How to grab an editor’s attention in those first three chapters

I just finished book nine of my novel writing journey. Books four and five are coming out this year, and others are still in search of a home. One of the big keys to catching a publisher’s eye is a stellar first three chapters. In fiction, you can only send the first three chapters. You can’t skip to the chapters you feel are the best part of the book. Because if the beginning isn’t a page-turner, the reader will put the book down before they get there. If a pub board isn’t wowed by your writing sample, you will not get a contract no matter how stunning chapter seven is. They don’t have time to read the entire book.

The novella collection featuring Healing Hearts.

Clean chapters

Make sure there are no typos, or grammatical errors in those chapters. Ask a fellow-author or two or three to read through the chapters and red mark those areas. Even sentences that sound funny or word choices that seem weird or off-putting. It is not the publishers’ job to overlook these and just judge the story. These things will distract quicker than quick and paint you as someone who isn’t serious about your craft.

Strong first sentence

Here is the first sentence from my novella Healing Hearts from The Cowboys, a novella collection available on Amazon, (Shameless promo.)

If I only do one good thing in my life, I’m getting my brother home.

Does that make you want to read on and find out why Lonnie thinks this?  The first sentence draws the reader to ask who is this, what is happening and why. The where was established with a tag at the beginning of the chapter Kansas, 1866.  

This pic is what the twins looked like in my imagination.

First paragraph

The first paragraph needs to build that tension as it begins to introduce the characters through dialog and interaction. Setting descriptors should be sprinkled throughout as beats. Lonnie adjusts the blanket over their laps so his twin gets more because they are in an open wagon in a snowstorm. I show through actions rather than tell the reader what is going on..

First page

By now the reader should feel compelled to turn the page. Don’t waste a lot of time describing a building. Healing Hearts opens in a wagon traveling through snow. As the men travel, they shove their gloved hands under their arms, etc., to imply how cold it is. As Lonnie recalls his past failures, the snow makes it hard to see the path in front of them, a metaphor for his lack of hope. And the reader learns that Jed is the more positive of the two.

First chapter

The reader should have a good handle on setting and main characters by the end of the first chapter. In Healing Hearts, Lonnie Holt is traveling with his twin brother Jed to a ranch they inherited from their late uncle. Jed is recovering from ill health after being released from a Civil War prison camp. Lonnie blames himself for the loss of their family and ranch in Texas. Jed is all he has left of his family. The whole first chapter establishes their relationship and their dream of a thriving ranch. The chapter ends with the twins finding a woman in their cabin, the awkward way Lonnie handles the encounter, and the realization that she can’t leave anytime soon.

Lonnie let the fire’s heat chase the chill from his body while his mind fought to find his manners. A glance out the window at the thickening snowfall told him the scared filly would not be leaving anytime soon. It both irritated and intrigued him.

Chapters two and three

These chapters need to be as engaging as the first one. More of the who, what, where and why unfold. We get a better feeling for the setting and characters. By the end of chapter three, the editor has a sense of your writing style and your level of writing craft. It also tells them how engaging the book will be for the reader. Healing Hearts’ Lonnie is instantly attracted to Genny, but his physical and emotional scars build a wall around his heart. He is sharp and obnoxious toward her. But when she steps in to use her nursing skills to help Jed with a wretched cough, Lonnie softens.

Here is the last few lines of Healing Hearts’ chapter three.

He followed her to the door and spoke low. “Forgive me, ma’am, for being ornery and sharp with you earlier.”

“Home is where you hoped your brother would heal.” Her brown eyes lingered until he felt uncomfortable. “I forgive you.” She left the room, taking with her his momentary peace.

FYI: Every chapter ending should be intriguing enough to lead the reader to want to turn the page rather than stop and go on to other things. 

Concluding thought

 The editor has read the summary and knows how the story ends. And after reading the first three chapters, he has determined whether you can deliver your story in an exciting, well-written way.

And if the answer is yes for him, he will pitch it to the pub board. Hopefully, leading to a contract offer.

If you are interested in reading Healing Hearts, here is the link to The Cowboys. The other three authors, Jennifer Ulrich, Sandra Melville Hart, and Linda Yezak have excellent opening lines, too. I guarantee you won’t be able to stop turning the pages.

What is your favorite opening line?

If you haven’t read The Cowboys there is a link under the picture.

Taming the west—one heart at a time.

Healing Heart

Lonnie Holt’s external scars remind him of his failures, his internal scars torment him. Genny Collins seeks safety at the ranch once owned by Lonnie’s uncle. When Lonnie and his brother arrive, sparks fly and distrust abounds. While Lonnie and Genny fight the love growing between them, his past haunts him, and her past pays them a visit.

Becoming Brave

When Coy Whittaker stumbles upon a grisly scene littered with bodies, he wants nothing more than to get his boss’s cattle out of Indian Territory. But when a bloodstained Aimee Kaplan draws down on him, his plans—and his heart—screech to a halt.

Trail’s End

Wade Chadwick has no money until his boss’s cattle sell, so he takes a kitchen job at Abby’s Home Cooking. The beautiful and prickly owner adds spice to his workday. Abby Cox hires the down-and-out cowboy even though the word cowboy leaves a bad taste in her mouth. Just as she’s ready to trust Wade with her heart, money starts to disappear … and so does her brother.

Loving a Harvey Girl

Eva Knowles can’t imagine why the local preacher doesn’t like Harvey Girls—women who work serving tables instead of finding a husband and falling in love. But if Eva can get the handsome and wayward cowboy Cal Stephens to join her in church, maybe the reverend will accept the girls. Or maybe she’ll forfeit her job for a husband, hearth, and home!

There are twins in Healing Hearts and I wanted to give Jed his own happily-ever-after. Rescuing Her Heart is available for preorder in paperback and e-book. It releases July 6th.

As her husband’s evil deeds haunt a mail-order bride from the grave, can she learn to trust again and open her heart to true love? 

On visitation rounds as a lay preacher, the last thing rancher Jed Holt expects is to be shot at from the barn next to a burned-down homestead. But the soot-covered woman hiding inside needs protecting, and Jed is the man to do it whether she likes it or not. Delilah James’s nightmares began when she came to Kansas as a mail-order bride. Her husband was nothing like his letters. Now that he is dead, she can’t shake his abuse from her heart. Trusting men tops her never-again list and taking a job on the Holt ranch as a housekeeper is a means to save money and bring her parents west. But her attraction to the compassionate former chaplain both angers and confuses her. 

Jed has his own nightmares from a POW camp and understands Delilah better than she knows. Can two broken people form a forever bond?

Emotions from Life Experiences Help Writers Build Deeper Characters

This Sunday is Mother’s Day. The first one without my dear Mom. She passed in February. As I thought about my loss, the feelings of sadness and grief gripped me. Reflecting back on that moment now that it’s past, I realized I could use those feelings in my story worlds.

I’ve read posts from writer friends who share how writing a particular book drained them because raw emotions rose up as they worked out the characters’ dilemmas. I can so relate. When my baby sister died of cancer, I couldn’t deal with the C word or with hearing happy tales of people’s recovery. My mother passed from dementia and my father from Alzheimers. Both words leave a bitter taste in my mouth.

Time has healed those initial aches. I can unwrap them when I need to find the right words to describe my character’s grief. Those emotions coat the edges of what I want to convey through my stories.

Delilah James in my upcoming release Rescuing Her Heart is dealing with guilt, anger, grief and bitterness from her late husband’s abuse. I have never known domestic abuse, but those same emotions have hounded me in other life experiences.

The older I get, I find more emotional rocks to stumble over. Ones I had no clue of as a teen or young woman. That may be why it took me years to feel confident in trying my hand at novel writing.

I noticed when asked to critique new authors WIP pages that the younger the writer, the shallower the emotional arc. It’s hard to write about married life if you’ve never experienced it. In like manner, grief may not be in their wheel-house yet. There are younger writers who have had deep-emotional trauma that, if they are willing, can channel it into their stories.

The same can be said for older writers crafting stories for middle-grade or teens. Feelings from those years have probably faded to a quiet ache, if it wasn’t extremely traumatic. So, unless they kept a journal from their youth, they may have difficulty creating a true age-appropriate character. Yet, there are older authors who have been writing for that genre for years. They’ve captured the emotional essence of youth and presented it believably on paper.

Am I saying only write from fresh emotions? Of course not. We sometimes must completely process our emotions that arose out of an event. Your emotional memories of trauma need to fade so you can heal. Only then can you have a character deal honestly with their situation. And I’m not saying you can’t write about what you’ve never experienced. Being near someone facing hard times, going through it with them, can stir up deep empathy you can use to develop a character. It comes down to the depth or rawness of the emotions experienced and how healing overcame.

As a writer, you can journal your feelings while going through a difficult time. Describe in detail how your chest ache feels. Did you lose your appetite or binge eat? How did that make you feel? Even a brief sentence expressing your angst can be a gateway in the future to unlocking those emotions when you’re ready to use them in your story.

I spent time with my parents as Alzheimers and dementia changed them. Their behavior was so different from the parents who raised me. I wrote a minor character in my contemporary romance, New Duet, who was at the beginning stages of dementia. I found some humor there from my mother’s funny comments to add to Clara’s persona.

Mom got funnier as the dementia progressed. Child-like, really. I watched my mother fade away and even more so with Covid keeping us apart. These past few years of watching my parents leave my life by measures was much harder than I imagined.

In the future, those very feelings of loss may wind their way into a new character. And for the reader the story will be richer because my life-experiences will breathe life into that character. I don’t need to focus on dementia and aging, but those same feelings of watching someone drift away can describe losing a child to illness or a loved one to substance abuse.

Have you found adding bits of yourself makes your words richer?

If you’re curious about Clara in New Duet, the e-book is free through Sunday, May 9th on Amazon.

Her Brown Eyes turned Blue on page 152 Part 1 character charts

Photo by fotografierende on Pexels.com

As a pantster I don’t outline and plot much. Which can leave me forgetting the name of a character or changing their brown eyes to blue. Brown eyes can never be sapphire or blue eyes chocolate. And discovering that I’ve changed the color farther into my manuscript makes for tedious edits.

Two things I do to keep my characters’ appearance consistent

I create an excel spreadsheet with the physical appearances of each character. Column headings are name, occupation, eye color, hair color, height, and distinguishing marks (scars etc.) I keep it open and can easily refer to it as I craft my story. In the midst of creativity, my mind blanks on names or other details. The spreadsheet keeps me from needing to edit these errors later.

The second thing I do before I start the story is fill out a character sheet. It contains more details than the spreadsheet. The sheet helps me go into deeper details regarding my character. This is the place where their backstory can take shape.

There are a variety of character sheets available online. You can use one of those or create your own.

Here is the basic information you want to have to keep your description straight:

Name and nickname (if there is one)

Sex

 Age

 Height, weight, and body type

 (pear- shaped, broad shouldered, curvy, six -pack, details that plant an image in the readers mind)

 Race

Complexion ( peaches and cream, ivory, bronze, caramel. freckled, dark, maybe add a few other adjectives here in your notes so you aren’t having another character see her skin as ivory when her mother already mentioned her ivory skin. Perhaps alabaster instead.) Under complexion you might note pimples, pock marks or dry skin.

Eye color- details about eyes shape, flecks of color in the iris, ie… brown eyes with gold flicks.

 Hair color- black can be raven, red can be carrot or auburn, blond is white, golden, strawberry blond, and brown can be mousy, dark, soft brown, and all of these colors can have natural highlights of red, blond or gray, even blue, purple or pink. Mention the style too. Is it long, cropped short, styled in a certain way? Fuzzy tips, freshly trimmed, in need of a haircut.

Photo I used for my hero Jed in Rescuing Her Heart
Photo by Thiago Schlemper on Pexels.com

Distinguishing marks such as birthmarks, scars, dimples, odd-shaped ear, broad nostrils.

Now you’ve got a very clear picture of what your characters looks like, and this will help you keep them in focus. And as you write, sprinkling in descriptions of your characters that are consistent.

If you like, find pictures of people who remind you of your characters and put them where you can see them when you write.

Now their brown eyes will no longer change to blue.

Now that I’ve covered the basic, in my next post I’ll share some deeper questions you can ask that will fill out your character and make it easier to add deeper POV as you create your story.

What details slip your mind in a creative moment?

Notice the picture to the right was my inspiration for Jed in Rescuing Her Heart.

What is a visceral response?

Visceral. Don’t you just love that word? A Judge’s comments that you need more visceral responses in your submission. A professional editor adds the comment, needs more visceral in your manuscript.

Photo by samer daboul on Pexels.com

There is no way you’re going to ask what it means. Don’t want anyone to discover you’re a novice, after all.

Now here’s your chance to find out. No one will notice you reading this on your phone.

After checking into several dictionaries, this adjective is used to describe things you feel in your gut, intuition, not a rational explanation, but you feel you know what’s best.

Visceral is derived from the word viscera. This refers to internal organs.

It’s not just a gut feeling, but a physical response to your environment. One beyond your control. Delilah James, the main character in my upcoming July 2021 release, Rescuing Her Heart was an abused wife. Every look, touch, and tone from Jed Holt, my hero, and any other male causes a visceral response. Her stomach tightens, her throat dries out, and at one point she faints. All involuntary responses.

Visceral responses are beyond your control. Think of a dirty diaper creating a gag response. Someone vomiting, causing others to do the same. Involuntary responses to stimulus.

Photo by William Fortunato on Pexels.com

Describing visceral responses  adds to deep POV. Rather than saying, she hated Mortemer. You could write, Sharon’s hand fisted, causing the muscles in her forearm to ache when Mortemer entered the room.

Mary jerked back from the edge of the railing as light-headedness overtook her.  

With this sentence we don’t need to explain she is afraid of heights.

John’s face remained neutral, but his gut burned at Sherman’s remark. “I’m hooking up with Sally tonight.”

We know outwardly he is trying to be nonchalant, but he’s really upset.

Carol’s sweaty palms slipped off the golf club. She paused to wipe them on her shorts, before resuming the game of mini-golf.

Sweaty palms signals the reader she’s nervous. Did you want to wipe your hands on your pants just reading those words?

These are examples of visceral responses. (Although there are many better ones in print.)

They turn a flat character into a three-dimensional one.

The reader is experiencing what the character is feeling.

Visceral responses are so much more colorful than saying he had a panic attack.

Instead an author can add beads of sweat forming on his brow, chest tightening, breathing shallow, heart racing. He may he struggle to sit down. His shaky hand presses against his chest. His mind’s foggy or racing with thoughts of a past trauma. He might even roll up into the fetal position.

Love can be described as a tingle running down her arm, heart racing, warmth on her cheeks. And there are many more.

Past experiences are recorded in our brain and those memories effect, how we respond to people and situations around us. Your characters should do the same.

So, now you know. You can wipe those beads of sweat off your brow and grab a glass of water for your parched throat.

What are some of your favorite visceral responses to write?

Rescuing Her Heart is available for preorder. Preordering is a great way to get your copy as soon as it ready and it helps with my sales numbers out the gate.

As her husband’s evil deeds and abuse haunt a mail-order bride from the grave, can she learn to trust again and open her heart to true love?

On visitation rounds as a lay preacher, the last thing rancher Jed Holt expects is to be shot at from the barn next to a burned-down homestead. But the soot-covered woman hiding inside needs protecting, and Jed is the man to do it whether she likes it or not.

Delilah James’s nightmares began when she came to Kansas as a mail-order bride. Her husband was nothing like his letters. Now that he is dead, she can’t shake his abuse from her heart. Trusting men tops her never-again list, and taking a job on the Holt ranch as a housekeeper is a means to save money and bring her parents west. But her attraction to the compassionate former chaplain both angers and confuses her.

Jed has his own nightmares from a POW camp and understands Delilah better than she knows. Can two broken people form a forever bond?

Click here to learn about me.

Tips from My Own Writing journey

My debut novel Secrets & Charades released in 2017, ten years after I wrote the first draft and completed a fiction writing course. I received 21 rejections as I pitched that book to 21 different publishers. Each time I’d rewrite and improve the content based on what I was learning at writer’s conferences and on the suggestions I received from the publishers (if they gave any.)

I entered contests to get more feedback. I won the Editor’s Choice Award in 2014, which earned me coaching and edits to hone my story. That lead to publication. Since then, I’ve published two other novels with two more to release this year. And two more that have yet to find a home.

I learned a few important things during that ten-year journey from rough draft to publication.

  • Never give up on your dream.
  • Stay teachable, so you are approachable.
  • Network with other writers, editors, and publishers, you never know when the door will open for you.
  • Share what you know with novice writers.
  • Humbly receive critiques and advice from other writers.
  • Be thankful for all those willing to share their knowledge of publishing.

I discovered all these valuable tools while sitting in writer’s conference classes and workshops. I listened to the author’s journeys and found inspiration. I paid attention to changing trends and gained the encouragement to go on.

Authoring a book is hard work, getting it published is harder and marketing for good sales is the hardest of all. I went into this novel writing thing very naïve of those facts. I assumed because publishers requested my manuscript after my pitch that they would scoop it up. Had I known these same publishers review hundreds of manuscripts a month and may only choose a handful, I might have been less devastated.

If you are just starting your writing journey, learn all you can. And for the published author, never stop learning.

Hope this bit of encouragement benefits someone today.

Do you have a word of encouragement for other authors? Share in the comments.

Coming soon!!!

Rescuing Her Heart, book #2 of the Healing Heart Series releases July 6, 2021 and is available for pre-order.
https://www.amazon.com/Rescuing-Her-Heart-Healing-Hearts/dp/1645263193

Tasting the air: senses heightened during the lockdown

The wind blew hair in my face as I walked beside my husband. The breeze sent the scent of impending weather I breathed in and tasted the coming rain. If you’ve never tasted the rain you haven’t been paying attention to the world around you. A sea breeze tastes salty while rain carried in the air tastes and smells of dirt and clean. My senses are on high alert now longing for a fresh perspective after being confined to the house. I’m smelling, seeing, tasting, feeling things in a new way. This is a great thing for a writer. Come walk with me.

Revived senses

After being lockdown for months I am even more aware of my surroundings. A bird’s song draws my eyes to the tree as the bird flies overhead. I hear a dog’s joyful bark in the distance. All the dogs in my life run through my mind and I wonder what bred the barker might be.

My neighborhood is a nice place to walk and my senses long for something different than the sounds of the mantel clocks chime, the smell of pizza in the oven, and the feel of the upholstery on my favorite chair.

I am consciously aware of the squirrels chattering in the trees. The lawnmowers’ distinct sound reminds me everyone will be busy in their yards before the evening comes. The smell of fresh-cut grass brings back memories of working with my dad in the yard. Yardwork brought him so much joy. The one thing he was excited to share with me.

Smell and times past

The air fills with the smoky smell of burning wood. Fire pits do the job of the long-ago days of burn barrels because open fires are against city code. My son was nine when he played archeologist as he dug into the dirt where a burn barrel had once been. He found antique bottles that he still treasures over thirty years later.

Sight paints a picture

Neighbors greet us as we walk. Most are waving acquaintances. A young man basks in the sun in a lawn chair in his front yard. Reminding me that so many aren’t yet working. A pang of sadness pricks me. I pray for the unemployed. His friendly voice as we exchange a few words speaks of hope.

Weather attacks our senses

Another day while we walked in the humid afternoon that sucked the energy from me, my steps slowed, sluggishness showed my age. I’m envious of the small children who ride their bikes in the driveway oblivious of heat.

Smell and Taste evoke memories

The smell of barbeque made my mouth water and my heart sad. The lockdown prevents my three sons from coming around anytime soon to grill a variety of meat each telling the other how they marinated their chicken.

Yardwork and senses

On Saturday hubby and I till the soil. The black damp mud clings to my shovel making turning the dirt more of a challenge. The fresh dirt smell clings to me, something familiar and normal after months of strangeness. I separate bulbs to replant. Even wearing garden gloves I can feel the shape of the bulbs between my fingers. My sister will be so proud to hear I took her suggestion. She is a wonderful gardener like our late father. She finds it relaxing I just find it drudgery.

Hubby and I near the end of our day of yardwork by spreading mulch. The cedar mulch between my fingers reminds me of Guinea Pig bedding and the sweet sister who is long dead who loved them so.

Outdoors revives creativity

These walks and times outside have sparked my creativity as I pay attention to the sensory stimulation all around me. When I return home after one of these walks I notice the whir of the ceiling fan that I took no notice of all morning. I listen to the echoed, watery sound of my husband using his electric toothbrush in the bathroom. I still haven’t master letting the brush do all the work after scrubbing my teeth with a manual one all my life. Charley is always more particular in the things he does. Not so much perfection as organized. (See what I did there? Gave you a peek at my husband’s personality through the sound of an electric toothbrush.)

Senses in storytelling

See how the senses around me stir up memories. The characters in your books should have the same sorts of memory. The manure and hay odor in a stable might remind a woman of the sweet palomino she had as a child. Watching a leaf drift down the river as the chilly wind permeates her jacket and chills her flesh could bring a sense of foreboding or loneliness. Maybe the cold wind excites her with the prospect of coming snow and ski season.

Write down the senses you experience. Then you can use them to deepen your character’s experiences. In return, your readers will be even more invested in your story as they smell, hear, see, taste, and touch along with your characters.

 

What senses bring memories to you? How would you describe them?

Floating Body parts-Oh No!

My title might confuse you. I’m not writing about a grisly crime, rather a common writing mistake. The first time an editor wrote floating body parts or FBP on my manuscript I had to ask for an explanation.

people face child eye

Photo by Skitterphoto on Pexels.com

A floating body part is when an attribute is given to a body part rather than the character.

This is one of the easiest traps to fall into. There are times it is used because it is a common idiom that everyone understands such as eyes rolled. Eyes don’t really roll but we all understand the meaning. We moved our eyes up then down to indicate disbelief or disgust. Often in our desire to create interesting scenes, we disconnect appendages.

An example: His eyes roamed her body. Really, his eyes walked across the room and walked all over her body. Only in a creepy thriller.

Instead: His gaze roamed her body.

You could show him watching her:

The swaying of her hips as she danced to the radio, made washing the dishing look sexy.

Let me give you a few more examples to consider.

close up photo of left hand

Photo by yugdas manandhar on Pexels.com

  • Before she realized it, her hand reached up and slapped him.

We know her hand didn’t have a mind of its own. It wasn’t disconnected from her body. We know we use our hands to slap. Unless we are using our foot (martial arts) a board or other object, the word slap indicates the use of our hand.

Instead: She slapped him hard, all her politeness vanished with his foul accusations.

Can you give me another option for slap?

person touching stone

Photo by Elle Hughes on Pexels.com

  • Fingers tapped the table in a nervous cadence. Cool sentence right? Except the fingers are not attached to a body here.

Instead: Andrew tapped a nervous cadence on the table. Again, we can assume it is his fingers unless we want to add an object. Andrew tapped a nervous cadence with his pencil. We visualize the pencil between his fingers.

How would you rewrite the finger reference?

people at a sports field

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  • Her foot kicked him.

What else do we kick with?  Kick is a foot action or in the case of a horse, hoof movement.

Instead: She kicked him hard in the chin.

Give me a sentence using kick.

portrait of young man

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

  • His eyes stared at the scene before him.

Were his eyes working independently of the character’s brain?  The word stare refers to eyes.

The same way tears only come from our eyes and screams from our mouths. You don’t need to refer to the body part with the action. She screamed for help. Tears streamed down her face. (This too is cliché and might need a rewrite as well.)

Instead: He stared at the scene before him.

You could make this line far more interesting.

He stared at the horrific destruction.

Want to try reworking this one using another word for stare?

Floating body parts are an easy habit to fall into. It takes my critique partners pointing out the independent appendages before I catch my error. Best-selling authors may get away with floating body parts that are common clichés such as eyes rolled, arms fly up, and feet flew. But you want to work hard at avoiding them as much as possible. The better you get at description the less likely you will have floating body parts, unless you’re writing a crime drama. 😊

If you want to share with us how you rewrote the sentence examples or share a few of your own, please add them to the comments.

 

Split Personality or Writing under a Pen Name

 

aaaSchlachter DSCF1330_Donna

Donna Schlacter

 

By Donna Schlacter

Leeann, my alter ego, and I were chatting the other day.

She wanted to know why I created her.

“I was writing and hoping to publish in two different genres: historical suspense and contemporary suspense. I didn’t want to confuse my readers by writing in different genres.”

“How did you pick my name?”

“My husband’s middle name is Lee, his mother’s middle name is Ann, and my mother’s nickname in nursing school was Betts.”

“Isn’t making up a name illegal?”

“Not unless I’m trying to avoid a legal claim or defraud somebody.”

She chewed on her bottom lip, a funny habit she has. “How do you keep us straight?”

I smiled at her. “First of all, you’re cute and perky and all the things I’m not. Second, you write different stories than I write.”

 

aaaLeeann Betts_02 cropped

Leeann Betts

 

“Such as?”

“Most of my historical suspense are stories about women who have made some bad choices, and now they want to straighten out their lives. Your stories are about stronger, quirkier women who are driven to excel.”

“Sounds like you.”

Now it was my turn to chew my bottom lip. Maybe she inherited that trait from me. “But the women you write about don’t know they are strong. Or quirky. And the women I write about are just like me. Hoping it’s true that God is a God of second chances. And finding out He is.”

“So we’re different but the same?”

I patted her on the head like she was an obedient puppy. “Exactly.”

Question for readers: Leave a comment in response to the following question, and enter a random drawing for a free print (US only) or ebook version of Leeann’s latest release, Silent Partner.

Do you feel that an author who uses a pen name is lying in some way, or do you like the fact that you know what kind of book you are picking up because of the author name?

About the Author:

Donna lives in Denver with husband Patrick, her first-line editor and biggest fan. She writes historical suspense under her own name, and contemporary suspense under her alter ego of Leeann Betts. She is a hybrid publisher who has more than 25 published books under her pen name and under her own name. Donna is also a ghostwriter and editor of fiction and non-fiction, judges in a number of writing contests, and teaches online and at conferences. Donna loves history and research, and travels extensively for both.

You can find Donna online at:

www.HiStoryThruTheAges.wordpress.com

www.HiStoryThruTheAges.com

Facebook: www.Facebook.com/DonnaschlachterAuthor

Twitter: www.Twitter.com/DonnaSchlachter

Books: http://amzn.to/2ci5Xqq

Echoes of the Heart: http://amzn.to/2lBaqcW

And you can find Leeann online at:

Website: www.LeeannBetts.com Receive a free ebook just for signing up for our quarterly newsletter.

Blog: www.AllBettsAreOff.wordpress.com

Facebook: http://bit.ly/1pQSOqV

Twitter: http://bit.ly/1qmqvB6

Books: Amazon http://amzn.to/2dHfgCE  and Smashwords: http://bit.ly/2z5ecP8

 

 

Accurate Details Keep Genre Readers Engaged

Recently, I walked through my family room to see an old western playing on the TV. I joined the western fan to watch the story play out. This old western starred because Stewart Granger.  The plot was ridiculous. I always find it strange when an Englishman plays a cowboy. All that perfect diction.  Westerns of that time were often fraught with inaccuracies.Product Details

The basic storyline was three tribes agreed to sell their land to poor immigrant farmers in exchange for food and the natives also promised to protect the settlers. I can’t imagine any tribe agreeing to sell their land for food and agree to protect the settlers. One of the tribes, the Navajo, was an agricultural community so why would they want the white man’s crops?  The other two tribes by this point in history had already been shoved out of their own land by whites. Back when this movie was made the plight of the Native American wasn’t even accurately portrayed in history books. So, I suppose a story about everyone getting along would fly in theaters. Oh yes, there was a villain in a black suit, who wore white dress gloves all the time. He was trying to turn the groups against each other, so he could buy the oil rich land. Of course, the bad guy is found out and turned over to the natives for punishment. Another thing that would never have happened.

We’ve all seen movies where the details are wrong. Some so much so that we no longer care about the story.  My dad spent 21 years in the Air Force, and he always pointed out the wrong planes in war movies.  My son’s an army vet, and he tends to point out many irregularities in movies and TV shows that depict the military.

Movie makers can generally get away with it because the audience is there to be entertain. They might be on a date or watching the movie with a group of friends. But when one reads a novel in their favorite genre they expect more than just entertainment.  Except for fantasies, the storyline needs a connection with reality. Do your research so the bones of the story ring true.

In the movie example above, the natives would never be allowed to kill the villain and all his evil henchmen as restitution for the death of the chief’s son.  As a lover of historical fiction, I prefer accuracy. Granted, literary license can add to a storyline, but let’s not go overboard.

orphan train1

Some years ago I read a time-travel western. A modern man chose to live in the 1800s. The heroine learned to speak the local Nez Perce language. She and the time traveler marry. Because she can’t have children they decide to adopt. The orphan train was coming to a nearby town, and this would give them a great opportunity to find some children to love. Then it got ridiculous. The three siblings they adopted were. Nez Perce.  I stopped reading.  My history trivia mind went into overdrive. Why would native children be on the orphan train? The children on the train hailed from New York, Chicago and other major cities east of the setting of the novel.  The author had already established the Nez Perce lived in the area. No native would willingly put their child in the care of white strangers. No, they take care of their own. If the couple had found the children alone on the road or their mother was a friend who died and asked them to care for her children, I could accept the adoption. But the orphan train. Really!

Other examples

I’ve read similar blatant inaccuracies in career based fiction. Rarely do you hear “Stat!” shouted in a hospital ER. Do you know what happens behind-the-scenes in an ER? Before writing about it, be sure to find out.  Military heroes follow the rules. Know those rules. Put enough accurate details in your story to keep the reader engaged.

Accurate story bones

Do your very best when writing fiction to keep the bones of accurate historical facts, police procedure, medical jargon, military protocol and other background information accurate. Fans of career specific genres are going to be disappointed and may not finish your book and most likely not pick up another one if it’s not.

How factual do you like your fiction?

 

 

Time Saver: Make A Proposal Template

Proposal cloudI’m done. I finished my proposal for the sequel to my Historical Romance Secrets & Charades. This is the fourth book I’ve written a proposal for, but probably the twentieth proposal I’ve completed.  Every publisher has specific things they want to see in a proposal. So, when I submitted S & C I had to rewrite my proposal a few different ways. Now that I have an agent, I need to write a longer proposal. He can then cut and paste the components for each publisher he pitches to on my behalf, meeting their requirements.

I saved a lot of time by creating a generic proposal template. Back in the day when we made paper submissions, compiling a proposal required more time to put the information in the correct sequential order. Now I can open my template and cut and paste my personal info and other unchanging portions, It still takes time and may require some reformatting. But that is minutes rather than hours.

The basic components of every proposal are the cover sheet, author bio, back cover copy, comparables, marketing strategy, endorsements, synopsis and writing sample.

First two sections are easy to adjust without recreating

The cover sheet has information the publisher needs. My contact information is in the upper left. It includes my address, phone, email, genre and word count. The lower right has all my agents contact information and the center is where the words Book Proposal, the title and my byline go. Some publishers want a tagline just under the byline. Others want it before the synopsis in the body of your proposal. The cover sheet has a particular format for spacing. Once I created one all I need to do is change a few things for the next book proposal. I don’t have to go back and double check what the format should be for each new proposal.

The table of content is the next page it lists all the components by page number. Some publishers don’t want a table of content. I adjust the page numbers accordingly with each new book. And if they want less information, I delete those items from the table of content.

The body of the proposal

Next you would have the tagline, synopsis and back cover copy. (These would be new with each new book but once you’ve written them they stay the same for every submission for that book.) Synopsis is a summary of your story. I’ll explain more later.

A tagline is a sentence that grabs the reader. For my contemporary romance New Duet coming out May 1st with Clean Reads (Shameless promotion. LOL) I wrote: “Love is never needing to be someone you’re not.” It took several tries to come up with one that grabbed the theme. The tagline often appears on your book’s cover.

Your biography comes next. Submission guidelines may have a word count for that. Now that I have a novel in print and another coming out I needed to tweak my bio. Additional awards or speaking platforms might need to be added in the future. Keep your bio current. The one in the proposal may be different from what goes on your book cover or any other published work.

Next comes writing credentials. Post your most recent at the top and descend to older things. List any awards, degrees and writing classes completed. Be sure to mention organization memberships. This is especially important if you are an unpublished writer. By organizations I mean writer groups or something that relates to the topic of your novel or non-fiction book. Being part of a writing organization shows you are serious about the craft. And if you are, for example, a lawyer proposing a legal thriller that information would be important.

The next portion is endorsements. You may already have individuals and authors willing to endorse your book. These endorsers need to have credentials. Your mother or friend (unless they are an author or an expert in their field relating to your novel) are not the endorsers you want. You can list all those who are willing to endorse or you are willing to ask for an endorse. Because I know a lot of authors I listed all of them as potential endorsers in my first two novel proposals. It was a long list. This showed the editor that I had people willing to support me I got seven endorsements for my first book. I didn’t actually ask everyone on my list because some authors don’t write in my genre. A recommendation from a Sci-fi author for a historical romance isn’t that impressive. Those who endorse you often promote you on their social media. So be sure the people you ask fit the genre you write. Endorsers don’t have to be fiction writers. A friend is writing a novel that addresses human trafficking; she plans on getting endorsements from organization that rescues these people. Once you have your list of endorsers, you can pick those that relate to the novel you’re proposing and don’t have to recreate the list every time. If you have a written endorsement from someone who read your draft, add it here. This shows you’re a go-getter. List all the social media you actively use.

Marketing Strategy is a tough one whether you are published or not. My first proposal listed things I was willing to do. Be honest in what you know others have done that you feel comfortable doing. Authors must help market. Even traditionally published authors market. Now I merely tweak my list adding what worked for me and deleting things that didn’t.

Parts that are new

Your target market may change if you change genres. This is the readers you are focusing on. Do not say everyone. Those words show you have not done your research. Be more specific. Teens are not the target market for my historical romance. Teen girls might read it because their mom bought the book. And some men read romance. Statistically women over 30 read historical romance. While millennials often read fantasy, dystopic and sci-fi. Know your market. Don’t assume because family and friends of all ages read your draft and loved it that this is your market.  You are not a marketing expert. Trust the experts.

The back-cover copy, and synopsis will be fresh copy. The back copy is a short couple of paragraphs describing the story. A marketing tool to get the readers’ interest. Don’t explain it all. Leave the reader hungry.

The synopsis is retelling the entire story with all the twists in 6 pages or less. Focus on the main character’s story. The editor must know the surprise bits and who-done it.

Some publishers want character descriptions. The two main characters are usually enough. But if you have created a fantasy world, then introducing each character is expected. Some authors include drawings of characters and maps of their world.

Unless a full manuscript is requested, you send the first three chapters and only the first three chapters. Make those first three chapters your very best work. Even if your think chapter five is the most exciting, send the first three. Only non-fiction submissions allow you to send chapters out of order. A few publishers may not require a writing sample if they know your work. Again, follow guidelines.

Proposals can be as short as ten pages or up to 50. (excluding full manuscript). Each of the basics I mentioned previously can be broken down into sub categories. Be sure to read the submission guidelines.

The proposal is how you sell your story idea. For me it is a painful process. I’d rather be crafting a story. Having a template of the basic information saves me time and reduces the pain to the synopsis and back cover copy. So, take extra time to make each section shine. If your proposal doesn’t grab the editors they will relegate your submission to the circular file.

What tips do you have for making proposal creation less painful?

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