Categories
Career changing Publishing

Blurbs, queries, teasers, and elevator pitches

Blurbs, Queries, Teasers, and Elevator pitches

Among blurbs, queries, teasers, and elevator pitches – which is which?

Teasers and Teasing
Teasers and Teasing

Blurbs

Blurbs are short promotional pieces. They used to just stay on the backs of books, but now they can serve as the copy you read on an Amazon author or book page. They can even be the snippet pulled by search engines for a page.

The best blurbs are:

  • short
  • specific as to genre (don’t be coy; if it’s erotica, then say so!)
  • open about who the protagonist is
  • spoiler-free
  • not a rehash of the first chapter or the entire plot
  • neutral about the quality of your work (don’t say: this is an amazing book. ‘Cause then it probably isn’t. Sorry.)

In this fantasy tale, Alice is intrigued by a strange white rabbit. Even stranger, he’s wearing a waistcoat, checking a pocket watch, and complaining that he’s going to be late!

Queries

Furthermore, queries are cover letters accompanying your submissions to a publisher or agent. They 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. Double-spaced? Do it. Times New Roman font? Why, that’s suddenly your favorite font, too!

Rather than giving you an example, it’s probably best to link to a successful modern query letter. Now imagine your work, showcased 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 beloved by your actual target, then so much the better.

Teasers

In addition, teasers usually go a bit longer. You use them to generate excitement. Teasers often end with a question, but they don’t have to.

Alice is bored and sleepy on a lazy, sunny afternoon spent with her sister. But then she spots a white rabbit wearing a waistcoat and checking a pocket watch. The rabbit says he’s going to be late! Should Alice follow him? What’s down that rabbit hole, anyway?

Elevator pitches

Finally, elevator pitches are, just like when you are looking for a job, the kinds of quick sales pitches done on the fly when someone turns to you and says, “You’re a writer. So, what’s your book about?”

Don’t just stand there! You’ve got to be ready.

Imagine if animals started talking, and they told you what to do in a topsy-turvy world.

 

My book is about Alice; she’s a young girl, a little bored on a sunny afternoon, when she spots a white rabbit. The odd thing about this rabbit is, he’s wearing clothes and talking. She follows him down a rabbit hole, but then she can’t get out.

That’s less than 70 words, and the person asking has the basic plot, the name of the heroine, and a reason to want to know more.

Back to you.

Categories
Career changing Publishing

Beta Reading, Part 2

Beta Reading, Part 2

For beta reading, part 2, let’s take a look at the actual feedback process. But first, let’s get the mechanics out of the way.

Practical Mechanics

When beta reading, you are generally only using a few possible programs. Here’s how to best use them:

  • When using Microsoft Word, go to Review and then select Track Changes. Use this feature to add Comments as well. If using Word, it helps a lot if the writer is using styles and headings. If they don’t know what those are, Google is their friend. Styles make it easy to change a font size on the fly if a publisher demands a different one for querying. And headings make it easier to find where chapters break.
  • When using Google Docs, turn on Editing Mode.
  • For any other programs, you may do best to just ask the writer to save the piece into Google Docs. Why? Because it will be easier for you. After all, you are doing them a favor. You aren’t being demanding if you ask for some consideration in this area.

What Sort of Feedback do they want?

This might feel like it should be obvious, but it’s not. Abusing the author is, of course, out of the question. You certainly should be honest in your assessments. At the same time, though, consider the following two sentences.

The main character is boring.

or

The main character is not very interesting.

These two sentences mean nearly the same thing, but the second one is a bit gentler. Consider this: even the worst of stories is somebody’s baby. Don’t be a jerk to the writer. This holds true even if you really want to burn their computer to assure that they never, ever write anything again.

And I have read stories like that.

Fixing Problems

Every reading is different, but there are a few basic issues which a manuscript might have.

Technical Issues

Your writer doesn’t know how to use dialogue tags. They argue with you over how to write out numbers. Punctuation and capitalization feel wrong, but you just can’t explain why. This one is easy. Call in the authorities. Grammar Girl is an easy, breezy read. Just cite it, with a link. Or try Strunk & White for something more formal. Get really fancy with The Chicago Manual of Style. Don’t forget, American English differs from British English, and there can be some nuances with Canadian or Australian English as well. Normally, it’s a logical fallacy to appeal to an authority. But in this instance, it will save everybody’s time.

Inconsistencies

Is the character dark-skinned on page 3, and fair on page 78? Point these out immediately. For some inconsistencies, the writer may be able to split the difference. Maybe a short character got tall because they grew.

Padding

This is a big problem with NaNoWriMo novels. And for good reason! You are rewarded for being verbose. Hence ask the writer – is this scene necessary? Is this level of description vital to the plot? Characters are analogous to actors in a film. The main ones are leads, then comes the supporting cast. And then come the extras. The leads need a lot of description, assuming that’s not some sort of spoiler. The supporting cast gets some description, but not as much as the leads. The extras are sketched. And the same is true for scenes. Scenes which drive the plot are leads.

Transitions and other necessary scenes that aren’t plot drivers are relegated to supporting status. These can be red herrings and blind alleys in a mystery. Or the more minor obstacles thrown in the way of true love in a romance. Or they can be the scenes depicting local color, and expository paragraphs.

Truly minor scenes are extras, and they can also be extras if they are a part of a more important scene. For example, if your two police officer characters go to a coffee shop to discuss the case, then their discussion is probably a lead. But the color of the walls of the coffee shop, or the barista’s snappy comeback? Those are extras.

If a story feels overly long, then it’s probably been padded. Work with your writer on how to streamline those parts of the narration.

Sketches

I am guilty of this one, mainly because I am often working to get the idea down on paper. This is another thing which can happen in a NaNo novel. The time limit can push a writer to elide over certain transitions. Same rules apply. If it’s a lead, then you need some meat on those bones. For supporting, it depends. Further, if every scene feels like an extra, then it’s hard to figure out what the work’s focus and plot really are.

By working with a three-tiered scene and character system, both you and the writer can focus better. If Betty the Barista is important, then the story really needs to focus on her dark eyes, her jaunty beret, and the rose tattoo on her left shoulder. If she’s just seen in passing, then she probably doesn’t even need to have a name.

Above All (When it Comes to Beta Reading)

Be kind and patient, as well as you can. These problems may take the writer some time to fix. Be encouraging! But if it is just not working, then don’t hesitate to cut the cord.

Categories
Career changing Publishing

Beta Reading for Indie Writers

Beta Reading

Beta reading is both an art and a science, I feel. There are good ways to do it. And there are not so good ways.

But as an independent writer, the best way to get beta readers to help you is to become a beta reader yourself. Here I’ll address common issues and ways to make it a more productive experience for both of you.

Editing, Copy Editing, and Proofreading

A beta reader is analogous to a beta tester. You are supposed to be checking a piece before querying or self-publication or posting on a free content site such as Wattpad. Beta testers generally do not test software’s very first iteration. They might be asked to test a function or even the whole shebang once it’s done. But they don’t test the lines of code to see if they are correct. That is a developer’s job.

And beta reading is similar. You are not responsible for checking basic stuff like spelling. The author should have run their work through a spellchecker, prior to sending it to you. If they do not have a spellchecker for some odd reason, then you as the beta reader are in for quite the ride. And this is not a happy ride, I assure you.

How to handle it

What should you do If someone sends a document utterly riddled with spelling errors? Here are a few options:

  • Kick it back (nicely) and tell them to run a spellcheck before they send it back to you. If they don’t know how to do this, then you can suggest they Google free spellcheckers or save it as a Google doc (under Tools, there is a spellchecker).
  • Correct their spelling, but make it clear this will increase the time frame considerably. For most people, even if they are not in much of a rush, this a good incentive to take care of business.
  • Tell them the relationship isn’t working out.

A lack of spellchecking does not necessarily mean someone doesn’t care about your time. The writer might not be a native speaker. They might be very new to the scene. Or they could have certain forms of dyslexia which make a spellchecker kind of throw up its metaphoric hands and run in the opposite direction. If any of these are the case, then see if you can get compensated for your time. Because at that point, you’ve gone beyond beta reading.

Length and Time and Expectations

The best-laid plans, yadda yadda, you know the rest. We plan one thing, but life has a tendency to inconveniently intervene. Consider your time, how fast you read, and any monkey wrenches life might throw. A good rule of thumb for planning is to multiply by one and a half. Therefore if you think 1,000 words will take you an hour, then consider it will take 90 minutes and plan accordingly.

Ask about their schedule. Maybe they want to publish in two months, or twelve. If you can’t meet their deadline, all is not lost! Instead, you could just beta read the first few chapters. Figure out what works best. Or agree to work together at a later date.

Next, I’ll look at what you need to do, to be a good beta reader.

Categories
Career changing Promotions Publishing

MSWL (Manuscript Wish List)

MSWL (Manuscript Wish List)

Have you ever seen the #MSWL hashtag on Twitter? It stands for Manuscript Wish List.

So, what the heck is a Manuscript Wish List?

What do publishers and agents want?

MSWL | Manuscript Wish List
Manuscript Wish List (#MSWL) can go on all year on Twitter.

Agents and publishers have seen it all, or at least they think they have. They are on the lookout for something new but not so new, if that makes any sense.

Huh? you ask. Originality is important, yes, but the main objective for both agents and publishers is to acquire works which will sell. Does your work have a coherent buyer persona, or ideal reader? Does it fit neatly into one or two genres? And what about works which are harder to define? What do you do?

If Manuscript Wishes were horses …

For #MSWL, at any time during the year, agents and publishers tweet about what they are looking for. Pay attention to their verbiage! Usually it’s something like Looking for cowboy version of The Hunger Games. If your manuscript fits the bill, answer them. If not, don’t waste their and your time.

This second MSWL site seems less ‘official’ but still has good information.

A tip: if you’re answering an #MSWL, add something about your genre, e. g. #SF for science fiction, or #Romance, etc.

Above all, be sure to have fun with it. Who knows? It just might work out for you. However, there is a chance that it might not. In the meantime, you’ll keep getting better at presenting your work and, by extension, yourself.

Categories
Career changing Publishing Writing

Beta Readers and Editors

Beta Readers and editors

Consider beta readers and editors – what’s the difference? Does it matter which one you use to help with your manuscript?

Beta Readers

Beta readers are people who read over your work. They evaluate it before it gets anywhere near a publisher. They might read for typos, spelling errors, grammatical issues, and punctuation problems, but that is not a very good way to work with them.

Beta Readers and Continuity Checks

Instead, you want them to help you with flow and continuity. If your main character is female and 5’2″ and has a chihuahua on page 4, then she should still be female, 5’2″, and the owner of a chihuahua on page 204, unless there is some on-page reason why she isn’t. E. g.:

  • They are transgender, and successfully transitioned (with or without surgery) to male. Or the character no longer identifies as female or male.
  • The character had a growth spurt and is taller, or has osteoporosis, and became shorter. Or maybe her legs were amputated (sorry, character!).
  • She gave away the chihuahua, or it ran away, etc.

The last thing you want is for your beta reader to wonder where the chihuahua went, particularly if the little dog isn’t a big part of the story.

Demographics

Good beta readers are in the demographics of the people you’re trying to reach with your novel. They like your genre or at least are willing to read in it and offer feedback. They don’t tear you a new one when they don’t like something, but they are also unafraid to tell you if something isn’t working for them.

Some Questions to Ask Them

Ask them:

  • Are the characters believable? Are they distinguishable?
  • Do you think the situations are plausible?
  • Are there good descriptions for the scenes? Can you picture yourself where the characters are?
  • Do the transitions work?
  • Are the conflicts plausible?
  • Is the conclusion a satisfying one?

Also ask about genre-specific issues, such as whether your mystery was too easy or difficult to solve, if your horror story was scary enough, if the technobabble in your science fiction novel was credible, etc.

The best way to get a beta reader is to be one! Offer a trade with another indie. Usually this work is done for free. So be kind, and either recommend your beta reader friend or at least donate a little something to one of their three favorite charities.

Editors

Editors are more professional than beta readers and are generally people you hire. They will do copy editing, where they check for typos, etc., although there should be a last pass by a proofreader before publishing, no matter what.

Editors can also check for continuity, but they will mainly read with the audience in mind. They are a good enhancement to the work of a beta reader, and are a good idea before you send your work out for querying.

Researching Editors

The best way to get an editor is to do some research. Ask people you know are published. After all, an editor no longer has to live in the same city or country as you (but you will do best with someone who is a native speaker of the language your book is in). Work with the editor on a sample chapter. Do you get along? Are his or her suggestions reasonable? Are they slow?

And if you are absolutely, utterly stuck for funds, try a local college or university. You might be able to get an English major to help you, but be aware they probably won’t have experience and they may not be the best fit. But they may be all you’ve got.

And make sure to have a written agreement with them! This is a sample copyediting contract, and it’s pretty good. Be sure to change the contract to indicate the laws of your state apply!

Categories
Career changing Publishing

Writing a Query Letter

Writing a Query Letter

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

What is a query letter | Janet Gershen-Siegel | Adventures in Career Changing
What is a query letter?

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.

You can do it!

Categories
Career changing Publishing

Writing a Blurb

Are You in the Middle of Writing a Blurb?

Have you ever written a blurb for a book? Here’s how.

Grab the Reader’s Attention

Adventures in Career Changing | Janet Gershen-Siegel | Blurbs
        Blurbs are a great way to sell your work

The most effective blurbs are:

  • short
  • specific as to genre (don’t be coy; if it’s horror, then say so!)
  • open about who the protagonist is
  • spoiler-free
  • not a rehash of the first chapter or the entire plot
  • neutral about the quality of your work (don’t say: this is an incredible book. Your saying that does not make it so. Sorry.)

So keep in mind – these are not the same as the summary you write for a query.

Blurb Samples

In this fantasy tale, Dorothy is whisked away by a twister to an unknown magical land. But first she has to deal with the quite literal fallout of her house falling on, and killing, a wicked witch.

Blurbs give us an idea about the story, and they make us want to read more. Also, a blurb for The Wizard of Oz would likely be longer than the above, better reflecting the work’s complexity and length. While a long book does not need to have a long blurb, it at least could conceivably support one. However, a short novel probably would not. Unless, of course, you’ve written The Great Gatsby or To Kill a Mockingbird.

Reclusive millionaire Jay Gatsby leads the good life in 1920s New York. As his friend Nick Carraway watches, Gatsby’s life takes a turn with the all-too appealing but also all-too married Daisy Buchanan.

Or –

Scout and Jem Finch live in Alabama with their widowed father, Atticus, the town’s leading lawyer. It’s the 1930s, and Maycomb seems far from sophistication or enlightenment. And so the trouble starts when a black man is accused of raping a white woman – and Scout’s father agrees to defend the accused.

Back to you.

Categories
Career changing Publishing

Working With a Beta Reader

What’s It Like, Working With a Beta Reader?

A beta reader is somewhat different from an editor.

For one thing, beta reading is generally something that people do for free.

Beta Readers

Beta readers are people who read over your work and evaluate it before it goes to a publisher. They might read for typos, spelling errors, grammatical issues, and punctuation problems, but that is not a very good way to work with them. Work with an editor for that.

Instead, you want them to help you with flow and continuity. If your main character is female and 5’2″ and has a chihuahua on page 4, then she should still be female, 5’2″, and the owner of a chihuahua on page 204, unless there is some on-page reason why she isn’t. E. g.:

  • She is transgender, and successfully transitioned (with or without surgery) to male. Or the character no longer identifies as female or male.
  • The character had a growth spurt and is taller, or has osteoporosis, and shrunk, or maybe her legs were amputated (sorry, character!).
  • She gave away the chihuahua, or it ran away, etc.

The last thing you want is for your beta reader to wonder where the chihuahua went, particularly if the little dog isn’t a big part of the story.

How Can You Start This Relationship?

The best way to get a beta reader is to be one. So offer a trade with another indie. Be kind when you’re done, and either recommend your beta reader friend or at least donate a little something to one of their three favorite charities. If the work is absolutely abhorrent, at least you can say you did that.

What Should You Expect?

You’re working with a volunteer. Things might be slow. You cannot be overly pushy. However, setting an expectation as to the overall deadline (be generous with the time frame!) is helpful. E. g. if you want the beta reading to be done in ten months for a 100,000 word document (very possible, even for a busy beta reader), say you need it done in nine months and try not to be overly anxious about it.

What Are Some Practical Tips?

Use Google docs in order to avoid version control nightmares. Create a schedule and a set of expectations. Hence for our hypothetical 100,000 word work, a nine month time period gives the beta reader about 39 weeks to get it all done. If each chapter averages about 1,100 words long, then you want a beta reading turnaround of about 2 – 3 chapters per week to make it in nine months. See why I’m talking about giving yourself a one-month cushion? You’ve also got to account for vacations, illness, the other person being busy with other stuff, and even a lack of motivation on their part.

How Many Beta Readers Do You Need?

For our 100,000 word work, you’re probably going to want more than one beta reader. In fact, I would recommend that for any work longer than what most people would call a short story. You need some give and take and a consensus. If three beta readers tell you a chapter is dull, then it’s dull. If two say you need to use the word ‘whom’, and one says to use the word ‘who’, look it up on a trusted authority, such as Grammar Girl. Majority does not rule here.

Demographics

Good beta readers are in the demographics of the people you’re trying to reach with your novel. They like your genre or at least are willing to read in it and offer feedback. They don’t tear you a new one when they don’t like something, but they are also unafraid to tell you if something isn’t working for them.

Some Standard Questions

Ask them:

  • Are the characters believable? Are they distinguishable?
  • Do you think the situations are plausible?
  • Are the settings well described? Can you picture yourself where the characters are?
  • Do the transitions work?
  • Are the conflicts plausible?
  • Is the conclusion a satisfying one?

Also ask about genre-specific issues, such as whether your mystery was too easy or difficult to solve, if your horror story was scary enough, if the technobabble in your science fiction novel was credible, etc.

Practical Tech

Google docs is particularly useful for multiple beta readers, as they can see each others’ suggestions. Just set everyone to ‘suggesting‘ and not ‘editing‘. Google docs will also inform them when changes have been made, so they are reminded that you’re still out there, and you still need their help. Be sure to make corrections on the page so the beta readers can comment on them if they want to.

Don’t like Google docs? Then use Word and turn on its editing features. Use Dropbox or the like if your documents are too big to practically email back and forth.

Manners Count With Your Beta Reader!

Be gracious about the corrections; these people are trying to help you! But if it’s important for your character to be Lithuanian or eating pretzels or whatever, then stick to your guns and explain why. Do so without rancor, of course. Be kind and your beta readers will be so in return to you.

Establish a really good relationship, and you could be reading for each other for years.

PS… Beta Reader Rewards

Not 100% necessary, but nice to do all the same. I’ve gotten and given gift certificates. And if your work makes it to publication, send them a signed copy. For free.

Categories
Career changing Publishing

Teasing Your Work

Teasing Your Work

Teasing is a subtle art. It is a lot like a fan dancer’s moves or a shy person’s come-on.

Teasing should feel like a movie trailer because that is exactly what movie trailers do.

Teasers are usually a bit longer than blurbs and are meant to generate excitement. They often end with a question, but they don’t have to. Think of how films are teased if you’re stumped for ideas.

She was spoiled, rich, and beautiful, until the Civil War ended it all. Scarlett O’Hara has lost nearly everything. But there’s a rich man who’s interested, and he might
even love her. Can she win Rhett Butler
and save her beloved land, Tara?

Revealing too much

Don’t get too obvious! You do not do yourself any favors by spoiling your own book. Notice how the above teasing for Gone With The Wind does not go past maybe the middle of the film? And how it never mentions Ashley or Melanie Wilkes, the burning of Atlanta, or Scarlett’s first two husbands? I deliberately left the teaser off at just about when the first big reel ends. It used to be, in the theater, Gone With The Wind would have an intermission, the film was so long. This teaser ends just about a minute after intermission ends.

Revealing too little

This is another problem. If I just said Scarlett was a wealthy woman living a life of luxury on the brink of the Civil War, that would feel a bit incomplete. I can go a little further, plus adding Rhett Butler’s name to the teaser brings in the male main character. Marrying Rhett is one of Scarlett O’Hara’s main character drivers, whether it is to secure finances for her family or due to love on her part. Bringing Rhett into the conversation means the listener or reader gets an even better idea about who Scarlett is, and what motivates her.

Practical Teasing Practice

Can you write a teaser for a classic work? Try it in the Comments section, and let’s see how you do!

Categories
Career changing Publishing

Transitioning from fanfiction

Transitioning from fanfiction

If you first wrote in someone else’s universe, and now you want to claim your own, you may be transitioning from fanfiction.

Going from fan fiction writing to wholly original writing

It’s more than just ‘filing off a few serial numbers’.

How writing fanfiction can help you

It teaches you how to follow continuity. It can keep you writing when you’re stuck. Writing begets more writing (even fan fiction!), so it pays to keep going. You are better off, in terms of preventing writer’s block, to just keep on writing. Hence, if all else fails, go with fan fiction. Of course there are plenty of places to post it online. Here’s one.

How writing fanfiction can hurt you

It does not teach you how to make your own world, and it can hamper your growth in this area. Furthermore, if you are not used to making your own characters, it can hurt you there, as well.

Flip Your Perception

So consider what the foundational IP (intellectual property) does, and why it matters to you as you start the process of transitioning.

  • Interesting stories – spend some time deconstructing your favorites. Where did the writers hand-wave a problem away? Also, where did they get confusing? In addition, where did they deliver on the promise of their teaser/preview?
  • Compelling characters – why do the canon characters matter to you? Again, engage in some deconstruction. Forget who plays a character. So consider how you would feel about a character if someone else played them. Furthermore, consider how you would feel if the character’s gender and/or sexuality were swapped. Would you feel different if the character was of a race different from the current actor’s? Be your own casting director. Who, living or dead, could play the role better?

More ideas

  • Fascinating scenes – even within a familiar place, commercial intellectual property exists inside its own bucket. It might be a city block, a hospital, a car driving across the country, or somewhere else. What would happen if the scene shifted? Does the work succeed if it moves from Milwaukee to San Diego to Angkor Wat?
  • Action-driving plots – what kicks things off? If it’s a television program, what happened during the pilot? Did someone new move in? Did someone lose their job? Have a wedding? Have a kid? Graduate? Get arrested? Would the storyline still work if the pilot was different?
  • Believable effects, makeup, costumes, lighting, scenery, etc. – technology is a part of onscreen fiction writing. New techniques are constantly being invented, as studios save money but also enhance believability. What happens if an older show or film gets new makeup and green screening? Does that help the story, or harm it?

Blaze Your Own Trail

For every exciting intellectual property out there, whether it’s books, films, YouTube videos, TV programs, or something else, it all started somewhere.

So what is your story? Who are your characters?

Who knows? Maybe someday someone will want to write fan fiction about your work.