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Old 12-23-2003, 01:23 PM   #251
James D Macdonald
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Cover Letter

I promised you The Perfect Cover Letter:

Salvatore Luchese
Cell Block B
2nd Tier, #34
Ft. Leavenworth Federal Prison
Ft. Leavenworth, KS 66027

(913) 123-4567


Dear [NAMEOFEDITORSPELLEDRIGHT],

Enclosed please find the first three chapters and an outline for my 120,000 word mystery novel, Mafia Wedding.

My previous works include "Pushing Up Daisys" (Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, June 2001, nominated for an Edgar, 2002), and "Sleeps with the Fishes," (Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, September, 2002, reprinted in Year's Best Mystery Stories, 2002, Graham, ed., March 2003).

I am currently serving seven-to-ten for racketeering in Ft. Leavenworth Federal Prison.

This is a disposable manuscript.

Sincerely,

Salvatore "Sally the Writer" Luchese

encl: SASE
===========================================

Notes:

First NAME OF EDITOR SPELLED RIGHT. (If you can't do this, perhaps you need a new hobby.)

Second: Very briefly: length, genre, and title.

Third: Any pertinent credits. Only the most recent and most prestigious. A good sale ten years ago means that you haven't sold anything since. A bunch of 1/4 cent-a-word recently means that you aren't selling. Don't even bother mentioning self-published or e-publications unless you sold enough on your own to hit the Times Bestseller List. If all you have is one or two lower-tier mags, and they're recent, then you might list them. If you've got eight or ten lower-tier mags and they stretch back over three or four years ... better to leave the impression that you're unpublished rather than brand the Scarlet L of Loser on your forehead.

Fourth: Any special qualifications you may have for writing this book.

Fifth: Any other notes (disposable manuscript).

Your name.

INCLUDE AN SASE.

The primary purpose of a cover letter is to give the editor something with your name, address, and phone number on it that will fit in a file cabinet. The secondary purpose is to give the editor somewhere to put her coffee cup without putting a brown ring on your manuscript.

Be brief, be professional, and SPELL THE EDITOR'S NAME RIGHT.

Last edited by James D. Macdonald; 01-31-2009 at 12:28 AM. Reason: Formatting
 
Old 12-23-2003, 11:29 PM   #252
Illandur Stormcrow
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Re: Divergent storylines, confusing the reader.

OK Jim,

I have a question. How much is too much?

I wrote the original outline for "Bloodborn", the first book of my series, with a single storyline that followed the protagonist alone from start to finish. It had little in the way of tension or cliffhangers. It also did not really follow the ultimate antagonist, and he needed to be introduced to add an urgency to the reader.

I love when an author shows the reader a danger to the protagonist, but leaves the character in the dark. I get all tense, sometimes even yelling at the book, "No no! Don't go in there! They are waiting for you!!!!"

I revised the outline and it went from 19 to 28 chapters.

I began writing.

In the course of writing, another storyline has emerged. It was born from the logical progression of events and was something that I really didn't imagine when I began. Regardless, its a great story in itself. It is directly relative to the protagonist's plot and will intersect with the protag's plot line from time to time throughout the series.

So now I have three storylines in this book. The thing is, there are going to be a lot more. As the series progresses, more and more sub-plots are planed. I do definitely have a plan to draw it all back together for the ultimate climax, and for each storyline I have a either a climax planned or a merger with another storyline.

But it is turning out to be a real juggling act to keep the progression natural.

Any suggestions for making sure that I am not overdoing it?
 
Old 12-23-2003, 11:51 PM   #253
James D Macdonald
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Re: Divergent storylines, confusing the reader.

Make sure all the major plot threads you have in this book get tied up in this book (or at least come to a satisfying stopping point).

Other than that, if there's too much plot in your book your editor will tell you.

Too much plot and too many neat things happening are not a problem.
 
Old 12-23-2003, 11:54 PM   #254
AJSearle
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Re: Divergent storylines, confusing the reader.

I feel a little better after reading what you've written about coverletters. It seemed to take me longer to write the coverletter for my novel than the novel itself and I was still worried even after I sent the query off at the beginning of this month.

But I went with short, sweet, to the point, and no added frills. I really wanted the coverletter to be one page. I'd heard two pages can be better. But then do I really want the editor spending all their time reading the coverletter when they could already be reading the sample chapters I sent?

Anyway, thanks for this section. I think I made the right decision now.

AJ
 
Old 12-24-2003, 01:13 AM   #255
Paul W West
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Re: Divergent storylines, confusing the reader.

That's great for a cover letter. I wouldn't have done much more myself. However, the bigger question is, how do you write a perfect query letter? That one seems to have more people stumped than anything else. Any suggestions there?
 
Old 12-24-2003, 01:21 AM   #256
AJSearle
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Re: Divergent storylines, confusing the reader.

I wrote a paragraph about what the story was (no more because I sent a synopsis), a paragraph about my qualifications, and a paragraph about my familiarity with the publisher (which I am)...in that order. What this is, who I am, and why I'm sending it to you. Those are the only things I could think of that an editor might want to know right off before reading the chapters.

AJ
 
Old 12-24-2003, 07:29 AM   #257
Dancre
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cover letters

ok, uncle jim, i haven't published anything. i've read that newbies shouldn't tell the publisher/ agent that this is their first novel. what do you say?
kim
 
Old 12-24-2003, 09:15 AM   #258
James D Macdonald
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Re: Divergent storylines, confusing the reader.

I have a question. How much is too much?

It's too much when you've allowed the outline to suck up the joy of writing the novel.

It's too much when you substitute writing the outline for writing the novel.

Outlining does not count against your two hours a day. You must do two hours of writing in addition to any time you spend outlining.
 
Old 12-24-2003, 09:21 AM   #259
James D Macdonald
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Re: Divergent storylines, confusing the reader.

For the query letter (I'm talking about fiction here -- non-fiction is a whole nother area) substitute the words "May I send you" for "Enclosed please find."

If you have no prior publishing credits just omit the paragraph beginning "My previous published works include...." Silence is golden.

Remember that the work stands on its own. The reader in the bookstore won't see your brilliant letter. All that counts is the book.

Do not obsess over cover letters.
 
Old 12-25-2003, 05:12 AM   #260
qatz
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Re: Further

Having returned from my "trip" now, I'd like to catch up a bit.

Thank you for that software suggestion, Jim. It looks promising. So far I have not been able to download it from that site but I'll get it one way or another after a while.

If you have another example of a flowchart that will be interesting. I have worked with them before in other contexts, so I catch your drift or think I do.

I take your point about beta readers. Having to re-write the whole thing and needing to contend with a large but stubborn new plot that popped up not long before my East African soujourn, it will be quite a while of hard work for me to produce a finished draft.

With the proviso set out below, I'll bite the bullet on that; I know you're right. This tiger may be worth it, or at least so I hope. I am too old to think I personally am God's great gift to editors anymore, but we'll see if this one makes the grade.

Not that it's a current issue, but if this story works out it will go to a traditional publisher, as you surmise. In that vein, can I even think about the possibility of an advance next summer if all goes well? Or do I just get the dang thing done and go from there? I tried that with the second-to-last one, finishing the first draft that is, and nearly ate my lunch when it didn't go anywhere. There was so much promise there, but it had to remain unrealized due to circumstances not important here.

I can say flatly that you've been a wonderful help. Thank you for your time, and best of the season. :hat
 
Old 12-25-2003, 06:46 AM   #261
James D Macdonald
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Re: Further

Hey, qatz -- best of the season to you, too.

Writing is a performing art. We're part of the entertainment industry. As such -- the audience doesn't give us an "A" for effort. They're out there ready to throw rotten tomatoes, no matter if our heart is in the right place.

This is a demanding art; it's difficult. I won't fib to you. If writing were easy, everyone would be doing it.

<HR>

Now, y'all know that as artists we're parasites, right? If there weren't a real world where would we be? We live in the real world without contributing to it. And what we do, when times are hard, folks can do without better than they can do without food and fuel.

Now, about parasitism: y'all know what a "parasite" is, right? It's a Greek word, meaning "beside the food." Originally parasites were poets who would crash rich guys' parties, and eat all they could, and provide entertainment with their poetry and songs and witty conversation. Until they were thrown out.

So now we all know where we stand in the Great World, right?

<hr>
Merry Christmas, happy holidays, to all.
 
Old 12-25-2003, 06:55 AM   #262
LiamJackson
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Re: Further

Ah, but without the "parasitic" bard/poet, most of the worlds great deeds, both evil and benevolent, would have gone the way of sandcastles.

It's true that were I starving, I would gladly trade War and Peace for a cheeseburger. It's equally true that had I a full stomach and nothing to feed my spirit, I'd be as good as dead.

Poets, bards and writers bring rainbow hues to a black and white existence. I am proud to aspire to your ranks.
 
Old 12-25-2003, 10:57 AM   #263
qatz
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Re: Further

LJ, thank you for your thoughts!

I was wandering through Eugene one summer day years back when I stumbled onto Ken Kesey about to address a crowd of folks out behind the university athletic complex. "Helllooooo poets!" he shouted. No explanation. Hand to ear, he waited for the response, of which there was basically none. A few rowdy sorts yelled back, "Hello!" That not being what he wanted, again he called out, "Hellloooooo poets!" ... and waited. This kept on until the crowd finally got the idea and yelled back "Hellloooo poet!" "Now, you may be wondering why I insist on your calling me a poet when you know and I know I'm a writer, but not necessarily of poems," he continued. "It's the same reason I'm addressing you as poets ..." And he went on to explain that we all tap into the great well of poetry when we light that creative fire in our hearts that JFK spoke of as being the one force that can truly save the world, our idealism and compassion for others. That is our higher self, and we all can -- and should -- greet each other accordingly. He thought of it as a revolutionary act. ... So I tip my hat to you, poet.

Oh yes, and James, you'll be glad to note that I just blatantly stole your thoughts on parasitism to finish my Christmas story. Something about the highest form of praise. :hat
 
Old 12-26-2003, 03:59 AM   #264
James D Macdonald
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Re: Further

Another thought on parasitism in art: We feed off reality. Without reality there could be no art. Therefore it behooves us to be experts on reality.

Until we've become masters of this world we won't be able to make worlds of our own.

More on Realism later.
 
Old 12-26-2003, 02:22 PM   #265
Illandur Stormcrow
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Re: Further

I don't generally spend a lot of time outlining on a regular basis Jim. That is to say I don't work on my outlines daily, though I do use an outline and find them to be invaluble.

I created a really great AD&D scenario when I was in my early 20's and I have been trying to write it as a book ever since. I have about a 20,000 word attempt at beginning the project that I started and ditched about 5 years ago. It was flat and plot driven and really had no depth or character development. I found as I read over it that I really didn't care much about the characters, and I had no clue where the story was going or why. I didn't write for some time after giving up on that project. There were earlier works, a horrible novel I tried to write in my teens, some short stories (only one completed), and lots and lots of AD&D scenarios. However nothing ever really stuck with me and I never really did much with it.

About three to four months ago I sat down and wrote about 15 pages of history, character description and notes to start the series. I used the original story and world that was based on my AD&D campaign only VERY loosely (this is not a cookie cutter adventure story). There will be no elves or dwarfs wandering my world, though there is a dragon or two. I have ripped out anything that could remotely resemble the run of the mill stock fantasy world. This story is about the people, more importantly, it is about a redemption and family.

Anyway after I had the history and profiles I wrote another twenty pages or so of very skeletal outline for the first two books and part of the third. I was itching to get started so at that point I decided I had enough to work with and began writing.

Of course the outline wasn't complete by a longshot. After I had finished chapter two I realized that I needed to add a lot more tension to the storyline. I found ways to break things up like dividing up the main characters, placing one set in minor jeopardy and then shifting focus to another.

It was then that the original outline went from 19 to 28 chapters. Now that this new storyline emerged, I was forced to re-evaluate and adjust. Now the outline is for 37 chapters. Weird how it keeps growing by nine...

The whole point of mentioning all this is to say I generally don't spend hours a day outlining. I have only one project currently and the outline generally remains fairly static. I spent five hours on it yesterday, but that was because I needed to, and I only spent an hour working on chapter eight. So sue me. :P

I write as much as I can, when I can. Some day when I make my living writing, I will definitely consider working within guidelines that incorporate some of your rules Jim. For now, however, I am going to have to fly by the seat of my pants.
 
Old 12-26-2003, 07:18 PM   #266
James D Macdonald
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Re: Further

I have ripped out anything that could remotely resemble the run of the mill stock fantasy world.

I recommend you pick up a copy of <A HREF="http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0886778328/ref=nosim/madhousemanor" target="_new">The Tough Guide to Fantasyland</A> by Dianne Wynne Jones. Travel any distance, pay any price, to get a copy. It's got all the cliches, arranged in alphabetical order. It's also hilarious, especially if you've read entirely too many fantasy novels.

Some day when I make my living writing, I will definitely consider working within guidelines that incorporate some of your rules Jim.

Many years ago, when I was first becoming a professional writer, I had a day job. And people would say to me (word was out that I was writing), "I've always wanted to write a book, but I never had the time." And I'd think "You son of a [bleep!]. I set my alarm clock two hours early to make time to write."

For your plot problems: Put interesting people in interesting places, and things will happen. That's the Positional Chess theory of writing. You may not be the sort of writer for whom an outline is useful/necessary. The first goal is to get words on paper. The second goal is to revise the heck out of 'em.
 
Old 12-26-2003, 11:50 PM   #267
James D Macdonald
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Today's Aphorism

Your readers have six senses. So should your characters!
 
Old 12-26-2003, 11:58 PM   #268
Illandur Stormcrow
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Re: Further

I write every day, it just isn't always two hours. Some days its five minutes, some days its four hours. It really depends on how the story is flowing for me. Most times I get bogged down trying to properly express thoughts or events. It is sometimes difficult find the words to achieve the desired result even if I have outlined the chapter. At times it takes me a bit to commit them to the page.

Some days I just do backup material, expand profiles. Some days I just write. I find if I can get about four hours free and get on a roll I can bust out a good 3000-4000 words, other days I can sit for two or three hours and only express a paragraph or two. This would explain why after three months I only have 28,000 words.

I am not particularly concerned. It will get done. I have a goal. My plan is to have the rough draft of the book done by July. Since I estimate that it will hit about 160,000 words before I am done, I suppose I should get cracking!

In any case, I do write every day, and that is a good start.
 
Old 12-27-2003, 02:38 AM   #269
qatz
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Re: Further

By what you say, Ill, you will be producing more than 6500 words per week on average from January to June. That is an average of over 1300 words per day assuming you take weekends off, but no vacations. Every other day you need to do 3000 words. Every single second day, whether you are in the groove or not. Also, the number of words you write is not so important as which words you pick and in which order. You will see, I think, that this is the difference between you and, for example, Shakespeare.

But give it a try! You have bitten off a big chunk so be prepared to spend a lot of time BIC whether you want to or not. That means, away from this website, not working on outlines or profiles or background, not reading, just writing the story. The kicker is you have to do everything else as well, including having a life, eating and sleeping! So, as Jim keeps reminding me, writing is hard. Focus on it, check back in with us once a month to let us know how you're doing, and do good. If you can accomplish a project like this, even though it's not the Midsummer's Night's Dream, you'll have done something next year. :hat
 
Old 12-27-2003, 03:17 AM   #270
SRHowen
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--

Quote:
Many years ago, when I was first becoming a professional writer, I had a day job. And people would say to me (word was out that I was writing), "I've always wanted to write a book, but I never had the time." And I'd think "You son of a [bleep!]. I set my alarm clock two hours early to make time to write."
I had to laugh at this one, the more I speak to writers and those who want to be published I see stages that we all seem to go through.

This is one of them. I as well hate the, "What do you do?" My answer, "I am an author and I work as an editor." Them: "OH really, I always wanted to write a book." My thoughts about the same as James.

The worst I ever got--Woman in my car on the autobahn-- "I don't see why you haven't gotten a book published yet, it must be really easy with all the bad books out there--so yours must be pure trash."

I wanted to roll her out of the car going 150 K. :ack

Now, I smile sweetly and ask--"Who's your agent?" When they tell me they are writing a book or have always wanted to. Works well.

On the perfect query letter--short, sweet, simple. I use a different one than James--a true outline form that I've had good luck with and so have a few others.

Shawn
 
Old 12-27-2003, 03:19 AM   #271
LiamJackson
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Re: Further

I spend a lot of time on planes and in hotel rooms, often too tired to think, too wired to sleep. The act of sitting down to a laptop and spewing out words is a relief and I've come to look forward to that time. On a good night, I can write a coherent 5-6k. Most times, it's closer to 3k.

Over time, I've come to learn when it's time to back away from the story, sometimes for a day, other times lasting a month. I used to feel guilty for 'neglecting' my project, but eventually learned that I was doing both myself and the story a major favor by occasionally indulging in a degree of seperation. Doesn't mean I'm not writing 'something.' Just means I'm not working on that particular story.

Early on, I had a bad tendency to 'overwrite' pages. Now, I move along, marking the page for 'later consideration' then come back after a few hours or a day, hopefully with a fresher perspective and try the 'problem scene' again. It seems to work much better for me than sitting there drumming my head against the keyboard. (And the keyboard really appreciates it.)

Reference the dread Writers Block; when I get stuck, I throw myself a curve and add a new character. Sorta like pulling the proverbial rabbit out of a hat.

I know that it's a good possibility that the "new character" won't make it through the revision process, but many times, I find that just having a new slant of any kind will jumpstart the process, again.

If any of my aformentioned 'techniques' are considered self-defeating by the experts, I'm open to criticism and suggestions for improvement.

Thanks,

LJ
 
Old 12-27-2003, 03:41 AM   #272
SRHowen
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Re: Further

I have been known to smash keyboards--mostly went he computer does something really annoying.

Your ways of overcoming writers block (of which I don't believe in but that's my own way of overcoming it) are great.

Now when I get stuck, and need to get something done, I play a dumb mindless game for a bit. I set a timer and play collapse or something for 20 min, then go back to it.

We can look at what other writers do or have done, and boy I wish when I had started I had a resource like the Internet, (it would have saved a lot of learning time) but we have to find what works best for us. If what we are doing is not working IE to overcome writer's block, then we should try what others do. But if what you are doing works for you--go with it.

Shawn
 
Old 12-27-2003, 05:06 AM   #273
Illandur Stormcrow
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Re: Further

I know that the goal may be a tad unrealistic, but it keeps me going. I will come as close to hitting it as I can. The ultimate goal is just to have a good book to submit out there. The mid 2004 date gives me something to shoot for, even it if isn't realistic. In fact, based on my outline revisions, I suppose I should revise the draft completion date...

We'll just have to see how it goes.
 
Old 12-27-2003, 11:26 AM   #274
qatz
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Re: Further

Hi Shawn ... I threw a typewriter onto a bed once in my sister's bedroom, and it bounced through the wall ... big old heavy Royal ... never really did fix that hole right, though I tried ... then I've smashed keyboards too ... only problem is that they often smash back, makes me want to be a pacifist again ... but can you imagine the number of books that get thrown against the wall in the James D. McDonald house? From the frequency of his references to the act, there must be a whole lot of bruised books down his way. :rollin

See you later. :hat
 
Old 12-27-2003, 11:56 AM   #275
SRHowen
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well

my hubby buys keyboards when they are on sale and saves them for my next fit of--they said what about my story? Or the inevitable --^%@^(*_ :ack computer crash that ate two chapters.

Haven't had that happen since Feb when I bought the new machine--went with a pro model this time--worth every penny. But i did manage to smack the keyboard--and hurt my hand when Yahoo ate all my saved e-mails. And my agent marvels at how well I do violent scenes.:rollin

Shawn
 
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