Querying agents, novel update

So I’ve recently gotten back on track with querying some agents again this year. I’ve queried just a few in the last several months. All have rejected the proposal, which I’m okay with. I just needed to make myself start the process again, which at times can be daunting. Over the course of the last two years, I’ve queried over a dozen agents. Two of them asked to see the full manuscript, which was exciting, but in the end they passed on my novel as well. Still, I was pleased to have two agents request the full manuscript. It at least gives me hope that I’m on the right track.

Most agents will require a query letter, a synopsis of your novel (usually 1-3 page novel summary, including spoilers), and possibly the first chapter or first ten pages of your novel or something like that. I’ve read varying opinions on this subject from authors as well as agents themselves, and while there is no absolute correct way to write a query — a lot of it is subjective — there are some commonalities in what agents seem to be looking for. Your query should include the title of your novel, the genre, the word count, along with a brief summary of the story. You should then add a brief bio about yourself. Stating your background and any writing credentials you may have can be beneficial as way of introduction to the agent.

The following is an example of my query letter and what has worked for me. I may actually drop the name George R.R. Martin from my query, since Game of Thrones has such wide mass market appeal now. I was using his writing as a comparison long before the series hit HBO, but now that it is so popular, I don’t want agents to perceive his name as arrogance on my part. While my writing may have flavors of Martin in style of how he approaches the fantasy genre, agents who have no idea who I am might think I am trying to oversell myself.


Dear <agent name>,

An ancient proverb speaks of destiny. The flames do not lie. Fate is unalterable.

The king of Aricin is dead, assassinated at the hands of an ambitious family. When a power struggle ensues over who will sit the throne next, Caelen, a minor noble, vows to destroy the usurper king. It is his destiny to fulfill the blood price, for the man who assassinated the king is also responsible for murdering Caelen’s father and brothers. For Caelen, justice and vengeance are the same. It is a man’s fate to restore his family’s honor. And sometimes the fate of one man is the same as another’s, for the usurper king also has a blood price to collect, one that can only be settled once he has destroyed the man who ruined his own family decades ago.

A New World Rising is a work of historical fantasy, complete at 108,000 words. Based upon hours of independent research in medieval history, the story derives much of its influence from the societies of England, France, and Scandinavia from the 11th through the 13th centuries. It is a blend of history and fantasy that will appeal to readers of Bernard Cornwell, George R.R. Martin, and Guy Gavriel Kay. The story stands alone, but I also have plans for a series.

In conjunction with fiction writing, I host a Web site, http://steventill.com, and Twitter account, where I openly share my passion for medieval history. Through a connection with my Web site, I reviewed a book for the Heroic Age, an academic medieval journal. I have also read and reviewed books at the requests of Wunderkind PR, Sourcebooks, and Plume, among others. My professional writing career includes articles written for Southern Living magazine and Health.com.

Thank you for your time, and I look forward to hearing from you.

Steven Till

Writing a novel synopsis

I’m finally getting around to writing the dreaded novel synopsis. The synopsis is probably the most challenging item when putting together materials in order to be considered for publication. Not every agent I’ve found requests a synopsis. Everyone is different. Some want a query, synopsis, and the first few pages of your novel. Others do not require the synopsis, at least not initially. Everyone will ask for the query, however, so you’ll definitely need to write that.

I decided I would go ahead and write my synopsis even though not everyone requires it. And for those that do require it, I will now be ready to submit to them as well. What I have found is most everyone is different when it comes to advice for writing a synopsis. There does not seem to be a set formula for writing one. Some say to condense your novel down to one to three pages, others say five to ten pages, and still others say length does not matter. General consensus seems to be between two and three pages for the synopsis.

Most everyone also agrees that you should include your major plot points, major characters, and your character motivations. Beyond that, it’s pretty much up to you how you write it.

You also want to avoid simply writing in a chapter by chapter format where you say: in chapter one this happens, then in chapter two this happens. While I think that’s a good place to start, you likely do not want your final synopsis to read in that format. My plan is to start with the chapter by chapter format and then go back and pare it down to two to three pages, blending the major characters and plot points into a seamless summary that reads more like the copy you find on book jackets than in an instruction manual. The chapter by chapter format has also been helpful for me in determining the most important events and characters and giving me an idea of where something might be lacking.

Resources for writing a synopsis:

Will self-publishing hurt my chances of getting published traditionally?

Rachelle Gardner of the Wordserve Literary Group has an interesting post relating to self-publishing versus traditional publishing. Her answer to the question above is basically “no,” self-publishing will not necessarily hurt your chances of getting published traditionally. I have to agree with her. Self-publishing used to have a negative stigma to it, but over the past couple of years, it has become much more commonplace, especially with the increase and popularity of e-books.

Good quality eBook publishers could be extremely beneficial if you are interested in distributing your work around the world.

What are your thoughts?

Alt History Magazine

Alt History is a start-up magazine dedicated to short works of historical fiction and alternate history. There are not a lot of vehicles available for writers of short stories in these genres, so it’s nice to see a new magazine covering these areas. Accepted stories will be published as an e-book via Smashwords and also be featured in a print-on-demand published edition.

Submission guidelines are fairly straightforward:

  1. Must be a short piece of fiction – under 10,000 words
  2. It must be either historical fiction or alternate history
  3. It must be good (that’s where the subjectivity comes in!)

Alt History is also accepting non-fiction as well as artwork.

You can submit via their online submission system. If you’re interested in these genres, let’s help get the word about this new magazine.

Marketing Your Novel

Fellow blogger and author Robert Treskillard has a creative method for marketing his latest novel, Merlin’s Blade. He has printed off several hard-bound copies to send out to other published authors he has met in an effort to receive positive endorsements from these authors. He will then use these endorsements to help further market his novel to publishing houses. I really liked the idea. And since the novel is not for sale, it is not considered self-published by other publishers, as they would still have first printing and selling rights.

If you have any creative ideas for marketing your novel, I’d love to hear them.

Amazon Encore

Amazon Encore“Even great books can be overlooked. And authors with great potential often struggle to connect with the larger audience they deserve to reach. AmazonEncore will help connect authors and their books with more readers.

AmazonEncore is a new program whereby Amazon will use information such as customer reviews on Amazon.com to identify exceptional, overlooked books and authors with more potential than their sales may indicate. Amazon will then partner with the authors to re-introduce their books to readers through marketing support and distribution into multiple channels and formats, such as the Amazon.com Books Store, Amazon Kindle Store, Audible.com, and national and independent bookstores via third-party wholesalers.”

Upstart Scottish Publishing Company Seeks to Reward New Writers

According to Scotland’s Sunday Herald, young 22-year-old Mark Buckland has launched a new publishing house in Glasgow called Cargo. Buckland states: “I have been frustrated at seeing young writers, people under 35, struggling to get anywhere in the Scottish industry. There is a lack of opportunities, a lack of people willing to take chances, and I just felt a lot of excellent work was being lost because of economics or the agendas of big publishing houses. I am trying to rectify that situation.”

In addition to routine print publishing, Cargo also intends to distribute books via e-readers, mp3 players, and iTunes. Using iTunes, Buckland plans to release audio books on a chapter-by-chapter basis to continually influence readers’ interests and purchasing decisions.

Read the entire article at the Sunday Herald, Scotland’s award-winning independent newspaper.

Online Publications for Short Stories

I’ve been doing research, trying to find e-zines that publish short stories focused on historical fiction or fantasy. Using the 2009 Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market book, I’ve compiled the following list. Some publications accept historical fiction, others accept fantasy, and then some accept any genre of fiction as long as it’s good writing. If you know of any others, please add them to the list.

When seeking publication for short stories, what has more reach? A traditional print publication or e-zines? If you know of any traditional print publications that accept historical fiction based short stories or fantasy, please feel free to add those to the list as well.