectivity. Some of the problem could potentially be alleviated with a very good search engine, e. g. if people see that the question about who wrote Peter Rabbit has already been answered, they might just go to that answer, rather than asking it again. Of course the downside to this is converting potential participants right back into lurkers.
Drama Central Without Management
Drama Central, ah, yes, this bit of juvenalia in a community without management. This is a byproduct of having a smaller community/one that is not too active. If there are 100 members, and one acts out, that one will loom large. With 1,000 members, that person’s impact diminishes.
And with 1,000,000 members, they barely register as a blip on the screen. And, even in a smaller community, if there are 100 members but also a good 1,000 topics are created every month, the one Drama Queen’s attention-grabbing me me me topic can be more or less swept under the rug. However, if your users create only five or so new topics every month, guess what’s gonna be front and center?
A Circling Storm
In A Circling Storm, there are a lot of entrenched factions, hostile to one another, when your community goes without management. Even in a well-moderated community, this can still happen in a Politics section (and, to a lesser extent, in a Religion section). Hence people form strong opinions and don’t want to back down. How to handle it? I say let them argue, for the most part, but intervene if newbies are being chased off or it becomes too personal.
A Clique Without Management
A Clique, of course this is a niche or fringe group that grabs and hogs the spotlight. This can be whiny teenagers (you know who you are), organic gardeners, birthers, I dunno. They can absolutely create a self-fulfilling prophecy, e. g. if the only people they welcome are from Omaha, then those will be the ones who stick around. And then eventually people from Poughkeepsie or wherever don’t stick around and suddenly your board is filled with Nebraskans.
What to do? Well, it may seem obvious, or it may not. Manage the site! Don’t just leave it to chance!
Light Touch with Management
However, don’t go overboard with management. Heavy-handed community management can stifle. So find a balance, and do your best to follow it, all while respecting the community and its interests, but nudging it in the proper directions if it threatens to go off-course. You don’t just have to let the boat go wherever the currents take it but, at the same time, you also need to leave the dock.
When we last left, I was talking about some things not to do. Here are a few more.
You Don’t Have to be Everywhere Online
Don’t become a one-armed paper hanger online. Just like with athletic training, rest (e. g. taking breaks) is a weapon. Furthermore, too many posts will burn you out and they will probably end up hurting each other.
Now, this does not mean you take three years between blog posts. It does not mean you never tweet! Rather, the idea is to say what you want and need to without overdoing it. You do not need to get back to people in five minutes. Even big-time professionals take some time. And yes, I am including big-time professionals who have people to do all of this for them. If it bothers you, you can always set an expectation on your blog or Facebook page or the like. But do yourself a favor: don’t be too specific, so as to allow for the occasional weird hiccups in life. If your laptop is damaged during a vacation, you’ll thank me for this.
Don’t Chase the Shiny Stuff
Here is a corollary to the previous tip. By shiny, I mean new platforms. Hot platforms are fun and they can be exciting. Furthermore, it can be helpful to get in on the ground floor, as it were. Or that can be a waste of your time. Most of us remember when MySpace was big, and Facebook was an upstart. But here we are now, years later, and we can be killin’ it on Facebook without having been there at the very start. So relax. And do some research. Maybe the shiny thing would fit your work and your readership perfectly.
Timing is Everything
We have all heard that expression, and it’s true on social media. But it’s also true in writing. When a big zombie television show stops making new content, for example, readers might be interested in almost continuing the story (I don’t mean fanfiction; rather, I mean similar works in the genre but they do not infringe on copyright). That could be an opportunity to ride the wave. Or maybe people are sick of those stories, and that’s why the show was cancelled. Without further information, either theory is plausible.
Use Your Spots But Don’t Be Annoying
What? While you should not be a 24/7 advertising channel (nobody likes that, not even born advertisers), you can and should take advantage of certain spots and placements. For example, when you add a picture to a blog post, what do you put in the alt= attribute? Nothing?Sacre bleu!
Excuse me for a moment while I swoon in horror. At the absolute minimum, put your blog post title in there. Even better, add your name or your blog’s name.
Or, are you published and your work is available on Amazon? If it is, then you need to take possession of your author page. Make it so that, if someone clicks on the author name (that would be your name), then they get somewhere. Somewhere with a bit about who you are, and what you are working on next. It is foolish to let this free real estate go.
When people click on the author’s name, they want information. So feed it to them.
But don’t force-feed them, by providing a Twitter stream that is a nonstop ad for your work. That brings me to my next point.
This is a Community. Act Like It.
Way back, when I was a kid (so, the late 1960s, early 1970s), suburbia was where you could borrow a neighbor’s hedge clippers. Or they would come over for coffee and bring a cake and you would temporarily take possession of the plate it was on. In both instances, you would return the articles as soon as possible, cleaned and ready for reuse. If you broke either, you told the owner, you apologized, and then you presented them with a brand-new one. Or if their kid had a recital and they invited you, you did your best to go. If your dog got loose, they helped find the beast. You get the idea.
People still help each other, of course. And I grew up far from Mayberry. So the concept here is: build each other up. Don’t break each other down. Got praise? Then tell everyone. Got criticism? Then tell the writer privately. Don’t lie on your public reviews, but don’t tear people new ones, either. Even bad writing can be considered unique or ambitious.
And that reminds me: if you get someone’s book, either free or cheap or used or at full price, review it!
Don’t Sacrifice Writing Time for Social Media
This one is important. Yes, you need to promote, and social media is a part of that. Promotions can also include holding book signings, or donating your book to your local library, or handing out bookmarks. But don’t lose your writing time because you’re out socializing (or in. You know what I mean).
I use my calendar program and I just make a weekday appointment with myself. Now, I don’t always keep that appointment. And the one hour I set aside sometimes means 2,000 words and sometimes it means 20. But the appointment is still there.
I urge you to make a recurring appointment so that writing is as important to you as visiting the dentist or changing the batteries in the smoke detector.
And Finally from Social Media Writing Part 3 …
Hard work is everything.
Overnight success stories take years.
You are worth it.
This has been Social Media Writing Part 3. Now back to you, in the comments section. Did I leave anything out of Social Media Writing Part 3 (of 3)? Do tell.
Let us return to our discussion. In the first part of this post, I talked about the current state of social media, more or less. Numbers are high. The avalanche won’t let up.
Now is the time to talk about you.
Your Definition of Success Will Define Your Book-Related Happiness. Choose It Wisely
What am I talking about?
What I mean is, if you go into writing thinking you’re going to become wealthy, stop right there, turn around, and go to actuarial school or something.
Er, I don’t know. Bear with me, okay?
Just, don’t consider writing as a super-lucrative career. That is rare, which is why most of the people who have become wealthy from writing are household names.
Furthermore, two of them, JK Rowling and Stephen King, both started in grinding poverty. They both played what I like to call Bill Roulette, where you have five monthly bills but only enough money to pay four. So you mentally spin a big wheel and choose who you’re going to stiff that month. Although they probably both dreamed of making it big, I imagine their initial goals were things like paying all the bills or getting the transmission fixed on the car.
Think you’re going to become iconic, like Harper Lee? You might, yes. It’s not wholly outside the realm of possibility. But don’t go into writing with that as your primary goal. For you will surely be disappointed. Furthermore, before your death, how do you even measure iconic status? If it’s by number of books sold, then you’re back to the fame and fortune dream, supra.
SMART Goal Success FTW
Instead, try defining success in bite-sized terms. And try defining it objectively. Usually that means books sold or reviews obtained.
Goal: sell 50 books. Get 20 reviews. Average 3 1/2 stars or better on the reviews.
There. That’s reasonable, attainable, and measurable. It’s a good old SMART goal.
You may or may not want to add a time component, but I personally would not. Why not? Because you’ll just make yourself crazy with a self-imposed timeline. What if, for example, your most devoted and reliable readers end up being middle schoolers? They might not have the time to read for pleasure during the school year. So if you limit your goal to the school year, you could end up feeling like a failure. And then summer would save you. So avoid the heartache and just excise the time element. You’ll be a far happier person.
Nobody Wants to See or Read a Nonstop Advertising Stream
Seriously. Stop doing that. That’s why people are on the Internet in the first place. If they wanted ads, they would be watching network television.
If the only thing you have to talk about is where to buy your book, I’ve got news for you.
So please don’t do that.
Instead, divvy up your time. And spend 30% or less of it on self-promotions. For your other time, take 40% for promoting others. And no more than 30% providing more personal information. Don’t talk about the weather or your lunch, but if you just broke through writer’s block, I bet your audience would love to know that.
Social Media Writing Part 2 Isn’t Done Yet!
Egad, I had no idea I would write this much! Time for part 3!
Unfortunately, it’s true. We have all seen the Twilight tropes, e. g. “still a better love story than Twilight”. My apologies to Stephenie Meyer, and to the people who enjoy her work. She caught fire because she hit a particular market extremely well. Social media did not fuel her success, at least not in the beginning. Although it probably did later, as people shared their joy on Facebook, Twitter, etc. Rather, her work did well, at least in part, because it hit the teen/tween girl market like a bull’s eye. Ever wonder why Bella Swan is so undeveloped with such a bare bones description? It’s so any young girl can dream of being her. Any girl of any race or height or weight or hobbies.
Her publisher, Hachette Book Group, also marketed the Twilight novels very well. At the time the fourth one came out, I received it (it’s called Breaking Dawn) as a bonus because I was working for Hachette in their IT department.
Some people get Thanksgiving turkeys. Some people get ….
Er, sorry, Ms. Meyer. I don’t want to turn this into a bash session.
Rather, the point I am dancing around is: what if Ms. Meyer had blasted everything on Twitter and Facebook? What if she hadn’t had a good marketing department behind her? Then she probably would not have gotten so far.
Social media did not improve her works. It did not worsen them, either. Her success arose, for the most part, outside the realm of social media. And it did not save critics from savaging her work.
Converting from one platform to another is exceptionally difficult
You may be fantastic on LinkedIn but stink on Twitter. You may be killin’ it on Wattpad but limping along on YouTube. Or you may even have tons of Facebook friends but few followers on your Facebook page.
True story. I read a lot (duh!). It’s all sorts of stuff. I read fanfiction, I read original writing, I read free stuff, I read NaNoWriMo novels. And I read the classics. What often interests me is seeing works which are highly rated on GoodReads with so few sales on Amazon that they don’t get recommendations. But with enough sales, your book gets mentioned in those, “If you like __, you might enjoy ___” kinds of notifications.
I see people who are Wattpad gods and goddesses, cranking out tons of super-appreciated chapters and adored by hundreds of thousands of (presumably) screaming fans. Then they try to monetize their work, and it falls flat. New York Times bestselling authors, for real, only sell a few tens of thousands of works in any given week and they make the cut. So why don’t these Wattpad writers with phenomenal read counts to an order of magnitude ten higher than that end up on bestseller lists?
Given all of these big numbers, you can’t blame organic reach decline on a platform trying to hide posts so you’ll pay for the privilege of advertising (although that’s part of it). It is also a sheer numbers game. If you have 150 friends on Facebook and it’s your sole platform, you still can’t keep up with it all. If you go on Facebook for 150 minutes (e. g. two and a half hours), that won’t be one minute per friend, as you will inevitably read a headline, take a survey or quiz, like a comment, post a picture, or watch a video.
How does this apply to you, the indie author? Does social media writing matter? Stay tuned; I’ll cover it in part 2.
Clay Shirky really has something here. Because I have to say, I just plain love this book. I am a fan! In addition, this book ended up tying with Groundswell for being my favorite of the six books that we were assigned to read in my first Quinnipiac University social media class, Social Media Platforms (ICM 522).
At the time, I started classes thinking I would only get a certification and nothing more. However, I ended up staying long enough to get my Master’s of Science in Communications in Interactive Media (social media). And a part of that decision can be traced directly back to reading this particular work.
Philosophy To Go
Furthermore, I really liked the philosophical and sociological aspects of his work. Essentially, what he ended up saying was – society is changing. It’s not just the Internet; it is happening to humans ourselves. We are in the process of becoming new, and different. Hence there is a seismic shift going on, in our society.
Of course, that is likely to just be the wealthiest slice of society. Because heartbreakingly poor people in Third World countries simply aren’t going to be adding to online or offline content any time soon. Or, if they are, it is far more likely to consist of content that is survival-based. Hence this would be items for sale, rather than the products of truly creative pursuits.
Amateurs vs. Professionals
In addition, I really love what he had to say about amateur participation. Because in Chapter 5, on page 154, Shirky persuasively writes:
“As more people come to expect that amateur participation is always an option, those expectations can change the culture.”
So here’s to amateur participation. Because it is here to stay and I suspect it will never, truly go away.
Yes, You Can Still Get Inspiration from Instances of Sexism
Sexism remains an unpleasant reality in our world.
Since sexism is still with us today, you might see it, or even experience it yourself. However, even an unpleasant experience can inspire fiction writing. Because sometimes, you just want to write a villain. And maybe your villain can eventually see the light and change, too.
Sexism At Work
In the United States, there are rather specific laws governing and prohibiting gender discrimination. However, that was not always the case. If you write historical fiction, things can differ considerably. Consider what gender discrimination means. It means judging a person’s characteristics or abilities based upon sex and often traditional gender roles.
Hence judges might see women as better parents in custody battles. Or men might get blue collar jobs more often due to perceived differences in physical strength. And this can happen even when physical strength does not factor into job performance.
Sometimes women lose out on promotions due to imagined differences in toughness. And men can find they are overly scrutinized in professions where they may be in the minority. These can be nursing or teaching or the like.
In Social Situations
Some instances of sexism have mild or semi-benevolent origins in what is gallantry behavior. Holding the door for someone is a nice thing to do. However, when a person only holds the door for women, that is move which treats the sexes differently. Even a positive difference is a difference, particularly when it can be a vestige of not just gallantry. It can also be a vestige of behaving as if women are incapable of taking care of themselves.
Social sexism can also take the form of deciding who asks whom out, or who pays for a night out. Waitstaff can perpetuate this by asking for women’s food orders first, and also by giving the man the check. Teachers might perpetuate these behaviors by giving strength tasks to boys and praising the quietness or cooperation of girls.
When sex is an excuse for a snap decision about someone without taking specifics into consideration, then it’s sexism.
Casual Prejudging and Sexism
Whether you try to excuse it as locker room banter, or it appals you, sometimes people indulge in this. And it can even happen almost inadvertently.
One area where this tends to happen is with apparel. It’s rare when boys or men receive judgment for what they wear. That is, unless it’s overly feminine, filthy, or completely inappropriate for the occasion or task at hand. Or it’s the wrong team’s jersey.
Women and girls are often judged by their clothes. It can be skirt or shorts length, the neckline of a blouse, or the height of their heels. And yes, sadly, that goes into the rape old trope. What was she wearing?
No matter what, we still hear it.
Characters can remark on everything from who pays for dinner to who gets the right to vote. They can support sexist conventions by pulling out chairs for women and giving little boys toy trucks. Or they can upend those conventions by giving up seats on the subway to men. Or by giving little girls chemistry sets.
There is more to the engaging of a cover artist part of working as an independent writer than just selecting an image or giving them an idea of what you want. Working with a cover artist involves some paperwork.
Working With a Cover Artist Should Mean a Contract
A lot of us get nervous talking about contracts and copyright and that is completely understandable. They seem difficult, complex, fraught with meaning, and all-too final. It feels like a prenuptial agreement sometimes – don’t you want to have faith that everything will work out all right?
Eh, not so fast.
This is not your great love (even if the cover artist is a friend or a relative). Instead, this is about rights. Your rights and the rights which belong to the artist.
The question is: who owns what? Without getting into the minutiae of copyright law just yet, this site offers not only a decent basic breakdown of the law in the United States, but also a good basic contract for a free download.
Are you all set now, and just have to fill in the blanks and you’re good to go?
Read over the agreement. If any of it does not make sense to you, talk to a lawyer! Even those of us not specially trained in copyright or contracts law can generally dope out an agreement. Further, in the US, you have got to have competence in Contracts Law in order to pass the Bar examination. It’s a basic part of the Multistate Exam. Hence even your friend the real estate lawyer should be able to answer your basic contract questions.
One Quick Tip
For the part of about State, County, and State, you want to write in your own state and county or parish. Why? Because if a lawsuit comes down, you will be a far happier person if you get to go to the courthouse in your county, instead of one potentially on the other side of the country. It will be far less expensive, and you will be far more likely to exert your rights if you feel they have been violated.
Second Quick Tip
Introduce the idea of a contract before the cover artist does anything. Make it clear you won’t engage them to do the work if the agreement is not signed, but also give them an opportunity to look it over and make changes to it (e. g. they might agree to a different-sized format, etc.). Note: this agreement is rather artist-centric. They probably won’t have much of a problem with it. But it’s not outside the realm of possibility. Be patient and pleasant like you would be with anyone; this is not you forcing the artist to do anything. But do insist on a signed agreement.
You might want to make changes to a design. You can spell those out in the contract. Should the artist charge you for any changes? They might; make sure all of that is in writing. See why it’s a good idea to know pretty much what you want before you start? It could come in handy for, say, an agreement that the first three changes are free.
Working With a Cover Artist Means Payments
Don’t pay it all up front, and don’t agree to do so. If you are absolutely, flat-out broke, you should still be able to pay something, even if the artist hand waves and doesn’t want anything for their work. Be good to your conscience and at least ask if you can make a small donation to one of their three favorite charities.
Otherwise, payments should be as specified in the agreement. Are they in dollars, Euros, bitcoins? Do you pay with a check, a credit card, Paypal, or something else? When is the first payment due? What percentage of the total is due at the time? What’s the mechanism for getting a refund if things don’t work out?
Do you absolutely love your cover? Or do you dislike it but still think the artist is great (e. g. sometimes our visions can clash)? Then find out where and how to recommend them, whether it’s a recommendation on LinkedIn or a review on Yelp. And be sure to tell your writer friends, too!
Be good to your cover artist, and they will reward you many times over.
It is like any business relationship, or it should be. Respect your cover artist, and they will help you. Don’t, and beware!
Get an Idea of What You Want Before You Start
So the last thing a cover artist wants to hear is, “Surprise me!” When they ask you how you envision your cover, you need to have an idea. One of the best ways to get such ideas is to browse Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and even your local bookstore. Look at the typical covers in your genre. Are they natural-looking? Industrial? Hand-drawn?
What are the predominant colors? Black and white? Green? Pink? Red? Something else? So are they angular, or are the shapes softer and more muted?
Now we have all heard or read the expression, don’t judge a book by its cover.
Except that it’s absolutely untrue. We do judge books by their covers. All. The. Time.
Do Your Cover Artist a Favor and Do Some Research
If the covers in your genre’s section of the bookstore are all orange, should your cover be orange, too? It’s hard to say. You want it to look like it belongs in that section, right? But you also want it to stand out. I would say, if you are a new author and you are predominantly selling online, you need to consider how your work is going to look when it’s shown with others in the genre.
Perform an Amazon or Barnes & Noble search for your genre, and for any keywords related to your plot. If your book is a children’s work about a super-ocelot named Clive (please don’t steal this work. I suddenly have a wicked plot bunny ping-ponging around my head), then you could search under children’s works and then under superheroes or animal stories, etc.
It might even be helpful to take a screenshot, print it and then consider images which would fit in and images which would stand out.
So, your name is probably not going to be recognizable to most people. While it is an important part of the cover, it might be better for the artist to make the title stand out more.
Cover Artist Contracts!
Oh, and another thing – be sure to have a written agreement with this person. Even something relatively informal, signed by both of you, is better than nothing. But why? Because you’re exchanging money for labor. And that means, sometimes, people sue.