Writer Resources

The following is a handout I made for the Manitou Springs AuthorFest, in Oct. 2008. The Q&A answers general unpublished-writer questions, and the online resources at the end are specific to paranormal romance (except for RWA and the Wet Noodle Posse blog). I hope you find it helpful.

A Writer’s FAQ, by Esri Rose

Q) Which is harder – getting an agent or an editor?

A) It’s almost equally difficult to get either. Editors are more likely to look at your work if 1) they have met and liked you, or 2) they receive your work through an agent. It’s easier and cheaper to send submissions to agents than it is to schmooze with editors. Of course, agents are more likely to look at your work if 1) they’ve met and liked you, or 2) you’ve been recommended to them by one of their clients. The best way to get either an agent or an editor is to have a stellar book.

Q) I’ve heard that having no agent is better than having a bad agent. True?

A) Absolutely – for reasons too numerous (and libelous) to go into. Never sign with an agent without doing your homework. Ask other writers if they know anything about that agent. Work the Google. Subscribe to PublishersMarketplace.com on a monthly basis during your agent hunt, to see what (and if) that agent is selling.

Q) Do I need business cards?

A) They’re handy for networking with writers/bloggers/press at conferences. They’re fairly useless for giving out to agents and editors. It’s your job to contact them, not the other way around. Good, very inexpensive business cards can be created at VistaPrint.com.

Q) Does a beginning writer need a website?

A) Not really, and you can put a lot of time and effort into a website for your Young Adult books only to publish in erotica first. But it is good practice, and once you get closer to publication, it’s valuable to have your info easily accessible and promotable. Consider WordPress.com, which is the free blogging and website platform I use. It’s also a good idea to buy the domain for your writing name, although that can also change. GoDaddy.com is good for buying domain names.

Q) How can I limit my expenses while trying to get published?

A) Use your local library. Find books in your target genre and look for the names of agents and editors in the acknowledgments. Read Publishers Weekly. Find names and addresses of people to submit to in the Writer’s Market books in Reference. (Don’t forget to double-check that info online or with a phone call.)

Q) Is it worthwhile to enter writing contests?

A) It depends on the contest and what you’re looking to get out of it. If you’re a very beginning writer, then contests are valuable (and sometimes painful) sources of education and feedback. Later on, contests are valuable ways to get your work in front of agent and editor judges who are acquiring your kind of book. Of course, you don’t have to pay a fee to look at the contest website, see which agents and editors are judging which categories, and then submit to them on your own. But that doesn’t give you any contest wins to put on your query letters.

Q) How important is the query letter?

A) Assuming you don’t have personal friends who are agents/editors/bestselling authors, your query letter is to your writing career what oxygen is to your life. It takes time to learn how to write a good query letter. Get lots of feedback from other writers before you start sending them out, and read as many as you can. It’s an art form.

Q) C’mon, just tell me the basics of a good query letter.

A) Include your name and contact info, the book’s name and length in words (computer count is fine), and what kind of book it is (paranormal romance, Young Adult, etc.). Mention the specific reason you’re sending that book to that agent/editor: I see from your interview in PW that you’re acquiring this kind of book. Or, You agented X, which I loved and which is similar to mine.) Include a brief description of the book, preferably one so hooky that they immediately long to read the whole thing – think of the blurb on the back of a book cover. If you have personal experience or credentials that pertain to the plot and could be used for marketing purposes, include it. I’m a psychologist, writing about a psychologist who treats vampires. This is called a “platform.” Include writing workshops and educational credits only if they are very prestigious. Include any writing-contest wins or awards for your book. Don’t make any subjective claims for your book, such as, It would make an incredible movie, or, It’ll make you laugh until you need diapers. If you’re the average starting-out writer, your query should be no longer than a single-spaced page – preferably two-thirds that. Shorter letters get read more quickly and are less likely to be interrupted by a phone call. Include a business SASE for their reply.

Q) Can I query/submit my work to more than one person at a time? (multiple submissions)

A) You can and you should. It’s not uncommon for six months to go by before you hear back from an agent or editor. Begin by sending out five queries, starting at the middle of your list of possible targets. If you get form letters back, change something and try batch. If someone asks for an exclusive review of your full manuscript, ask for a time frame, such as a month.

Q) I’ve written a paranormal romance featuring a medieval heroine and her dragon sidekick. I thought it would be cool to do my query letter in purple calligraphy on pale-green parchment paper and include some iridescent confetti, cut into dragon-scale shapes. Do you think this would help?

A) Sadly, no. Readability, professional appearance, and a lack of messy inclusions are key.

Q) Is there one extra-special tip you can give me for querying agents and editors?

A) Yes. Include the first two pages of your manuscript with your query letter. Put them on one double-sided page, double-spaced, with one-inch margins all the way around. Somewhere in the letter, say something like, I’ve enclosed the first two pages of my manuscript, to give you an idea of my voice. And if you’re thinking to yourself, The first two pages aren’t enough to hook anyone, then consider rewriting them. It doesn’t require bombs and murders – just a winning voice, an intriguing premise, or an engaging character. Ideally, all three.

Online Resources

Article: What is Paranormal Romance? By Juno Books editor, Paula Guran.

Quiz: Paranormal Romance or Urban Fantasy? Funny, but with a lot of truth. I answered Cs across the board.

Romance Writers of America (RWA). Writing craft, lists of agents and what they’re looking for, submission guidelines, contests… It’s huge.

RWA’s Futurist, Fantasy and Paranormal online chapter (FF&P)

Paranormal Romance (PNR)

Paranormal Romance Writers (has an extensive list of Paranormal Romance publishers and titles).

Vampire Wire. Paranormal-genre entertainment news.

Wet Noodle Posse Blog. Writing blog, spends all of October helping you prep for RWA’s Golden Heart contest. I’m on there.

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