Category: Craft of Writing

Catching An Agent’s Eye from Killer Nashville by Kristin Crump

There are few words that bring such dread to a writer’s heart as the words “query letter”. At least they do to mine. While at Killer Nashville I attended a panel titled “How To Catch An Agent’s Eye”. The panelists were Jill Marr (Sandra Dijkastra Literary Agency), Lucy Carson (The Friedrich Agency), Elizabeth Kracht (Kimberley Cameron & Associates), Sharon Pelletier (Dystel & Goderich Literary Management) and Megan Close Zavala (Keller Media).

These women were kind enough to share an hour of their time with us and give us some great advice on writing a query (or pitch) letter. Here are a few of their suggestions:


  • Research and find the agent that is a good fit for you and the book you’ve written.
  • Look at the agent’s history and see who they represent to get an idea of what they like.
  • Write a letter that is specific to that agent.
  • Spend a lot of time on the pitch section of the letter. Write it until it is as perfect as you can make it. This is your one chance to catch their attention.
  • In the Bio section of the letter, emphasize what makes you unique, mention any writer’s groups you are a part of (this is where being a member of Sisters In Crime comes in), writer’s conferences you’ve been to, awards you’ve been nominated for or won, etc.
  • Be straight forward in your presentation but be interesting too (yeah, easy for them to say!)
  • Know where your novel falls in the marketplace
  • If you meet the agent at a conference, put that IN THE SUBJECT LINE. If they request materials, even better and lead with that (i.e. Requested Materials from Killer Nashville).
  • ALWAYS put something informative in the subject line. Never put just the word “Submission”. It almost guarantees your e-mail/letter will get shoved off to the side and looked at later, if ever. (ex: Submission of a historical mystery set in the 1920’s in a Topeka, Kansas speakeasy). Put what makes your novel different from the crowd.
  • Let agent’s know if it is a multiple submission.
  • FOLLOW THE RULES. However the agent or agency want submissions formatted, do it. It shows a willingness to follow the rules, intelligence and observational skills. If you don’t, the chances are pretty good your query letter is going to get put at the bottom of the pile, or, again, never looked at.


  • Send a form letter that you have sent to dozens of other agents. They can spot those from a mile away and figure, “if he/she can’t take the time to write me a personal query letter, why should I take the time to read said letter or submission”.
  • If you don’t have experience specific to your book, don’t emphasize it.
  • Write what you want to write. Don’t write to trend. Trends are fleeting and chances are by the time your book hits the marketplace, it’s over.
  • You can always cite comparables to your book but don’t only use bestselling authors. If you are going to say your book is a kooky traditional like Janet Evanovich, also uses some mid-list authors such as Gretchen Archer or Jana DeLeon.
  • NEVER say “My book is the next great American novel”.
  • If other published writers have read your book and would do a blurb for it mention it. If your mom read it and liked it, don’t. They don’t care. They only care about things that would help your book sell.

I know it seems impossible, but it’s not. Difficult certainly, but who ever said it would be easy? I hope this helps some of you, especially those who are thinking about coming to our meeting with Victoria Selvaggio. It would be a perfect time to try it out and get her feedback. The more feedback you can get, the better your letter will be and the better your chances of actually landing an agent. Good luck!!

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An Afternoon With New York Literary Agent Victoria Selvaggio

Writers, are you ready to spend an afternoon getting advice from a literary agent? Most agents live in NYC, making it a RARE opportunity that you can sit and chat with such a professional in a relaxed setting–not in the hussle-bussle of an expensive conference. So come hang out with us, and Ms. Vicki, for this unique event.

AND, for those who are interested, she will be reading and reviewing your query letters. There is a fee of $10 per query letter you wish to submit. Payment and query letters are required in advance of the meeting.
You can pay through Eventbrite, there is a link on our web site or you can go to Eventbrite and pay directly.

Please feel free to contact us if you have any questions. We’ll also be enjoying lunch afterward, so plan on joining us!

Eventbrite - Get Your Book Idea In Front of New York Literary Agent Victoria Selvaggio!

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Flying Tomatoes

Article by Patrick Stuart tomatoes

The online version of The Atlantic had an interesting article recently about whether MFA programs produced better writers.  Now before anyone starts throwing electronic tomatoes, the basic argument was whether any difference could be detected between a best-selling novel by an author with an MFA degree, and one without.  So a couple language professors used computational analysis to determine if any differences could be found.  They looked at 200 novels over the last 15 years by authors with MFA degrees, and another 200 without.  To limit those without degrees, they decided to only review authors who had been critiqued by The New York Times.  And the results?

The various categories included diction, syntax, style, race and gender. Long story short, there wasn’t much difference. The computer model only picked MFA authors correctly 67% of the time, which isn’t great considering that a blind guess would be 50%. And consider this: MFA programs have increased nationwide from 52 programs to almost 7 times that amount now.  20,000 people apply for these programs annually, with universities gathering $200 million in the process.  So there’s a huge financial incentive to get people interested in pursuing MFAs.

Which isn’t to say that such programs are bad. On the contrary, writing a novel is only one of several uses for an MFA. And several esteemed non-MFA writers have advanced degrees in other subjects, such as Khaled Hosseini (doctor), Annie Proulx (PhD level history) and Kathy Reichs (forensic anthropologist). In other words, these are people who would probably have done well in a creative writing program anyway; they just happened to choose another profession first. But there’s also those who had successful writing careers with little to no educational background. Maya Angelou was trained as a dancer, with no college experience. William Gay worked as a handyman, painter, drywaller and carpenter before finally getting critical acclaim. And JK Rowling, the most successful writer in history, was a single mother on welfare when she wrote the first Harry Potter book.

So if you’re looking for excuses about your lack of a six-figure book deal, a missing MFA is not an option. Unfortunately, like most things (not involving questionable moral or ethical lapses), the ingredients for success are a couple cups of hard work, a pound of perseverance, and a dash of luck for taste. And for anyone with an MFA who disagrees with the findings? No soy responsable por eso. But if you’re still planning on flingin’ them ‘maters, let fly in 3 . . . 2 . . . 1 . . .

And for anyone wanting to check out the article, here’s the link:


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How I Signed with my Dream Agent by Julie Anne Lindsey

Let’s face it. Looking for an agent is the pits. The very scary, Pits of Despair, Princess Bride, pits. I fumbled across my first agent four years ago, right after I’d begun writing. We met online in a chat room. She was new to agenting. I was new to writing. Why not partner up? It was a wonderful experience for a while, but a couple years in, my career had stagnated, and I was frustrated. She and I were friends, and I knew she was working hard for me, but something had to change.

I needed to break up with my agent and start again. I was a wreck at the thought. How could I give up my security blanket? Even if my agent wasn’t perfect for me, she was still there. Real. Mine. I thought about it for more than a year before I made the call. We’d just signed another digital first, no advance, minimal support contract with a publisher I didn’t need an agent to submit to, and I told her it would be my last.

And just like that. It was over. I was adrift. And terrified. But I’d taken my time (LOTS of time) making the decision to let her go, and I knew it was the right thing for my career.

So, I wrote a new cozy mystery.

I found three published friends to read for me – none of whom actually write cozy, (I still don’t have a partner who writes cozy to trade with) but my girls are good at their craft and they love me, so they chipped in and gave feedback. I made the changes and ate my weight in Ben & Jerry’s.

This was it. Nine months after the dreaded breakup call to my former agent, I was ready to query again.

Holy hopscotch! What was I thinking???

My list of ideal agents had been drafted, refined and cultivated over many months of daydreaming. Stalking my favorite authors to see who represented them. Following the agents on social media. Reading their blogs. Interviews. Tweets. I thought quite a few agents were funny. Some would be a blast to have drinks with. And then there was the One. The one who was my tip-top, out-of-my-league, dream agent. So, I started with her. Obviously. Her name is Jill Marsal co-founder of Marsal Lyons Lit. She represents so many AMAZING, successful authors. She has a law degree from Harvard. I love telling people that about her. Smart people float my boat. I wanted HER.

I sent a query and waited. I will admit that it took an extra-large glass of wine to make me hit send…at two in the morning….on a Friday night. I woke Saturday morning with a headache and regret. WHY WHY WHY??? did I think I was ready to contact my dream agent???? Stupidstupidstupidstupid….

And then I opened my email.

Jill had received my late night tipsy query and she wanted my whole manuscript. Not a couple pages. Not a few chapters. She wanted to read the whole thing.

…… …………… <— those dots represent the part where I stared slack-jawed at my screen for two hours.

By lunchtime, I was moving in mental fast forward. I reread the manuscript from start to finish, plucking and culling, licking my thumb and smoothing flyaways until there was nothing more I could do. This was all I had in me. It was a full representation of my very best. If it wasn’t good enough, I’d try again next time, but for now, this was it.

Being Julie… I sent two more queries that night. I figured, I’d already set the thing in motion, I might as well give myself something else to fret about. It was highly unlikely Jill would want me, and I had months of waiting ahead of me while she read the manuscript. So, I sent two more queries and now, I had contacted my top three agents.

I sent the manuscript to Jill on Sunday night, after a trip to church and lots of prayers for sanity during the sure-to-be-maddening wait. I mostly hoped for feedback. When she rejected me, which I believed was 90% inevitable because she was Jill Marsal and I was….well goofy, awkward, a bumbling forty-year- old authoring dork… but her feedback upon rejection could change my game. I could use it to improve the work before someone else asked for pages. While I was at it, I sent two more queries. There. I’d contacted my top five. It was over. I could go puff into a paper bag and wait for the rejections to roll in.

My phone rang at nine am the next morning.

Jill had read my manuscript through the night and called as soon as it was business appropriate. That’s so sweet and professional of her. I would have gladly rolled out of bed to get the call at literally ANY hour, but nine am the next freaking morning worked also.

I didn’t play it cool. I didn’t ask for time to contact other agents or think it over. I dorkily barfed all my internal monologue on her. She was my number one choice. She was the one. Yes. Yes. Yes, please and thank you. Yes. “Perfect,” she said, because she’d already compiled a list of publishers who needed to read my story. I may have rolled off my couch silently. She emailed her contract for representation and while I signed and returned it, she put together a package for six presses. The next morning, she called again. Four of the six had requested to read me. The day after that, another call. She had two offers. If you’re still reading and keeping track, that made FIVE DAYS between my tipsy-query-send and a new agent with two publisher offers. By day 7 after the tipsy query, I’d signed a NICE three book deal with Crooked Lane books. And I’m still wondering when Jill will realize what she’s gotten herself into and politely flee from me.

While that was all lovely and fine and exciting, I want to tell authors in the find-an-agent boat, it wasn’t a reflection on my phenomenal writing skills that made that wild and wonderful story unfold. I probably don’t completely suck at this job, but I’m also no better than most other authors out there and I’m a LOT worse than plenty of them. Remember those other four queries I sent? I had ONE request to read. I also had a big rejection. Not a form letter, a “No thanks. I don’t see this finding a home in the cozy world today,” break-my-heart style rejection. And TWO agents just flat out ignored the query. ie: Rejection by avoidance. It’s a thing. *shakes my head*

So, you see, if I hadn’t had the wine and sent the query to Jill, I might not have an agent or a contract today, and I’d be questioning my craft, my future and my viability as an author. There’s no guarantee the one other agent who asked to read me would’ve wanted to represent me. Maybe no one else would’ve seen promise in my silly story of a woman in New Orleans making custom couture clothing for pets and solving murder. Who knows? That’s why you to have to be brave. Are you sitting on a query? Afraid to pull the trigger? Don’t be. Hit send. Have some wine if you need it, but put yourself out there and don’t stop being your number one advocate. If you need a first agent to move forward, seek one. If your current agent isn’t right, it’s okay to say so. Do the thing, whatever it is. Go for it. If I can do it, YOU can do it.

So, do it!


About Julie

Julie Anne Lindsey is a multi-genre author who writes the stories that keep her up at night. She’s a self-proclaimed nerd with a penchant for words and proclivity for fun. Julie lives in rural Ohio with her husband and three small children. Today, she hopes to make someone smile. One day she plans to change the world. Julie is a member of the International Thriller Writers (ITW) and Sisters in Crime (SinC). She is represented by Jill Marsal of Marsal Lyons Literary Agency.

Julie also writes as Julie Chase. Learn more about Julie Chase books here.

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Writing a Synopsis for Your Novel

Kandy Williams (w/a Mercedes King)

After enjoying fireworks and champagne in celebrunnamedation of writing and revising your novel, the party is cut short when you realize you have to write a synopsis. Whether you’re submitting to an agent or editor, there’s no way around needing a synopsis. Along with the first three chapters, a synopsis is probably the most required item when shopping and sending your work. Being the creative type that you are, chances are good that you rank writing a synopsis up there with paying income tax and having a root canal. But have no fear. With the recent completion of my latest WIP, I went straight to the task of writing the blasted tool, skipping the fireworks and champagne all together. Here’s what I learned:

  1.  You need a finished product. No need to dive into writing a summary until your draft is polished and has had several read-thrus. When you’re feeling solid and comfortable with where your manuscript is at, then you’re ready for the synopsis.
  2. Your finished manuscript makes it EASY. Yes, I went there with capital letters. With your WIP upgraded to a DMS (Done Manuscript), sit down with a notepad and skim through each chapter, jotting down the major highlights. Put down everything that jumps out to you as important.
  3. Longer is better. No size jokes, please. Once you have your list of highlights, put them together like a recipe and allow 1-2 sentences per highlight. At first, you may find that you have a 10 page outline. Cool. Keep it, because some agents / editors ask for a long synopsis, so you’ll be ready.
  4. “Trim”. Here’s the hard part. Other agents may ask for a brief synopsis (3-4 pages), and some will want a 1-page synopsis. Shave that long version down until you have both.

It took me several days to accomplish this, and I only say that so you can expect to take longer if needed. There’s no rush, because the important thing is capturing the essence of your story. Once you’ve tackled and completed this process yourself, you’ll agree with me that writing a synopsis is no longer the equivalent of battling the Kraken (sans Medusa’s head). Good luck!

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A Day With Jane Friedman

0If you’ve been part of the writing community for a few months or a few years, then you probably recognize the name of Jane Friedman. Not only is she considered by most to be a publishing guru for her incomparable ability to keep a pulse on what’s happening in the industry, but she’s also extraordinarily helpful to writers at every level.

Carolyn and I had the pleasure of attending Mad Anthony’s Conference, located in Hamilton, Ohio, where Jane was the all-day speaker. She was not short on material. Jane spoke about every topic, from marketing and promotion to building an author web site; how to use Facebook as an author; finding a freelance editor; tips on writing a synopsis; understanding Google analytics…..and SO much more. (Looking over my notes, I’m amazed at everything she covered!)

No matter where you’re at in your writer’s journey, you can always learn from Jane Friedman. For more information, and when you have time to invest, head to her web site and search through the treasure of info. Thanks to Jane and event organizers Victoria Ryan and Jane Biddinger for a fabulous day!

Visit her site at

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Avoiding Quicksand

Screen Shot 2016-02-29 at 12.48.40 PM

Wasn’t that the truth?

If you recall much of anything from 1970s / 1980s TV, how often did quicksand threaten our favorite characters? Somebody was sinking at least once a week.

Although I can’t say what most endangers today’s characters (since I don’t watch much episodic TV), this image made me think of writing. Back in the day, ‘It was a dark and stormy night’ when ‘the Butler did it’. I’m not how those phrases originated and became cliché, but any writer sticking to old-time devices, such as opening with the weather, a wedding, or a funeral, should beware! Agents and/or edits might toss that manuscript into the Reject pile, publishing’s version of quicksand. Other no-no’s include an overuse of adjectives and adverbs, too much description (when it’s not vital to moving the plot/characters forward), and subplots that don’t contribute to the character arc or main plot. At a recent monthly meeting, we SiCCOs also learned storylines to currently avoid are sex trafficking and drug lords/mob wars. Some might argue that the vampire, whether sparkling or simply blood sucking, has had his day, along with chick-lit tales.

That’s not to say you should burn your story if it involves anything mentioned above. All you have to do is strong-arm your manuscript, Steve Austin-style pretty please, out of that quicksand and give it new life. Sure, you might have to hose it down after, give it a day or two to let the trauma subside, but clean that baby up and go for it!

Post written by Mercedes King

#amwriting #amediting #musings #writerlife #writerproblems

Meme shared from Weird Hollywood (FB), originally created by John Mulaney

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Prepping for NaNo








By Kandy Williams

Meeting Recap: October 2015
Don’t know NaNo? No problem. Thanks to our guest, Anne Delekta, local liaison for National Novel Writing Month, you don’t have to stay in the NaNo-unknown. Anne shared with us how NaNo began, as a writing challenge between friends in San Francisco. That endeavor–to write 50, 000 words in 30 days (originally July)–gained a fan base and momentum, and now attracts writers from around the world. Each year during the month of November (because no one was writing much during that first July), people sign up through NaNo’s web site and by so doing commit to hashing out a rough draft of a never-before-written-novel in one month. In order to cross that 50k mark, NaNo encourages participants to write approximately 1, 667 words a day. Daily emails are sent to cheer and prod writers along the way, and various in-person events (such as write-ins) are held throughout the month.
Chris Baty, NaNo’s founder, also utilized the format of NaNo to write No Plot? No Problem. [From Amazon] “Chris Baty, founder of the wildly successful literary marathon known as National Novel Writing Month, has completely revised and expanded his definitive handbook for extreme noveling. Chris pulls from over 15 years of results-oriented writing experience to pack this compendium with new tips and tricks, ranging from week-by-week quick reference guides to encouraging advice from authors, and much more. His motivating mix of fearless optimism and practical solutions to common excuses gives both first-time novelists and results-oriented writers the kick-start they need to embark on an exhilarating creative adventure.”  For more info on the book / kit, visit here.
His primary advice? “Hush your inner editor and get it out.” Basically, give yourself permission to do nothing but WRITE for 30 days. Let it be as awful as possible, especially if that means you’ll have a (crappy) draft to work with later on.
Anne, our speaker and 12 year NaNo-participant, realizes (both from personal experience and from talking to other writers) that following that advice is challenging. Many people start off strong and often peter out 2 weeks in. But here are a few methods and pieces of helpful advice she’s picked up over the years:
*It’s best to start with a brand new concept. Your LOVE for the new characters and story can be powerful and help propel that word count, especially early on. This can even give you a little padding with that daily word count requirement. Meaning, if you have several days of strong writing and find yourself ahead, then you’re better able to handle stressful days, writer’s block, and so forth, because you’ll have a chance to regroup.
*Leave notes for yourself each day on what you’re going to write. Having an idea about the next chapter or scene keeps those creative juices flowing and might make you eager to get your butt in the chair.
*Stop writing mid-scene or even mid-sentence. Forget leaving the reader hanging; leave the author hanging. Of course you won’t be able to leave it like that, and in fact, you may zoom to your desk each day in anticipation what typing what you’ve got planned next.
*Try Beat Sheets. These are used by screenwriters. Since screenwriting is a bare-bone type of writing, this might be just the prompt you need to keep your story moving without getting bogged down into details.
*Try the Snowflake Method. Crafted by Randy Ingermanson, his book, How to Write a Novel Using the Snowflake Method, outlines “ten battle-tested steps that jump-start your creativity and help you quickly map out your story.” [Amazon] Having read and applied this myself, I also give it a thumbs-ups!
*Mindmapping. Like Post-It notes and seeing bullet points of each of your scenes laid out? This could be a method that works for you, keeps you on track, and motivated.
*Group brainstorming. Gather together your writing buddies and discuss plot points where you’re stuck. Fresh ideas are their own muse.
These are only a sample of the techniques and methods anyone can try to keep them focused and writing for the month of NaNo. Here at SiCCO, we’re discussing ideas for helping you make the most of your writing time, whether it’s November or anytime of year.
Learn more about NaNo by visiting their site:
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