Posts Tagged ‘manuscripts’

How to Write a Hook for a Book

Thursday, July 16th, 2015

Switching from writing a lengthy manuscript to formulating the couple of punchy sentences that constitute a hook can be tricky. This blog post,“How to Write a Hook for a Book,” will help you write the perfect hook.Pasted Graphic

A hook...not for a book!

A hook…not for a book!

I use hooks all the time as part of my query letter and synopsis services, but they’re not required. If you don’t feel comfortable with a hook, don’t use one.

Guide to Writing a Hook for a Book

1. Throw Away Your Principles

2. State Who the Main Character Is and What She Wants.

3. State What the Main Character Is Going Up Against.

4. End with a Question or Statement of Doubt.

5. Adorn, Embellish, Finesse

1. Throw Away Your Principles

Though “throw away your principles” may be a tad hyperbolic, it’s true that to write an effective hook, you might have to betray your vision a bit. By boiling your book down to a handful of sentences, you’re  going to lose nuance, which may not feel so great. After all, it’s likely that you turned to writing fiction in the first place to explore nuance. But leave nuance for creating the content of your book, not for selling it.  And, remember: the hook is designed to grab someone’s attention, not to accurately reflect every aspect of your book.

2. State Who the Main Character Is and What She Wants.

The first sentence should state who the main character is with a hint or full-out statement of what it is he or she wants.

Scarlett O’Hara is a Southern belle, desperate to save her family plantation.

Immediately, the reader is sucked in, gripped by suspense over whether Scarlett will be able to accomplish this task.

3. The Second Sentence

In the second sentence, state what the forces opposing the main character are.

The Civil War is destroying everything she knows.

Hook now reads: Scarlett O’Hara is a Southern belle, desperate to save her family plantation. The Civil War is destroying everything she knows.

Scarlett O'Hara/Vivien Leigh

Scarlett O’Hara/Vivien Leigh

4. End with a Question

The third sentence, the last of the hook, ought to be either a question or a sentence that teases the reader.

Will she be able to rescue it using her beauty, charm, and wits?

Hook now reads: Scarlett O’Hara is a Southern belle, desperate to save her family plantation. The Civil War is destroying everything she knows. Will she be able to rescue it using her beauty, charm, and wits?

5. Adorn, Embellish, Finesse

Then it’s time to adorn, embellish, and finesse. Beef the sentences up with adjectives and mentions of settings and names.

Feisty Scarlett O’Hara is a Southern belle, desperate to save her family’s plantation, Tara, as the Civil War rages. Her father’s creditors are baying at the door. Armed with beauty, charm, and wits, Scarlett schemes her way out of dire straits. But is it enough to rescue Tara?

Voila!  You have a hook.

Five Basics of Nonfiction Book Proposals

Tuesday, April 28th, 2015

1. Many, if not most, nonfiction books are sold to publishers as book proposals.

Juliet, a development coordinator at a major nonprofit, has a nonfiction book idea. After years of being resigned to flats, she has trained herself to glide in heels across the roughest terrain: cracked sidewalks, dirty subway steps, and lawns formerly occupied by Canadian geese. She has insights that she wants to share to what she’s sure is a vast audience of flat-wearers desperate to prowl the world on heels. Ready, set, action!  Juliet sets her alarm for five a.m. and every morning wakes up and groggily makes her way to her desk to churn out her masterpiece, triumphantly Tweeting her achieved word targets before she heads out to her day job.

Julie's Great Book Idea

Julie’s Great Book Idea

Juliet’s dedication is admirable, but she’s lucky when a Twitter editor friend intervenes and informs her that, “many, if not most, nonfiction books are sold to publishers as book proposals.” Huh.  What’s a book proposal? Juliet goes on to Google to find out.

What she learns confirms what her friend told her. She realizes that even if a literary agent loved her nonfiction manuscript, he or she would probably make her do a book proposal.  If she wants to get a nonfiction book published by a major house, Juliet realizes, she should put together a book proposal.

2. Nonfiction book proposals are multifaceted.

A Great Guide to Writing Book Proposals.

A Great Guide to Writing Book Proposals.

Juliet is a little panicked when she sees just how many components there are to book proposals. Nonfiction book proposals are multifaceted. A nonfiction book proposal isn’t just a truncated manuscript. In addition to a sample chapter, a nonfiction book proposal typically includes an Overview as well as Competitive Books, Audience, Specifications, Chapter-by-Chapter Outline, and Bio sections.

Juliet’s overwhelmed and asks her editor friend for help. The editor friend recommends that she buy Michael Larsen’s How to Write a Nonfiction Book Proposal, the classic guide to writing book proposals. Juliet orders the book and is happy with its clear directions. She’s beginning to warm up to the idea of a nonfiction book proposal. She’s especially excited that the book proposals range from between thirty to eighty pages–much shorter than book manuscripts.

3. Platform is a crucial part of nonfiction book proposals.

Here's Your Platform.

Here’s Your Platform.

As Juliet delves more into the world of nonfiction book proposal writing, she hears the term platform bandied around a lot. Platform is a crucial part of nonfiction book proposals. Platform refers to the author’s ability to gain attention for their book due to their fame, connections, and/or credentials. Juliet has good shoe taste, but it’s not like she’s Sarah Jessica Parker. After putting some thought into it, however, Juliet’s delighted to realize that she does have a small platform: she has a blog where she writes about her shoe choices, and moreover, that blog has a sizable, loyal audience, many of whom also follow her on Twitter. Plus, she minored in fashion history in college, so she has a recognized level of expertise in the field.

4. Writing quality counts in nonfiction book proposals.

You Might Need A Ghostwriter

You Might Need A Ghostwriter

Juliet loves her development job, but much of her time is spent on the phone or at events. She hasn’t really written a lot since college, and she’s worried about whether her writing is good enough for a full-length book. Her worry is legitimate. Writing quality counts in nonfiction book proposals. She realizes that some experts write their own books, but there are also many who employ ghostwriters. She’s doesn’t think she can really afford a ghostwriter, though she daydreams that if she got an advance large enough, then she could pay one. She resolves to ask for an honest opinion on the quality of her proposal from her editor friend. She also considers hiring a freelance editor to assist her in developing the proposal, which is more affordable than a ghostwriter.

5. The sample chapter ought to be the crown jewel of the nonfiction book proposal.

Juliet had already written Chapter One when she was told to do a proposal. The first chapter was about the night she chose to walk around barefoot on the streets in her twenties one night rather than teetering along (and toppling over) in Louboutin heels. When she reads that the nonfiction book proposal contain a sample chapter, she’s ecstatic since this one is nearly done, but then she realizes that, while the chapter is interesting, it might not be the best she has to offer. It’s kind of negative and doesn’t offer the reader any concrete takeaways. That’s no good since the sample chapter ought to be the crown jewel of the nonfiction book proposal.

Juliet looks at the chapter-by-chapter outline she created for the proposal and decides instead to write Chapter Four, The Met Gala. Chapter Four, in addition to offering several anecdotes of celebrity-mingling, gives tips on how to keep going in Prada stilettos from dusk until dawn. Julie slaves over the chapter, making sure it’s as good as she can get it.

Summing up: Five Basics of Nonfiction Book Proposals.

1. Many, if not most nonfiction books are sold to publishers as book proposals.
2. Nonfiction book proposals are multifaceted.
3. Platform is a crucial part of nonfiction book proposals.
4. Writing quality counts in nonfiction book proposals.
5. The sample chapter ought to be the crown jewel of the nonfiction book proposal

Hopefully Juliet’s journey will help you with yours. Good luck writing!

How to Stop Procrastinating with Your Writing

Wednesday, October 23rd, 2013

Sometimes plunging into a big writing project can be terrifying.  Why?  There’s probably a myriad of reasons, but underneath most lie that primordial, soul-crushing emotion fear.  Ultimately if people let go of all fear of judgment, I think this planet would be awash in paintings and music and dance and novels.  It’s a brave new world that’s a long way away.

Perhaps that world is inconceivable because many people feel as I do–when I try to deploy that age-old advice “letting go,” I find I stumble into its less friendly cousin “getting no [where].” So, instead of relying on a huge mindshift, I have come to depend on a lot of little tricks to jumpstart my writing.  I share them below.  Hopefully, they can help you stop procrastinating with your writing.

 

Freedom Icon, right next to prime procrastination ally, Google Chrome.

Freedom Icon, right next to prime procrastination ally, Google Chrome.

Freedom.  Freedom is a delightful program that blocks the internet from your computer while you write.  I like it because it’s pretty simple–you just put in the number of hours you’d like to be without the internet and then you’re good to go.

Getting Up Early.  When all else fails, getting up early usually works as as way for me to bypass my critical mind.   When you’re looking for one, even the sun can serve as a distraction.  At five in the morning, there no needy sunrays in your way.  There’s just not much at all but you and your work.

Writing Dates with Friends.  Writing dates with friends can often get your fingers flying across the keyboard, especially if one or both of you has an important deadline.  I still fondly recall the period I wrote alongside my friend studying for the bar exam.  She was very quiet and focused.  Not everyone is going to be like that, but still, a meet-up or two with a friend might at least get the ball rolling when you’re stuck.

Your writing date with a friend will be much more fun than this kind of date.Your writing date with a friend will be much more fun than this kind of date.

 One Sentence Is Better Than None.  Sometimes if I feel reluctant to write for whatever reason, I trick myself into getting more done by opening up a document and not committing to doing anything more than a sentence.  That makes me feel as if the pressure is off, and I usually end up writing more than I intended.

Deadlines.  Deadlines can help, especially if you have a friend you can work with this on.  Unfortunately, I find I tend to blow off my own deadlines.  Consider asking a friend to give you feedback or enforce your deadline.  You might even want to consider hiring someone to do this, to really ensure they get the job done.  (I have done this as part of my writing coaching work).

Quitting Social Media. I have found that taking long breaks from social media (as in deactivating accounts), which can really contribute to mental clutter, has helped me get my focus back on my writing.  This gets harder and harder to do as Facebook and Twitter have grown increasingly important for business reasons.  On the other hand, just the fact that I wrote that sentence shows how much I need to whisk myself away.

Retreat.  If you can get away for a week or a couple of days, the new surroundings can often prompt some writing.  Even a cafe or a library can do the trick.  I don’t like working in cafes too much, but I find if I’m stumped, the switch, even for just a morning, can help.

Soothing Music.  Recently I got clued into the world of white noise tracks on YouTube, ambient noise that effectively drowns out  the hollers of construction workers and chatter of new neighbors on fire escapes.

Relaxing music tracks will "take you there."

Relaxing music tracks will “take you there.”

Like a gateway drug, these tracks led me to tons of relaxing, soothing music on Youtube.  Corny, yes, but they work.  I always thought the magic of spas stemmed from having the permission to lie down, but now I recognize the integral role the sounds play.  I’m listening to waves lapping a shore as I write this.

Don’t Leave the Neighborhood. Think of it as the opposite of a retreat.  I find if I confine my activities to my neighborhood, eventually my mind will have nowhere to go but deeper and deeper into the world of my project.  It sounds brutal, but it’s actually very liberating.   And when you do finally venture  out, passing through a turnstile  will contain all the excitement of embarking on the Orient Express

“No One Else is Going to See This.”  Sometimes if I tell myself this, I’ll loosen up and get started.  Like a knife, cutting right to the heart of your fear!

 

To conclude, I find that it is more important that I invest the time and energy into making sure I have created a space in my life that I can fill with writing rather than stress about how the writing itself will turn out.  That’s something that editors and agents and overzealous Goodreads reviewers will handle for you.*

One last item–Close this Web Page.   

 

*Elizabeth Gilbert has a good quote along similar lines. “All I’m saying is: Let someone else decide that. Magazines, editors, agents – they all employ young people making $22,000 a year whose job it is to read through piles of manuscripts and send you back letters telling you that you aren’t good enough yet: LET THEM DO IT. Don’t pre-reject yourself. That’s their job, not yours. Your job is only to write your heart out, and let destiny take care of the rest.”

 

When Should You Seek Professional Book Editing?

Thursday, October 10th, 2013

Often writers approach me with  uncertainty.  I think I’m ready . . . This seems like the time.  They’re not sure exactly what their manuscript needs.  Should they just send it out to agents?   Do their manuscripts need more rounds of self-editing?  Is it time to start checking out self-publishing venues?  Or do they need professional book editing?

My post today tackles the last question.  Most everyone who writes soon realizes the importance of editing.  After all, for most writers, not a day goes by that they don’t do some sort of fiddling with their manuscripts—even if it’s only tweak to a title, a swift uprooting and resettling of chapter breaks, or, if nothing else, a change in fonts.  It’s not a big leap to move from self-editing to the idea of getting outside help.  At this point, some might try getting feedback from their well-read friends, which often leads to advice that may feel good, but not be the “real love” that’s needed.

But does that mean they need professional book editing?

Do you need professional book editing?

Here are signs you might be ready :

  • You have revised your manuscript on your own at least once.

Though you may feel a tremendous rush at having written so many words, there’s no way your manuscript is ready to be seen by anyone until you have revised it yourself, at least once.

  • You can’t keep your manuscript straight in your head.

 Sometimes you get to a point with your manuscript when you’ve done so much rewriting and so much story evolution, that the details are  foggy.  You might have characters walking into the party with red curls bouncing and then flirting at the party by flipping raven-colored locks.  Or you might have worked hard on the amazing reveal that your protagonist’s uncle didn’t die in the car crash but is alive and well has in fact been orchestrating the takeover from Martinique.  It took awhile for you to figure how it was all going to play out and you’re left with a manuscript that still has traces of past ideas—the uncle is in Morocco, the uncle is an aunt, the uncle has an amnesia.  You need an outside eye to clean it up for you.

  • An agent gave you a bit of advice on how to improve your book and offered to take a second look if you revise.

A nice situation to be in, but  also a delicate one.  The agent sees potential, enough to give you some suggestions, but they don’t have the time to go into detail.  And you might need that detail to make sure you make improvements correctly.  At this stage, you could probably benefit from a line edit, which would give you more targeted advice than the sort of general comments one finds in an editorial letter or polite note from an agent.

 

  • You have an agent, but it can take him or her months to get back to you about your work.

Agents have a lot on their plate and sometimes they are unable to give you the close reading you need.  Working with their schedules can be hard.  They’re superbusy, and you feel guilty every time you check in with them.  Hiring a professional book editor can give you more control over the timeframe and quality of the criticism you receive.  Please note that I have been in situations where the agent has known about this arrangement and some where they have not.

  •   You like deadlines.

 No matter how great a reader or editor the friends who offer to critique on your manuscript are, the only way to ensure that you’ll get a response when you want it is by hiring someone.  One might say, “You pay the cost to be the boss.”  If you hire a professional book editor, you’ll be able to keep a tighter grip on your schedule than if you rely on free labor.

 

  • You are ready, eager and willing to make the changes necessary to improve your manuscript.

If you’re sending your manuscript to a professional book editor, you will receive substantial commentary back that will necessitate major changes and a lot of work.  If you feel invigorated and excited about working to take your manuscript to the next level, you can really make the most of a professional book editing.

 

In today’s publishing world, more and more people are using freelance professional book editors, people unencumbered by the responsibilities of selling your book like agents and publishing house editors–whether to book chains, sales teams, or (in the case of agents) editors at publishing houses.  This new breed of editor is taking on the work that the harried house editors and agents cannot do.  See this incisive article by Marjorie Braman, which explains well how professional book editors currently fit into the publishing ecosystem and how their role may evolve.  If you think you may need the services of a professional book editor, check out my book editing services page.

 

Five Key Tips for Getting a Literary Agent

Tuesday, September 17th, 2013

You typed in the magic words “The End,” and it’s true, your final page is one sort of end, but “to be continued” may be more appropriate in terms of your writing journey. Where will it continue?  Into the publishing blogosphere, into immense tomes that contain information on agents, into the pages of writing magazines, into the post office, into new files on your computer, with carefully personalized query letters addressed to dozens of strangers—strangers who hold your destiny and dreams in their hands.  Strangers known as literary agents.

Getting a literary agent is an intimidating process, and the world is rife with information on how to lure in one of these mystical creatures.  In this blog post, I’ve distilled my myriad observations from time spent as a literary agent and as a writer down to five key tips that should inform your actions throughout your search.

Tip 1: Write Something Amazing

Too obvious? If you’ve ever had to read the slush piles, you’d know that it actually can never be said enough.  Too many writers are so excited by their bestseller wishes and National Book Award dreams that they end up skipping over the many steps necessary to perfect their manuscripts.  Getting a literary agent in today’s hardscrabble publishing environment is difficult enough when you have something stellar in hand.  Don’t lower your chances by sending out anything less than your best, which might mean having a trusted friend or skilled editor assist you in revisions.


Tip 2:  Choose Your Targets Wisely

You have the next big thing in historical romance.  You read an interview with a Phd making a splash with the latest neuroscience-meets-your-life wherein the author praises his agent effusively.  This agent might be a perfect match for the good doctor, but will he really appreciate the hours you spent mastering the intricacies of 18th-century hairstyles?  More to the point—does he know the editors of your genre?  By making sure the agents you approach are the right fits for your work, you’ll be saving yourself a lot of time, rejection, or worse–acceptance by someone who doesn’t really know how to market your book.

Tip 3:  Follow Submission Guidelines

A synopsis and a letter.  A letter and a synopsis and two pages.  A letter and a synopses and ten pages.  Only a letter.  A  partial. A whole.  You can’t keep track of the everyone’s preferred submission format, and you would get your submissions out so much faster—in seconds, really—if all you had to do was replace the name after the salutation and hit send.  However, it’s worth it to take the time and tailor your submission to what the literary agent has requested, since deviation from the requirements might lead them to ignore your submission.  Do your research and also pay attention to whether the agent is even accepting submissions right now—you could save yourself a lot of time in your path to getting a literary agent.

Tip 4:  Create a Good Query Letter.

I’ve written before about the importance of query letters—and one of my most popular service is editing and refining query letters.  As the saying goes, you never have a second chance to make a first impression.   This is actually true for literary agents, who you cannot query twice. So labor over that query letter.   When a document is short, it’s even more vital that every word is carefully chosen, every paragraph polished to its highest potential.

Tip 5:  Be Patient.

The time between when you send your material to agents and the time in which it takes them to respond may feel like an eternity.  But agents are plowing through tons of material, so don’t take the delay personally or let your imagination run wild—Perhaps it got lost in the mail!  Occupy yourself with a new project, or catch up on all the television shows you missed out on while writing your book.