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Saturday, February 2, 2013

Love is Murder Writers Conference 2013

Today was the second day of LIM's three-day marathon of mystery author panels and seminars featuring everything from writing and producing TV detectives shows +Lee Goldberg  to New Normal: Paranormal! +Honora Finkelstein+Ted Krever, +Susan Smily, and A.J. Hartley.

Usually I can't sit for more than an hour without getting fidgety, but the speakers at +Love is Murder are so fascinating, I'm sitting at the edge of my seat waiting to hear the next author's words of wisdom. The Editors and agents I pitched to at the Conference: +Christine Witthohn from +Book Cents Literary Agency, +Marlene Stringer from +Stringer Literary Agency, +Marcia Markland from +St. Martins Press, +Emily Clark from +Allium Press of Chicago, +L.Sue Eggerton from +Weaving Dreams Publishing, and +Deni Dietz from +Fiver Star Mysteries, say Fatal Reaction, my third mystery, is soft-boiled or a cozy. Since this is the first time one of my novels has been described as such, I found the How Many Murders Tip the Scale; Keeping Amateurs Plausible panel with +Helen Osterman, +Maris Soule, +Kent Krueger, and +Judy Knauer to be most helpful.

And when we finally got to Ingredients for Success - a Touch of Humor, I was totally ready for +Abbey Sparkle+Allan Ansorge+Judy Cobb Dailey, et al to share their funniest lines! It was actually a joy to explore how humor could be infused into mysteries. With +Deadly Choices, my award-winning suspense thriller, +Jennie Spallone, I wrongly assumed suspense had to be all serious. Not!

Can't wait to see what tomorrow brings!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Query for Award-Winning Suspense Novel

I'm chagrined to say I can't locate my original query letter for my award-winning first suspense novel Deadly Choices. It has been six years since that manuscript was accepted for publication. That document must have inadvertently been deleted from an earlier computer's memory card.
So here's a reasonable facsimile of my query, to the best of my memory. Hope this helps!

Dear Ms. _____,
It was a delight meeting you at Love is Murder. At your request, I am submitting this query of my first suspense novel, Deadly Choices ((66,000 wds.), for your perusal and possible representation.

One foggy November morning on Chicago's West Side, paramedic trainee Beth Reilly kidnaps the baby she's just delivered and gives it to her best friend, a Born-Again Christian, to raise as her own. Friendship, trust, betrayal. (In retrospect, I would have inserted two or three sentences lifted from my two-page synopsis to flesh out the story plot, yet not include the evidence that would solve the mystery. That evidence, however, would be included in the synopsis should it later be requested.)

I was former president of Off-Campus Writer's Workshop in Winnetka, Illinois; a 250-member group that invites published authors in various genres, as well as literary agents, to conduct weekly workshops for writers of all ability levels. For thirteen years, I worked as a freelance journalist for local and national publications partially including The Chicago Tribune, The Chicago-Sun Times, Chicago Parent Magazine, and Consumer's Digest Magazine. I belong to Sisters in Crime.
Know that I am open to constructive criticism if it makes my manuscript more marketable. Sales and marketing comes naturally to me. I enjoy speaking in public and would be open to speaking at mystery conferences, bookstores, and libraries when my book gets published. (This was before on-line book tours, etc.)
If you would like to see the synopsis or the first three chapters of Deadly Choices (the agent would have listed in Writer's Market what to send first, second, etc.), feel free to contact me at _phone number_____. (If I had a website at that point, I would have included it.) Your feedback is appreciated.

Jennie Spallone

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

How to Insert Your Platform into a Query Letter

A mystery novel query letter to a literary agent should include four single-spaced paragraphs in its 250-word entirety. But there's more that needs to be couched within those paragraphs than meets the eye -- the platform, to be exact!

Prior to Paragraph 1, insert a greeting line: Dear Ms. Greenbaum,

Paragraph 1: Two-sentence description of why you are querying that particular agent (met at writers' conference, researched that agent's genre interests on Internet, found in Writer's Market, referred by another author), along with the italicized title of your book and its word count,
Paragraph 2:  Forty to fifty word description of your novel, i.e. introduce your main character and immediately share her/his problem/choice, along with who wants to foil that character's plan and why.
At the end of that paragraph, include your PLATFORM: list three themes in your novel that will spark interest in your readers, i.e. gardening, dogs, foreclosures, child abuse, terrorist attacks. You can also compare two authors, i.e. Dean Koontz meets Sara Paretsky, or compare two authors' main characters -- can't help you on that one. I stink at recalling character names. Think of it like Wonder Woman meets Willy Wonka. Of course any comparison you use must flow with the tone of your book.

Paragraph 3: Tell the agent why you are qualified to write this book, i.e. speaking engagements, special interest, career, hobby, volunteer activity, education degree in that particular subject area.
Paragraph 4: Check submission guidelines before e-mailing or mailing your query. If agent only asks for this one document, ask if you may send the first-three chapters or a proposal of your manuscript. Sign off by saying: Looking forward to hearing from you....

Then sign off with:

telephone number
e-mail address
website address

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

How to Write a Kick-Butt Query Letter!

This month I'm teaching an on-line course for MWA Mystery Writers of America entitled How to Write a Kick-Butt Query Letter! The resources we're using (See below) are thorough in the nuts & bolts of query letter construction, i.e. One single-spaced page of 250-300 words condensed into 3 to 4 paragraphs, a double space between paragraphs, each paragraph with a designated purpose, title and word count mentioned in first paragraph (80,000 to 100,000 wds. for adult, 40,000 to 60,000 for young adult), all typed in Times New Roman 12-pt. font size.

I used these same guidelines in my award-winning first novel Deadly Choices. Yet life is not just in the structure of a query letter, but in its overall "personality." The gusto that inspires a literary agent to ask for the first three chapters of your manuscript rather than toss your letter into the land-fill. Tune in for more on this subject....

Writing a Successful Query Letter, Joe Moore, KILL ZONE blog, 3/11/2009
How to Write a Query, AGENT QUERY

Query Shark Blog, Janet Reid

How to Write a Query Letter for a Mystery Novel, Nancy Curteman blog, 11/4/2010

Monday, January 17, 2011

My Novel's Going to be an E-Book!

With everybody snatching up Kindles and other E-book readers and IPADS, it's paramount for an author to flash their stuff across the continents! I'm excited to announce that my first suspense novel Deadly Choices will soon be coming out as an E-Book, and everything that's "E", through Untreed Press. I should wait until the contract is burning into my sweaty little hand, but I couldn't wait to share! Would you be more likely to read a book on Kindle, etc. rather than in a hard copy? Let me know!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Is a Developmental Edit Worth the Money?

After submitting my second suspense manuscript Window of Guilt to over twenty agents/small publishers with no success, I finally broke down and hired a developmental editor to varnish my writing. Line editors, or copy editors, focus on grammar, punctuation, spelling, and syntax. Developmental editors, on the other hand, gauge pacing of the novel, intensity of plot, point of view characters, setting, and character development.

In Deadly Choices, my first suspense novel, Treble Heart Books provided me with Barb, a talented developmental editor. Can you imagine being in the heads of  two dozen characters? Barb helped me slim down to three point-of-view characters.   A former newspaper editor, Barb aided me in my quest for written perfection. Yet she never stepped in to feed me the answers.

This time around, I had to bite the Kiwi  - I'm allergic to that fruit - and pay for my own developmental edit. In this economy, coming up with the same amount of money it takes to feed a family of four for six weeks is no easy task. Fortunately my spouse was supportive in my endeavor and Charis, my new developmental editor, accepts partial payments.

I found Charis on Craig's list. A former contributing editor to Harper's Magazine, Engish professor, and developmental editor of mystery and literary fiction, Charis fed me a ten page report citing holes and redundancies in my story, along with misused words or phrases. Within those pages, she also pointed out the strong points of my manuscript. Two weeks into my developmental edit, I still find the corrections challenging to locate since neither chapter nor page numbers were provided. Yet I am coming along nicely, as they say. I'll let you know how I progress.

Go to to learn what developmental editing is all about.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Turning a Novel into a Script

It's no easy feat working with a scriptwriter, no matter how talented that person is, to turn your novel into a script. I'm finding that the young scriptwriter I chose from Craig's List has some great ideas on how to expand the sub-plot of Deadly Choices ( Yet his dialogue is stilted because he is not from Chicago and finds it challenging to relate to the mannerisms and culture I describe.

How does one describe a city's vitality/? Mayor Daley's goal to provide safe passage to school for kids living in crime invested areas? To rid the city of gangs through Neighborhood Watch Groups in which communities and police share information. To educate all children by holding teachers acountable. To crack down on corrupt cops. To acknowledge paramedics, firefighters, police officers,  and good samaritans who do so much for our city. To beautify our parks and lakefront, and offer terrific museums,, the Art Institute, dance and theatre performances , and musical events. To provide a multi-cultural setting in which people of all different races and religions comfortably co-exist.

Then there's the sleazy side of Chicago, with its homeless folks, drug addicts, alcoholics, gang members, killings, and corrupt politicians. Parts of the city where cops have no compunction about stopping a car because its driver or passengers are "driving while Black." How do you explain the dichotomy to someone from a more homogenous environment? 

I suspect that the only way my scriptwriter will learn our ways is the hard way, through trial and error. That's the breaks. For Chicago, authenticity is the only game in town....