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The Difference Between a Query Letter and a Book Proposal

Before you write to either a publisher or to an agent, it is important to know the difference between a query letter and a book proposal.

A query letter is a request for a publisher to read your proposal for a request for reading your fiction book and a book proposal is a proposal for a request for reading your nonfiction book. A query letter is usually written after a fiction book is written and a book proposal is often written before the book is written. Since you have written a book of fiction, if you are going the traditional publishing route, you will be writing a query letter.

Of course, you no longer have to go the traditional publishing route. Many people are self-publishing or going through small press publishers or even doing what is called hybrid publishing which is a cross between traditional publishing or self-publishing. This post, however, is about how to contact a publisher or agent.

What is the difference between a publisher, an editor, and an agent?

A publisher can refer to an organization or the individual in charge of an organization which releases books. However, an editor is an individual who works with authors directly. In cases where the publisher refers to an organization, it simply means the publishing company as a whole which employs many editors. Editors are the people who work to adapt your book to the publisher’s audiences.

A literary agent (also known as book agents or publishing agents) act as authors’ representatives for the sale and/or licensing of their books with large domestic publishers. As well as smaller domestic publishers. These individuals work to connect you with the publisher and then help negotiate the contract between you and the publisher.

To secure either the services of a publisher or an agent, you can’t just call them up and ask them if you if they will accept you and your book. You have to write a query and send it to them.

It used to be that in order to send a query letter, you had to mail it in and wait weeks for a reply. Now days, contacting literary agents and publishers are usually done via e-mail. You send the query letter and then they let you know whether they want you to submit your manuscript. They may also want to do it some other way. The best way to find out how they want you to submit your manuscript would be by reading their submission guidelines.

Look at a publisher or agent’s website before submitting a query letter or your manuscript.

Study the publisher or agent’s website and learn everything you can about what this person accepts and doesn’t accept. If this agent focuses on selling science fiction, don’t try to get this agent to represent you if you write historical romances. If a publisher doesn’t publish horror, don’t think that that publisher is going to change for you!

The better you’re known by the publisher or agent, the more likely they are to represent you. However, even if they do represent your genre, don’t think that harassing them is going to make them represent you. Calling them on the phone and asking to speak to someone in charge could be a nail in your authorship coffin.

So how do you meet a publisher or an agent? You might go to an event where publishers or agents are present and get to know them at a writer’s conference.

It is also possible that you could get to know them through someone you already know. If you know another author who has published through a specific publisher or has been represented by a specific agent, that person might just be the connection you need.

Whether you’re contacting a publisher or an agent, your query letter should be perfectly written, but that will be a message for another blog post.  First, before writing the query letter, you’ll need to work on dressing up your bio. That will be the topic of next week’s post.


Where to find a Good Editor

Some of us are lucky in that we know people who make good editors for your work. However, not everyone is that lucky, but there is a solution if you’re willing to look around for the right person for your editing job. Hundreds of websites exist where you can find literally thousands of editors. Some of the top sites include:

Upwork.com

Guru.com

freelancer.com

Choose a Freelancing Site to Post Your Job

Upwork is the biggest website in the world created specifically to connect freelance contractors with small businesses, entrepreneurs, authors and artists. registered with the site. Guru.com and Freelancer.com are both much smaller.

Now that you have figured out where you want to post your job, it’s time to post your job so that freelancers can apply to do the work for you.

You may not find an exact match for the type of work you’re looking to find, but you should do your best to make sure you pick the most relevant category so you can find the most experienced freelancers to help with your project.

Naming the Job Posting

When you name your job posting, make sure to be as specific as possible so that you can attract the right freelancers and automatically weed out contractors who are not a good fit for your project. Posting something generic like “Looking for an editor for my book” is a bad idea because you will end up getting tons of freelancers applying who may edit fiction when you have a non-fiction book, or vice versa.

Try to include as much detail as you can when selecting a name for your job. For instance, if you write historical fiction, you would want to be as specific as possible. If it were me, I would write something like: Looking for a freelancer who specializes in Early American Historical Fiction.

Writing the Job Description

Next, it’s time to write a job description to clearly explain what kind of work you need done and what kind of freelancer would be a good fit for your project.

Ask for information like the individuals experience and background as an editor, a list of titles that person has edited, preferably with links to Amazon or another retailer so you can review his or her work. Be sure to ask for a list of references. Also ask for a description of the kind of editing where this person feels that he or she would most excel.

Include in your job description the type of experience level you require for the job. Tell them what kind of editing skills you are requiring. If you’ve utilized good beta readers before looking for your editor, you might just want to find someone who just proofreads. Make sure only to include skills here that are absolutely necessary for the job. The more exact the description of what type of editor you want, the easier you can eliminate those who would be inappropriate.

How to Pay Freelancers

You want to determine how you’ll pay your freelance editor. You’ll either hire them at an hourly rate or a fixed price per project. I recommend a fixed price for most projects so that you can estimate your exact costs ahead of time, rather than paying an hourly rate and not knowing how much it’s actually going to cost you until the work is done.

Invite the Best Editors to Your Job Posting

Once you’ve filled out all the information above and posted your job listing, you’ll be able to invite top freelance editors to edit your work. Go through and invite at least 5-10 top contractors who you think would be a good fit for your job. The best of the best usually never apply for jobs. They only consider work they have been invited to do. So, if you want to work with the best editors and freelancers, you need to invite them to work with you!

Review Job Proposals from Editors

Once you have posted your job and invited a few top freelancers, you should start seeing editors applying to work with you within 24 hours.

What to Consider when Reviewing Editor Applications

Job Success Rate

Work Experience

A Well-written Profile Essay

Their Work History

Send a Message Test

If everything checks out, send a message test. Send the editor a quick note.

Send an email to test if they respond quickly and to take the conversation to your email inbox where you can easily exchange phone numbers or Skype details and schedule a call.

Schedule a Phone Interview with the Editor

If the editor responds to and passes the Message Test, send an email to schedule a time to interview the editor over the phone.

During the Call

During the call, determine if you get along with this person. If they are argumentative, talk too much, don’t listen or are rude, you can immediately tell it’s not a good fit and move on.

Do they show up on time for the appointment?

Are they really interested in you and your book? If the editor doesn’t ask questions about you and your book, they probably aren’t interested enough in editing books to do great work.

Interview Questions

Tell me about your editing experience…

How long have you been working as an editor?

What do you love most about being an editor?

What kind of editing work are you most experienced with?

Do you mostly edit fiction or non-fiction?

What are the most common mistakes you see authors of books like mine making?

What does your typical editing process look like for a book like mine?

How quickly can you turn around my manuscript if it is 80,000 words in length?

How do you normally charge for work like this?

After you’ve asked all these questions and any other questions you’d like to ask, give them time to ask more questions about you and your work.

If you can tell right away it’s not going to be a good fit, feel free to let them know and move on to interviewing another editor so you can find a good fit.

I recommend interviewing at least 3-5 editors before trying to select the best one for you. This will ensure you get as much experience as possible and can see what options are out there. Hiring the first editor you talk to is usually a good recipe for spending too much and not getting the right editor for the job.

After you’ve conducted your interviews, it’s time for one last step: the sample edit.

Get a Sample Edit

After your interviews, you’ll want to ask each editor you’re still considering working with for a sample edit. A sample edit is a free edit for about 1,500 to 2,000 words of your book so that the editor can show you their skills and the kind of comments and suggestions you should expect if you hire them to edit your entire book.

If you’re a first-time author and have never hired an editor before, don’t hire an editor without first getting a sample edit. An editor can have a great resume and speak eloquently on the phone, but the real test of their skills is how they edit your book, and the sample edit is a quick, free way to find out.

Remember Self-Editing

Before you send your book to the editor, do at least one extra round of edits by yourself. The more you can hone your manuscript, fix typos and grammatical errors and improve your book, the more time your editor can spend on important edits and suggestions and the less it will cost you overall.

Hiring Your Editor

After the interviews and sample edits, it’s time to hire your editor. You will definitely want to create and have both parties sign a legal contract that clearly states the editing services being provided, the amount you will pay, how much time the editor has to perform the work, and other basic information.

Working with Your Editor

After your editor sends back the edited manuscript with tracked changes and comments, the first thing you’ll want to do is read through all the edits and comments and accept or reject any changes. After you read through the edits and make a few updates, schedule a call with the editor to discuss the book.

Proofreading

After you’ve gone through the editing process, hire another person as a proofreader or have your editor do that final proofreading.

Now your manuscript is ready to send out to agents or publishers or to format for self-publishing.

Get Your Copy of The Comprehensive Novel Editing Checklist

If you have a first draft that you would love to publish this year, be sure to pick up a copy of my novel editing checklist and if you haven’t already, sign up to make sure that you never miss a post of this editing series. 


“You’re not done with a book until you pass it to another reader.” Donalyn Miller

We spend so much time on our own manuscripts that we can’t see them objectively — no matter how diligently we self-edit. We create anticipation or an expectation early in the book but forget to deliver on it. We describe events in a way that is clear to us. However, they are not necessarily clear to a reader who can’t see the pictures in our head. We leave out vital steps in an explanation and don’t realize it, because we know what we mean. The characters in our books are not convincing, because we know them so well. We simply don’t always realize we haven’t developed them as thoroughly as we thought when we committed them to paper.

Why Do We Need a Beta Reader (or ten)?

This is why we need a beta reader. A beta reader is someone who gives you feedback on your finished manuscript. This person lets you know how you can adjust your manuscript before you set it loose on the world.

The beta reader’s report cuts through this noise. A beta reader will read your entire manuscript and respond personally to it. They are uninfluenced by the opinions of others. The thing I particularly like about this is that reading is generally a solitary pursuit, and books ‘happen’ in the mind of the reader. So, it’s an authentic way to encounter your book.

A beta reader will tell you if your story seems plausible or if your work has numerous obvious proofreading errors. Sometimes your beta reader might even see content errors. This happened to me. One of my beta readers was reading A Coward’s Solace when she discovered that I had written that George Washington was riding a “white roan”. She said that there was no such horse. I therefore had to research further and learned there actually is such a thing as a “white roan, but that George Washington’s horse was not a white roan, just an ordinary white horse. A white roan is a horse that is born white and is always white whereas an ordinary white horse is born gray and turns white as he ages.

The best beta reports are not always the ones you pay for. In fact, most people get beta reads by an exchange of favors with other writers.

The best beta readers will give you a written report on their responses (which could be several pages long), and they often also will make notes in the text, to show their reaction to specific sections of the book. A beta reader can tell you if a sub-plot is too involved and it overwhelms the main story. You can trust a good beta reader to tell you more was expected from your secondary story line and that it didn’t do much for the story. If they wonder why it was even there, your sub-plot needs work.

Beta readers might have trouble explaining a problem with a secondary plot that’s too detailed or that overshadows the main plot. Yet if several readers tell you they like a secondary character more than your protagonist or that a second bad guy makes a better antagonist, you’ve probably invested your sub-plot with more compelling events or dialogue than your main plot.

Seeking a beta reader is a professional move, not an amateur one. Although they weren’t called that by publishers, publishers have used beta readers for years. The concept of getting another opinion about a manuscript is almost as old as a Gutenberg printing press.

Get Your Copy of The Comprehensive Novel Editing Checklist

If you have a first draft that you would love to publish this year, be sure to pick up a copy of my novel editing checklist and if you haven’t already, sign up to make sure that you never miss a post of this editing series. 

 FREE EDITING CHECKLIST WITH SUBSCRIPTION TO THIS BLOG


You’re Ready for One Last Go Over of Your Novel

You’ve finished the writing, the rewriting, the editing and the polishing. What’s next?

You’ve been through your manuscript front to back and back to front and weeded out and added in.

You’ve straightened out your characters and tightened the plot and you’ve proofed for every conceivable error you’ve ever read about.

Both protagonist and antagonist get what they deserve and what they’ve earned and what your readers will love.

You’ve got conflict and chapter-ending hooks and emotion-evoking phrases.

You’ve got an opening that delights, a middle without sag, and an ending that satisfies.

You’ve got ups and downs and breathing space and breathless action. You’ve included emotional responses for characters that are guaranteed to touch the reader as well.

The number of modifiers—both adverbs and adjectives—doesn’t overwhelm.

Dialogue is strong. Setting is clear and works for the story. Characters are unique. Style is consistent.

Your favorite unusual sentence construction. The unusual gets noticed. Don’t overplay those touches that stand out.

Your favorite words. We all have them, and they sneak in despite our desire to keep them out. Can you cut one or two more instances of each?

The overuse of character names, especially in dialogue. People just don’t call each other by name when they talk to them.

The opening line and opening page. Do they accomplish all that they can? Does the opening set up the story arc, get the plot rolling, introduce your protagonist, introduce tone and/or setting?

The ending. Does it address the story opening and the character’s problem? Does it finish the several hundred pages that come before it? Is the last line a memorable one?

Do you find any words that don’t fit?

If you’ve changed a character’s name, make sure you’ve not left any instances of the former name.

Space holders. If you use space holders for unsure elements—asterisks, blank lines, hash tags—be sure you’ve filled in the blanks and be sure to remove them.

Words used too often. They might not even be favorite words, but their use and overuse can weaken your scenes. However, remember not to include so many synonyms that it aggravates the reader.

That one scene that niggles at you, the one that still doesn’t seem quite perfect.  Yes, make the time for one more try to fix it. If it bothers you, it’s going to bother the reader.

Chapter breaks. Make sure chapters begin on new pages. Make sure chapter numbers are sequential.

Manuscript format. Before submitting, format your manuscript in the proper format. Don’t forget page numbers and the correct info for the headers. Check for consistency with scene breaks—have you used asterisks or hash marks or simple line spacing?

Spelling. Remember you can’t depend on spell checker, but run your story through spellchecker one last time, especially. If you make any changes during this go round.as a final step in your cleanup. And repeat as many times as necessary if you continue to make changes.

This is not an editing checklist, but a helpful last step before you submit your manuscript whoever you choose for your next step.

When Is It Time to Let Your Story Go?

These suggestions are not meant as a tool for procrastination: please don’t hesitate to submit when your story is ready. Do what’s necessary for making both story and manuscript error-free and then let the story go. Start your next project or complete another story you’ve begun. Put an end to this one.

Trust me as someone who has been through it many times. A few errors are likely to slip through even with your best proofreading. However, as a writing aficionado, you want to do your best with this final draft. A few simple errors will not be what keeps your story from being accepted or if you are a self-publisher, may keep readers from reading your next book. Submit your manuscripts when you get to the point where you just can’t edit any longer.

Get Your Copy of The Comprehensive Novel Editing Checklist

If you have a first draft that you would love to publish this year, be sure to pick up a copy of my novel editing checklist and if you haven’t already, sign up to make sure that you never miss a post of this editing series. 

 FREE EDITING CHECKLIST WITH SUBSCRIPTION TO THIS BLOG


Most writers know about when to use a period, a question mark, and exclamation point. Be sure that every sentence has one of those three at the end.  Back on April 29ths post, we went over how to punctuate dialogue. I am not going to go over that again here, but you should probably review that now as well. In addition, go through and make sure you didn’t miss any of your quotation marks. Like the previous forms of punctuation, commas, semi-colons, colons, apostrophes, and dashes indicate added emphasis, an interruption, or an abrupt change of thought. Experienced writers know that these marks are not interchangeable.

Once you’re sure that every sentence ends properly and every piece of dialogue is properly punctuated, let’s move onto commas.

Commas

Use a comma after an expression

Of course, you may use my pen.

Add a comma when a participle phrase is used

Carefully watching what she was doing, she poured the liquid into the cylinder.

Include a comma when an adverb clause is used

After we go to town, we need to put away the groceries.

Use a comma to separate parts of a date

Her birthday was Thursday, June 27, 2002.

Use a comma when two complete sentences are combined. (Remember to use a conjunction so you don’t end up with a run-on sentence.

He went to see his mother, and she waited in the car.

Use a comma when setting off quoted words

“She seemed embarrassed,” he said.

Semi-Colons

In most modern fiction, semi-colons should be edited out.

Colons

Use a colon to introduce an item or a series of items. Do not capitalize the first item after the colon (unless it’s a proper noun)

A capital letter generally does not introduce a word, phrase, or incomplete sentence following a colon.

Avoid using a colon before a list if it directly follows a verb or preposition that would ordinarily need no punctuation in that sentence.

When listing items one by one, one per line, following a colon, capitalization and ending punctuation are optional when using single words or phrases preceded by letters, numbers, or bullet points. If each point is a complete sentence, capitalize the first word and end the sentence with appropriate ending punctuation. Otherwise, there are no hard and fast rules, except be consistent.

A colon instead of a semicolon may be used between independent clauses when the second sentence explains, illustrates, paraphrases, or expands on the first sentence. (Not recommended in modern fiction either. Instead, separate the sentences with a period or a comma and a conjunction)

Capitalize the first word of a complete or full-sentence quotation that follows a colon.

Capitalize the first word after a colon if the information following the colon requires two or more complete sentences.

If a quotation contains two or more sentences, many writers and editors introduce it with a colon rather than a comma.

For extended quotations introduced by a colon, some style manuals say to indent one-half inch on both the left and right margins; others say to indent only on the left margin. Quotation marks are not used.

Apostrophes

The apostrophe has two main jobs in English: to mark contractions and to indicate possession.

Never use an apostrophe to designate plurals.

Use apostrophes to form contractions, where two or more words are combined to form one, with letters omitted. Words most frequently affected by contractions are verbs and pronouns. For example, in the contractions “I’m” the apostrophe replaced the a in I am. The same goes for the word doesn’t where the apostrophe replaces the o in not like don’t in place of do not. The apostrophe is placed where the letters are removed.

Use an apostrophe plus -s to show the possessive form of a singular noun, even if that singular noun already ends in -s.

Some style guides (including the “Associated Press Stylebook” but not “The Chicago Manual of Style”) recommend using only an apostrophe after singular proper names ending in -s

To form the possessive of a plural noun that already ends in -s, simply add an apostrophe.

When two or more nouns possess the same thing, add an apostrophe plus -s to the last noun listed.

Don’t Use an Apostrophe With Possessive Pronouns including its, yours, hers his, ours, and theirs.

Add an apostrophe plus -s to form the possessive of some indefinite pronouns including anyone’s, somebody’s and one’s.

Dashes

Words and phrases between dashes are not generally part of the subject.

Dashes replace otherwise mandatory punctuation, such as the commas after Iowa and 2013 in the following examples:

Without dash: The man from Ames, Iowa, arrived.

With dash: The man—he was from Ames, Iowa—arrived.

Without dash: The May 1, 2013, edition of the Ames Sentinel arrived in June.

With dash: The Ames Sentinel—dated May 1, 2013—arrived in June.

Some writers and publishers prefer spaces around dashes.

Example: Joe — and his trusty mutt — was always welcome.

Be sure to include how you handle these forms of punctuation in your own personal style guide and be sure to be consistent in how you apply them in your novel.

Get Your Copy of The Comprehensive Novel Editing Checklist

If you have a first draft that you would love to publish this year, be sure to pick up a copy of my novel editing checklist and if you haven’t already, sign up to make sure that you never miss a post of this editing series. 

 FREE EDITING CHECKLIST WITH SUBSCRIPTION TO THIS BLOG


If there is one area where I am apt to be a member of the grammar police, it would be in the area of homophones. I hate it when a writer uses there when they really should be using they’re or their.

One homophone that we recently disagreed about at work was pore and pour. Most of us thought that “we poured over material” as we studied. However, one person argued that we should have used the word “pored”. We looked it up on google and I found four sources that said the word was pored, not poured. We pour milk over our cereal, but this word has nothing to do with studying. Here are numerous homophones to check and determined that you have used the correct word.

The Most Common Problematic Homophones

Too, two, to;

there, their, they’re; 

where, wear, ware,

its it’s;

accept, except  

principle/principal

write/right

current/currant

allowed/aloud

desert/dessert

bear/bare

cite/site/sight

forward/foreword

groan/grown

here/hear

idle/idol

no, know

joule/jewel

lie/lye

morning/mourning

neigh/nay

owed/ode

quartz/quarts

reign/rein/rain

seen/scene

vial/vile

week/weak

yolk/yoke

If you have any question about the proper usage of these words, be sure to google them to discover how each word would be used in a sentence.

Get Your Copy of The Comprehensive Novel Editing Checklist

If you have a first draft that you would love to publish this year, be sure to pick up a copy of my novel editing checklist and if you haven’t already, sign up to make sure that you never miss a post of this editing series. 

 FREE EDITING CHECKLIST WITH SUBSCRIPTION TO THIS BLOG


This week we are identifying and replacing spelling errors. Now is a good time to run a spell check to see find words that are spelled wrong or you have written using British spellings rather than American spellings (or visa versa if you’re aiming to sell to British audiences). You wouldn’t want to insult your reader (or publisher!) with the wrong gray or grey. Now’s a good time to run your spellcheck over your manuscript before going onto the next steps.

Check for the Consistent Name Spellings

A common error that pops up in the proofreading stage is the incorrect spelling of names. Be sure you’re not the author who spells the person’s name at the beginning one way and another way in the middle. Go back and review names to make sure they are correct and consistent across the whole document.

No one wants to be that person who spells the name of a place or famous person incorrectly. When in doubt, do a google search on how the name is actually spelled. If you find such an error, use find and replace feature on your word processing program to replace your spelling with the correct one.

Be consistent with contractions

Check with your style guide on whether to use contractions. In academic writing, words like “it’s” or “can’t” are spelled out fully as “it is” or “cannot.” Some people feel the contracted style is too informal for some kinds of writing. This is usually not a problem with a novel, but you might want to go back and look at your dialogue again and have your characters who are more formal not using contractions and those who are using them.

Words that Sound the Same But are Spelled Differently

Homophones are words that sound the same but are spelled differently. These words include principal/principle, right/write, and currant/current. When we’re writing, it’s easy for our fingers to spit out one when we mean the other. This is often such a major issue with many people that I have devoted the entire next blog post to this subject.

Get Your Copy of The Comprehensive Novel Editing Checklist

If you have a first draft that you would love to publish this year, be sure to pick up a copy of my novel editing checklist and if you haven’t already, sign up to make sure that you never miss a post of this editing series.  

 FREE EDITING CHECKLIST WITH SUBSCRIPTION TO THIS BLOG

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