Today was chock full of information. My mind is just spinning with ideas. The entire conference is divided into topics that cover writing craft, marketing and publishing. Last year, I attended mostly crafting workshops. This year, I have been attracted to workshops that offer information about the publishing industry. Kind of tells you where I am in the process, doesn’t it? So let’s get started.
The first workshop I attended this morning was “How to Write a Killer Synopsis“. This was a panel discussion of various agents. As the title suggests, they had intended to share information about their expectations for synopses but questions from the audience kept the discussion on the construction of query letters. The speakers gave the audience what they wanted.
The agents were in agreement that a query letter should be written in such a way to make them want to read your book. It should read and entice, sort of like the back jacket blurb. In one to two paragraphs, provide the story arc of novel. It should include the word count, target market audience, genre and be no more than one and a half pages. Consider writing in third person, present tense.
Ultimately, the query letter is a business document. You should consider it in the same vein as an application for a job. It should be professional and business like. Save the creativity for the synopsis and manuscript.
They also offered up a few Don’ts:
- Don’t refer the agent to your website for biographical information or writing samples. Especially, if you do this instead of providing the information in the query.
- Don’t use small fonts or decrease the margin size as a cheat to increase the word count.
- Agents expect that during the query process, a writer will query more than one agent or editor. However, don’t take the lazy way out (lazy was their word, not mine, so that’s why you keep seeing it); do NOT send out one mass, generic email with your attached query and synopsis. At least for the agents on this panel, that was like nails on a chalkboard. You don’t want to start out pissing your agent off.
- Along those same lines, know who you are querying. Do the research. Letters that start out with “Dear Sir/Ma’am” smacks of laziness and no one will want to work with you.
- Bad spelling, bad grammar, punctuation errors count here too!
- Know your genre. Example, someone sent a query claiming to write romantic suspense, however, the synopsis and first chapters were strongly suggestive of a romance.
- Don’t forget to check the submission guidelines for either the publishing house or agent you are querying. They are there for a reason and you should follow them EXACTLY.
- Don’t state in your query what you WON’T do. Example, one writer was reported to say, “I don’t do marketing.” Same as “I won’t make any changes.” Chances are, if you’re not willing to be flexible or open to an agent’s or editor’s assistance, people will assume you are difficult to work with and will pass on you.
- Don’t tell them that you have written the best book they have ever read and that your mama and baby daddy thought it should have been published.
I next attended “Surveillance: Who Has the Eyeball?” This was presented by private investigator, Sheila Stephens, who is also a former DEA agent (more here). She brought lots of toys and gadgets. She also explained the law, including state and federal regulations for using said toys.
This was a fun workshop and gave me lots of food for thought for things to include in my novel. But the most significant thing I took away was a heightened awareness of just how intrusive and subversive Big Brother has actually become.
The highlight of the day was the keynote speaker Jeffrey Deaver. During the first hour, he spoke generally about writing and catching the audience up on his very busy schedule.
Some interesting facts about Mr. Deaver:
- He is currently writing the next James Bond novel. It is scheduled for publication May 2011.
- He had a brief stint on the soap opera As the World Turns. He played a corrupt reporter murdered by one of the main actors. His career as a soap opera star lasted a whole week.
- Before his fiction writing career, he was a corporate attorney. He says he doesn’t miss it.
- He was also a reporter in a previous life
- He loves to ski, scuba dive, and drive fast cars
Jeffrey Deaver was fascinating to listen to; he has a very business-like approach to his career, both in terms of his chosen genre, thrillers, and his approach to producing a 150,000 word publishable novel once a year. He told story using a wry wit, often with a deadpan delivery that kept the audience in stitches. But he was also deadly serious about writing and his passion for the craft and the business rang through clearly the entire time he spoke. As I watched him patiently sign books and speak a word to everyone who came up to him, I had an impression of kindness and an open gracious spirit. It was greatly at odds with the bloody ways he tends to dispatch people in his books. His latest book The Burning Wire hits the shelves at the end of the month.
The workshops ended with another panel discussion “A Publishing Odyssey – An Insider’s Look into the Future of Publishing.” This panel was made up of two writers, including Jeffrey Deaver, agents, editors/publishers, a representative of the National Writer’s Union, a book distributor and two booksellers, one independent, the other part of a national chain. They tracked the course and answered questions along the way about the journey a writer takes from initially approaching an agent for representation through getting a book onto the bookshelves. It gave an excellent overview of the process and hopefully helped to reset certain expectations, particularly, the role of the agent.
Well, that was it for the day. The conference wraps up tomorrow afternoon. The schedule promises to just as informative as today has been.
Tune in tomorrow for the recap.