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I have just completed writing a book, and I've been reading, Writer's Market to learn what to do; Only problem, I'm really confused by a few things.
-How do I write an outline when an agent requests one?
-How do I know which agent to choose?
-My novel is fiction, is that mainstream or contemporary?
-In writing the query, I know the main character is protoganist, but what is the bad guy called, villian, bad guy etc?
-Lastly, except for publishing a short story, my only writing experience is editing and contributing to a small religious newsletter. Should I put that in the query letters?
Thanks so much for your time.

Thank you so much for your time.

Answer
Hi, Kerri!

Lots of questions here, so let's go through them one at a time:

1.  How do I write an outline when an agent requests one?

Are you sure you mean to say "outline?" I ask because what's common for fiction is a synopsis. A synopsis is very different from an outline. While there ARE some agents who actually want an outline, what often happens is that the agent MEANS a synopsis, when they say outline. It's best to find out, on a case-by-case basis, which they actually want.  Here's the difference:

a.  An outline discusses, chapter by chapter, what happens in the book. You literally discuss the elements of each chapter under a heading, like one of the outlines you used to do in school. An outline can be from five to fifteen pages, depending on how many chapters you have. Usually they'll want a single paragraph about each chapter.

b.  A synopsis is quite different, and is an acquired skill (meaning you'll have to try and fail several times before you get it right. It's just part of the process. We all have to struggle with them.) The goal of a synopsis is basically to turn a book into a short story that the agent can read and get excited about the character and the plot. A synopsis is generally two single spaced pages (or five double spaced pages) regardless of the length of the book. That means you have to use very concise language to get across broad ideas, while still making it interesting. There are lots of examples of synopses on the web, depending on your genre. What is the genre you've written (in other words, on which shelf in the bookstore do you think it will sell the most books?) and I'll try to steer you toward some examples that can help you work through the process.

2.  How do I know which agent to choose?

This is something that each of us have to decide for ourselves. Mostly, is a case of the "right feel" when you talk to the person. Something that might help you think about the sort of questions you'll want to ask an agent who offers representation is over on the Association of Author Representatives' website. This organization is made up of agents who sell books for a LIVING (meaning they can't join until they've sold a certain number of books.) Now, not every selling agent is a member, but an awful lot of them are. Visit:

http://www.aar-online.org

And then visit both the "Canon of Ethics" page and the "FAQ" page. You can also search their member list for agents who sell your sort of book. AAR members are a terrific place to start looking, and by learning what a good agent SHOULD be doing for you, you can gauge what expectations you have.

3.  My novel is fiction, is that mainstream or contemporary?

All novels, by definition, are fiction. You don't have to use both terms. Mainstream and contemporary mean the same thing---the book is shelved on the "General Fiction" shelf, in alphabetical order by author last name. Now, if you've written a horror novel, or a mystery, or a romance or even science fiction/fantasy, then you're writing "genre fiction" and you'll need to look for an agent who specializes in that sort of books.  What sort of book is it?

4.  In writing the query, I know the main character is protoganist, but what is the bad guy called, villian, bad guy etc?


The antagonist. :)

5. Lastly, except for publishing a short story, my only writing experience is editing and contributing to a small religious newsletter. Should I put that in the query letters?

If you're being paid to edit or contribute to the newletter, then sure. But generally speaking, agents and editors ONLY want to know about stories or articles that have earned you actual money---usually on a payscale that is more than 5 cents per word. That's considered a semi-pro or pro market and means that the story is a "writing credit". Otherwise, it's volunteer work. That's not a bad thing, but it's much better to simply say that you're just beginning the publishing process than to pretend to have credits you don't. Trust me, editors and agents know the difference. If it's their field of sales, they know ALL the markets you could have sold to.

Hope that helps a little and good luck! :)

Cathy

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Cathy Clamp

Expertise

I'm happy to answer questions about any aspect of writing novels, from the beginning kernel of an idea through completion. I can help with writing a query letter and synopsis to an agent or editor. I can explain publishing terminology and acronyms. I can also assist with questions about verifying the credentials of agents/publishers and how to proceed once you've been accepted for publication. I can teach the rules of formatting a manuscript, creating viable plots, characterization and flow in the following genres: romance, science fiction, fantasy, thrillers, suspense, horror, women's fiction, mainstream and mystery.

Experience

I'm a USA Today bestselling author of urban fantasy and paranormal romance for Tor/Forge Books. Along with a co-author, I've published fifteen novels (combination of mass market and trade softcover) since 2003, and have contracts for four more books through 2011.

Organizations
Romance Writers of America, Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America, International Thriller Writers, Western Outdoor Writers, Horror Writers of America.

Publications
Tor/Forge Books, Western Reflections Publishing, BenBella Books, Running Press, Wild Child Publishing. Many others.

Education/Credentials
My educational background is limited to real life experience of publishing novels commercially for the past five years.

Awards and Honors
USA Today bestseller, Waldenbooks Mass Market Paperback Top 20 bestseller, Nielsen BookScan Top 20 bestseller, RT BOOKreviews Career Achievement Award winner, 2009, Book Buyers Best Award for Paranormal, Romantic Times Best Werewolf Novel, Write Touch Readers Award, EVVY Best Historical Chronicle Award, The Lories Best Paranormal. Many others.

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