Your publisher requests a one-page synopsis, or you’re required to submit a short synopsis to enter a contest. How do you condense an entire story into a single page?
First give the book title, author name, and series number a few lines down from the top and centered. Then offer a tag line that sums up the plot. Here’s an example from SHEAR MURDER:
A wedding turns deadly when hairstylist Marla Shore discovers a dead body under the cake table.
The Setup This initial paragraph presents the setup for the story.
Hairstylist Marla Shore is playing bridesmaid at her friend Jill’s wedding when she discovers the bride’s sister stabbed to death under the cake table. Torrie had plenty of people who might have wanted her dead, including her own sister who threatened her just before the ceremony.
The Personal Motive Why does your sleuth get involved?
At Jill’s request, Marla agrees to help solve the case. With her own wedding four weeks away, her salon expanding into day spa services, and her relatives bickering over nuptial details, she has enough to do. But when Jill is arrested for Torrie’s murder, Marla has no choice except to unmask the killer.
The Suspects Give a brief profile of the suspects along with possible motives.
Jill and Torrie owned a piece of commercial property together. Their cousin Kevin, a Realtor, has been trying to find them a new tenant. Meanwhile, Jill’s uncle Eddy, a shady attorney, has been urging them to sell. Now Torrie’s husband, Scott, will inherit his wife’s share. Scott has another motive besides greed. Torrie had announced her plan to leave him for another man, Griff Beasley. Griff was Torrie’s colleague at the magazine where she worked as well as the photographer at Jill’s wedding. Griff implicates Hally, another coworker. Hally and Torrie were competing for a promotion. Then [Suspect X] turns up dead.
The Big Reveal The final paragraph is where the clues lead to the killer, and the protagonist has an insight about what she’s learned. This last is important for emotional resonance so readers will be eager for the sequel to see what happens next to your heroine.
It appears Suspect Y did [Evil Deed]. Snooping into his background, Torrie learned that Suspect Alpha helped him [Do Something Bad]. Suspect Alpha murdered Torrie because she found out about [His Illegal Business], and then Suspect X because she’d discovered [fill in blank]. Marla reveals the killer and is free to enjoy her own wedding ceremony.
Most authors have several manuscripts gathering dust in their drawers. These are our unsold babies, books we wrote along the journey to becoming a published author. Are they really that bad, or were they merely not ready for the right market at the right time?
Aside from the corrections that our more skilled eye could now see to make, are these books worth pulling out and making saleable? Would readers who like our series books even want to read a stand-alone?
And yet it’s sad that these early books will never get to see the light of day. The characters are all alone with nobody to appreciate their stories or the time and effort we put into them. They contain the building blocks of our careers.
What do I have hiding in my drawers? I’ll share my secrets with you. In return, let me know if any of these raise your interest. Some of these stories are so old that I don’t have digital copies. The typed manuscript is what you get. We won’t mention the Star Trek novel proposals hidden away, but I have those, too. Let’s check out the rest of them from earliest to latest:
Key of Death – A retired spy living in the Florida Keys encounters an enemy from his past who leads him to the Cuban exile community in Miami.
The Root of Evil – A scientist living abroad comes home and deals with a mystery. I don’t even remember what this one is about but it’s a long book.
Garden of Love – Floral designer Penny Winters is hired to plan a dream wedding for entrepreneur Whip Lanigan but finds herself falling for his charms. How can she compete with his elusive fiancée?
Lethal Designs – When a lovely botanist and a businessman meet over murder in Key West, they become entangled in a web of deceit where the ultimate betrayal is their own.
The Disappearing Diet – Nutritionist Regina Kent takes a job at exclusive Hillcrest Resort, where guests check in but they don’t check out.
Murder on the Menu – When two chefs meet over murder in New Orleans, they become victims of a dangerous conspiracy and a passion as hot as a Creole sauce.
These next ones were attempts at restarting my mystery career after I’d been published and was seeking a new publisher.
Murder at Your Service – When personal assistant Keri Armstrong discovers her favorite client dead in bed, she risks her reputation and her life to find the killer.
Murder at the Yacht Club – Newsletter editor Claire Rollins finds more than she bargained for when death stalks the members of an elite yacht club.
What is the lesson learned?
Persistence pays. Keep writing. “Never give up. Never surrender,” as they say on Galaxy Quest. Each book improves your skills as you learn more about the craft. It may seem as though you are climbing a mountain, but a beautiful vista awaits you on the other side. One final push might get you there, but you won’t make it if you quit. So keep following your dream and the road to publication might be just around the next corner. It takes hard work and dedication, and when you do find a publisher, this doesn’t end because then you have to learn all about marketing.
Excerpt from LETHAL DESIGNS
The eerie whistling sang through the night like a banshee, ebbing and flowing on the wind. Lani had never heard it before, and she’d been to the Galleon Marina in Key West enough times to recognize the familiar sounds. This one was different, disturbing in its strangeness.
She paused on the dimly lit dock, her sharp gaze scanning the darkness. Row after row of boats faced her in serene solitude, like sentinels of the night. Even the breeze, salty and laden with moisture, seemed to be whispering words of warning. A feeling of foreboding swept through her, chilling her despite the warm summer air.
Tightening her mouth, she strode forward. Her feet were bare, and the wooden boards felt cool and damp as she padded silently toward Don Cambridge’s yacht. Slip number sixty-six lay just around the next corner.
She spotted his boat right away. The bridge light was shining like a beacon which usually meant he expected visitors. Shrugging, she quickened her pace. Even if he already had company, he’d be glad to see her. She’d just gotten back from Miami and couldn’t wait to share her thrilling news. Don knew how much she’d wanted to win that research grant. As her best friend, he’d celebrate her triumph.
Nearing the vessel, she listened to the sounds of the night. The eerie whistling had faded, its melody a faint wailing that floated on the wind. Creaking and clicking noises from boats reverberated all around. Water trickled from through-holes and waves splashed onto rocks. Water, the music of the sea.
Music. Lani stopped abruptly.
Don’s yacht was ominously silent. She didn’t hear any music coming from his stereo. Don always played it nonstop and loud enough to be heard outside but not too loud to violate the codes. He’d never turn it off unless something was seriously wrong or he was ill. Maybe he’d fallen asleep and had just forgotten to turn out the lights. But that was unlikely. Ten o’clock was like the middle of the day for Don the Night Owl.
Concern propelled her forward. Grasping hold of the boarding ladder, she climbed up onto the carpeted aft deck where her glance rose to the empty bridge. He’s not here. That leaves the cabin area below.
To be continued… or not. How many manuscripts are hidden in your drawers?
When you propose a book that’s number one in a series, it helps to have blurbs for the next couple of titles ready to go. You can send this along with your query or later with your full manuscript. Create a tagline for your series title, and check online to make sure this title hasn’t been taken. Then craft a query letter and mention this is the first book in a series.
My route to selling the Bad Hair Day mystery series was a circuitous one. When I first presented a proposal for Permed to Death, book #1, I sent out the first three chapters and a synopsis in a multiple submission to various agents. Here is my original query letter.
As we’ve mentioned before in a post on Tips for Query Letters, your one-page letter should include three paragraphs. The first one introduces you, gives the word count and the story genre. Next comes a catchy story blurb, followed by your writing credits. A marketing hook can also be included or suggestions for possible markets. In this case, that extra paragraph is where I mention a series.
Dear Ms. P.:
I’m a published author seeking a new agent to represent me for a mystery book proposal. PERMED TO DEATH is a 75,000 word novel featuring beauty salon owner Marla Shore.
When one of her clients is poisoned while getting a perm, Marla becomes a prime suspect. She attends the woman’s funeral and meets her relatives and business associates, all of whom have logical motives for murder. But so does Marla, as Homicide Detective Dalton Vail learns during his investigation. Desperately seeking to salvage her reputation, Marla tries to identify the killer before the next “permanent” solution is her own.
PERMED TO DEATH is the first book in a proposed series. Also available is a synopsis for the next story, HAIR RAISER. The title for the third installment is MURDER BY MANICURE.
I have four futuristic romance novels in print and am the winner of the 1995 HOLT Medallion Award in the paranormal category. PERMED TO DEATH is my first mystery. Would you be interested in seeing the complete proposal? An SASE is included for your reply. Please note this is a multiple submission. Thank you for your consideration.
I received rejections from all ten plus agents. (See my earlier post on this topic.) Some of them gave insightful comments as to what needed fixing. I decided to put this book aside to focus on romance again. I’d met an agent at a Florida Romance Writers conference who recommended me to a colleague of hers. I sent this person a query for Phantom Bride, a contemporary romance I’d written. Here is a copy of that letter:
Dear Agent L.:
I’m a published author seeking a new agent. This past weekend, I had a delightful conversation with Agent R. at the FRW Conference in Ft. Lauderdale. She is familiar with my four published futuristic romance novels for Leisure Love Spell Books and urged me to send you my new proposal.
Enclosed are the first three chapters and synopsis for Phantom Bride, a 60,000 word contemporary romance novel. I’ve already sent this proposal to Brenda Chin at Harlequin Temptation and am working to finish the book within the next couple of months. I’m seeking representation for this and other works in progress.
Included are my bio, one of my books, and an SASE for your convenience. I’m looking forward to hearing from you soon.
Agent L. took me on in Feb. 1997. While she was trying to sell my romance novel, I rewrote the first three chapters of Permed to Death as per the suggestions in those earlier rejection letters and completed the manuscript. In June 1997, I sent this agent a query for Permed to Death mentioning the series title.
Dear Agent L.:
Enclosed are the manuscript and synopsis for Permed to Death, a 75,000 word mystery novel and first book in my proposed series called The Bad Hair Day Mysteries.
I’ve already spoken to RC, Senior Mystery Editor at St. Martins Press, whom I met at SleuthFest in Fort Lauderdale this past spring. I told her about this story and she expressed interest in looking at it.
If you like the story and think JS at Avon might be interested, please feel free to send it along. GB is on my list as a mystery editor at Berkley Prime Crime, and I may have more marketing ideas in my files. As always, I’m open to suggestions for revisions.
At this point, I didn’t follow my own advice and had merely a completed manuscript for Permed to Death, a synopsis for Hair Raiser, and a title for Murder by Manicure. And that’s how I sold the series in a three-book deal to Kensington. Then and Now book covers:
Below is how I would write this proposal now:
Series Proposal for The Bad Hair Day Mysteries
Hairstylist and salon owner Marla Shore solves crimes with wit and style in sultry South Florida.
PERMED TO DEATH – Book 1
Sassy hairstylist Marla Shore is giving grumpy Mrs. Kravitz a perm when her client dies in the shampoo chair. If that isn’t enough to give her a Bad Hair Day, handsome Detective Dalton Vail suspects Marla of poisoning the woman’s coffee creamer.
HAIR RAISER – Book 2
Hairstylist and amateur sleuth Marla Shore volunteers for Ocean Guard, a coastal preservation society. When someone sabotages their gala fundraiser, she must comb through a knot of suspects to unmask a killer.
MURDER BY MANICURE – Book 3
Hairstylist Marla Shore joins a fitness club to get in shape, but she finds a murder instead of an exercise program. To complicate matters, handsome Detective Dalton Vail disapproves of the charade she’s playing to help a friend.
My First Mystery Sale
Permed to Death sold to Kensington and appeared in hardcover in December 1999. The sale was a 3-book contract, and the series took off from there.
The Lesson – If you’re presenting a book that is part of a series, have blurbs on books 2 and 3 available along with the overall series title and a tagline. The same goes when you are pitching your book in person. Mention that it’s part of a series. See my post on Tips for the Hot Pitch for more details.
Rejections are part of the publishing process. You have to develop a thick skin to keep going if you want to have a successful career as a writer. Authors have many avenues to pursue along the road to publication these days, but it wasn’t always that way.
As I’ve been cleaning out my files, I came across a pile of rejection letters in one of my folders. This book was an early attempt at a romantic suspense novel. I was agented, so I’d already passed the first gatekeeper. Our only route to publication back then was to submit our work via snail mail to the major NY publishing houses. Here’s what these rejections said for my book titled Summer Storm. The story involved two competing New Orleans chefs who, in the second version, must work together to solve a murder. I liked talking about food and cooking even then!
Harlequin – They sent a long one-page letter detailing problems with the romance and saying the intrigue wasn’t sustained. The intrigue also needed to be more complex and fresh. Aug. 1989
Silhouette Books – “Unfortunately, I don’t think it’s right for us. There was a lack of focus on the actual romance. The emphasis seemed to be on the unraveling of the mystery, instead of on the development of a dramatic and exciting love affair. In addition, the heroine needs more in the way of emotional depth to make her warmer and more sympathetic to the reader. However, I do feel there’s potential here, so if Nancy should wish to revise and resubmit it, please have her do so.” Nov. 1989
Silhouette Books – Resubmitted revised ms. “Unfortunately, although Jill is much warmer now and easier to relate to, the emphasis is still on the mystery and its development. The relationship between the hero and the heroine is also more on the casual, albeit intimate, level than on the emotional and romantic level that would make their affair more compelling.” June 1990
Harlequin – Resubmitted revised ms. They turned it down. “The mystery and romance were not fully integrated in this story.” But…they liked my engaging writing style. Feb. 1991
Meteor Publishing – “I’m afraid I can’t make you an offer for the book because the plot lacks focus, and the story, with its very involved mystery element, moves slowly in spots. The author fails to develop the couple’s relationship (beyond the many sex scenes).” April 1991
Longmeadow Press – “I found the premise of the novel to be quite interesting, but I don’t think the writing is up to par with other hardcover romantic suspense.” Dec. 1991
I changed the title to Murder on the Menu and rewrote the book with a focus on the mystery. Or so I thought.
Berkley – “This one was a near miss. While the writing and pacing were good, and the idea was strong, I felt this fell between being a mystery and a woman-in-jeopardy. For this reason, and because I felt this just wasn’t strong enough to compete in this crowded market, we’ve decided to pass.” Aug. 1992
St. Martin’s Press – Unfortunately, we are going to have to pass; it was just not strong enough for our mystery list. Sorry not to be more enthusiastic.” Sept. 1992
Harlequin – They sent a three page rejection letter with detailed revisions listed by the page number. Problems here seemed to focus on the romance as well as the personal motives to solve the mystery. At this point, I put the book aside as requiring too much work. Dec. 1992
What is the lesson learned? Maybe I should have been writing mysteries instead of romance! Seriously, I had to decide which genre I was actually writing. Obviously I wasn’t getting it right for romantic suspense. The internal conflicts needed work and the mystery needed tightening. The story definitely was not ready for the market.
Is it reworkable now from my current viewpoint? I wouldn’t know until I read it again. But back then, it was a stepping stone toward my writing a successful mystery series, and those efforts are never wasted. Nor did this discourage me from trying again with the next book. And the next. And the next, until I got one that hit the mark.
How should YOU deal with rejections?
Scream, rant and cry for up to two days. Then stop.
Read the remarks, and see if there’s truth in them. If invited to revise and resubmit, do so.
Look for common elements among the rejections. If two or more comments sound alike, you have some work to do.
Make sure you have a definitive genre so booksellers will know where to place your story.
If you want more feedback, enter unpublished writing contests where you get scores with comments; join a critique group; get a paid manuscript critique at a writers’ conference; or hire a professional freelance editor who specializes in your genre.
Amazon – Higher royalty; chance to be exclusive with Kindle Select and Kindle Unlimited. Preorders allowed within 90 days of release date. You can manage your books via Amazon Author Central. Sends out new release notices to your followers. BN – Preorders allowed. You can schedule your price promotions in advance. Authors earn 65% royalty on eBooks priced over $9.99. Kobo – Ask to activate the Promotions tab to participate in special deals; global audience. You can opt-in for Overdrive and get a royalty 50% of library list price. Apple Books – Must upload using an Apple device. You can use an iPad or iCloud if you don’t have an Apple computer; hire a formatter; or go through a service like Draft2Digital. After your book is available on iTunes, if you’re publishing it yourself, write and ask them to change the name of the seller on your account to your DBA or LLC. You can set preorders up to a year in advance. Sales count twice, when the person preorders the book and when it goes live. They give you up to 250 free download codes.
Draft2Digital • Takes 10% cut of retail price.
• Distributes to Amazon, Apple, BN, Kobo, Baker & Taylor, Bibliotheca, 24Symbols, Playster, Overdrive, Scribd, Tolino and Google Play
• Set Preorders at one convenient site. Also handy for revised files.
• Note you make a higher royalty going through D2D than going direct to Kobo with a book priced less than $2.99.
• Payments are once a month.
• Easy to upload files for free file conversion into mobi, ePub, pdf files
• Author profile page and book tabs and Custom Book Carousels
• Audiobook Production/Distribution via Findaway Voices
• Universal Book Links via https://www.books2read.com/
• Easy user interface and responsive customer service
• New release notifications
• Schedule sales ahead of time
• Readers can buy direct from the SW Store.
• E-book conversion to multiple formats
• Special copyright page wording is required.
• Distributes to Amazon, Apple, BN, Kobo, Baker & Taylor, Bibliotheca, Gardners, Inktera, Library Direct, Odilo, OverDrive, Scribd, Tolino. Over 500,000 titles.
• SW’s royalty rate varies. Monthly payments
• Set Preorders to Apple, BN and Kobo up to a year in advance
• Exclusive Promotions, Discount Coupons, New Release Alerts, Series
• The discount levels you set for the sale do not impact your retail prices at other stores.
• Free ISBNs for use on SW sites
• Author profile page and Author interview
• Distributes to Kindle, BN, Apple, Google Play, Overdrive, Scribd, and to more than 400 stores, including digital libraries (schools, universities, public libraries).
• Takes 10% cut of list price.
E-book Options – Ingram vs KDP
• KDP has no title setup fees, whereas it costs $49 at IS when uploaded with the print edition or $25 for the e-book alone. Each corrected manuscript costs $25 to upload to IngramSpark.
• IngramSpark has wider distribution, including Kindle, Apple, and approximately 60 other e-book retailers.
• With KDP, you can only make your e-book available to Kindle but no other e-retailers. You’d have to upload the ebook directly to Kobo, BN and Apple or go through Smashwords or Draft2Digital.
• Royalty rates on e-books at Ingram are only 40% compared to 70% at KDP (depending on your book’s price).
April 15-21, RONE Awards
Please VOTE for Body Wave Audiobook in the RONE Awards THIS WEEK ONLY! Sign in or Register at InD’Tale Magazine, https://www.indtale.com Be sure to click the email confirmation link if you are registering for the first time. Once logged in, go to RONES in upper right corner, hover over 2019 RONE Awards, and click on 2019 RONE Awards Week One that pops up. Scroll down to the Audiobook: Paranormal/Mystery Category and vote for my title, BODY WAVE.
This is Part 5 of my Self-Publishing Made Simple blog series.
You have a polished manuscript. You have bought a block of ISBN numbers. You’ve determined how you want to present yourself as a publisher re using an imprint or not.
Now you’ll need to decide if you will be publishing an ebook, paperback, and/or hardcover edition. Finish the copyright page by adding ISBNs for the format of your choice.
Note: If you’re simply going to upload your book to Amazon and participate in their KU program, likely you can use the ISBN number assigned by Amazon. This is true for certain other distributors as well. But keep in mind that this will register them as the publisher on record rather than you. See Part 4 for how to assign book titles to an ISBN number.
Book Descriptions and Tag Line Write a one-sentence tag line for your book along with short and long story descriptions. If you need help, go here:
For a paperback, decide if you want a longer blurb on the back cover or a shorter one with review quotes. Remember to leave room for the bar code. You do not need to buy this. Distributors will provide their own bar codes, or you can get one free online. Prepare the back cover copy to send to your cover designer.
Author Biography Prepare your author biography. This should be written in third person in an engaging manner. List your writing awards, professional organizations, genres, and special interests. Have a long bio, a short bio, and a couple of speaker introductions geared to writers and readers. You’ll need a shorter bio for the online book distributors, where you might want to include the URL to your website or newsletter.
Keywords Make a list of your keywords. These are phrases readers might use to search for your book. They don’t have to be one word. You can use phrases such as, “mysteries with humor” or “cozy mysteries with pets” or “mysteries set in small towns.” Here’s an example of more keywords for mysteries. Look at the bestseller categories on Amazon for more ideas. https://kdp.amazon.com/en_US/help/topic/G201276790
Cover Design Think about a scene or two that you’d like to see depicted on your cover. Also consider your series branding if your book isn’t a standalone. Colors, text, and placement should be consistent from book to book. So should the art style. Look for a cover artist who has a portfolio of books in your genre. Join the writing community to get recommendations.
Pricing If you’re unsure what to charge, look at other books in your genre with similar page counts to see what the going rates are. What are readers in your genre willing to pay for a print book or a digital copy?
Formatting Formatting comes next. You can do it yourself, hire a professional, or use one of the third party aggregates, such as Draft2Digital, to do the conversions for you. What you’ll need will depend on your technical skills and where you plan to upload your book.
Distribution Before we get into particulars on book distributors, decide where you want your book to be sold. Are you planning to sell it at Amazon alone, perhaps with their Kindle Select program so people can get your book through Kindle Unlimited? Then all you need is a mobi file. For BN, Kobo, and Apple, you’ll need an ePub file. For print, a pdf file is required.
April 15-21 RONE Awards Please VOTE for Body Wave Audiobook in the RONE Awards THIS WEEK ONLY! Sign in or Register at InD’Tale Magazine, https://www.indtale.com Be sure to click the email confirmation link if you are registering for the first time. Once logged in, go to RONES in upper right corner, hover over 2019 RONE Awards, and click on 2019 RONE Awards Week One that pops up. Scroll down to the Audiobook: Paranormal/Mystery Category and vote for my title, BODY WAVE.
Do you want to send an agent a query letter but have no idea what it should include? Or perhaps you’ve sent out several queries and you keep getting rejections. What could you be doing wrong? Here are some steps you can take to put yourself on the path to success.
Check the guidelines for submissions on the agent’s website. This will tell you what genres the person represents and if they prefer email or snail mail submissions. The guidelines will also state if you should include any sample chapters.
Make sure the agent does not require an exclusive submission. If so, you’d lose months while waiting for a response. See if the agent mentions their expected response time.
Write a one-page snappy query letter introducing yourself, giving the word count and genre for your book, a catchy story blurb, and your writing credits. If possible, include a hot premise or marketing hook that makes your story stand out. This means using keywords such as “paranormal” or “dystopian” or “domestic suspense” or saying your story is “Indiana Jones meets Romancing the Stone.” If you can compare your style to similar published authors, do so without bragging about how your book is as wonderful as Ms. Bestselling Author.
Be careful not to sound as though your writing is all over the board in terms of genres. Be clear about your focus. For example, don’t give the genre as a suspense novel and then mention that it takes place on another planet and your next book will be a vampire story. You’ll want to build your author brand by focusing on one genre as you grow your readership.
Do not describe your life history or any personal details unless they relate directly to your book. Do include if you belong to a critique group, have won writing contests, or if you’ve attended writing workshops and conferences.
You can also mention why readers might want to read your book. What is the value in it for them? Again, don’t brag and say it’s the most exciting book they’ll ever read, or it’s a fast-paced thrill ride. This is for readers to determine. But if it helps them appreciate family values or learn about how you can rise above past mistakes, this could be useful to include as a theme.
First Paragraph – State your book’s title, genre and word count. Here you can put if you’re a published author seeking representation or a new author seeking an agent for your first book.
Second Paragraph – This is your catchy book blurb. Write it like a log line for a TV show or like the back cover copy of your book. You’ll want to engage the reader’s interest.
Third Paragraph – Here offer your biography as it applies to your writing, including works you’ve published, memberships in professional writing organizations, writing workshops you’ve attended, critique group participation. Mention any expertise or work credentials that apply to your book. You can also make marketing suggestions or mention your proposed target audience. Mention if your story is book one of a series.
Last Remarks – Thank the agent for their consideration and offer to send the completed manuscript upon request. Do mention if this is a multiple submission.
Signature Line – Here is where you can add your social media links. Doubtless the agent, if interested, will look you up to see if you have an online platform.
If you hear nothing back from the agent for a couple of months, send a follow-up email to ask if she’s received your query. Be courteous and respectful of the agent’s time. Be aware that some agents won’t respond at all, and this can be taken as a rejection. But follow through at least once to make sure your email was received. As an alternative, you can request a return receipt for when the agent opens the message.
If you receive a rejection letter with detailed suggestions for your work, write a thank you note. Remember, an author-agent relationship is a two-way street. Just as you want to hire the ideal agent, the agent wants to land the ideal client. Be courteous, professional, and savvy about the industry. Also respect that while the agent might offer suggestions for improvements, this is not an invitation to resubmit your work unless the agent says so in her response.