Monday, July 28, 2014

The Business of Querying

Posted by Susan B James on 10:32:00 AM with No comments

Now that RWA has ended, you are probably getting ready to query all of the wonderful agents and editors you met. Please read this post first.

When I attended my first meeting of LARA, Los Angeles Romance Writers, the speaker was Anne Cleeland and the topic was 8 questions to ask yourself before querying. Anne has four published novels and is a member of RWA. I read Daughter of the God King which she gifted to the chapter members present at the meeting and loved it. A fabulous voice. It makes me rethink my idea of third person.
Anne has her own style of querying. It’s direct and ignores many of the given rules. Anne’s background is in the legal field. I thinks her suggestions are clever and logical. I asked Anne for permission to share and she granted it.

Define your book.
Be specific. Genre and sub Genre, Editors are trying to fit slots in a publishing line. Make it easy for them.

Kind of book: Picture book, Easy reader, Early Chapter book, Mid-Grade, YA

Fiction or Non Fiction?

Is your story Contemporary? Speculative Fiction? Fantasy? Science Fiction? Realistic Fiction? Historical Fiction? Graphic Novel?

This link to a GCSU course syllabus give great examples of types of children's literature.

Have a short pithy hook.
It should indicate the sub genre. You are not TELLING your story. You are trying to get someone to OPEN your story.

Example of a tried and true hook:

When [event] happens,[main character] must confront [conflict] and triumph [describe how]

Variations: Give era and/or ;location if this is of interest: “Set in the Barrios of Los Angeles”

Start with an intriguing fact “Following a school lockout. . .”

Or try to tie in to a pop culture phenomena.

Anne gave the following examples. Tainted Angel is a Regency Version of Mr.& Mrs. Smith.”
"In Murder in Thrall, Sherlock Holmes is Breaking Bad."

Who Do You Query?
Subscribe to Publishers Market Place. (Join for one Month. It’s 25.00. Make your list of top agents and deals in your field. Look for the top 100 Deals.

Here’s a link to how one author used this method and sold her book. The site is Miss Snark. and the post is on the meaning of deal terms. Look for Maya’s comment. It's the second one down.

Other places to research agents: and Literary Rambles. Casey has a huge data base of agent interviews which you can search by age category they represent. I recommend checking t the agents' websites before querying.

Before writing your query, know the buzz words. Then Use Them.
Project = book, Mss, literary vs. commercial, hook, trending, character driven vs plot driven, external conflict vs. internal conflict.

Anne created her own version of the query letter. She got lots of requests using this format.

Dear Ms. [Agent:]
I see that you sold [name of project] to [name of editor] and I was thinking my historical series might be a good fit for the same line.

The first book, Tainted Angel, is a Regency version of Mr. and Mrs. Smith. One of the most beautiful courtesans in England is actually a spy working for the crown. Or  is she working for the enemy? The hero is a fellow spy who must choose between love and allegiance.
The completed project is 85,000 words. Please let me know if you would like to see a partial manuscript.
Thank you for you time and attention.
Very truly yours,
Anne Cleeland
Chapter One
[Anne pasted chapter one into the letter.]

I think that’s a great idea. Maya Reynolds in her comment on Miss Snark spoke of doing the same thing.
You’ve just saved you and the agent time and money. If she doesn’t like your writing, that’s the end of it.
Note the signature. She has a website and she has a twitter. I think that’s professional credibility. If the query and chapter interest the editor, she can look up Anne’s bio.

The other taboos Anne broke:
She sends multiple queries on the same book to different agents. Obviously they are personalized for each agent since she mentions deals they have made. Many panned out.

She pasted the first chapter in the body of the letter. (NEVER send an attachment.)

She re-queried the same agent after receiving a rejection. She sent her a different book.  

(I did that too. Allyn Johnston rejected my first Ms, The Undertoads, and I immediately sent her Log on Log. I sent it as a thank you joke. I never dreamed she’d accept it.)

She didn’t respect an agent’s stated request for no new clients or no emails.

If you want to query someone and you cannot find the email go to this site: 

Best time to query?

Avoid querying at conference times. Everyone is overwhelmed. Anne said, "Do go to the conferences. Volunteer, pitch, Glad-hand and be friendly. Dress for business. Have a card and hand it out like candy." Then you get to put "Requested submission" as your header when you do pitch. But avoid querying the month before and after a conference. Anne mentioned that Tuesday evenings are good times to send your queries. Probably Wednesday as well. (I think this is sound advice. But you'd have to look up all the conferences in your field to make this feasible as a strategy.. I wonder how many days would end up as viable query times?)
Did it work for her?



     Tainted Angel                                                                              Murder in Thrall
I can’t wait to try it myself.

Write on!
Visit Anne at
You also might be interested in this post on Query by Jane Friedman

Monday, July 21, 2014

Why I didn’t write last Tuesday. The Planes 2 Premiere

Posted by Susan B James on 12:30:00 AM with 29 comments

My wasband, Barry Corbin, got me and our younger son, Chris tickets to the Planes 2 premiere at The El Capitan. 
Decisions. Decisions. Stay home and write or . . .Oh Come on!

I drove Barry to Residuals Bar in Studio City where we met up with Chris, and Barry’s friend Kelly Stephens. Chris drove all of us and parked at Hollywood and Highland, across from the El Capitan.

When we emerged onto Hollywood Boulevard, the barricaded street was lined with Gawkers. (I’ve been one of those Gawkers. When I was pregnant with my older son Jim, Superman premiered at Mann’s Chinese. Barry and I walked down from our apartment on Franklin Avenue and peered through the holes left by a press of bodies to watch the arriving stars. I climbed on one of the iron tree fences to see better.)
We crossed the street and went up to security. Cries of “Barry! Barry! Over here.” Came from fans behind the fences. Barry stopped to sign stuff.
Security detached him from the barriers and led him on to the Red Carpet.
The Red carpet was long. First there was the crowd of Papparazzi: There were fifty two separate video camera stations, starting with the big ones like ET and CNN and passing on to lesser known ones  like ETV China, ending with the Kids one.
Loved the balloon planes

Middle of the line

End of the Reporter Line

Barry stopped and talked to everyone. It took him about an hour and twenty minutes.
Clara wrangling for Barry
Each star had a handler who accompanies him along the line. They have a sheet with pictures of the voice actors which they show to the camera crew that's next up. That way the crew is prepared and know which part the voice actor played. Clara, Barry's handler, says she tells the newer Disney kid stars that the people at the end of the line just starting out may someday be the big people like ET and she was very happy Barry went to every one. Clara worked with Barry on The Big Easy TV series in New Orleans years ago before coming out here to work for Disney. This is her fifteenth year with Disney and she and her friends volunteer to handle events like these.       
My coconut water souvenir. Delicious.
                                                                                                                                  They gave us loot: Planes ball cap, Coconut water, little planes candy fans. I

forgot to take food pics. They had Pizza, Poquito Mas, little hot dogs, trays of cotton candy, and baskets of Ghiradelli Raspberry chocolate squares.

The Voice Cast For Planes2
Front Row  (?Maybe Danny Mann) Brad Garret, Julie Bowen, Barry Corbin, Dane Cook, Hal Holbrook, Erik Estrada,
Back Row Ed Harris, Fred Willard, Wes Studi, Stacy Keach and Dale Dye
On the way to our seats, they passed out 3D glasses, Fire and Rescue popcorn buckets and bottled sodas. I loved the picture. This is the first of the Cars Series I've seen. The voices were all so well cast.
After the picture, they conducted up to a secret room under the El Capitan Theatre. 
Guardian of Secret Room
Stairway to secret room

They have a party room down two flights of black metal stairs. 
The one in the ball cap is Brad Paisley
In the party room  wine, beer, water and sodas were available at two stations / The long buffet table held an assortment of fruits and cheeses and canapes: Curried chicken on a stick, Bread squares with steak topped with a dab of bleu cheese and a fig compote with some kind of cheese on top.
The Toast speech. Producer in Front. Dane Cook in background.
They toasted the voice actors and the director and the producer. I got to talk to Fred Willard and Brad Paisley. Afterwards two Disney security guards escorted us to our car They wouldn't let anyone else in the elevator with us. It was cool and weird.

I’m grateful I had the opportunity to join in the fun. 

I’d like to give away some myself. I’m giving away three prizes: A twenty five dollar gift card to Fandango so you can choose your own movie fun,  and two copies of Time and Forever. This is my first Rafflecopter.  Contest ends Saturday and I will email gift card or book to the winner. 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, July 14, 2014

Journey to Published Romance Writer

Posted by Susan B James on 11:23:00 AM with 26 comments
On October 28th, 2009, I wrote my first post for Pen and Ink, November is Officially Write a Novel Month. 
Pen and Ink Blog is the Blog I share with the other three members of my children's book writing critique group.
In order to get the information to write it, I had to register for the 2009 NanoWriMo . I had no intention of joining that year's marathon. But my inner voice kept nagging me. You signed up for it. The least you can do is try. So on Monday, November 2nd, 2009 I sat down at my computer with not an idea in my head. On November 30th I finished the first draft of an adult time travel romance, Second Chances.

I couldn't wait to show it off. But, of course it wasn't in any shape to be seen. In April 2010 I showed it to my sister, Kelly, who is my biggest fan and she loved it.

In May, 2010, I bid on a critique of the first forty pages of a manuscript from Kelley Armstrong, one of my favorite authors, in Brenda Novak's On-line Auction for Diabetes Research and won it.
Then I got sidelined by unexpected open heart surgery. I finally got the manuscript to Kelley in August. Her critique was both kind and blunt. I had a lot of work to do.
In 2011, two rewrites later, I ran it by a few agents. No response.

At the 2012 Brenda Novak's On-line Auction for Diabetes Research, I bid on a critique from Soul Mate Publishing and didn't win it. But I like the sound of the company.

So I got Soul Mate's  submission guidelines and queried them.
By this time, I was sure I needed an eBook publisher. There is a logic problem if two women in their sixties time travel back to 1969, and it's published later than 2014
I got a request from Cheryl Yeko asking for a more complete synopsis. I revised the synopsis and sent it to her with hope in my heart. She replied requesting the full manuscript. Needless to say, I was over the moon.I sent her the manuscript and four days later I get a letter from her detailing revisions to be made before they could offer a contract.

Now I had joined RWA, but I didn't have a romance critique group, and I felt odd sending it through Pen and Ink because it's a children's book writers critique group and Lupe's a guy and I was afraid his eyes would bleed. But Pen and Ink said send it.

So I did and, chapter by chapter, Kris and Hilde and Lupe helped make the manuscript so much better. I sent it back through one more time for a full read. I also sent it to Nancy Stewart, a fellow GAP writer who returned it with a fabulous line edit.
June, 2013 I sent the heavily revised manuscript to Cheryl. Four days later I got a contract offer. After an email shout of joy to my critique group and family, I printed out and read the contract. I emailed back my questions and Deborah Gilbert, founder and senior editor answered them. I signed the contract.

Soul Mate Publishing  is an eBook publisher that publishes all genres under the huge umbrella labled Romance.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                          The First Soul Mate novel I read was by Linda Bennett Pennell  Al Capone at the Blanche Hotel

The name and the cover intrigued me.  Soul Mate uses Amazon's "Look Inside" feature. I read the first chapter and got hooked.

The second, The Nun and the Narc  by Catherine Castle just won the 2014 RONE award in the Inspirational Romance category.

Since then I've read and enjoyed many Soul Mate Romances, including a few by my editor, Cheryl Yeko, who I will be hosting soon.

I just bought her latest book, The Notary.

After five or six rounds of revision and a change of name. (Publisher Debby Gilbert, said there were way too many books called Second Chances. She was right) Time and Forever received a beautiful cover and hit Amazon on January 29th, 2014.

  The next part of an author's job is promotion.
 Requesting reviews: I've a spreadsheet which I use to keep up with review requests. So far I have 33 good reviews on Amazon with an average 4.9 rating. One is from a reviewing site. Many are from strangers, which thrills my author heart.
Establishing a web presence. I was already on twitter as an actor and Children's book writer. I decided to keep the same twitter: @susanjberger.
I established an Facebook Author page for Susan B James.

But it wasn't enough. I need to have a blog where I can host other authors and do giveaways and other fun author things. So welcome and I hope to add more interesting content.

One of the interview questions I want to ask everyone is about their first sale. This is such a golden moment in an author's life. I'm linking you here to a post on Dear Author by Nora Roberts on her first sale. No one details a scene like Nora. I felt I shared her moment and I want to share others.

 NB: The RWA National Convention convenes in San Antonio July 23rd through July 26th. Soul Mate's editors are accepting pitching appointments at the convention. Soul Mate has been in business less than three years. They will be listed on the RWA publisher list in 2015. If any of you also write in this genre, you should check out their website for their individual preferences.