Tuesday, December 29, 2009

New Release

As promised here, today brings the release of Heart's Blood by Gail Dayton--"a thrilling sequel to 2009's 'New Blood,'" according to Publisher's Weekly. Set in Victorian England, master conjurer Greyson Carteret and his apprentice Pearl Parkin join together in a hunt for a murderer, meanwhile learning that "falling in love doesn't mean giving up independence so much as finding someone to fill in your blind spots" (to quote the authoress herself). If you're looking for a great way to spend your gift cards, ask for Heart's Blood, a 4 1/2 star top pick from RT, at your local bookstore!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Queries and Cover Letters

First impressions count. As cliché as it may be, it is true. Unless you have been lucky enough to meet Elaine or Naomi at a conference, your query letter is your first impression. That being said, you want to appear the same as you would for a job interview: professional, hardworking, invested, and a good fit for the company. You can think of the submission process the same as the job application process. The query letter is your cover letter and resume. It is a brief introduction to you and your work and many of the same basic principles apply to both queries and resumes. The partial and synopsis is akin to the first interview, a face to face meeting to get to know you better and to make sure you have the right background. The full manuscript is the last interview; it is when we are trying to place you in the company and make sure you work with the group dynamic.

Your final interview/manuscript might be spectacular but we will never have the chance to see it if you send us a poorly written cover/query letter. To a certain extent a cover letter is a stock item, something you can take to every interview; send to every company, and so is your query letter. As a matter of course all query letters should include:

  • A standard sized S.A.S.E (Self Addressed Stamped Envelope)
    • Note: the pull and seal envelopes have the advantage of not self adhering in the heat and humidity.
  • The letter itself, one page single spaced. At most it can be two pages but like a resume shorter is better. A cover letter with bad grammar and spelling does not get you to the interview and it does not advance your query.
  • Contact Information: email and phone generally suffice.
  • Literary Achievements
  • Marketing: place your manuscript on a shelf in a bookstore and tell us that genre. Please make sure that it’s a genre that we represent.
  • Word Count
  • Be Professional: As Elaine has mentioned, a professional and cooperative relationship between author and agent is the best chance a manuscript has of getting published.

Those are some elements every query should include and none are longer than a line or two of text. At this point describe the manuscript you want us to accept. Please do not use bullet points; a query is a cover letter not a resume. The query description is where you can throw out teasers like “has a surprising twist at the end” or “with a sub plot romance that becomes significant later on” and we will simply want to read more. However, if you use vague descriptions like that in the synopsis you include with the partial we will be less than pleased.

Submitting a partial without a synopsis is like going to a job interview naked. We can see that you have shown up but clearly you are not wholly invested in the getting the job. This of course only applies to intentional nudists. We are happy to give the absent minded professor types a few minutes to get dressed and let them send in the synopsis a little late. The same can be said when an author leaves off the ending in the synopsis; you’re mostly dressed but you seem to have misplaced your pants. It just looks very odd and makes it difficult to evaluate your manuscript as a candidate. We almost prefer the professor since once he has his clothes on, he has them all on.

The most important thing to remember about the query letter is that it is your manuscript going on the interviews and applying for the job, not you the author. We know it’s hard sending them out but not every company is the right fit for every manuscript and it is only a matter of finding the right one. Just so long as you don’t let your manuscripts walk out of the house naked they can get through the rest of the interview on their own.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Guest Blog: Gail Dayton

In just 3 weeks, during the full swing of the holiday season, we'll be celebrating the release of Heart's Blood (see the sumptuous cover here), by Gail Dayton. Gail has generously offered to give away two copies of New Blood, the number 1 to Heart's Blood's number 2. So, the first two commenters for the blog post will receive a copy of the book (mash-up suggestions, anyone?). Without further ado, here to get you into the spirit of things is Gail herself.

Hi. My name is Gail, and I write Victorian steampunk romance.

You probably know what “Victorian” is: pertaining to the era from 1837 through 1900 when Queen Victoria ruled in England. You probably know, or at least have an idea of what romance is, in terms of writing. A romance novel has a love story as the central plot, and an emotionally satisfying, uplifting ending, according to the Romance Writers of America. Which leaves that other qualifier: Steampunk.

Steampunk as a term comes from the science fiction subgenre “cyberpunk,” which deals with computers, cybernetics, artificial intelligence and other things of that ilk. William Gibson’s Neuromancer is considered to be a classic in the genre. The word “Steampunk” was adapted when stories set in the era of steam, with science fiction and fantasy elements became popular. The movie The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen or The Golden Compass are examples of steampunk stories. In the science-fiction/fantasy world, fans of cyberpunk are often fans of steampunk.

And at the end of December, (just in time for you to use your Christmas gift cards, wink, wink) my book, Heart’s Blood, will reach bookstore shelves.

The story is set in mid-Victorian London, but it’s a London in which anyone can work a little magic, if they have a talent for it. Most people can only work simple spells of one sort or another. A mother’s spell to warn her when her children are wandering out of bounds. A blacksmith’s spell to make the fire burn just a little hotter. Then, there are the virtuosos. Those who can heal terrible injuries, or speak across thousands of miles.

The hero of Heart’s Blood is the black sheep son of a duke who has defied his father’s dictates to learn magic, and has risen to become the magister of the English conjurer’s guild—the best conjurer in the country. When he awakes in the gutter of an alley near the docks, under the protection of a street urchin who insists on becoming his apprentice, not far from the battered corpse of a man murdered by magic—well, you can see how his world might get turned a little topsy-turvy.

Greyson Carteret, and his apprentice, Pearl Parkin, must lay ghosts and talk to spirits. They must harness the power of innocent blood calling out for justice and use every drop of magic at their command to discover the one who is murdering people to call demons. They must stop not only the murders, but the demon’s rampage. And while they’re busy with all of this, they learn that falling in love doesn’t mean giving up independence so much as finding someone to fill in your blind spots.

If you like urban fantasy, or historical romance, or paranormal romance, I hope you’ll give steampunk a try, and I hope you’ll give Heart’s Blood a try. There’s an excerpt on my website at http://www.gaildayton.com/HeartsBloodex.html for a little sample taste of the story. And if you absolutely can’t wait, the first book in this universe, New Blood, is available right now. (The excerpt for New Blood is at http://www.gaildayton.com/NBexcerpt.htm.)

Steampunk is a mash-up between science fiction/fantasy and history. Steampunk romance adds romance to the mix. What kinds of mash-ups do y’all think would be fun to read? And if they’re out there already, what are some of the titles? I’m always looking for new good books to read. Share!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

How to Start on the Wrong Foot - Part 2

Last week I blogged about the woman who wasted her time and mine with a query that told me absolutely nothing about her book. I paraphrased her letter which started out by telling me what publisher she wanted to buy her book and how she would not entertain ANY suggested revisions, other than the correction of the most superficial errors. Well, at least one of you took issue with the way she obviously envisioned the agent/author relationship.

Letters like hers raise the question: why have an agent? Have agents become just a necessary evil -- the only means to an end, that being to publish with a large trade house?

Certainly over the years I've been in the business, there has been a shift with fewer and fewer NY houses accepting over the transom submissions. Everyone's simply too busy with the demands of the day to day to get around to reading much unsolicited stuff. So more and more publishers are restricting their submissions to only those that come through agents. Some publishers still accept direct submissions, and in the genres I represent (romance and mystery) editors often attend conferences where they agree to accept materials straight from authors. But often, even then, if they are interested in acquiring something, they urge that author to get an agent to negotiate the offer.

So, if agents are the only path to get to the publishing house you desire, does that simply make us the necessary evil that you should otherwise simply tolerate and order about?

If you do, you're certainly going to miss out, in my view. You want an agent not just because that's the only way to submit to a publisher, but you want an agent to be your editor, your advisor, and your guide through the process. Frankly, that's why you should be paying the commission. Agents spend a great deal of their time talking and working with editors. They know what houses and what editors are looking for at any given time. They know the style of book or type of story that particularly tickles the fancy of a given editor and they know which editors are inclined to work with authors to provide the support they need, including help with structure and editing issues. That kind of agent can get your manuscript not just to any person at a publishing house but to someone who really is likely to love your project and work hard both in-house and out to market and promote your book to ensure it gets the best attention possible. Such support (or lack thereof) can easily make or break any book in today's crowded marketplace.

As for editing, some agents do more than others. But all of us, even those without an editorial background, know what is likely to work and what will not. They can identify holes in your story or inconsistencies in your characters; or other similar things that often arise from spending so much time immersed in a draft that objectivity is lost. Ignoring an agent's advice about strengthening the characters or heightening the suspense or conflict is a sure way to sabotage your publishing efforts. Editors also appreciate getting a clean manuscript (and authors often get "points" taken off for a house having to do a lot of copy-edits.). That's something else with which an agent can help.

But frankly and most importantly, I don't want an author who tells me what to do. That's not a good way to initiate a relationship, in my opinion. But the same token, I also don't want an author who does everything I suggest, without giving it independent consideration and seeing how it fits their situation and their goals. The agent/author relationship has to be a partnership to work well. To me that means establishing open channels of communication, sharing information, and working together (not at cross-purposes) for a common goal -- the publishing success of the author.

Any author whose query letter suggests a different approach (like the query that inspired this rant) is an author I'm not interested in working with no matter how wonderful her book. And, I suspect most editors who would confront such an unbending author would agree.