Sunday, 18 March 2018

How DO you write? – Part 2

How you write is all down to how to construct your descriptive passages and how effective they are, which is why the advice to show rather than tell really does work. If you show the reader it means you involve them with senses, colour, visual imagery and provocative words. If you tell the reader, then they cannot become involved in any way.
How to Approach Description
The best way to approach it is not to be afraid of it. It’s a fundamental requirement, because without it, there is no story to ‘tell’. But the way to approach description is to understand the many functions it performs - it’s a way of involving the reader, it gives them necessary information, it helps them build up scenes and images in their mind with background and foreground detail and it helps to move the story forward.
There are moments when the writer needs to describe something to enhance the scene and the flow of the story; without which the story fails. But description is isn’t about throwing everything at the reader. It’s not about boring them to death with pages and pages of it. Effective description is delivered in easy to digest amounts – everything from a couple of paragraphs to a line. It blends with action, it shows the reader and it lures them with imagery.
How to Make it Effective
The best stories use description as an active part of the story, the way it can set the scene, set the tone, mood and atmosphere, the way it can foreshadow events, the way it characterises, the way it creates tension, drama and emotion and the way it paints a full picture so that the reader can ‘see’ into this world.
And it’s by showing the reader that makes it work so well. Don’t tell the reader the sun is shining. Show them with rising heat that shimmers, the bright colours, the colour of the sky, the beads of sweat on the brow, the hot glare, the warmth of the skin, the reactions of the characters...there are so many things that could show the reader. Showing the reader = effective description.
Make Description Visual
‘Visual’ simply means a way of showing the reader vivid imagery which brings the descriptions alive. It’s about making the ordinary extraordinary – but it’s all down to how you write. Description, and how it’s constructed, is a stylistic aspect individual to each writer, so the type of words, the strength of those words and how they’re put together is what makes description visual, for example:
The snow fell and covered the ground very quickly. It was cold and he shivered in response and blew into his hands to warm them up.
This tells the reader, but it doesn’t show them, and therefore doesn’t engage them. There is nothing in the description that stands out. It’s flat and boring. Now compare it to the same passage, which shows the reader:
The snow drifted down with silent discord and covered the ground like tinselled dust. Frozen breath lingered like a fog and the cold gnawed at his flesh, right down to his bones. Reddened fingers cupped his mouth and he blew hard to warm them...
This example uses stronger words like discord, tinselled, fog, gnawed, flesh, bones and reddened. These nouns and verbs work well to help the description (rather than too many adjectives and adverbs). Not only that, the description is inviting the reader to interpret the intention rather than tell them. The ‘silent discord’ of the falling snow hints at the inharmonious atmosphere. ‘Tinselled dust’ is showing the reader the fresh snow with a simile, as does ‘lingered like fog’. The cold that ‘gnawed’ at his flesh shows the reader just how icy cold it is; they can imagine this feeling. ‘Reddened’ fingers also show the reader how cold it is, because our fingers go red before turning blue in extreme temperatures.
From four or five lines of effective description, readers can build up a picture of the scene, they can imagine being there, they can imagine the atmosphere and how cold it is and so they become involved, because the description is visual. It didn’t need any more than that. And description works more effectively when it’s interspersed with the narrative and dialogue in small amounts.
The Senses
A lot of writers don’t make use of the senses. Description relies on them – a character’s senses and the reader’s senses. Sometimes the reader needs to see through the character’s eyes. Sometimes they need to feel what the character touches. They need to hear what the character hears. They need to smell what the character smells. And sometimes it’s also possible to show the reader what your characters can taste – blood in the mouth tastes like iron.  Rain can taste bitter. Foods...well, they can be anything you describe to the reader.
You don’t have to include every single sense in one description. The point here is to try to include one or two in order to show the reader, so they can at least feel part of it.
How do you write?  That depends on what you want to show your reader, how you want them to feel and the story you want to tell. Besides, the sheer beauty of language is, ultimately, what every writer wants to show their readers.

Next week: The importance of first drafts.

Sunday, 11 March 2018

How DO you write? – Part 1

Every writer has a unique style of writing. The way a writer constructs a story is an individual thing, but how do you write?
Do you focus more on the dialogue and less of the description? Do you put more into the characters than you do the story? Do you fill your pages will beautiful description and not much else? These are all examples of what writers do, without ever maintaining a balance.
How you write is important. It’s the difference between the reader becoming fully immersed in the story and enjoying every page, to throwing it aside because it’s so terrible. It comes back to that word ‘balance’ again. The best stories always have a good balance of dialogue, narrative and description.
But what makes some writing so amazing? The way a writer constructs his or her descriptions is what makes stories stand out. How you write is all about choosing the correct words to convey the story, in the right way that brings the scene to life and makes it easier for the reader to visualise and understand.
Description shouldn’t ‘tell’ the readers, it should ‘show’ them. It should be visual, but should also be rhythmic and have a sense of alliteration. It should appeal to the reader’s senses, so that on an emotional level, certain words will invoke certain associations, memories or emotions. The idea is to seduce and lure the reader into your fictional world with your carefully chosen words, so much so they almost get wrapped up in it.
Sensory description can be powerful, emotional and visual. New writers wrongly assume that description isn’t an essential requirement for their masterpiece, but that’s like trying to make tomato soup without the tomatoes. Perhaps some writers find it hard to do, while others just don’t bother. There are some writers that insist that their books are perfectly fine without all that descriptive stuff. But the quality of description is what makes writing work, and this might be why so many self-published novels are so unreadable, awful and not worthy of being written in the first place. Sometimes they force the description and it’s dull and flat or they forget the description altogether. If there is little effective description, then you’re not telling your story.
Of course, writers can be the complete opposite and write too much description. Readers don’t want to see large chunks of description; it will put them off and it will kill the pace. This practice is seen in a lot of books over the last 100 years, where it was common for the author to describe a scene for pages and pages. It’s better to break down descriptions into more sizable sections so that it keeps things moving and keeps the reader interested.
How do you write? should be a question every author should ask themselves. The reader needs to know where and when the story takes place, whose story it is, what the characters look like, what is around them and what they’re doing at any given moment. Without this information, the reader won’t have a clue what’s going on, nor want to be a part of it.
Description is only hard for authors because they don’t know how to write – they don’t know how to construct descriptive passages that are stimulating, visual or poetic, but that’s what writing is about – describing things, in your own stylistic way. When you describe something, it’s description. This is why so many rely so heavily on ‘telling’ rather than ‘showing’.
There is also the notion that some writers are too flowery with their descriptions – known as Purple Prose, but this is often down to an individual’s perception.  What one person finds over the top or ornate, another will find beauty. The truth is that description is only bad when it’s written badly.
Description is such an integral part of a story and should never be ignored. If you are a writer, then carefully choosing the right words in the right order that brings the scene to life should be easy. This should be second nature.
In part 2 we’ll look at how to approach description, how to make it effective by showing rather than telling, how to make it visual and not over the top, and the kinds of things to avoid to get the best from your descriptions.
Next week: How DO you write? – Part 2

Sunday, 4 March 2018

The Magic Ingredients of a Novel – Part 4

In this last part of the things that writers can incorporate into novels to help them get noticed by agents and publishers, we’ll look at the last group of ingredients that should help this happen, the kind of things that enrich and enliven the story, those very things that lift the story from every page.
Almost all novels have a flashback of some description. That’s because what has happened in the past always shapes the way our characters are in the present.
This device allows the author to take the reader back to a previous time in a character’s life in order to show prior events/incidents that have a bearing on the present story. They are a great way to impart information, plant clues and explain character behaviours. They can be constructed however the author sees fit – i.e. they can be brief, long, obtrusive or so subtle that they’re hardly noticed.
Include at least a couple of flashbacks to deepen the story.
Pace is something that agents and publishers actively look for. They want to know how the story reads; they want to see the variation of pace between reflective, quiet scenes, the fast, action scenes and everything else in between. 
Pace helps to enhance the tension and atmosphere by heightening the perception of the flow of the narrative. Long words and more description help to slow the pace, while short staccato words in small bursts quicken the pace. Narrative should naturally slow down and accelerate throughout the novel. This is what gives it a varied pace, because without it the narrative would either be too boring or slow, or it would rush along without a break.
Keep it varied = keeps the narrative interesting.
Grammar & Spelling
The one constant that every novel should have is excellent grammar and spelling, because this is a fundamental requirement. It shows potential agents and publishers your grasp of the language and your skill level.
A terrible grasp of grammar and spelling won’t earn a novel any acceptances, no matter how good the plot might seem. It will also tell the prospective agent or publisher that the author is unprofessional and obviously can’t be bothered with the basics.
Go through your work as many times as it needs to ensure that spelling and grammar in no less than 100%.
Style & Voice
This is unique to every writer. It’s what sets you apart from others. It’s your own way of writing and telling a story and your way of describing things. And if you’re lucky enough to be an experienced writer, your work is instantly recognisable to readers, because they can readily identify your style and voice as an author.
A sense of voice and style doesn’t happen overnight, however. It doesn’t happen with the first book you write, either. A sense of style and unique authorial voice is something that takes years to develop. That’s why writers should spend time writing and honing their skills, their style and their writing voice rather than rushing to self-publish the moment they’ve written a book.
Style and voice comes naturally, so don’t rush the process. Good things always come to those who wait.
Next week: How DO you write - what makes your writing so amazing?

Sunday, 25 February 2018

The Magic Ingredients of a Novel – Part 3

In this part, we’ll look at some more elements to incorporate into the novel to make it enjoyable enough for the reader to become fully immersed in the story, the kind of things that writers don’t always include, or they forget about, and the kind of things that agents and publishers look out for.
It’s something most writers don’t really think about, since it’s not especially at the forefront of their minds. But the thing about symbolism is that, if used correctly, it can give the reader so many more layers to pick through. Readers are keen to read between the lines, to seek out those hidden clues and interpret different meanings. They want more than just a story – they want what lies beneath.
Symbolism is like a sign language – it’s used to illustrate to readers much more than mere words, and they are used to underpin the themes of the story. They can be overt or subtle, they can be colours, objects, fact symbols can be anything.
Think of symbolic colours such as red or black and what they represent. A steep hill or mountain may represent endeavour and determination to overcome or succeed, a white flower might represent hope or perhaps circling birds could signal something ominous.  Anything can be symbolic, as long as it represents what is happening within your story.
It’s a powerful literary device that gives any story hidden depth.
Simile & Metaphor
These two go hand in hand. A simile is a figure of speech that compares one thing with something else, and is used to emphasise the description and make it stand out, for example:
As cold as ice, as white as a ghost or like a pig in mud.
These examples are rather clich├ęd, but it shows how they work. The idea is that writers come up with their own, unique similes in order to exaggerate description, for instance:
His voice grated, like a chain over concrete, her thoughts scattered like oil on water, or the emotion made his face look like melting wax...
Similes lift the description from the page, and if they’re good, they stick in the reader’s mind. These little things make the entire story so much better.
Metaphors are a little more complex, but they do the same job – they lift the description and make it vivid, and often readers remember them. Unlike simile – which uses “like” or “as” for comparison, a metaphor is a figure of speech to suggest a likeness, where words or phrases mean one sort of object or idea is used in place of another, for example:
The clouds were ghostly white sails adrift in the sky.
Red over green; his life before played out before him.
Spritely shadows danced behind cold granite eyes.
His thoughts were a soulless ocean.
There are comparisons here, but they’re indirect, so the reader will still understand and interpret their meaning. Metaphors and similes add layers of texture and richness to description; they make it stand out and they make it memorable.
Description, Dialogue & Narrative
No novel is complete without these three extremely important elements. Without a balance of all three, the story won’t work very well.
Description is vital – no matter what anyone says. If you can’t explain to the reader what is going on, what is the point of the story?  Why bother?
Description provides snippets of information. It gives the reader some background. It builds up atmosphere, mood and tension. Description elicits emotion. It moves the story forward. It TELLS THE STORY.
Description doesn’t have to be long. But it doesn’t have to be absent either. It simply requires balance.
Dialogue also tells the story, but only in extremely small bursts. The most important feature about dialogue is that it is essential for characterisation. Not only that, but it also moves the story forward and imparts necessary information. And like description, it’s down to balance – not too much or too little, otherwise the story won’t work, but just the right amount that brings the entire story into focus.
Narrative is the little snippets of information between the dialogue and the description. It’s the background information delivered in very small bites, and shouldn’t be confused with description, for example:
The darkness settled like fine dust. (Description).
The old part of town was always busy in the summer, bustling with people and traders, long before it fell into decline in the late 70s. (Narrative).
‘It’s not going to change, no matter how hard you stare at it,’ Jack’s brother said. (Dialogue).
His attention focused on the old church in the distance, eerie within the shadows, and silent, as though frozen in time. (Description).
A balance of all three elements will help the story. If not, there’s a chance the story will be spoiled, and it’s just one of the reasons that agents and publishers may reject work.
Indirect Exposition
Otherwise known as ‘show, don’t tell’, and one that is often ignored by would-be authors who just can’t understand why they keep getting rejected.
Indirect exposition allows readers to immerse themselves, it helps them imagine being in the story, of almost being there. In other words, it’s description that shows the reader rather than telling them, for example:
John got out the car and walked up the path to his house. He looked round, but saw no one and carried on to the front door. He opened it and stepped inside.
This reads like a grocery list. John did this, John did that. John opened his door...yawn. Now compare the same excerpt with indirect exposition applied:
John got out the car and walked up the path to his house. The hairs on his neck prickled and he looked round, but he saw no one. The sensation pressed against him, unnerved him, but he carried on to the front door. He opened it, hesitated, unsure, then stepped inside...
The exposition gives the reader more than just a list. It’s designed to bring them into the story, to become involved on a deeper level. So by showing and not telling, writers can plant all this imagery in the reader’s imagination.
If writers have done a good enough job of showing rather than telling, then there’s every chance they’ve created immediacy. This is the author-reader connection that makes it possible for the story to work on all different levels.
It’s about the closeness of your characters and your story to your reader, and how to make the reader feel as though they are not just reading your story, but they are a part of it.
The reader wants to be able to love the hero, fall in love with the heroine and hate the villain. They want to be swept up by the emotion and action, they want to feel the tension and conflict and they want to enjoy the descriptions that bring places and scenes alive.
To create immediacy you need to have characters that the reader can really identify with; people with flaws and foibles, needs and aspirations, the kind of people the reader will emotionally bond with because of the obstacles and conflicts they will endure and overcome, and in doing so, the reader will empathise.
Readers (and agents and publishers) love being involved in the story. So involve them.

Next week: The Magic Ingredients of a Novel – Part 4

Sunday, 18 February 2018

The Magic Ingredients of a Novel – Part 2

Part 1 of the magic ingredients of a novel looked at things like plot, subplots, themes, conflict, emotion and characterisation – all common elements that are vital to any good story. 
This second part will look at six more crucial elements that authors should ensure are present within their novels if they want to impress agents and publishers and get that all-important acceptance – Viewpoint, Motivation, Setting, Background, Tone, Mood & Atmosphere and Foreshadowing.
Viewpoint may not seem significant, but if it’s not consistent and done correctly, then it becomes a major issue.  Do you tell the story from a third person’s perspective, or first person?
Third person multiple is the most common, and is probably the best medium to work with, especially for a first time novel. The right viewpoint for the right story means the difference between producing the strongest effect for your writing rather the weakest, because if you choose the wrong viewpoint, and you’re not confident with it, the story will fail. 
That happens with first person because writers don’t understand how complicated it can be to master. This is why it’s generally wise for new writers to gain some experience with it before embarking on a full length first person novel. That’s why most stories benefit third person, and can be more effective. 
First person is very limited, so it works very well for short stories, and less so for longer stories. Third person is all encompassing and easy to work with. So viewpoint is something the writer needs to carefully consider – and get right.
No character does something without a reason behind it. Everything they do is fuelled by motivation, so it’s fine having a story with great characters, but unless they have a reason to be in the story, what are they doing there?
The protagonist and antagonist will cross paths during the story, and they will need reasons for doing so.  The hero will also be motivated by something, and that something will push him to reach his goal. The same goes for the villain – the need for something and the determination to achieve it. Motivation forms an undercurrent to the main plot, which means characters do what they do because they’re motivated by needs, desires and emotions. 
They all want something.
Every great story needs a great setting. Sometimes writers forget to inform the reader of the setting or they assume the reader will know or guess, but it’s important from the outset that the reader understands where the story takes place. It may seem a minor thing, but the more information the reader has, the better able they are to immerse themselves with the story.
Tell the reader where the action takes place, and when. They need it in order to imagine themselves within the story.
Every story must have a background. It may not seem essential, but again, the more information you give the reader, the better the story.
It’s not just the story that has a background, but the main characters will also have backgrounds; all of them full to bursting with information to layer the story. Background details help make a story remarkable rather than flat, dull and boring.
Tone, Mood & Atmosphere
This tri-formation of elements happens in and around each other, which is why they are often grouped together. Where one appears, the others usually follow.
The tone of the story adds texture, it tells the reader just what sort of story they can expect, whether that is something romantic, something dark, something funny or something scary, etc. Mood is what the writer brings to the story – a certain attitude that pulls the plot into focus and involves the reader on an emotional level. Mood and atmosphere go hand in hand, because where there is mood, there is also atmosphere. Without these elements, it would be hard to elevate the emotions within the story.
Imagine a horror story without mood, tone or atmosphere. It would be totally ineffective. The same is true for any type of genre, which is why it’s important that writers ensure there’s plenty of all three.
Set the tone, create mood and provide plenty of atmosphere.
This is something that many writers don’t use, not necessarily because they don’t know how to, but because they forget to include it. That’s because it’s seen as a non-essential thing by many, but if the writer wants to impress an agent or publisher, then a little foreshadowing helps. 
It’s rather like the brushstrokes to a painting. The more colour there is, the more detail can be seen, and writing is all about giving the reader not just a story, but a multidimensional, 360o , full colour, high definition story that actually feels real. They want to be a part of it.
Foreshadowing is art form. It’s the subtle hints, the cryptic morsels of information, the poetic lure of what is yet to come, all delivered with imagery and they help enhance a story.  Common foreshadowers are storms in the distance to show something tumultuous will happen, or cold wintry weather to foreshadow a death or a loss. Colours can be symbolic because they invoke emotional responses. Animals can foreshadow – think of a crow and what that might mean. In fact, anything can help to foreshadow events. It just takes a little thought.
Remember, the more brushstrokes, the better the picture.

Next week: The Magic Ingredients of a Novel – Part 3

Sunday, 11 February 2018

The Magic Ingredients of a Novel – Part 1

It’s hard to define what makes any novel work. It’s quite  a subjective subject – what one person likes is what another person doesn’t, and what works for one agent/publisher may not work for another. Most often it’s down to the content of a novel that really counts.
Writers can help their odds of an acceptance from agents and publishers by incorporating most of the “magic ingredients” that are found within a wide spectrum of successful novels, the kind of things we know have been tried and tested and we know they work. The more components you use, the better the chance of catching the agent or publisher’s eye and the stronger your story will be.
So let’s start from the beginning, and look at the most important elements that agents and publishers are looking for. These are the things you’ll need to incorporate for a well written piece of fiction.
Magic Ingredient Checklist

  • Story/Plot
  • Subplots
  • Themes
  • Conflict
  • Emotion
  • Characterisation
  • Viewpoint
  • Motivation
  • Setting
  • Background
  • Tone, mood & atmosphere
  • Foreshadowing
  • Symbolism
  • Simile & metaphor
  • Description, dialogue & narrative
  • Indirect exposition
  • Immediacy
  • Flashbacks
  • Pace
  • Grammar & Spelling
  • Style & Voice

It’s quite a list of things to use, and the good news is that most writers instinctively incorporate most of these. But at least a comprehensive list like this can help ensure that most – if not all – of these magical ingredients are included.
The Story
A tight, believable story is essential. Without it, you won’t be able to fully support your characters or anything else that happens within the novel.
The story needs to be watertight. You may think your story is as good as it can be, but editors and readers have a knack of finding plot flaws. So it pays to know your story inside out and back to front.
Writing by the seat of your pants won’t work, because everything that is generated from the first sentence of the first paragraph of your first chapter has a direct bearing on the last sentence of the last paragraph of your last chapter and all that happens in between is interconnected. Then they realise nothing much is cohesive and they have to do double the amount of work because they have to go back and rewrite all the stuff they missed out, all the stuff that doesn’t work or doesn’t make sense and they will have to close gaping plot holes.
The way to avoid this is to plan the story and chapters and know what will happen in the story before you actually write it. Set the foundations of your framework first, otherwise the story will fail.
Every story needs a subplot. These separate, individual plot strands help support the main plot. They give the reader more insight into the story and characters and provide much deeper layers. This provides a much more enjoyable experience for the reader because they become involved in these small side stories that run parallel to the main story.
Subplots engage the reader, they help give more information about the main story, and they help move the story along.
Stories without themes can be flat and uninteresting. Themes add colour, depth and layers to a story. They underpin everything and they act as a bonding agent to bring all those elements together. A theme is the intrinsic message you want to convey – love, kindness, coming of age, betrayal, forgiveness etc.
Themes also evoke emotional responses within your readers. They will empathise and understand what loss means, they will know the pain of betrayal, and they will connect with the primitive urge for revenge and so on. So, without any themes, your story won’t mean much.
This is a vital magic ingredient, and so much has been written about it that it needs little explanation, except to say that a story can’t exist without it.
Conflict creates tension and emotion and emotion creates immediacy, because every reader can identify with conflict and the emotions it creates, since conflict can appear in all manner of ways, in all manner of situations.   
The thing about conflict is that it doesn’t have to represent war or fighting or being murderous. It can be an internal force, not just an external one. How often have we fought with our own emotions and decisions?  How often have we wanted to do something, but we held back? This is internal conflict.
So conflict isn’t necessarily about aggression. Sometimes conflict takes place in the mind, within us. Without any conflict, there is no story.
This is also a vital ingredient and no story would be worth much without it. Leave out the emotion in a story and you leave out an essential life force. Emotion is what moves your reader and makes them involved in your story.
We’ve all encountered a raft of emotions in our lives; some good, some bad, and so we can relate to the characters within a story that are experiencing the same kind of thing. Your readers need to feel the sadness, the tension, the horror, the happiness and the pain. Emotion brings your reader closer to the characters and story.
Just about every situation in life contains emotion, so there is no excuse not to use it.
If you don’t get the characterisation right, then the story won’t be as strong as you think it might be.
It’s essential you know your characters inside out, that they develop and grow with the story and become real enough to leap from the page. Don’t let the story down with badly thought out, cardboard characters. Worse still, don’t create stereotypes or caricatures. This isn’t the nineteenth century. Times have moved on.
Your story is being told through your characters – what they do and how they react. They need to feel real, with real emotions and needs. They need to be ordinary people caught up in extraordinary circumstances for the readers to connect with them and empathise with them.
Neglect characterisation and your story will fail.
Next week: The Magic Ingredients of a Novel – Part 2

Sunday, 4 February 2018

Dealing with Rejection – Part 3

In Parts 1 and 2, we looked at the reasons why work might be rejected and what to do if you receive one.  In this last part, we’ll look at ways to avoid rejection and improve your chances of an acceptance.
As writers, we can help ourselves in the submission process. If we don’t, then we only have ourselves to blame when things don’t go our way.
There are a number of things you can do to help your chances of acceptance. By far the best way is to write a solid, quality novel that really engages the agent/publisher and it makes them sit up and take notice.
Incredible Storytelling
The ability to tell an exciting, coherent story that is well written and researched is rare. A lot of writers don’t take the time to learn the craft of fiction writing, and become pugnacious when they receive rejection after rejection because their work isn’t up to scratch. The ability to write doesn’t happen overnight. It takes years. The sooner writers understand this, the better.
If you write a novel that has all the right ingredients – it captures their imagination, it’s well written with faultless grammar and spelling, has plenty of characterisation, pace, action and a believable story, then it’s a huge positive, because it shows them how capable you are at constructing a story.
Failure to Follow Submission Guidelines
Submitting to literary agents can be a time-consuming business. That’s because every agent has their own submission guidelines. These can be found on their websites, and one of the best ways to avoid rejection is to stick to these submission guidelines to the letter.
Your ability to pay attention is being tested, so it pays to read the guidelines carefully and understand exactly what they want, because the submission package differs from agent to agent.
So, if the agent requires a cover letter, the first three chapters and a synopsis, all done in 12pt Times New Roman and double line spacing, submit exactly that. If they want a letter, a one page synopsis and the first four chapters, in 11pt Arial and single line spacing, then do exactly as they ask.
Always carefully read what they require. Don’t deviate from these requirements. If you do, then you’re showing them that you can’t even follow simple instructions or pay attention to the little things. And it’s the little things in creative writing that really do matter, the very things they are looking for.
This process may mean you have to tailor your letter, sample chapters and synopsis countless times, but unfortunately is has to be done.
Write an Amazing Cover Letter
One of the things writers hate most, apart from writing a synopsis, is writing the cover or query letter. That’s because it’s hard to encapsulate your entire 95,000 novel into one paragraph. And there are hundreds, if not thousands, of web pages telling writers how to do it, leaving the writer thoroughly confused. And how to you capture the right detail and make it amazing?
There is no magic formula. That’s because it’s so subjective – what works for one agent might not work for another. One cover letter might look terrible, yet works, while another might look great and yet doesn’t work. It is so difficult to get it just right. (This will be covered in a future article).
That said, there is every chance the letter will work if writers stick to what’s important: the sales pitch.  And that is all the letter is about. It’s a pitch.
You have around three of four paragraphs to make an impression. That means there isn’t room for your life story or how brilliant an author (you think) you are. The agent wants to know A) what the story is called and how many words, B) what the story is about, who the protagonist is and what happens, C) a little something about you and D) a courteous sign off.
Do not tell them how fantastic your book is. Don’t compare yourself with famous authors and don’t go into huge detail. The letter should be concise, informative and stylistic enough to entice the agent or publisher, to give them that twinkle that your manuscript is worth the time and effort to read.
How you write the letter should be indicative of the writer you are. A rubbish, poorly-written letter means they may be dealing with a poorly written novel. A well-constructed, thought out letter may tell the agent there is huge potential.
And it goes without saying – always carefully read exactly what the agent/publisher wants in the submission package. Don’t rush the process. Take your time to get it right.
Tell a well written story, follow the guidelines and ensure you have a solid covering letter. These three factors should be the difference between outright rejection to a positive maybe, or even an acceptance. It’s a slow, time consuming process, so it requires patience and determination. Just remember that a rejection isn’t personal. It’s business.

Next week: The magic ingredients of a novel.