Friday, June 25, 2010

Is Success in the Eye of the Beholder?

I've had several people ask (and a client gently nudge) me about successful query letters and/or submissions that led to successful sales so... here it is and I remind you, careful what you ask for! ;)

It starts with the query letter. I can't emphasize this enough. Your query letter needs to give me an idea of what it is you're trying to sell me. You're selling me on your idea and you're selling me on your talent. Know your audience. Do your homework.

Rebecca Leigh's query for her steampunk novella, OUTLAW was one of the best query letters I've received.

Dear Ms. Hernandez

I read on Lori Perkin’s blog that you have joined her agency and are representing exclusively ebooks. In your introduction, you indicated a preference for (among others) steampunk and male/male erotic romance. I am seeking representation for a story that has both. The Outlaw, set in the wild west where steam is still the primary power source, is a M/M complete at 11,200 words. The Outlaw would be suitable for epublishers that are willing to publish “longer” short stories.

Damian Junter is a Bringer, an employee of the eastern aristocracy who doles out justice against those that break the law. Kell Laughlin, an outlander, is the leader of the western resistance whose stronghold is Terra Noir in Death Valley, California. Damian travels to Terra Noir to kill Kell, but instead encounters a man who sparks a deep sexual desire in him. After learning of Kell’s innocence to the crime for which he is charged, Damian works with Kell to spark a revolution against the east. He also gives in to his desires and has hot, steamy sex with Kell. In the end, the two ride off together into the badlands of the west to evade capture, intent not only on surviving but continuing to sate their sexual needs.

My M/M short story Tight End was recently published by Ravenous Romance. My first full length novel will soon be published by Noble Romance. During the day, I am an appellate attorney and I have been published in several legal trade journals.

I look forward to hearing back from you. Thank you for your consideration.

She made sure to cover all of the bases: She not only addressed me by name, she made sure to let me know that she'd read about what I was "shopping for" and included it in her first paragraph! Beautiful!

She details her story succinctly and, while one can argue whether she should have capitalized the words East and West as Microsoft Word would suggest, this did not detract from the information presented. Had she misspelled sex or not caught a typo, it would have made me a little leery about continuing to read but I wanted to know more about her and her writing credits. She did not disappoint. In her next paragraph, she details her writing history relevant to the novella she's querying. She makes it look effortless, doesn't she?

However, it's not just about the query letter. I've read some fantastic query letters that had me excited about reading the manuscript and then felt completely let down when receiving a partial that's clearly not edited. How does this happen? Simple, the author took a little more time perfecting the query letter than they did in ensuring the manuscript was ready for submission. I can't sell a query letter. If your manuscript is going to require heavy edits, your fantastic query letter does nothing for either of us.

Sometimes, the manuscript sucks me in! So much so that I don't want to read anything else. I want to devour it and even as I'm reading, I'm thinking of particular editors I can't wait to pitch it to.

What does it look like, you ask?

From Prologue of Beyond Eden by Kele Moon sold to Ellora's Cave, pub date to be announced

"I'll write you every day."

"Good," Paul sighed, running his lips over the smooth, flat plane of his girlfriend's stomach as desire and heartache collided inside him. "I'll miss you so much."

His voice caught and he squeezed his eyes shut, willing away the tears that were threatening. He was the son of a Military Colonel who never tolerated signs of weakness. The ability to cry had been forced out of him at a very young age, but this was more than fists could destroy.

He lifted his eyes, staring at the girl who held his heart in her hands. He had loved Eve Everton for as long as he could remember, even when she was nothing but a runt of a girl with long, skinny legs, tangled red hair and bright green eyes that seemed too big for her face. The two of them had grown up together, had run barefoot through the marshes of Tampa side by side as they fished and played tag together through the whole of their childhood.

She wasn't a little girl anymore. She was eighteen, an adult who was ready to spread her wings and leave for New York, taking his heart and soul with her. He stared at her face hungrily, studying the freckles standing out on her nose that was peeling from too much Florida sun. Her red hair was braided into pigtails, making her appear both cute and incredibly sexy at the same time. Her green eyes were vibrant in the near darkness of her room, lit up only with the moonlight filtering in past the open window.

He cupped one of her bare breasts that were surprising full when she was still long legged and slim. He leaned down, sucking one sweet, pink nipple into his mouth. A shiver of pleasure rolled down his spine when Eve gasped and arched into him, her fingers tangling in his hair.

"Come with me to New York," she pleaded in a soft, husky voice as she tugged at his hair. "Please."

He sighed and crawled over her until his face was hovering above hers. "I can't," he choked, feeling the sting of tears once more. "My father--"

"Fuck your father," Eve said passionately, her green eyes flashing in fury. "He's an asshole and you're eighteen. You can do whatever you want now."

He winced, not knowing how to explain the conditioning of his childhood to her, one that brainwashed him into complete obedience of his father. "I got a football scholarship to USF. You don't want me to give that up, do you?"

"You're brilliant," she said with an adoring smile, making deep dimples appear in her cheeks. "You could get a scholarship anywhere. Play football in New York."

"Does the Academy of Art have a football program?"

"Well, no," she said, lowering her eyes, her full eyelashes falling like half moons over her cheeks. "But you're smart. You could probably get a scholarship without football."

"We've had this discussion a million times. Let's just enjoy each other tonight," he said softly as he brushed a few stray wisps of red hair off her forehead that had escaped her braids. Her forehead was also peeling; Paul smiled and tapped at her nose. "Sunscreen is your friend, freckles."

"Shut up," she gasped, covering her nose with her hands. "I know I'm hideous."

"You're beautiful," he said, laughing when Eve tried to roll away from him.

"No, look away, look away." Eve managed to turn over on her stomach beneath him. She kicked her feet, trying to squirm out from under him, but his heavy, muscular body made it impossible. "I'm a terrible beast."

"No, you're not," he sighed, leaning down to run his lips over her bare shoulder. "You're perfect."

Sometimes, it's not just about the first few pages. It's about the overall story. When I'm done reading it, am I excited about selling it? CAN I sell it?

From The Outlaw by Rebecca Leigh sold to Dreamspinner Press, pub date to be announced.

Damian strode confidently to the front door. Before he could knock, two men covered in steel suits grabbed him and hauled him inside.

"What's going on?" He yelled.

"No one enters the palace without Mr. Kell's invitation. Who the hell are you?" The guard pushed him face first against the wall.

"Name's Damian. I'm acquainted with Mr. Kell. I'm sure he won't mind that I've come." Images of the sexual frenzy at the arena flashed through Damian's head. The guard pressed his face harder but Damian didn't fight the additional abuse. The pain helped calm the erotic images.

The guard answered him by shoving his arm between Damian's legs. Damian went down on the ground with a grunt, holding his balls. The two guards laughed.

At the same time Damian recovered enough to pull himself up onto one knee, a door across the large foyer opened. Kell strode toward the three men with a smile.

"Damian? What a wonderful surprise!" Kell offered Damian his hand. Damian accepted and Kell helped him to his feet. "I see my guards have taken good care of you."

"Something like that," Damian pushed Kell's hand away and rubbed his cock.

"Don't mind my boys. They're just a little nervous. You know, with a Bringer in town and all." He winked at Damian. "Come, join me in my study. I believe we have some matters to discuss."

"Yeah," Damian followed.

I actually had several publishers in mind when I first read The Outlaw but in her original submission, Rebecca stated the manuscript was less than 15,000 words. In order to increase her chances for publication, she needed to bring the word count up. She returned to the manuscript and as she added words, she edited her manuscript as well. I can't stress the importance of editing. To me, it's the deciding factor on whether your manuscript will see the light of day or not.

It's important to remember that the publishing industry is subjective. What one publisher does not like, another may be salivating over. What may not fit within the niche of one publisher, could fit perfectly elsewhere. I will let you know if your manuscript is ready for submission and if I take the time to edit it, it's because I believe it has potential to sell. Several of my clients are currently editing their manuscripts, tightening their stories, improving plot and characterization and/or improving sentence structure to make the words "pop" for the reader. Each and every one of them has a manuscript I'm very excited about selling. Can't wait to share those successes with you very soon!