Monday, July 29, 2013

Query and Synopsis Advice from Treehouse Publishing Group: Stay Focused

During the July Saturday Writers meeting, Kristy Blank Makansi and Jennifer Dunn Stewart of Blank Slate Press and Treehouse Publishing Group spoke to a packed house about “Knocking on the Door: The Query and the Synopsis.”

I’ve been to several presentations on this topic, but I have to say this one was exceptional. What I most appreciated was that they geared their talk toward helping and educating writers rather than highlighting the services their business offers.
The duo worked well as a team, each stating their individual approach and preferences, which gave a balanced perspective to what editors look for in query packages.

At the end of their presentation they read and discussed a handful of query letters submitted by audience members. What stayed with me most about the reading of the query letters was one word: FOCUS!

As usual, I took pages of notes. Here are some dos and don’ts from their presentation.   


Focus on the writing and trust your instincts.

Put some distance between completing your manuscript and submitting to an agent or an editor.

Remember that writing is an art; publishing is a business.

Understand your genre: Writing what you love to read will help you understand the market. Writing your query letter will help you understand your manuscript.

Keep your query to three paragraphs, no more than three sentences each. Paragraph 1: Why are you querying that particular agent? What’s the word count and genre? Paragraph 2: Distill your story in three sentences. (Time and space, the hero, the challenge, the conflict, what is at stake, how the hero changes.)  Paragraph 3: Include a relevant, brief bio with significant publications, if any.  

Keep in mind that a synopsis should be one page, single spaced and include: the set up, the character’s motivation, description of main characters (not tall and blond), main plot points, conflict, emotion, action, snippets of dialogue, black moment, climax, and resolution. Be sure to include the story’s ending.

Always follow agency or publisher guidelines.

Keep it real: You’re not Stephen King.

Remember that your query letter has one job: To get an agent or an editor to read more of your manuscript.

Stay calm and keep your chin up!


Query before you’re ready.

Get too personal in the bio of your query letter.

Leave the ending off of your synopsis. (An agent or editor needs to know how it ends to be able to sell it.)

Ask an agent or a publisher to sign a non-disclosure form. (It's a turn off and a sign of mistrust.)

Have the word copyright all over the pages. (It’s the mark of an amateur.)

Think you’re the exception to the rule. 

Let the end game influence your craft.

Lose focus.

Jennifer’s and Kristy’s talk inspired me to dig out a manuscript I’d started years ago and had stored in the bottom drawer of my desk. No doubt about it, I'd followed their advice on putting distance between writing and querying. In fact, I’d put way too much distance.  

Using their boilerplate, I wrote a query letter to help me understand my manuscript better. Now I’m inspired to finish my manuscript by the end of the year and edit it early next year.
Stay tuned while I try to stay focused!

Sunday, July 21, 2013

On Writing and Dancing

Edgar Degas The Dance Lesson c. 1879 Painting
Image, courtesy of the National Gallery of Art
In many ways, writing is like dancing. Both are creative arts. Both take practice, dedication, and learning from others. 
Writers get cramped hands and fingers rather than the sore feet and calves of dancers.  Some writers enjoy the spotlight, while others dance to a different drummer. Writers and dancers don't always get the parts they hope for -- and they often feel the sting of rejection while producing their art. Yet, dedicated writers and dancers are persistent and hopeful. 
Like confession, both writing and dancing are good for the soul. Writers and dancers enjoy the freedom of expressing themselves and sharing their gifts with others.
Over the years I've learned a great deal from writers who've shared what they've learned with me. In that same spirit, after attending a writing event, I think about what I've learned that might benefit other writers. 
So, here are ten lessons learned (or relearned) during the launch of Well Versed 2013, sponsored by the Columbia Chapter of the Missouri Writers Guild.

1. Be prepared/Be flexible. I don’t like to read in public, especially if it’s an emotional piece. The night before the launch I practiced reading my essay out loud and ran off a copy in large print so it would be easier to see. However, shortly before heading out the door I received some news that caused me anxiety, so I wasn’t comfortable reading.  But I’ll give it a try next time.

2. Carpool. Because the launch was 90 miles away, several contributors from this area carpooled. We saved money by chipping in for gas. As a bonus, chatting during the drive helped pass the time and I got to know the other writers better.  

3. Contribute. One carpooler brought snacks to share during the launch. My small contribution was donating back to CCMWG the fee I got for being a contributor to the anthology, which helped with printing costs. Next time I’ll also bring a snack.

4. Socialize. I’m not great at small talk, but I chat with people I know and make an effort to introduce myself to others, especially someone standing or sitting alone. To break the ice, I ask what they write and where they’re from. I talk about the weather, something they’re wearing, or the food.

5. Compliment. It takes courage to read in front of a group. After someone reads, especially if they’re sitting nearby, I compliment them after they sit down. After a reading, I seek out contributors and ask them to sign my book.

6. Bring business cards and a camera. I carry business cards in my purse to exchange at these types of events. I usually bring a camera as well. Because the batteries on my camera weren’t fully charged, I used my cell phone for pix, but the photos didn’t turn out very well. Fortunately, other writers brought cameras and shared their photos.

7. Don’t forget your pen. Having a pen that works is a must for a book launch. When I handed my pen to another contributor and asked him to sign my book, he asked me to use his pen instead – and keep it. Etched on his pen were the name and contact information for his editing business. What a smart marketing tool!

8. Advertise. The gentleman handing out pens knew that a book launch is an opportunity to spread the word about his business. It’s also a good time to advertise a book release or event. Shameless plug: I’m a presenter at a retreat this fall. During the launch I placed fliers with details about the event on a table. I also handed fliers to writers, while telling them a little bit about the retreat. (I’ll post details about the retreat later.)

9. Mind your manners.  Before heading home, I thanked the editor of the anthology, the newsletter editor, the president of CCMWG and others. I suspect most attendees did the same. One sour note:  While I was in the snack line, one person kept reaching across my plate grabbing food. He also didn’t use a fork or spoon to pick up food, just his bare hands. I don’t want to be like that guy.

10. Share. If I take photos, I post them, and I appreciate it when others do the same. I also try to blog about the event so others can learn about the organization and submission opportunities.  (Note: Deadline for 2014’s issue of Well Versed is October 13, 2013—I’ll post more later.)

How about you? What have you learned by attending these types of writing events that you'd like to share with others?

Monday, July 15, 2013

A Day to Remember: Bastille Day, a Book Launch, and a New Heart

For many reasons, yesterday was a day to remember.

Historically, July 14 is Bastille Day, the day the French, and other countries, commemorate the conclusion of the French Revolution.

Locally, several writers celebrated the July 14 Well Versed 2013 book launch with the Columbia Chapter of the Missouri Writers Guild at the Unity Center in Columbia, Missouri. The Sunday afternoon event brought out writers, friends, and family members.

Lynn, Marcia, Donna, Sheree, Linda
For the drive to the launch, I carpooled with Sheree, Marcia, and Lynn, three other Well Versed contributors.

The room was crowded, and several chairs had to be added to accommodate attendees. One of Lynn's grade-school classmates showed up for the event, along with Lynn's critique group pals Sioux and Tammy. Sioux took several photos, including the one on the left.

During the celebration, editor Linda Fisher announced the names of the Judges' Picks in poetry, fiction, and nonfiction. She also handed out certificates to winners and honorable mentions. Afterwards, several contributors read and signed books; conversations were friendly and snacks plentiful.

During the drive, Lynn, Sheree, Marcia, and I chatted and shared stories about our lives and how we met our husbands. I also told them about how anxious I was because of a call I received that morning.

For my family, July 14 is a day to remember because my sister-in-law has a new heart.

After months of hospital stays, setbacks, hopes, waiting and praying, yesterday morning my brother received a call to be at the hospital around 10 a.m. The transplant team believed they had a perfect match, and if all went well my sister-in-law's surgery would be late in the afternoon or early evening. I thought about going to the hospital instead of the launch, but one of my sisters convinced me we might get in the way. Coincidentally, yesterday was the day of a special Mass for our sister-in-law's heart health.

During the book launch, I discretely checked my phone for news from home. On the return trip, I received a call that surgery was a go for the evening. Late last night I received another call that, according to the surgeon, everything went "splendidly."

This morning when I spoke with my brother, we talked about how it truly was a miracle that his wife now has a strong, young heart, and how grateful we all are for the God-given talent of the surgeon and the medical team, for the generosity of the organ donor's family, but especially to God for the gifts he gives that others share.

So, yesterday will be a day I will remember -- for the book launch and for spending an afternoon with several writing friends, but most of all I will remember July 14, 2013 as the day one family's organ donation gave my sister-in-law a new heart and a second chance on life.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Call for Submissions: Not Your Mother's Book: On Senior Moments and Last Call: On Being a Mom and On Family

The Publishing Syndicate's Not Your Mother's Book organization has announced a call out for a new anthology: "On Senior Moments." The editors are looking for submissions from writers of (ahem) a certain age or one who can write about things that happened "from age 50 and up. Baby Boomers and beyond."

Now, there's a subject near and dear to my over-50 heart.

Suggested topics to write about "as an older person" include (along with my comments):

Working on your “bucket list” (Hmm. Need to think about that one.)
Embarrassing moments (I've got lots of those.)
Memory lapses/mind not working like it used to (Yep.)
Technology challenges (Heck, yeah!)
Midlife crisis moments (Check.)
The Big 5-0, 6-0, 7-0 and beyond (I'm in the middle of this one.)
Second careers or volunteering (Let me think about that.)
Surprising body changes (I didn't know they accepted horror stories.)
School reunions (Let's not go there.)
Trying to do the things you once did, but no longer can (What was that, again? I forgot what you said.)
Traveling (Just got back from vacation, so maybe.)
Taking care of aging parents (may dedicate a chapter to this topic) (Should be interesting.)

Visit the NYMB website for complete guidelines.

While you're there, check out the NYMB other submission opportunities.

Here are two with short deadlines that are edited by two of my writing friends who are actively seeking submissions:

On Being a Mom, edited by Dianna Graveman. The deadline of August 1 is quickly approaching. Read about Dianna and what she looking for in submissions.

On Family, edited by Linda O'Connell. The deadline for On Family is also August 1. Read about Linda and what she is looking for submissions On Family here.

Several of my writing friends have been published in the NYMB anthologies and have good things to say about their experiences, so fire up those laptops, writers!

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Launch of Well Versed 2013 at the Unity Center in Columbia on July 14

The Columbia Chapter of the Missouri Writers' Guild has announced the launch date for release of the 2013 version of Well Versed
The launch will be Sunday, July 14 from 2-4 p.m. in the Founder's Wing of the Unity Center, 1600 W. Broadway, Columbia, MO. 
The Unity Center is tucked off of the main road in a residential neighborhood. Surrounded by trees, the Center is a peaceful place where wind chimes tinkle, squirrels scamper, and birds flit. Every time I visit the Center for a CCMWG event, I'm inspired to write. The Center is also easy to find.
The launch of Well Versed 2013 features:  
* author readings
* refreshments
* awards
* meet and greet of contributors
I'm honored that my essay, "Amo, Amas, Amat," was awarded second place in the Judge's Pick Essay category. I'm also excited to be in the same anthology with my writing friends from Coffee and Critique -- Marcia Gaye, Karen Guccione-Englert, and Jack Zerr -- as well as local writers Lynn Obermoeller and Sheree Nielsen.
Linda Fisher of Mozark Press does a fantastic job compiling and editing Well Versed. For a complete list of names of judges, contributors, and winners, visit the CCMWG blog.
If you're in the Columbia area and have some free time Sunday, afternoon, July 14, please stop by the Unity Center for the launch party.

Monday, July 1, 2013

We Flipped Over Fripp on our June Vacation Trip

Last month, Berta Rosenberg, one of my generous and kind-hearted writer friends, e-mailed and invited my family to spend a week in one of her beach houses on Fripp Island, South Carolina. 

Berta and her husband Mark, of Rosenberg Properties, own several houses on Fripp, including Sandcastle, the five-bedroom, two-story we stayed in.

My hubby doesn't like to venture much farther than St. Peters or 90 miles away to our place in Osage County, Missouri, so he wasn't up for the trip.

But my teenaged grandkids were thrilled, and they asked to invite their other grandmother (from their dad's side) to accompany us.

Our original plan was to fly, but after checking out the airfare prices to Savannah, we decided to drive. Thanks goodness for GPS!

Fripp Island is a golf resort and scenic wildlife sanctuary. Located in the Lowcountry of South Carolina, Fripp Island is not far from Hilton Head, about mid-way between Savannah and Charleston.

I'm not gonna lie: the drive from Missouri was long, with lots of road construction, traffic,  and some rain.  On the drive to South Carolina, we spent the night in Tennessee.

As soon as we arrived on Fripp, the first thing the kids did was go to the back deck and look at the ocean. Big surprise! We were treated to a bird's eye view of deer wandering through the yard.

Because of Fripp's wildlife sanctuary status, deer (and turtles and alligators) are protected. You can look, but don't touch--and don't you dare feed them. Umm, who would want to feed an alligator, anyway?

Our time on the beach was lots of fun and much too short.

Our vacation was filled with sun and sand and sea shells--and we saw a shark and endured a storm. When we ventured off Fripp to the pier on Hunting Island, a woman who had been fishing that day told us she had mostly caught baby sharks like the one above.

 Tropical Storm Andrea made its presence known the night before we left. The wind blew furiously, the waves crashed against the shore. I made sure the flashlights I brought along were not far away, in case the electricity went out. It didn't.

The morning of our departure, I righted the overturned deck chairs and picked up branches and debris from the front yard. Back on the beach that morning, parasailors braved the winds, which had died down a bit, but were still strong enough to blow the sails.

As I told my grandkids, surviving a tropical storm made our vacation even more memorable.

The only low point of the trip was the long drive back, especially the traffic, construction, and accidents in and around Atlanta, and right under the Gateway Arch in St. Louis. After I drove home for 12 hours, my granddaughter took over in Kentucky until we arrived in Missouri.

We made it home safely, with lots of memories of our trip to Fripp!

Thanks, Berta and Mark, for opening your home to us!

Mysteries of the Ozarks, Volume V - Interviews with Lonnie Whitaker and Dr. Barri Bumgarner

Here is the second installment of interviews with contributors who have stories in Mysteries of the Ozarks, Volume V , from Ozark Writers, I...