Tips for writing a synopsis.

Here’s what I know about writing a synopsis. I HATE it. I mean it. There is very little I hate in this world. I am extremely easy-going and have been called happy-go-lucky by many people, but I truly hate writing a synopsis of my own work. Other people’s work is no problem. I think it’s like that for a lot of writers. We’re too close to our own work to see it clearly.

Anyway, I tried something new with my latest manuscript. I started the way I always do, a scene by scene synopsis (15 pages, single spaced!!) Then, I made a one page list of all the points I thought were important to include, WITHOUT looking at the scene by scene. Then I wrote my synopsis from that list, NOT the scene by scene. That made it 7 pages single spaced. Then I had my sister (thank you, sister!!!!) cut it down for me. She cut it to four pages single spaced (at one AM in the morning no less!) This made it seven pages long, double spaced, which is really to long for a query letter, but oh well. It’s tight and interesting, and I really don’t think I could cut it anymore. My plot is kind of intricate. I will say this though, every other synopsis I’ve ever sent out has been no more then two pages double spaced. In fact, some places (like Harlequin) don’t want a synopsis over that, so you really, really need to try to get it cut down.

I really liked this way of doing it. It was much easier than my normal way which is to take the scene by scene and cut. How do you do your synopses?

Parts of the Query Letter

There are three parts to the actual query letter and each part is only one paragraph. Query letters must be short. They should never, EVER be more than a page.

The first paragraph is a short intro, with one sentence that lists the title of your novel, the word count, and the genre. The second sentence should explain why you chose to query that particular agent. Personalize it if you can; agents like to know you didn’t just randomly pull their name out of a hat. If, however, the only reason you are querying them is because a search engine said that the agent represents your genre, then I would strongly suggest you leave that sentence blank. Some agents say that you don’t need to do this, that you can jump right into your query, but I will say this: 90% of the request I have gotten are from agents that received personalized queries.

The second paragraph is a short (and I mean SHORT; no more than THREE sentences) synopsis of your novel. It should read like the blurb on the back cover or jacket flap of a book; short, to the point, and most of all, interesting. We will discuss this section of the query letter on Friday.

The last paragraph of the query should have a short author bio, with any publishing credits you might have. What’s that you say? You don’t have any publishing credits? That’s okay; we’ll discuss what to put here on Monday!

And, finally, you have the closing, which I tack on to the author bio. It should read something like this: “Thank you for taking the time to consider my work. Upon your request, I would be happy to send you a partial or complete manuscript. I look forward to your response.” (You have your manuscript done, right? Because you might need to send it in IMMEDIATELY. The partial request I got the day before yesterday came only TWO HOURS after I sent the query. You need to be ready to send it out almost immediately. Some agents say they expect your manuscript within the week, but really, the sooner the better.)

Then you sign your name and include you mailing address, your phone number, your email address, and your website address if you have one. You want to give your potential agent as many ways as you can to contact them!

And that’s you’re basic query letter. Tomorrow, we’ll cover a list of do’s and don’ts for a query letter. Trust me, there are a lot of mistakes a new writer can make that will irritate an agent. Luckily, you have me, with my hard-won experience, to tell you what NOT to do. (To bad no one told me! My mistakes could fill a giant bucket!)

Vetting a Literary Agent you Think you Want to Query

Today’s post is a few days early, due to the holidays! And yes, we will still be interviewing a literary agent on Thursday! Have a wonderful week everyone! 

Remember, when you are selecting an agent, be choosy. You’re hiring THEM to work for you, even though it might seem like the other way around. Don’t just say yes because it was the only offer you got. No agent is better than a bad agent. A bad agent can take your money, negotiate a bad contract, place your manuscript at a poor choice for publisher, and screw up your publishing career for life. There are a lot of fraud agents out there. There are also agents who mean well, but just don’t have the contacts or the experience it takes to be a good agent. Some of these agents might acquire these things over the years. Those who do not will fold.

Here are some helpful tips to make sure an agent is the right one for you:

  • Never NEVER sign with an agent that charges reading fees. Yes, there are a very few legitimate agents out there that charge fees, but it is very few. Why take the chance? In fact The Association of Authors’ Representatives (AAR- the literary agents’ guild) won’t allow any of their members to charge reading fees. It’s best to avoid agents that do.
  • Double check each agent you chose to query with the list of resources below. If they’re listed with at least two, they’re probably legit.
  • Just because an agent is not a member of AAR, doesn’t mean they are not legit. To become a member, you need to make a certain number of sales within a certain time frame, which can be hard for newer agents to do until they become more established.
  • ALWAYS check submission guidelines-both with the agency AND the agent. Sometimes the agent themselves will ask for something different. A good way to check on the specific agent is to use the resources I mentioned yesterday, especially Publisher’s Marketplace. Also, QueryTracker will list in the agent’s overview if they have a blog, Twitter feed, Etc.

Also, one other tip: keep track of who you query, and which agency they are with. Many agencies frown on querying another agent within their agency if the first agent has rejected you. There’s no point in ticking off people at the very beginning of your querying process. Try to stick to their rules and submission guidelines.

Resources for vetting agents:

  • AgentQuery
  • Preditors and Editors– This is the number one site for checking an agent or publishers legitimacy. ALWAYS check with them. Their rating criteria are listed here.
  • AbsoluteWrite Water Cooler: These forums are a great place to see what an agent is like to work with. There are threads on most agents, and sometimes some of their actual clients stop by and talk about what it’s like to work with them. There are also warnings posted about bad agents.
  • AAR




Resources for Finding a Literary Agent

When selecting an agent, you not only need to find an agent that looks at your genre of fiction, but you must also make sure they are legit. I’ve compiled many helpful resources over the last four years. To help you, my fellow writers, I’ve decided to put all that information in one place. This post turned out to actually be longer than I expected, so the resources to use for vetting agents will be posted next Tuesday.

To find agents:

  •– Organize and track your query letters to agents and publishers. Other than Publisher’s Marketplace, this is the single most helpful resource I’ve come across in the querying process. You can search for agents by genre, see other writer’s comments about them, and see statistics for query response, response time, submission response time, response to certain genres. They also have an awesome system for keeping track of who you have queried, and what their response was. The only draw back is if you want to use the tracking system for more than one project, it costs $25 a year.
  • AgentQuery-Agent Query offers the largest, most current searchable database of literary agents on the web. They offer in-depth info on each agent, more so then querytracker. Also, they try to only list legit agents, so it can also be used as a source to verify an agent. (More on that tomorrow.)
  • Literary Rambles– Spotlighting children’s book authors, agents, and publishing (for YA, MG, and picture book writers) An excellent resource that targets just agents for children’s books. EXTREMELY in-depth information for each agent they spotlight. HIGHLY recommended.
  • Writer’s Market– A searchable database for agents. I used their books when I couldn’t depend on our spotty internet. I will say that I’m not sure the online subscription is worth it. You can get the same info from the first two resources I listed and for free.
  • Association of Authors’ Representatives, Inc- These agents are the best of the best. They have to be legit to belong to the AAR, and they also have to have made above a certain amount of sales. You can also search by genre here.
  • Publisher’s Marketplace-Track Deals, Sales, Reviews, Agents, Editors, News. This is an invaluable resource. This is the only place where you can see the approximate number of sales an agent has made and the approximate worth. Also, many times an individual at a big literary agency will have a page here where they ask for different submission package materials then their agency and will also give their personal email address. The only draw back is that to see the deals, you have to subscribe at $20 a month. You can subscribe to the Publisher’s Lunch newsletter, which comes once a week and is free. They will post the biggest deals of the week in there.


Selecting an Agent to Query

So installment two in my series about the querying process, is about how to select an agent. So there are several ways that you can go about selecting an agent. Here’s the problem. Some agents want aspiring authors to approach them because their manuscripts are similar to what they represent. However, other agents will turn you down for this very reason, because they don’t want your book competing with the ones already on their list. (“Their list”, by the way, is what they call the clients and books they represent.) I’ve had this happen to me, so I know this is true, although you don’t hear it mentioned in books on writing. The problem is, you never know which kind of agent they are until after you hear back from them.

For lack of a better place to start, I always start with agents that represent books similar to mine. The best way to do that is to look through those similar books until you find an acknowledgement page. Lots of times the author will thank her agent. Then you have an agent to query! (Tomorrow, I will talk more about how to find the agent’s email or snail mail address, how to keep track of your queries, and how to find agents that don’t have clients similar to you.)

Don’t just pick one agent; select several. If there is one agent you really really want to work with, you can query them exclusively, but most writing guide books don’t recommend this (although, I have done it). Normally I pick three or five, the best of the best, to query first. Usually, these are agents that represent famous clients, or work at big literary agencies. To put it bluntly, they are the ones I have a slim chance with.

Then after I send those out, I wait. When a rejection or request for more comes in, I send out another query. I like to send them out in batches, because then, if something seems to be not working, you can tweak it as you go, instead of exhausting all of your chances at once. You might get lucky and score an agent with your first query, but realistically, it will probably take LOTS of queries before you have a positive response. Did you know it takes, on average, one hundred queries on a single project for an unpublished author to find an agent? Don’t give up, keep trying, and keep sending them out. And in the meantime, the best way to stay busy is to start your next manuscript. If you do sign with an agent, I guarantee you that they will ask to see more examples of your work. You want to have something to show them, don’t you?

My book is published!!!!

I just found out that the print copy of my YA fantasy novel, Drive Back the Darkness, is now available!


You can find it at Amazon here.

You can find it at Barnes and Noble here.


And here is the blurb so you can see if you’re interested:

A kingdom shrouded in darkness. One girl who can save it all.

On her sixteenth birthday, Ellie Lyons discovers her entire life has been a lie. Kidnapped, she finds herself in a strange kingdom-Alladon-a kingdom she was born to rule, ruled already by those who would see her dead. The children have been imprisoned, caged and awaiting a fate Ellie can only imagine, and only she can save them. But to do so, she must master the skills of a warrior and learn to contain the magic that roars through her veins and burns everything she touches. But when Morfan, the king’s advisor, sends an assassin to kill her, Ellie finds herself falling for the dark, dangerous Devin. Though she knows her life is at stake, she can’t seem to stay away from him, even as her feelings become strong enough to scare her, and strong enough to disturb Vance, Devin’s second. Vance is the opposite of Devin-blonde, charming, seductive. But his heart holds a kernel of something darker, something that makes him dangerously unstable, especially once he realizes he has feelings for Ellie that Ellie doesn’t share…

The publication day for my first novel is set!

My novel, Drive Back the Darkness (a YA fantasy) will be published by Etopia Press on September 14th! I can hardly believe it!

The editing process was kind of grueling, but I’m almost done. We went through three rounds of edits and now my book is at copy editing. Once that’s done, I’ll get a chance to review it one more time before it goes to “proofing” (to be honest, I’m not entirely sure what that is!).  And even more exciting, sometime in the next two weeks I’ll be revealing my cover art!

On that note, if anyone wants to do interviews, author and/or book spotlights, etc. please get in touch! I even have a few e-book copies I can give away if you wish to review it (although not an unlimitated amount!). If you think you might be interested in a YA fantasy that’s being described as Cassandra Claire meets Lord of the Rings, and you have a e-book reader, let me know. I’ll see what I can do!

I also will be revealing some important agent-related news sometime this week. 😉 Stay tuned!

Saturday Poll: What Books do You Consistently Re-read?

There are some books I own that I truly love. They are the books I find myself reading again and again, because they feel like coming home. Are there any books you feel that way about? I listed some of mine below, but please feel free to write in your answers!

Interview with Award Winning Romance Author, Amanda Ashley

Next up in our Author, Editor, and Agent Interview series is author Amanda Ashley (who prefers to be called Mandy). She also writes under the name of Madeline Baker. She has published over 70 books and short stories and won nineteen awards, including the ACRA Heart of Excellence, The Golden Quill, and Historical Storyteller of the Year.


Mandy has worked with several publishers including Zebra and Leisure Books. She also publishes E-books with Ellora’s Cave through their sweet romance line called Blush.  Let’s all welcome Mandy to The Literary Mom! Thanks so much, for being here with us today, Mandy!

Me: How did become a published author?

    I never intended to be a published author. I started writing because my husband worked nights, my kids were little and went to bed early, and there was nothing on tv. I don’t really remember what prompted me to sit down and start writing, but once I started I couldn’t stop.

     I wrote three books without telling anyone, and then, one day, I let a friend read one of my stories. She said it was very visual and I should try to get it published. I let my best friend read it, too. We both read a lot of historical romances and she said mine was as good as anything out there. My first friend gave me a copy of Writers Market and I started sending out query letters. The first book I sold was rejected 31 times before Leisure bought it.

    Getting “the call” was probably one of the most exciting things that ever happened. I remember being so excited, I ran down the street to tell my best friend.

   I’d been writing for over six years before I finally saw one of my books in print.

Me: Tell us what a day for you is like, in terms of writing.

       I usually write on and off all day long, though mostly at night. I don’t have a regular schedule, but I do try to write at least a thousand words a day. I don’t write on Sunday. I write in my office. I don’t think I have any quirks. I can pretty much write any time, any where. I’ve written on napkins in restaurants, and between frames in the bowling alley. In the camper on vacation. Wherever and whenever inspiration strikes.

Me: Tell us a little bit about what it’s like to be an Ellora’s Cave author.

     It’s a little strange to write for Ellora’s Cave, since I don’t write erotica or anything close to it. They publish my books under their Blush imprint. They publish my books first as eBooks and then, about six months later, in trade paperback. They’re very easy to work with, and they’ve given me some lovely covers. They’re publishing my Reckless series (Reckless Heart, Reckless Love, Reckless Desire, and Reckless Embrace) and the covers are wonderful.

Me: I know you also have books out through large publishers, such as Zebra. In what ways are their publishing processes different from Ellora’s Cave? How are they similar?

        The biggest difference is that I have a closer relationship with my editor at Zebra, largely due to the fact that I also worked with her when she was at Leisure books, so I’ve known her for over 20 years. I have very little one-on-one contact with anyone at Ellora’s Cave. However, they reply quickly to my emails and I’m very happy to be working with them.

Me: I’m planning to cover small presses and self-publishing in addition to large publishing houses and E-Book publishers in this interview series. Do you have any thoughts/ideas on these other forms of publishing? Would you have considered any of them if you hadn’t taken the route that you did?

       I really don’t know a lot about small presses or self-publishing. I have some books published by an eBook publisher, mostly short stories. I’m basically lazy and Rebecca does all the work – she formats the book for eReaders, arranges for covers, etc. It’s been fun working with her, and while there are no large advances from epublishers that I’m aware of, it’s a nice outlet for books that are too short to be published in mass market. I really don’t know what I’d have done if I’d failed to sell that first book to Leisure.

Me: Do you have any words of wisdom or advice for my readers hoping to publish a book? If you could go back and talk to yourself when you were just starting out, before you had any success, what would you say?

     The only advice I can think of is never give up. If I’d quit after 30 rejections, where would I be today? Find your own voice. Don’t try to write like anyone else. Join RWA.

   I don’t know what advice I’d have given myself. When I was still sending out query letters, it was just a game. I never really expected to sell anything. I made a list of all the publishers, and sent out query letters. When I reached the end of the list, I started over again. So, I guess, subconsciously, I knew you should never give up!

Thanks so much for being here, Mandy!

You can find Amanda’s website at

Her books can be found at Amazon and Zebra books.

Discussion Planned: Violence in YA Literature

If you read my post on March 26th, you know I was having a dilemma. You’ll be happy to know I’ve resolved it, thanks in part to all the wonderful advice I received!

I will be hosting an interview with YA author Cindy M. Hogan on Thursday, April 26th. We’ll discuss her writing, as well as the use of violence in YA literature. What I would like from you, my dear readers, is for you to gather up any questions you might have relating to violence in YA and come prepared. She has said she’ll be more than willing to discuss the topic, as well as answer your questions at the day, so think up some good ones! In fact, I’ve you’d like to leave any questions you might have as comments on this post, I will try to work them into the interview.

And since we’re discussing violence in YA literature, I might as well give you my two cents worth.

I’ve always had a highly active imagination, great for being a writer, not so great when you’re an impressionable teen prone to nightmares. I think that teens are often more mature than we give them credit for, but as far as violence in YA books, I think that the description of violent acts should not be gratuitous. If you must include violence in your story, if it’s necessary to the plot line, than do so, but try to soften it a little. Remember, YA is NOT intended for adults, no matter how grown up teens might think they are. Keep the gory, blow-by-blow descriptions, for your adult books, please.

I also think that our society is so awash in violence in all its forms that we’re becoming immune to it. As a culture, we no longer respond to violent acts with as much shock and horror as we once would have, and with each generation, this lack of response is getting worse.

As writers, we hold a power that many people do not. The words we write may very well influence the teen who is reading them, for better or for worse. I’m not saying that you should preach, dumb down your story, etc. I am only saying that you should think about what your write. Make it the best it can. Hone your craft. There are many writers out there that successfully paint scenes that can be construed as violent without resorting to graphic imagery.

If you’re a YA writer, then you are shaping young minds. This is something that we, as writers, should never forget.