I don't usually read thrillers. I mean, Karen McManus books are my jam, but I tend to lean towards the soft, fluffy, comforting stories than the ones that leave you checking under your bed before turning out the light.
Natasha Preston changed all that.
After reading The Cellar (her New York Times bestselling novel) I burned through two more of her stories (The Cabin and The Twin) within a couple of weeks. She has converted me, and it all started with the Cellar.
Here is the blurb (courtesy of GOODREADS):
Nothing ever happens in the town of Long Thorpe – that is, until sixteen-year-old Summer Robinson disappears without a trace. No family or police investigation can track her down. Spending months inside the cellar of her kidnapper with several other girls, Summer learns of Colin’s abusive past, and his thoughts of his victims being his family…his perfect, pure flowers. But flowers can’t survive long cut off from the sun, and time is running out….
It is every girls greatest nightmare. Being kidnapped by a psycho, determined to make you into someone else to satisfy his needs. Preston wove a chilling, twisting tale told through multiple points of view, giving you a glimpse of the complete experience from everyone involved.
Trigger warnings, however: rape, abuse, psychological manipulation and more, his story stays with you long after you finish for various reasons.
Overall, it was a great read, twisty and thrilling, and it's easy to see how it ended up on the NYT list.
You've done it. You've written your story, gone through edits, and even received praise from your beta readers and CPs. You're feeling good, proud of your story, and decided to take a leap and try your hand at querying.
Querying is the process of submitting your story to agents and editors for their consideration. It is a long process, like all things in publishing, so if you are not a patient person, this particular experience may be a difficult one. It takes days, to months to receive a response from agents on your query, and even longer on your full manuscript if they choose to request it.
The best way to describe a writing journey is this: it is a marathon, not a sprint. And boy, is it ever a marathon.
Personally, I queried for 3 years before I received my first offer of publication and agent. The offer of publication came 8 months after I first submitted to the publisher. The offer from the agent? Happened over the course of a weekend. A drastic difference between the two steps that shows just how varied it can be.
But before the waiting can begin, you need to submit a query letter. This is a short, concise pitch of your story to agents and editors that allow them to see if it is something they would like to consider. It is the first impression, so make it the best you can.
Here are some important query letter basics you will want to keep in mind.
5 Basic Elements to Query Letters
- The basics: genre, word count, title
- The hook: the description of your book and most critical elements only
- Comparative titles: books similar to yours that will allow agents an idea of what you are about
- Author bio: a little bit about you
- Thank you and closing
The entire query letter should be a single page, single spaced, and around 400 words. Short and sweet is key.
Always personalize the query if you can. If it is a specific agent or editor you are submitting to, please address them as they prefer. PRONOUNS ARE IMPORTANT! Use their submission guidelines, or even social media accounts and follow those to the letter. The easiest way to end up in the rejection pile is by not following the rules.
You want to catch the agents attention, so be sure to avoid unnecessary information. The blurb of your story is a short, concise paragraph or two explaining your story, but NOT giving away the ending. The hook is the most important thing an agent is looking for, and a strong one is key. To see if your hook is strong, go back to your GMCs. What does your MC want? Why do they want it? What is keeping them from reaching that goal? Introduce your character and their GMCs upfront, before your bio and housekeeping details. It is the book the agents want, so give it to them.
Things to avoid when writing your blurb:
- is it more than 300 words? Trim it down!
- does it give away the ending? Only the synopsis should do that
- how many characters do you mention? Stick to the main characters only, such as the MC and the love interest or sidekick
Comp titles are important, because they can help the agent see what your story is like before they even read it. Important things to remember about comp titles are that they should be within the same genre as your story, no older than 5 years, and try to avoid two that are too similar to each other. For example, Wattpad favorite White Stag used Twilight meets Game of Thrones as its comp titles, and it allows for a clear, fantastical picture of what the story is all about.
This is all about you, but it needs to be short. a few sentences at most. Dont waste the entire page talking about yourself, because it is the story the agent wants. Here are a few items to include:
- publication credits: whether industry, self publish, magazine, online blog or the like, mention places where the agent can see some of your work
- your profession: for most of us, writing isnt our full time gig. If you have another career, mention it so the agent can get an idea who you are away from the page
- credentials: do you have a masters in creative writing? Mention this! Dont have any educational credits? No big deal.
- awards: are you a watty winner? Mention that! It shows that you have what it takes to stand out in a crowd
Here is my personal bio that I include in my queries.
I am a Registered Nurse by trade, but avid reader and enthusiastic book lover all my life. My own writing experience lies in the online and social media realms, hosting various popular fan fictions and other stories through Wattpad. Additionally, I am a former writer for the pop culture website Fangirlish.com, covering book reviews, celebrity interviews and special features.
It mentions my life away from the keyboard, and a few publishing credits. But the biggest thing is that it is short, and doesnt detract from the blurb.
Again, short and sweet. Usually one or two sentences thanking the agent for their consideration, and saying you look forward to hearing from them. I sign all queries off with 'Regards' rather than anything too familiar and unprofessional.
This is where you add the information about your story. Genre, word count, and any social media you have should be added at the bottom of the page as follows:
Genre: Young adult romance
Word count: 70,000
Some agents want you to include your social media and website addresses so they can check them out if the are considering you. Your behaviour online is important, and will be vetted by agents, so keep that in mind. It is fine to have fun, joke and talk to friends, but if you are using your professional accounts for this, consider whether you would want a potential agent to see what you tweet.