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Opal Writers’ Magazine – OCTOBER 2021

October 2021

Crafting Query Letters | Allison Gorner

Maintaining and Growing a Successful Writer Blog | Mandy E. Barnett

Create a Compelling Content Strategy in 3 Critical Sections | Catherine Saykaly-Stevens

I Should Wear a Warning Label | Sheila S. Hudson

Born Again and Again and Again | Cappy Hall Rearick

A Remembrance of Things Imperfect – Meteor | Bois Glikman

Train Into the Valley of Madness | Donald H Roberts

Crafting Query Letters

BY ALLISON GORNER

Oh, the dreaded query letter. If you choose the traditional publishing route, it is a necessary, albeit frightful, step in publishing your novel. An exceptional query letter can propel your manuscript to representation and a publishing contract. A query letter’s purpose is to persuade an editor or an agent to read your manuscript—to invest their time in your work. It needs to be seductive and contain charming persuasion. It is a sales letter and displays your book as a marketable product.

The following steps will help you craft a successful query letter.

Finish Your Book

Most agents and editors will not consider unfinished fiction manuscripts. Complete the manuscript, edit, revise, and polish it before sending out queries. Your manuscript should be the best you can make it and feel ready for publication. The exception to this is if you already have an established relationship with a publisher and they request a manuscript pitch from you.

Research Agents and Publishers

The next step is to research agents and publishers that you want to send your manuscript to. Look for those who have represented books in the same genre. Who was the agent/publisher of your favourite novel? Look in the author’s thank you section for names. Make a list of agents in your genre and note each agent’s submission guidelines.

Some useful databases include Publishers Marketplace, AAR Database, Agent Query, and Query Tracker. Also check out agents’ blogs and Twitter feeds.

Read Successful Queries

Reading successful query letters helps you to recognize what works, and what doesn’t. Why were these letters successful? What elements were included to make it stand out? Look for examples of queries on author and agent blogs, writing websites and publications. An excellent resource is the “Successful Queries” series on writersdigest.com. This series of articles shows queries that had offers of representation and often include agent’s comments and reasons the letter worked for them.

Write the Query

Introduction

Open the query with a thoughtful, personalized approach. Address the agent or editor by name, spelled correctly. Customize your letter for each submission. Do not address your letter “To Whom It May Concern.” Mention if you have met them or heard them speak before. Reference a title they represented in your same genre that you liked and that your manuscript could be compared to.

Define your manuscript by stating the title, genre, word count and target audience.

Example:

Dear Mr. Smythe,

I recently heard you speak at The Writers’ Conference, which inspired me to craft this query letter. My novel, The Book, is a YA fantasy romance complete with 80,000 words. I am submitting to you because I believe my manuscript will appeal to the same readers as Author 1 and Author 2, whom you represent.

The Hook

In 100 – 200 words, the hook is the real meat of the query. It shows the setting and time and boils down your story to a few compelling elements and characters. Be specific (too much detail is a mistake) and have a tight focus on the conflict or unique situations of your manuscript. Only mention your protagonist, love interest, and antagonist. Don’t go off on several secondary characters or on minor plots. Don’t reveal the ending, instead make the agent or editor want to read more to find out what happens.

A successful hook conveys what the book is about and makes the agent want to read it and the reader want to buy it. An excellent hook could become the flap or back cover copy for your published novel.

If the hook is well written but boring, it means the story is lacking anything fresh. Just the same old story or formula with no distinction.  To spice up your hook, add conflict and specificity. Figure out what is truly special about your story and express it in a captivating way.

Write several drafts of your hook then pick out the best part from each draft. Choose words that convey emotion. Does the hook express why we want to care about the character?

Hook Formula 1Hook Formula 2
What does your character want?State your character’s name with a brief description.
Why does he want it?Describe the conflict she faces.
What keeps him from getting it?Convey the choices she has to make.

Biographical Note

Include a brief description of yourself and your publication credits. Mention if you have any advanced writing degrees, professional writing affiliations, and/or awards or competitions won. Comment on your job and career only if it lends authenticity to your manuscript. For example, you wrote a detective novel and have been in law enforcement, or you have a picture book manuscript and are an elementary school librarian.

Bio Don’ts:

  • Don’t talk about every little writing thing you’ve ever done. Pick out a few of the best.
  • Don’t say how much your friends and family love your book or how much they want you to write.
  • Don’t talk about all the times you’ve been rejected, or your close acceptances.

Thanks and Closing

Leave a final good impression by thanking the agent for their consideration. It is expected that authors will send out multiple submissions, so no need to state this, but do mention if another agent or publisher is considering your manuscript.  Make sure your contact information is included after the signature in an email submission.

Workshop and Revise

After your query is written, workshop the letter as if it were a manuscript. Show it to friends and other authors who haven’t read the book. Get their feedback and impressions and ask them to repeat back to you what they think the story is about. Does your query accurately represent your book? Revise as necessary.

Red FlagsQuestions To Ask
Query is over one page.Will it be meaningful? Charming? Persuasive?
Comments on the quality of your work – it should be self-evident.Does it reveal my work’s voice or personality?
The hook sounds like to many other hooks – too boring.Does it create an emotional response?

Send the Query

When your query is finished send it to 5 or 6 agents or publishers at a time. Remember to follow each agent’s specific submission guidelines. If you receive 1 or 2 requests for pages that means you have a great query letter. If no requests are received, that means you need to re-evaluate your letter. Make tweaks and edits – strengthen the hook – and send it out to 5 or 6 more agents.

Expect rejections and don’t give up. Remember, finding the right person to work with takes time, patience, and more than a little effort. F. Scott Fitzgerald said, “Work like hell! I had 122 rejections slips before I sold a story.”

Maintaining and Growing a Successful Writer Blog

By MANDY E. BARNETT

Once you have set up your blog and identified your target audience and know what theme/topics you will cover, now you need to maintain it.

One of the most important tasks is to ensure you have a regular schedule, so your readers know when to expect a post from you. Set days and times that are manageable for your lifestyle and time constraints. Be realistic about how much time you can give to your blog, do not overwhelm yourself with unrealistic goals. Posts can be weekly, monthly or quarterly – as long as the schedule is recurring.

Remember having a schedule allows you to write posts in advance and schedule them. Make use of this option by dropping a quick sentence into a draft post of an ideas you have for a post. We all know we won’t remember the idea later!

So why do you need to blog consistently?

In short it establishes author credibility. Readers become familiar with your work and it attracts new readers to your site. Consistent blogging means you are continually attracting a stream of potential new readers to your site with fresh, updated content. Readers love to get an intimate view into the life of their favorite authors along with any upcoming events and book launches. The more you share the more they will want to come back.

Remember to keep your author information, pages, books and events current. It doesn’t take a lot of time to ensure any changes are corrected or updated. This includes the copyright statement for your blog content to ensure it is not pirated. This is essential for the safety of your content should you need to take action on unauthorized copying. Unfortunately, this does happen.

Make Connections to Grow

You want your blog’s reach and popularity to grow so connect with authors in similar genres and also readers of your specific genre(s). This should be a constant work in progress in the maintaining of your blog. Don’t let it become static. The more you connect the larger your reach. To attain growth here are a few tips.

  • Research similar authors, who have blogs and offer to guest post on each other’s websites.
  • Run regular interviews with people who fascinate you.
  • If you have a specific genre connect with other writers in the same genre as well as their following. See what they are posting.
  • Visit forums and post your blogs there.
  • Link your blogs to your social media platforms to gain exposure.
  • Encourage your established readers to post your blog links on their social media to spread the news to as many new sets of eyes as possible.
  • Utilize hashtags when you post to your social media sites. Twitter, Facebook, and other social media networks always offer—as part of your static profile—an opportunity to link to your homepage.
  • Create a special introduction for people who visit your website from your Twitter profile, Facebook fan page, Goodreads page, etc.
  • Remember your SEO (search engine optimization) and include your ‘top’ search words in every post.
  • When creating the link from your website offer an intriguing question, lead in, excerpt, or explanation of why the post might be interesting to people on your social networks.
  • Write book reviews and use the author name and book titles as keywords. This will draw their readers to your site.

Additional Maintenance and Updating Tips

  • Create a dedicated page on your website for each and every book title.
  • For each book page, make the page title identical to the book title.
  • Use a full or extended description for each book.
  • Link previous blog posts related to each book to tell the story of its inception and launch.
  • Include links to your social media and other book related sites onto your front page.
  • Create a newsletter sign up form.
  • Include videos and/or podcasts you are featured on or host.
  • Share any upcoming events you are involved in.

By following these simple guidelines you can create a successful Writers Blog.

Creating a Compelling Content Strategy

BY CATHERINE SAYKALY-STEVENS

How Do You Create Compelling Content for Your Target Audience To Love and Consume?

It sounds easy, but it can quickly become daunting, especially when thinking about all the competition scrambling to capture their attention too.

For some, it’s overwhelming to start a content campaign. It becomes more overwhelming to continue when all your hard work doesn’t produce results. While there are many paid services to consider, many can be out of reach financially. If your content continually falls flat, it can rock your confidence and limit your ability to help others. It may be that you haven’t found the right connection trigger for your target audience.

For others, their content already receives plenty of social reactions, but that doesn’t necessarily put money in your pocket.  

Social Media LIKES Don’t Pay Your Bills

It’s great if your content posts receive ‘Likes’, but those social reactions do nothing to drive sales required to keep your business healthy and reach your target audience.

There are many social platforms that do well and engage their audiences. LinkedIn has the greatest conversion rate for business owners by far.

While this information will focus on LinkedIn content primarily, it also applies to all content on other social and digital platforms.

Your purpose in social media is to use your content to meet your target audience where they are; and convince them to move to another location where they’ll get more converting content.

The question becomes: What content will have the greatest conversion rate with your target audience while also attracting similar audiences?

How To Create Compelling Content STRATEGY for Your Target Audience?

There are three critical sections for creating compelling content to obtain tons of traffic, abundant appointments, and converting conversations:

Each section is important on its own, but only a congruent strategy that includes all three will help you overcome lacking visibility, credibility, and especially profitability.

Begin by building a Target Audience Profile

First, I cannot stress the importance of the research phase of your Target Audience Profile. This helps you gain a deep understanding of your target audience’s biggest challenges from their perspective and how you can meet them where they are and solve their problems.

Second, catch their attention by demonstrating your knowledge and understanding of their problems.

And third, create the content, not only with the word selection, but the imagery, media, platform where they will consume the information.

Skyrocket your reach and visibility, simultaneously increasing your credibility and trust, to convert to sales.

Deliver a strategic blend of long-form and short-form content divided into series leading to a well-defined converting funnel. Keep your target audience captivated while you build your credibility.  
(*More about short form content next month*)

If you feel like you’ve got the plan and all the tools you need to create Compelling Content for your target audience, go be great!

However, if you feel like you need help with any one or all sections to build, create, and deliver Compelling  Content, then feel free to reach out to me. I’m here to help you.

I Should Wear a Warning Label

By SHEILA S. HUDSON

I confess. I am a writer. I have been one for over 25 years. I am unable to stop. No amount of counseling has helped. I am hopelessly addicted to paper and ink.

In my research, I’ve discovered others suffering this same obsession. I propose a solution. In order to save our reputations and unnecessary verbiage, writers with this malady should always display and wear upon their person — warning labels.

Not just any label, but one befitting the mood and occasion.

And why not? We label cough syrup, cigarettes, craft supplies, food and nonfood items alike. Sometimes the label goes further and state the symptoms of abuse.

When I am working feverishly against a deadline, reasonable or not, a caution should be displayed in a prominent place like the front door or stuck on my forehead alerting all who approach of impending danger. Wording could be something like the following:

  • Contents under pressure.
  • Handle at own risk.
  • Caution. Approach with care.
  • Death or serious injury could result.

Fraternizing with an insecure writer can be a dangerous undertaking. All conversations, scandals, gossip tidbits or secrets are fair game and could possibly become part of a short story, feature, or newspaper article. A writer’s significant other is constantly at risk. That person is the last bastion of privacy to their friends and relatives. It may be up to them to advise guests and strangers of their situation. Some my spouse has used are:

  • High-risk area (writer has been spotted in area).
  • Beware of explicit lyrics and sexual innuendo (may wind up in print).
  • Do not puncture or incinerate (verbally or within earshot of the writer).
  • This visit may have harmful side effects.

A desperate writer can get 1,000 words out of taking the garbage to the Dumpster. During writer’s block, a freelancer may sift through personal experiences and “modify” a personal experience claiming poetic license with emphasis on “lie.”

Family vacations are not exempt. Vacationing with a writer is not “down time.” Writers never take vacations. I constantly scribble regardless of the local or temperature. My luggage is full of newspapers, travel brochures, and items of interest “just in case.” Writer significant others should use caution especially when traveling outside the United States. Some of the following may apply.

Never allow writer to operate machinery while under the influence of inspiration.

  • Too much stimulation may cause writing sessions for hours.
  • Do not mix writer with alcoholic substances.
  • Keep writer out of reach of children and pets.

Day to day routines can lose their luster for many, but a creative writer with too much time on their hands has been known to lift the mundane to bizarre and beyond. Living with a writer is difficult but be forewarned that it is anything but dull. The quirky lifestyle of a writer:

  • May be addictive.
  • Could cause drowsiness.
  • May result in serious injury.
  • Contains all new material.

Even the most conscientious discover innuendo creeping into supposedly unbiased and non-fictional reporting. It therefore lies in the realm of agent/ manager/partner/spouse (in other words YOU) to correct errors and rein in your writer when things get out of hand. This may occur at book signings, parties, or family reunions.

A writer on a word binge is no different from an alcoholic; he has no grasp on reality and cannot rest until his current manuscript is put to bed and another begun. The writer must begin another manuscript immediately else the blank page will mock both his dreams and leisure time. I know this from personal experience. That is one stress you do not want to add to your otherwise carefree life. For lifestyle happiness, I recommend basic cardinal rules.

  • Handle your writer with care.
  • Treat as highly explosive.
  • Do not freeze, refrigerate or expose to sunlight.

Never approach a writer who is sitting in silence and ask, “What are you doing?” The writer in question will take offense. Since our tribe is constantly tinkering with the layout of the next article or book chapter.

If you question them, they will be affronted and assume you are accusing them of daydreaming. Or, if you observe them watching a favorite television sitcom, you should never assume they are relaxing but rather untangling story formats, noting transitions, or watching for plot points and complications.

With more than fifty years of marriage under our belts, my husband suggests that I wallpaper my office with rejection slips. He wisely encourages resubmission of returned manuscripts and refuses to allow me to wallow in self-pity. He patiently reminds me that to be a writer means:

  • Some assembly may be required.
  • Batteries are not included.
  • Under penalty of law, this warning label is not to be removed!

Born Again and Again and Again

BY CAPPY HALL REARICK

“I was standing in the school yard waiting for a child when another mother came up to me. ‘Have you found work yet?’ she asked. ‘Or are you still just writing?’”

—Anne Tyler

Aaaaaaack! Whether no one in the free world realizes it or not, writing is work. It is hard work, carved out not in one sitting but in painfully slow creative sentences until finally ‘The End’ is pecked out at the bottom of a page. Only then can a writer smile. Me? I’m usually too tired to manage even that. Digging coal with a pickaxe deep in a West Virginia mine might be tougher than digging ideas out of my head, but ten to one a coal miner sleeps like a rock at night. Me? Not so much.

When the clock strikes three a.m. and it’s blacker than the coal miner’s lungs outside, I am still wide awake wondering about that tenth chapter. Does the transition work, or did I squeeze it out praying for a decent fit? At four a.m., I might be pondering the third verse of a poem, thinking that the rhythm seems to be off, or the metaphor in the fourth line is better suited to a Dr. Seuss book.

In any case, the relief I feel at having finished a piece is short-lived because writing itself never sleeps. No bloody wonder Ann Rice was obsessed with vampires! The light of day brings me little relief because a fresh character appears even before I’ve had my fifth cup of Starbucks. In fact, at this moment, she is strolling into my kitchen wearing a floppy red felt hat and an attitude. Sauntering over to my near empty coffee pot, she drains it into a china cup. Her slurp is so loud it makes the skin crawl on last night’s baked chicken.

Indifferent, she turns in my direction and glares. I’m no rocket scientist, but I detect a challenge in her moves, and it’s pretty easy to figure out what she is expecting from me.

I shake my head; I look away; I take a sip of coffee from my garage sale mug that’s been sitting on the chipped enamel table in front of me. A few minutes go by before my eyes cut over to this person who looks as though her name should be Julia Margaret McKenzie.

She has positioned herself on the kitchen countertop and is swinging her crossed legs while her overly mascaraed eyes stare holes through me. Her singular look commands me to do her bidding, to give her the thing for which she came to my kitchen. But what might that be?

A life. She wants me to give her a life.

But I’m worn out and tired from writing. I don’t want to think about it today. I was too exhausted to eat supper last night, and I hardly slept. I am trusting Calgon to take me away from plot twists and characters. My brain needs a rest from floppy red hat-wearing characters.

“Get lost, Julia Margaret McKenzie!” My voice booms throughout the kitchen but it doesn’t faze Miz Julia Margaret. First she smiles, then she yawns and removes that ludicrous hat of hers, fluffs her bleached hair with bejeweled fingers, and then slurps again from my grandmother’s bone china cup, the thin one you can see through.

I squint my eyes and point an accusing finger at her. “Don’t slurp your coffee like that. Sip it. Like a lady.”

She looks me in the eye, her haughty attitude bulging from the shocking three sizes too small pink sweater she is wearing.

“Make me,” she commands with a smirk.

And those two seductive words are enough to get me to pick up my tired bones and drag them back to the computer where I peck, peck, peck on my keyboard for yet another day.

It ain’t rocket science, folks, but it beats digging coal with a pickaxe.

Remembrance of Things Imperfect
Meteor

BY BORIS GLIKMAN

It is the beginning of a warm summer night.

I am running down the stairs,
quickly and excitedly,
with my neighbours following me.  

We all want to see the meteor
that is plummeting
through the black sky.

But by the time we get outside 
air friction, like a carpet burn
amplified to the nth degree,
has consumed it.  

So, we turn around
and go back home to bed. 

Plummeting Through the Black Sky

Image Credit: Remembrance of Things Imperfect
(Third Pebble from the Sun Variation on the Main Theme) Alicia Pacheco AKA Kuro

TRAIN
Into the Valley of Madness
Episode 1

BY DONALD H. ROBERTS

No one ever knows a train conductors name and few ever concern themselves with discovering it, so throughout this story the man who is the second most significant person aboard the train will be identified simply as, the Conductor.

The Conductor strode easily up and down the aisle of the train moving from car to car assisting where needed and admonishing where necessary. Mostly he simply observed, but his attention had a shadow to it masked with a sly grin.

Sarah Weshlyn said to her husband, “That man, the Conductor seems odd. It is like he knows something but isn’t telling anyone?”

Johnny replied, “That’s just the writer in you picking out some new and sinister characters.”

“Maybe but wait until he catches you in his gaze. It really is discomforting.” Sarah mused back.

“Let’s go to the observation deck. I doubt he will follow you there.” Johnny replied then ushered his wife out of the passenger car and quickly out of sight of the Conductor.

Jake Taggart watched as everyone milled about, more interested in the occasion than the scenery flashing by. But then it was still mostly urban with some suburban sprawl. Once the rural plots gave way to the wild wilderness their eyes would all be glued to the living video rolling past the windows. It made him think about his life, his dilemma, and his future, which were all in chaos with little hope of relief unless he could just disappear. Make Jake Taggart disappear and… “And then what?” he thought. “Empty oblivion. Maybe I should just go back and face my stupidity. What’s a few years against a life time of hiding, always wondering who is going to recognize you?”

The Conductor stopped next to Jake’s seat. He smiled ruefully and said, “I have seen that expression on many faces Mr. Taggart. Whatever is gnawing at your conscious is trying to help you. I would listen to that inner voice.” Then he moved on.

“Hey. How do you know my name?” Jake demanded.

Without looking back the conductor replied, “I am the train conductor.”

“He saw my picture in the papers and he saw through my disguise. Who else will?” Jake muttered and pushed himself deeper into the corner of his seat and turned his eyes to the window. The suburbs were gone and the rural fields were fading into a mist even though the sun was burning nearly white, new, and fresh against a clear azure sky.

Trevor and Anna Morris found a seat on the observation deck. Anna had her camera ready to capture their honey moon trip in a video. Trevor watched the city diminish and suburbia grow. It wouldn’t be long before he and Anna would be living in one of those nice bungalows on a quiet street treading through life together, “To where?” he thought. Then he let his thoughts drift back to the reason they were on a honeymoon. He was pressed by everyone to own his responsibility to the life he helped to create. Now his own plans were fading out of site with the city into the empty dreams of the wilderness which was being masked by a thin veil of mist. He muttered, “It’s ironic that this trip is reflecting my future.”

Anna didn’t get it. She replied, “Yes. Isn’t beautiful.”

Trevor forced a smile on his lips and said, “Yah.”

The Conductor stopped at the table where the party of six were sitting talking and sipping on their drinks. They were discussing the events of the night before and how they really tore up the city. The one named John Weshlyn was laughing and trying to talk, saying something about the waiter in the restaurant being a jerk for insisting they were disturbing other guests with their boisterous celebration.

The Conductor admonished, “Which you are doing now. If you do not curb your enthusiasm and stop disturbing the other passengers I will conduct you to the caboose.”

“You can’t do that.” Weshlyn snarled.

A traveling companion, Marie Bolt sneered at him and said, “John. I think he can. We should do as he asks.”

John Weshlyn lowered his eyes and muttered something unintelligible.

Another table of four were playing poker. The Conductor suggested they were missing the point and should be enjoying the scenery. The dealer just dealt another hand.

Outside, though the sun still broke through, the morning mist was growing deep, turning the passing rural scape into a surreal dream. Some people were complaining and others thought it was a work of natural art. Sam Wakes turned away from the window, appalled at the fact that the passengers were all being endangered by a fleeing killer and that there was too much risk in apprehending him. All he could do is hope once they were off the train in the valley he could herd the killer away from the crowd. He had no doubt there was unlikely to be an arrest. This one was a do or die fugitive. Sam’s service pistol weighed heavy on his shoulder.

An automated voice came over the speaker. “We are now leaving the city behind and for the next hour we will be travelling through a section of the Boreal Forest that has never been harvested and some claim is one of the most mystical places in the world. You might see some wonders, even ghosts wandering in the woods but they are simply an illusion caused by the effect of mist and sun rays.

“How perfect is that. It is turning out to be a real magical honeymoon for us Trevor.” Anna said happily.

Trevor conjured up his best smile and replied, “Get lots of video so we can look back on today in a few years.” He tried to sound excited but it was difficult when his mind was toying with a dark and sinister idea.

The Conductor escorted Anna and Trevor to the stairs rising to the observation deck. He fixed his gaze on Trevor and said, “The gloom you sense now will pale if you carry out your thoughts.”

Trevor stared angrily at the conductor but didn’t say anything, he just thought, “How could you know what I am thinking?”

“You look so eerie honey. What is your problem?” Anna teased, though she was half serious.

The train gave a little jerk and the steel wheels screeched on the tracks a little. The train whistle blew but instead of sounding lonesome it wailed urgently.

Episode 2 will be available in the November issue – watch for it here!

Watch for the next Opal Writers’ Magazine in November!


Opal Writers Magazine

Published by Opal Publishing
Nanaimo, British Columbia, Canada

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