Formatting With Calibre

Formatting With Calibre

 

Guest Blogger, Marie Gage

Creating Your Own Ebook

Last week, guest blogger Marie Gage, walked us through the process of creating an ebook for sale on the Amazon platform. Today, she shares how to create ebooks that you can freely share on your own. And she explains why, after publishing through Amazon, she chose this additional step.

No strings attached

I recently started working with Prolific Works, a company that brings authors together to distribute free copies or previews of their books in group offers. To participate, I needed to produce an ebook file of the first three chapters of my novel, plus appropriate front and back matter. I couldn’t simply modify the file created through Amazon.

After searching with the wizardry of Google, I found my answer: Calibre makes it incredibly easy. Downloaded for free, Calibre is an open-source program. (They do appreciate it when you choose to support them through a voluntary donation.) Unlike Amazon’s program, Calibre does not offer the .drm (digital rights management protection) but does everything else with minimal effort. If you decide you need .drm, you can purchase it from any one of a number of vendors. But be prepared for the monthly fees.

NOTE: Calibre works best for files that do not have “fixed” elements. A fixed element is one that should not be moved around when readers change the size of text or the orientation of their ebook reader or app. All of my children’s books have fixed elements in the layout. So, I had to first turn each page into a JPG image before using Calibre. As a result, readers can’t adjust the text size on any of these ebooks.

Calibre screen shot: Opening screen

The process is easier for a book that is predominantly text. Follow along on the screen shots of the Calibre software.

After downloading the Calibre program:

  • press the Add Book button, find the Word file for your book and load it
  • press the Edit Metadata button and fill in the fields with appropriate information about the book
  • change the cover picture by uploading the cover file for your ebook

NOTE: Once you press the Edit Metadata button, add your key words in the box titled Tags (more about the importance of key words in last week’s post.) Separate each key word with a comma. Next. select Convert Books from the Calibre header.

Your screen will now look like this:

In the top right corner select the ebook format from the many listed formats to choose from. The most popular is .epub but you might want .mobi or .pdf.

  • EPUB is compatible with most ebook readers and analogue apps
  • MOBI is the format used exclusively by Amazon and is compatible with Kindle readers and apps
  • PDF is compatible with any PDF reader and is easily clicked and uploaded on most computers NOTE: without the ability to change text size and spacing on ereaders, PDF may not be ideal for a long book

Suffice it to say that readers will have their preferred reading device and you might consider offering your ebook in more than one format.

Trouble shooting tips

Take note of the options on the left-hand side of the screen if you experience problems with your first conversion attempt. You may find your text is not converting the way you want it to. The most likely additional choice to make would be to press the EPUB output button and choose either EPUB2 or EPUB3.  EPUB2 is still Calibre’s default so you must make a conscious choice if you want the upgraded format. EPUB3 is essentially an update to the sophistication of EPUB2. EPUB3 allows for easier navigation and some fancier elements such as embedded video.

Older ereaders don’t support the EPUB3 format. However, EPUB3 has been around since May 2010 and most readers will have upgraded their devices by now. For my novel, I didn’t require the EPUB3 so I used the default setting.

When you have made your output selection, press OK near the bottom right of the screen and you will see a circle begin to move around. Don’t worry, you can’t miss it as a big arrow comes up and bounces to show you where it is. When it stops, you can select a second format and press OK again and repeat until you have all the formats you want.

Press the click to open button and review your ebook file(s).

NOTE: You will need a program on your computer that is compatible with the file output chosen. For EPUB this is Adobe digital editions. For MOBI, this is the Kindle App on whatever device you use.

Picture this

One final, yet critical, cautionary note: Diagrams or pictures in your Word document must be downsized outside of the Word document. You can’t simply click and drag to change the size of an image; it won’t translate well into an ebook. Instead, use Photoshop or another photo editor program to change the actual size of the file to the appropriate dimensions for an ebook. All images must be no more than 800 pixels (px) tall by 550 px wide, which is the actual size of an ebook reader screen.  

I cannot tell you how many professionally created ebooks I have read, and I do mean from mainstream publishers, with images that cannot be seen on my ebook screen.

I used to believe the issue was the ebook format and there was nothing I could do about it. For my novel, I had two maps I wanted to include. Once more using the magic of Google, I found and followed the advice to resize images outside the Word file before converting the file to an ebook.

I couldn’t believe how clearly the maps showed.

If you wish to see how clear an image can be on an ebook reader, I invite you to read my novel.

Marie Gage lives and writes in beautiful Haliburton County, Ontario. Creative writing became a part of her life a during genealogical research that unearthed some tantalizing tidbits in her family history. She joined a memoir writing group, expecting to finish that one project and be on to the next interest.  Instead, she began to see everything as a story. In the past five years, she’s self-published numerous photo books, four children’s picture books and her debut novel, A Ring of Promises. Capturing her paternal grandparents’ transition as they immigrated to Canada from England and Scotland, her novel weaves the facts of their intriguing lives into a compelling story. 

Self-Publish Your Ebook

Self-Publish Your Ebook

It’s been our pleasure to work as editors with various writers, helping to refine and ready manuscripts for submission and/or publication. One of our clients, Marie Gage, is an indie author of four picture books and a recently released historical novel. In today’s guest blog, she shares her experience preparing her manuscripts for ebook and print publication with Amazon.

Guest blogger, Marie Gage

I wanted to offer readers both ebooks and print books, so I chose to create my books independently. I’ve used both Amazon and Calibre to format my material, but for today, I’ll focus on developing your ebook for sales through Amazon.

Creating an ebook is easy when you work with one of the websites that sell your book for you. Amazon offered me a relatively simple process to upload a word document and have it converted to a .mobi file, compatible with the Kindle reader and Kindle apps. My historical novel follows characters on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean, so I liked that my book became available worldwide through Amazon (but you can choose to limit distribution of your book to specific regions.)

First things first

  • Before you can upload your file, create an account with Kindle Direct Publishing. It’s a bit more complicated than setting up most accounts because you need to input banking and tax information so they can pay you when your books sell. Notice I say “when”—I’m always the optimist. 
  • Fill in responses to a variety of questions such as “title” and “keywords.” Readers use keywords in the Amazon search box and it’s what Amazon uses to populate what customers are offered. You want your book associated with keywords that people use but are not so competitive as to result in your book never being shown. The keyword must also be relevant to what the customer sees in the description of your book. Using “Romance” for a cookbook will not bring you readers. Here’s a quick introductory course in how to choose keywords.

MARIE RECOMMENDS: Do the research about keywords before choosing the final title for your book. Consider adding a subtitle that strengthens your placement. Once you have published through Amazon, you can change the keywords but you cannot change the title on your ebook or print book. You can change the subtitle but ONLY on the ebook, not the print book. NOTE: Keywords in the title and subtitle have more impact on Amazon’s selection process than those in the form you complete before uploading your book.

Amazon allows more than one word in each of the keyword spaces and indexes them together and separately. For example: “Romantic” and “Comedy” when placed in the same box will be indexed alone as “Romantic” and “Comedy”, as well as together as “Romantic Comedy”. Thus you have a chance of being presented with any one of the three terms typed into the search box. However, it is not wise to flood these spaces with every possible word. You will annoy the Amazon staff, who check your work for relevancy, and may end up not indexing any of the words.

Next steps

  • Fill in the field for the book’s description. Put on your marketing hat and figure out what you want to say here that will attract the attention of the reading public. You want the description to be so intriguing that it will entice readers to click the “buy” button. What is the hook that makes your book special? Don’t rush this process. When you are sure it’s ready, remember to insert the basic HTML text formatting to note each paragraph end, as well as any italics and bolding. Otherwise, you’ll have one long paragraph with no italics or bolding.
  • Save and advance to the Kindle Ebook Content Page.  A major benefit of publishing on an already available sales platform is that digital rights management (a .drm suffix) can be added to decrease piracy of your ebook. The protection is not foolproof and there’s controversy about whether it’s necessary, but I feel better knowing it’s there. A major downside is that it may penalize purchasers who wish to transfer their purchase to another device. NOTE: On Amazon you have to press the correct button to turn on this function. Once the book is published you are not permitted to change this selection.
  • Decide if you want an ISBN. You do not need an ISBN (International Standard Book Number) for an ebook on Amazon, but if you have one and wish to use it you can input it. Canadians can obtain one through Library and Archives Canada and there’s no charge. NOTE: You cannot reuse an ISBN from a book you’ve already published elsewhere. Also, print and ebook formats will need separate numbers. 

Getting closer…

  • Upload the file of the interior of your book and a separate file with the cover. Make sure you have a cover that will be noticed among all the others on the page and is consistent with the genre of your book. Launch the previewer, check it carefully and press APPROVE. Or more likely, go back to your original file, correct the errors and repeat the approval process until it is perfect. 
  • Press APPROVE and advance to the Kindle Ebook Pricing page. You will be asked to make decisions about the price. The system will suggest a price based on what it considers to be “other similar ebooks”. The final decision is yours.
  • Choose a compensation package. The options depend upon exclusivity of your book to Amazon. If you wish to have it added to the Kindle Select program, you give Amazon exclusivity for the ebook only. Note the delivery charge that Amazon subtracts from your royalty. It’s often quite small but for picture books, the charge can eat up most of your profit. The only way to decrease the cost of delivery charges for picture books is to decrease the size of the file. See this article for instructions on this process as it relates to picture-intensive ebooks.

And…voila!

  • After completing the process you will be prompted to upload a print book or associate a print book with the ebook. It will take up to 72 hours before you get the email saying your book is live on Amazon and it can take a week or more before it is live in all markets. 

Next time, I’ll share my experience of creating ebooks without depending on an ebook sales platform. Books you create on Amazon or similar sites are not yours to distribute as you choose and there are times when you need to have that freedom.

Marie Gage lives and writes in beautiful Haliburton County, Ontario. Creative writing became a part of her life a during genealogical research that unearthed some tantalizing tidbits in her family history. She joined a memoir writing group, expecting to finish that one project and be on to the next interest.  Instead, she began to see everything as a story. In the past five years, she’s self-published numerous photo books, four children’s picture books and her debut novel, A Ring of Promises. Capturing her paternal grandparents’ transition as they immigrated to Canada from England and Scotland, her novel weaves the facts of their intriguing lives into a compelling story. 

Using Facebook to submit

Using Facebook to submit

Writescape’s summer contest is over, but for writers, the process of submitting is never over. We’ve noticed on Facebook, that Writescape Retreat alumnus Lisa Reynolds has been submitting relentlessly, and succeeding! Her poem “Midday in a Café” was accepted by the online literary journal, Loud Coffee Press, and her entry was chosen by PonderSavant.com for its One-liner Abound contest.

Not just that, but she has had works published or accepted by intriguing sources: groups that fight world hunger, or support women’s issues or an international online Berlin-based arts/cultural/politics magazine called The Wild Word.

So we asked her: How do you find all these interesting markets? How do you pick the ones that work for you?

Guest Blogger – Lisa Reynolds

I used to scan the internet for hours, trying to locate reputable contests, blogs, journals and other places to send my work. This strategy was not only draining but time consuming. I ended up submitting short stories and poetry I already had on file instead of writing fresh pieces which were more in line with the aesthetic and vision of the magazines, anthologies and online publications I sought publication in.  

When rejections came back, I knew I had to change things up before my self-confidence plummeted and I stopped submitting altogether.

This is when I decided to use Facebook as a resource to find submission options.

A Wise Decision

I’m happy to say it was a wise decision. In the past three months, ten of my works have been accepted for publication. Although I am no expert, I increased my chances of success with these five steps:

  • Join Facebook Groups

I am a member of Facebook groups that post poetry and writing contests. Some of these groups are Public while others are Private, requiring three to five basic questions be answered prior to acceptance.

Although I initially found the high number of members in these groups intimidating (for instance, the Calls for Submission Group has 65K private members), I didn’t let fear of competition deter me from joining. I focused on the positive, believing the popularity of these groups meant they were credible.

  • Be Selective

When perusing markets posted in these groups, I was able to quickly eliminate those that didn’t appeal to me because of the type of literary form, theme, requirements in terms of length, and/or deadline.

After saving my preferred choices in my Facebook portfolio, I created an Excel spreadsheet so I had a tangible list on hand. Then I focused my energies on reviewing the submission guidelines for each choice in detail.

  • Do Your Research    

Reducing my longlist of submission options to a manageable shortlist was easier than I expected.

With more time available to research past issues of magazines, read previous contest winners’ works and check out blog archives, I was able to determine whether my writing fit their preferred style and had a chance of being accepted.

  • Find Your Personal Fit

It wasn’t long before I noticed my selections gravitated towards certain publishers: those that published works that related to my themes of interest, particularly social justice.

This led to self-reflection and the realization that I wanted to write about issues that mattered to me. I wanted to be a small part of supporting charities, saving wildlife, fighting hunger, feeding the homeless, advocating for children and women in crisis, and other social justice issues. When I write about these issues, I believe my voice is sincere and authentic. Perhaps that is why they been have been chosen for publication.

  • Share with other writers

Having a target list of places to submit to and constant deadlines keeps me writing regularly. But for me, the most exciting part is the domino-effect of sharing. This mindset has helped me remain humble and committed to my writing practice.

I regularly post on my Facebook page to encourage others to submit, and I am overjoyed when I receive messages from writers saying, “Did you see this one?” It’s a wonderful feeling to share and celebrate our successes together.

Using Facebook as a resource to locate contests and other markets has worked for me. I hope it works for you too.

Below are a few links to groups that you may find helpful. Good luck!

Lisa Reynolds is a teacher, writer, and proud member of the Writers’ Community of Durham Region, Ontario. Her poetry and short stories are published in several print and online publications. She lives in a waterfront community east of Toronto.

Ten Ways to NOT Win

Ten Ways to NOT Win

One of our most popular workshops has been Write to Win, a full-day focus on writing contests with Dorothea Helms and Ruth E. Walker.

Since Writescape is in the midst of wrapping up the first-tier judging of our own writing contest, we thought it might be fun to share one of the tip lists from that workshop.

Here’s the Top Ten Tips to Avoid Winning Writing Contests:

1. Don’t enter. Contest judges can only assess the entries they receive. Have you ever looked at winning entries and thought that your story is just as strong–or maybe stronger? Dorothea and Ruth have both been judges for regional, national and international writing contests. And frankly, we’re not always looking at the very best writing. You never know who has entered, how strong your work is in comparison and what might catch a judge’s eye. In short, you are guaranteed never to win–if you don’t enter.

2. Exceed the word count for prose or line count for poetry. Word counts are there for a reason. No matter how brilliant your words are, if there are more than the contest limit, you are disqualified. Read the guidelines and follow them.

3. Forget to include the entry fee. Online submissions often make this part easy but sometimes paying the entry fee is a separate step. And there are still a few contests out there that ask for mail delivery. IF you do forget after pressing SEND, you can try to contact the contest administrators and ask if they’ll accept your fee arriving late. NOTE: Dorothea and Ruth will tell you that running a professional writing contest takes time and money (advertising, judge honoraria, etc.) and that the entry fee is meant to offset those costs. For literary journals, writing organizations and other non-profits, contests can be part of fundraising. So it’s a good thing to not forget that fee.

4. Send something inappropriate (e.g. poetry for a prose contest or vice versa). In the same way that you don’t send a thriller novel manuscript to a publisher of children’s literature, make sure you have a submission that fits the contest. As an editor for a literary journal, Ruth received fiction entries to the annual poetry contest. Just like exceeding the word-count guidelines will get you eliminated, ignoring what the contest is about moves your entry immediately to the NO pile.

5. Enter with previously published material if the rules specify that it be original and unpublished. Dorothea and Ruth have each experienced this awkward situation in separate contests. In both cases, the top three winners and honourable mention entries were already informed of their status when one of the winning writers revealed their work had been accepted and published elsewhere. Not only did both of these writers get disqualified but some of the other top three entries suddenly found they “progressed” in the contest. While it was good news, finding out you are now getting the gold medal when you were celebrating silver is less than ideal.

6. Put your name on your submission when the rules specify not to. It’s an easy mistake to make as most writers have their name in the footer or header of their work in draft format. But it will probably get you disqualified.

7. Leave out your contact information. Unless the guidelines tell you to, don’t put it on your entry (see #6) but your cover letter needs to have it. With online submissions your contact info is part of the process. But there are still contests that ask for mail delivery so make sure contest administrators have a way to reach you.

8. “Decorate” your entry, hand-write or use a BOLD or italicized font throughout. Keep your entry professional and simple in appearance and tone. Unless the contest rules state otherwise, default to standard formatting (2-inch margins, double spaced) with Times New Roman 12 pt font. As we’ve noted before : Read the guidelines.

9. Don’t read previous winners to see what a successful entry looks like. Contests are like any kind of submission. You research what the literary agent is looking for in a client. You check out the books a publisher produces to see if your book fits. When you read past winners’ work, you get a sense if your story or poem or novel excerpt might fit.

10. Don’t bother to double check before pressing SEND. Oh the agony. We’ve all done it, haven’t we? Been so confident our work was ready. Or so tired and it’s 10 minutes to deadline. Or so distracted and busy we just want to get it done. And we do. We press SEND. And then we read the entry at some later point and slap the side of our head because the typo in the third paragraph is YELLING at our eyes. So. Stop. Think. If you can, put it away to look at one last time tomorrow. And then press SEND. Or drop the envelope into the mailbox. Because, you know, #1 on the list.

Press Send Already!

Press Send Already!

Guest Post – Donna Judy Curtin

Now that things in Canada seem to be settling back into a form of normal, perhaps it’s time we gave more focus to getting published.

This week we welcome Writescape alumnus, Donna Judy Curtin as she confesses her submitting oops! and shares what she learned from it. You can find other writing-related blogs by Donna at Ascribe Writers blog.

It seems some days, I never learn from my mistakes.

I come from a long line of bad spellers. My mother has a t-shirt that reads: “Bad spellers of the world, UNTIE!” As much as it is funny, it is true. I come by it honestly.

Combine that with my vivid imagination and propensity to tell stories and you have a unique situation. If I don’t have the word in a moment, in life, in my writing—then I just make it up. I figure I can always insert the proper word later.

You would think, from the number of examples I can remember of my utterly dismal performance, that I would improve and learn how to re-read my work before submitting.

However, recent events would suggest otherwise.

I sent in an application for Pitch Wars, a competition run by an incredibly positive writing community, where if you are lucky enough to be chosen, a “Mentor” will provide feedback on your unpublished novel, and then you, the “Mentee”, can pitch your novel in an exclusive Pitch Wars Twitter party.

Well, on the last day for submissions, I proudly pressed ‘SEND’ on my application and then a day later, I got a confirmation email, only to discover, with horror, I had addressed the query letter to ‘Dear Mentee’ instead of ‘Dear Mentor’.

 I may as well have just written: “Go ahead; press delete now; this dummy doesn’t even know who’s helping who!”

 BUT… at least I sent it.

Yes, I submitted something.

And here is what I learned in the process:

  1. Learn from your common mistakes. We all tend to repeat our own tragic stories. Keep a list of your common misdemeanors so that when you are editing that next novel, you can return to that list and clean up those repeating words or run on sentences. Decide what you will do differently the next time and hold yourself accountable
  2. Search out amazing critique partners (CP). Not only do you need to work on your craft, you need CPs who will be your fresh eyes and be honest with you. A fresh perspective can shine light on that plot flaw or incorrectly used word and if they are good CPs, they will tell you when you are ready—or when you are not—to submit.
  3. Fear of making a mistake is a double-edged sword. You need to keep this in balance. This fear pushes me to edit and then edit again. To read and re-read my work. I think we have all heard a published author groan about the mistake they found the moment they opened their shiny new book. But they have a book! Had they never put themselves out there—there would be no book. Don’t let your fear prevent you from ever pressing SEND.
  4. Sleep on it. Although you may think you are ready. Stop. Don’t press that button yet. Take a break. Walk away from it and come back with fresh eyes. It is amazing what you miss, or skip, or spell incorrectly. Let it stew for a bit and come back to it.
  5. Forge ahead. You must press SEND eventually. Do it!

I know my writing will never be perfect. However, I will keep trying to improve. Cross your fingers for me, as I wait on that query and hope that at least one of my Pitch Wars “Mentee’s” has a good sense of humour.

 Donna Judy Curtin

Donna Curtin practices veterinary medicine in Bruce County, Ontario, close to her poultry and cash crop farm where she lives with her husband and two children. As a compliment to her veterinary career, she aspires to become a published novelist. In Dr. Curtin’s writing, animals play important characters just as often as people.

Write a book review

Write a book review

Gwynn Scheltema

Want to do something positive for writers during your time at home? Write a book review! Write a dozen reviews!

A 3/5 goodreads review of the book Notes from an Exhibition by Patrick Gale popped up in my Facebook feed this week from a good friend and fellow writer and reader—and I took note. Why?

I took note, because I find her reviews aren’t like the endless run of promotional 5-star ratings for friends’ books that show up in my feed all the time: gushing reports awash with hyperbole and high praise.

Her reviews are honest and analytical. Even on a 3/5 rating she wrote about what was good. When it came to the aspects that didn’t work for her, she articulated it in that vein—not a trashing by a know-it-all, but considered comments from a genuine reader. She wrote about writing style, story and character problems and all of it couched in the knowledge that her reaction could be to do with what she brings from her own experience to the reading of the book.

So much brilliance: psychological excavations and gorgeous writing, worthy of pencil marks. But ultimately the story weighed me down with its onslaught of details—the kind of notes a diligent writer might keep in a binder called Character Profiles. I wouldn’t have minded had the details bound me to the characters, but in fact I closed the book feeling as though I never really knew anybody, or cared about them all that much..…the trauma that served as the main mystery to be solved over the course of the story, failed to live up to its billing. I suspect this has more to do with the frame of reference I personally bring to the reading room, than it has to do with the writer. Still….Glad to have read it, but left without an appetite for more.

I’m always encouraging writers to help other writers by writing reviews. But I think it’s important that they are meaningful reviews. A writer who reviews with all good intentions to help, but gives a 5-star rating to a book that doesn’t deserve it, diminishes all further reviews from that reviewer. It’s like giving a winning medal to someone who ran only half the course, negates the value of that same medal given to the real winner.

This excerpt from the same reviewer about the book Know my Name: a Memoir by Chanel Miller has me adding this book to my reading list—not just because it got 5 stars, but because it got 5 stars from a reviewer I trust.

A searing, courageous, and articulate stream of social, institutional and legal indictment, emotion, outrage, and love for family — bright red in its flame-throwing honesty and indignation. Chanel speaks for me, and likely for most women I know.

Writing a review

Of course, you can write reviews on many online platforms, but if it’s not something you do often, goodreads is a good place to start because half the “review” is already done for you: title, author, copyright date, genre, price, subject matter of the book, and special features.

Essentially, you need only dwell on highlights of the book and your opinion of its readability. Remember, you are not writing a book report for school, showcasing your knowledge of literature. You are offering a prospective reader reasons to read—or not read—a particular book. Your review should be an accurate, analytical reading but delivered with a strong, personal touch from any reactions and arguments from your unique perspective.

And don’t spoil the book for prospective readers by giving away the ending or unexpected twists. You can say you found the ending satisfying (or not) and you can mention that there were unexpected twists, but hold off on actual details.

As you’re writing, try thinking of your reader as a friend with whom you are having a casual conversation. Use language you would use in conversation rather than trying to be formal.

Review the book you have just read, not the book you wish the author had written. It’s okay to point out areas that were weak, but not to dwell on what you think should have been included that wasn’t.

Questions to consider about your reading experience

A review can be as long or as short as you like. Not all the questions below need to be answered. Pick and choose to highlight what you think is important about the book you are reviewing at the time.

  • Were you engaged from the start or did it take time to get into the book?
  • Will any scenes or characters stay with you for a long time? Why?
  • What aspects were highlights for you: style, characters, world-building, themes, plot? Talk about how well the author dealt with these, what you enjoyed and what you didn’t.
  • Was it an easy read? A wallow in exquisite language? A hard slog?
  • How does it compare with other books in its genre?
  • Did the style and/or content suit the intended audience? What do you think is the ideal audience?
  • Is it a departure from this author’s usual, or what readers would expect? Why?
  • Did the ending satisfy you?
  • Would you read more from this author?
  • Would you recommend this book?

Practicalities

To review a book on goodreads follow these steps:

  • Go to goodreads.com
  • Use the search bar at the top of the page to open up the book’s profile page
  • Scroll down until you see 5 stars and a button Write a Review.
  • Click on Write a Review and type away….
Quaking Before the Query

Quaking Before the Query

Ruth E. Walker

Next to the synopsis, the query letter is one of the biggest challenges writers face. It comes with loads of baggage because it’s the first thing of yours an agent or acquisitions editor will see. As such, it has specific tasks to accomplish and the pressure to get it right can knock the enthusiasm out of any of us.

According to New York Book Editors blog post: In essence, a query letter is a marketing page that talks up your book, without overselling it.

Simple enough on its face but there is an art to querying agents and publishers. And that art looks darn near impossible when faced with boiling down your 85,000-word manuscript into a single “marketing page.”

It’s as hard for me as it is for you. So, like in my post two weeks ago about the synopsis, I broke my query down into manageable steps.

  • Basics about the book
  • Special about the book
  • About the author
  • Invitation
  • Double-check

Basics

Genre, word count and title are necessary basics.  In my case it’s a science-fiction YA novel at 98,000 words and set on a terraformed world. I tossed in a bit about setting which, for science fiction, is often a key element.

The basics must appear in your query; if not as part of the opening then just before the closing.

You can, and should, add a bit of flavour to your basic stats especially if you have some way to make a connection with the agent/publisher. For example:

  • I took note of your preference for unreliable narrators OR
  • Your client list includes several YA speculative fiction authors who are favourites of mine OR
  • I heard you speak at last year’s AdAstra Convention and noted your interest in YA series books.

In my case, my most recent query is to a U.S. agent with whom I have no connection. But a bit of research clued me in to what caught her attention in other queries, so I flavoured my query with a teaser: As with Defy the Stars and Enemy Mine, my protagonist is naively wrong about who her enemy is. Her challenging journey is painful but necessary for her to recognize that she alone is her world’s enemy…and its hero.

Will it work? I have absolutely no idea, but I believe it’s worth trying. If nothing else, it got me thinking about how to use comp titles AND boil down the overarching issue of my protagonist.

Special

Here’s the “juice” of your query. It’s what makes your book special and the reason the publisher’s eyes widen and your manuscript gets read. This is the hardest part for me to write. I resist the temptation to cram in details, subplots, minor characters and thematic elements that I love in my novel.

Instead, I must share my main character’s wants and needs, and highlight the obstacles and crises that keep her from getting either. Finally, I have to avoid the telling how it all ends (after all, that is the job of the synopsis)

So just like editing anything else, I pare the Special section to less than 200 words and end up with a full query of 380 well chosen words. I think I still have some trimming to do but my query is now in much better shape because I brought focus to it, especially to the “juice” section.

About you

Keep your bio short but include details that resonate with your book. For example, my query always includes a reference to my creative writing workshop at a school board’s art camp (arts kids read YA) and my stint as an artist in residence primarily working with at-risk teens at an alternative high school (inspiration for my strong-willed protagonist.)

If you have some writing award or genre-specific detail to add here, go for it. But there’s no shame in being a debut author and stating that: This is my first completed novel. You can always add in a bit of branding: I am an eclectic writer who follows inspiration, characters and ideas onto the page.

Invite a response

The closing paragraph is a place to show that you actually read their guidelines without saying so. If the agent only wants the first 3 pages of your ms: I’ve attached the first 3 pages of my manuscript… and to show you are ready, you can add…the full ms and synopsis are available upon request.

Inviting the agent or publisher to contact you if they’re interested is simple enough but remember to say thank you. A simple finishing line: Thank you for your time and consideration acknowledges that you understand that reading your query took effort.

Take a second look

Even one little spelling or grammar error can put off an agent. So take it slow and give your query some cooling off time before you send it. Just like the manuscript you spent years on, a query is not a 30-minute process.

What a query is not

Over one page in length — it is a quick scan process so make sure that agent will read beyond the opening paragraph. In short, keep it short.

A major suck-up to the recipient — While it’s fine to offer some sort of connection or understanding of the agent’s/publisher’s preferences, don’t gush how they’re your dream agent or longed-after publisher. It might bring a smile to their faces…just before they click on the “trash” icon.

A place to show off — promote your strengths but summarize — instead of listing all the journals your work has been published in, summarize: …with fiction and poetry in several national journals. Your literary C.V. is for grant applications, not your query letter.

Cast in stone — An agent who only wants two paragraphs about the book and your contact info won’t look at your four-paragraph query. A publisher who wants the synopsis and no query letter…well, you get the drift. Know your audience and revise each approach accordingly.

More context

Jane Friedman

I’ve already given you a link to New York Book Editors. Here’s a few more websites I’ve found helpful in crafting my query. Jane Friedman set me on the right path to break down my query and Writers’ Digest offered several examples of successful queries.

You can never learn too much in this tricky world we write in. I’ll let you know if my query nets more than a polite no — you let us know how the query process goes for you.

p.s. If you need an escape to focus on your synopsis or query letter, there’s still a couple of spots remaining in this year’s Spring Thaw writers’ retreat. And you get a one-on-one consult plus notes from both Gwynn and me on up to 10 manuscript pages. That’s enough for both your query letter and synopsis.

Synopsis-itis

Synopsis-itis

Ruth E. Walker

A recent session on writing a book synopsis had me take a closer look at what goes into a synopsis and why it’s necessary. Let’s start with the necessary part.

Why start here? Because you need motivation to slog through the process of writing the darn thing right after you’ve spent years reaching the final draft of your beautiful novel. You are now exhausted. Brain dead. Wanting nothing more than getting your novel manuscript out there to eager agents and publishers and–what? You now have to condense 95,000 words into about 700 words?

Are you kidding me?

Right. So let’s start with why you need a synopsis.

Show you know what a novel needs

Agents/editors need to know you’ve written a beginning, middle and end. No one wants to read your manuscript only to discover you’ve simply stopped writing and tacked on “The End”. Your synopsis needs to present the plot and its arc, offer up the main character arc and convey a satisfying ending.

A synopsis doesn’t play coy by finishing with “And if you want to know how it turns out for Freddie Schmudlump and his hilarious gang of bank robbers, read the manuscript.”

Show you are not an amateur

A synopsis is a timeline presentation of the events and main characters of your novel. So not only do you pare down your glorious prose and engaging subplots, you stick to the timeline as presented in the novel. Don’t summarize with “In a series of flashbacks, we learn that Freddie’s piggy banks were stolen by bullies, so he is forced into a spiralling fall into a life of crime.”

A good synopsis outlines the main characters’ wants/goals (Freddie wants to be financially secure) and needs (Freddie needs someone to show him how to earn a living instead of stealing it.)

And remember that reference to “don’t play coy” by holding back the ending? Do not bury the plot twist, aiming for an “ah-ha!” moment. Like it or not, the synopsis of your novel is not the place for fancy footwork. Think of it as a business document and accordingly, written in clear language with the focus on the main points. No digressions. No layers of subplots and sudden reveals.

How to boil down 95,000 words

I’ve been working on my own synopsis for several weeks and stumbled onto a process that is making all the difference: working backwards.

From a post at JerichoWriters in the UK, I learned to start with the basics and build up the synopsis instead of paring down the novel, as follows:

Status Quo — the main character’s world before the inciting incident that triggers the story

Initiating Incident — the crack in the main character’s world that changes everything

Developments — the series of events that lead the story and characters to the crisis

Crisis — the fireworks, the culminating conflict, the big deal we’ve been building toward

Resolution— the last few pages, the whole end, the part in which you don’t “play coy”

This process is a genius approach because it keeps you on track for the necessary elements of a synopsis. JerichoWriters suggest that Developments should offer up no more than 40% of the synopsis, even though that is the bulk of the actual book.

Jane Friedman, former President and CEO of HarperCollins, in a Writer’s Digest post recommends an opening paragraph “identifying your protagonist, problem or conflict, and setting.”

She also reminds writers that agents and publishers are looking for strong writing skills. While the synopsis is a business document it still needs energy, so use an active voice. If you need a refresher on active voice, you might find our 10 Quick and Effective Edits useful.

But I’m a really good writer…

Lastly, if this is a clear document with a business-like tone and short, declarative sentences how can you demonstrate that you’re a terrific storyteller? How can give any sense of your ability to engage emotions and craft vivid scenes with a just-the-basics synopsis of 500 to 800 words?

By being clever. Sprinkle in those trigger words that evoke emotion. Drop passive language and use that active voice to your advantage. So if you’ve written “Freddie wants to be financially secure” consider “Freddie longs for financial security.” Taking a flat verb and giving it some oomph and energy makes a big difference.

In this case, we’re also giving Freddie some emotional punch. Interesting characters advance any plot when they have emotions and feelings.

A synopsis is just one tool to entice an agent or publisher to ask for the full manuscript. But it’s an important part of the package that includes a compelling query letter and at least one full sample chapter (generally the first chapter) that no agent will be able to resist. More on the query letter in a future post.

Sum Up The Story

Sum Up The Story

Ruth E. Walker

The manuscript is finished. You’ve edited until you can’t look at the words for one more minute. Your beta readers are all giving you the Thumbs Up. It’s ready to go out.

Then you see it. On the submissions page of the publisher you hope will publish your book. They want a synopsis. (Cue Jaws music.)

Good grief. You’ve perfected your manuscript. Shouldn’t that be enough?

Get over it. They want a synopsis and you have to produce one. So let’s cover the main points to help you pull it together.

Just the important bits

A synopsis is a kind of point-by-point outline of the story, summarizing what happens and who is changed by the end.

A synopsis is not a marketing tool but the first paragraph should offer a touch of a hook or any of the unique elements of the story. It’s not written like your novel yet it should hold a sense of your writing voice…your style…and the genre/style of the book. And just as important, it’s not a jacket blurb so be prepared to reveal the ending.

If a synopsis is interesting enough, agents and publishers will want to read the manuscript despite knowing the ending.

Short is sweet

For a novel, a synopsis can be as short as one page or as long as five pages. I recommend going shorter. Ideally, no more than two pages.  Unlike the manuscript, text is single spaced so you have a fair amount of room in those two pages.

To take full advantage of two pages, keep to the main story and the primary characters. You’re outlining the events but this is not a point-form summary. So your creative self needs to come through in how the synopsis is crafted. You can, for example, lift a slice of description or a touch of dialogue right out of the manuscript to use in your synopsis.

For example:  Mary is distraught by her husband’s perceived betrayal. “I’ve wasted years of trusting you!” Little does she realize that she is the one who betrayed them both.

Motivation + action = story

A synopsis needs to introduce the main characters, a touch of character(s) motivation and reveal conflict right from the beginning.

Don’t be coy—set the stage for the rest of the story:  Mary and Omar are the ideal couple, leaders in their rural community and a successful left-leaning political team. Newly re-elected mayor, Mary is confused when Omar opts to resign his council seat without telling her first. But when she discovers he’s involved with a far-right insurgency, she’s horrified and throws him out of their home. Then terrorists take a bus full of school children hostage and Omar is the only person they’ll negotiate with.

Subplots are not part of a synopsis but you can offer a single line or two if it matters to the main story.

For example: The themes of betrayal and loss are mirrored in a subplot involving school friends. In the same way, background or walk-on characters don’t need to be mentioned unless they are integral to the plot. As with subplots, keep it to one line: When the terrorist spokeswoman hesitates, she’s executed by the leader who then gives police 5 minutes before one of the children will be killed.

Zip up the ending

When you get to the ending, don’t short change your synopsis. Demonstrate how your ending has punch or significance: As Mary holds a dying Omar in her arms, she realizes her refusal to listen to the only man she’s ever loved cost him his life. Whispering into his ear, she promises to raise their unborn child with a true understanding of its father and his beliefs.

Check for basics

 There are several ways to tackle a synopsis. A simple approach builds it from listing the major turning points for your main character, then fleshing out a brief summary of the action at each point. Don’t forget to keep the whole narrative arc in mind as you work:

Inciting incident or the crack in the world of your main character that sets them off.

Rising action or the events that add tension and propel the story forward.

Climax or the point of excitement, ultimate change or Oh My God moment.

Resolution or the place that brings the story to a close.

There’s no perfect way to write your synopsis. But if you keep to these four elements, add in a dash of your writerly style and remember to focus on the main story, you should be well on your way to a compelling two-pager.

The Last Word: more synopsis resources

https://blog.reedsy.com/how-to-write-a-synopsis/ — examples and ideas on building a great synopsis.

https://theeditorsblog.net/2012/07/15/clear-the-dread-from-the-dreaded-synopsis/— a detailed analysis of the how and why of synopsis. A long read but packed with things to consider once you’ve got the basics put together.

Publishing LGBTQ

Publishing LGBTQ

Gwynn Scheltema

June is Pride month, so this week I thought I’d take you on a short Canadian tour and introduce you to a few Canadian publishers who regularly publish LGBTQ books by Canadian authors.

Harlequin

First stop: Toronto. Head quartered in Toronto, Harlequin publishes around 100 titles a month. Yes, that’s right…100 books! They publish paperbacks, ebooks and audio books. One of their many niches is one they describe as “gay romance”. June 2019’s titles include a lesbian romance: New Ink on Life by Jennie Davids and a gay romance by Adriana Herrera, American Fairytale.

Submissions Guidelines

Arsenal Pulp Press

Out to the West coast now to meet this Vancouver publisher that regularly publishes LGBTQ work including books by Canadian authors S. Bear Bergman, Ivan Coyote, Amber Dawn, Vivek Shraya, and Kai Cheng Thom.  

They also have a series made up of out-of-print queer titles called “Little Sister’s Classics”. If that name sounds familiar, it’s likely because it reminds you of Little Sister’s Book & Art Emporium, in the heart of Vancouver’s gay district on Davie Street. They have been around for years and were legendary in taking on Canada Customs to have gay literature declassified as porn.

In March this year, five Arsenal titles were nominated for the  Lambda Literary Awards, (writing prize for LGBTQ authors) The nominees were Jonny Appleseed by Joshua Whitehead, Little Fish by Casey Plett, Sketchtasy by Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore, Sodom Road Exit by Amber Dawn, and The Tiger Flu by Larissa Lai.

Submission guidelines

Insomniac Press 

Back to Ontario—London to be precise. Insomniac Press has evolved over the last 25 years from a small press that published poetry chapbooks, to a medium-size independent press that publishes non-fiction titles as well as fiction and poetry sold in 40 countries.

Insomniac has also become known for its special niche areas like black studies, personal finance and gay and lesbian books. They publish two queer mystery series by writers Liz Bugg and Nairne Holtz. Insomniac’s anthology No Margins: Writing Canadian Fiction in Lesbian, features a whole host of LGBTQ authors.

Just released is Rinaldo Walcott’s book of essays Queer Returns.

Submission Guidelines

Metonymy Press

Heading over to Quebec, we find Metonymy, a newish Montreal-based press that publishes literary fiction and nonfiction by emerging writers. Their website explains: “We try to reduce barriers to publishing for authors whose perspectives are underrepresented in order to produce quality materials relevant to queer, feminist, and social justice communities.”

Two of their books were recently nominated for Lambda Literary Awards: Small Beauty by jia qing wilson-yang and Fierce Femmes and Notorious Liars: A Dangerous Trans Girl’s Confabulous Memoir by Kai Cheng Thom.

Submission guidelines

Talonbooks

And lastly, I want to head back to the West Coast to tell you about Talonbooks, because as well as literary fiction and poetry, they publish drama (including the amazing queer writer Tomson Highway), and translations of French texts, (including Quebecois lesbian author Marie-Claire Blais.) Recent publications include novels by Karen X. Tulchinsky and Gail Scott and poetry by Daphne Marlatt.

Last Word

If you are looking for more LGBTQ markets or books, here are two blogs you may want to check out: