By SUSANNE MARIE POULETTE
This is Part Two of our recent interview with Jan Kardys. Peggy and I extend sincere thanks to Jan for her gracious interview, advice, information, resources, and for her generous gift of time in meeting with us. We also thank her for treating us to a lovely lunch!
Besides good writing and voice, what are you looking for right now that you’re not getting?
We should start at the beginning with query letters. Many people don’t know how to write a query letter. They might focus too much on themselves, and it’s not all about them… unless, for example, they’ve been published in magazines, or they want to tell how many blog followers they have for something they’ve written. For fiction, it’s more important to give us the whole story. The best way to put together a good query letter is to go on publisher’s websites, and look at how they do a summary of a book. It’s very finely crafted. Give us that information. I find a lot of writers are reluctant about telling us what’s at the end of their book. Well, I might need to know that, because a lot of stories are rehashes of everything else.
We’re offended by spelling mistakes or by a letter that’s not organized, sort of a stream of consciousness. A query letter that’s say, three or more pages is too much. Get to the point. I usually give people the benefit of the doubt.
I’m way behind on query letters. It’s just overwhelming. That’s why I only take on five or six clients a year, because as you can see, this has been a long journey. (She points to a client’s galley proof.) It’s taken over a year and a half for the author to get to this state stage. Now we’re in the beginning of the marketing stage. A lot of writers don’t understand how much work we have to do, back end, just to get an author to this level. So, the query letter is number one.
Then, for nonfiction, you should follow the rules for nonfiction book proposals. Many nonfiction writers don’t follow the rules because they don’t know the rules. Marcella Landres, who was senior editor at Simon and Schuster, put together a whole outline for everything you need to do to write a nonfiction book proposal. She gave me permission to put that on my website, at jankardys.com and in our book, “You Wrote a Book, Now What?”
Manuscripts come in with no page numbers or no title-slash-author’s name. There are certain things we need: page numbers, your name, and the title. As you can imagine, if we decided to print out thirty pages, we’d probably have a stack. If we lose track of one of the pages, without page numbers, we don’t know where the next page is… it’s extremely frustrating. That really bothers me because it means the author didn’t even look up the rules for formatting a book. I think writers should do a little bit of homework.
Do you see a lot of that?
Yes! I see a lot of it… tons of it, and I’m not the only one. My friends who are agents say the same thing. To me, it’s just common sense to put page numbers on a manuscript, but so many people just don’t do it.
Can you talk a bit about platform and promotion?
For fiction, it’s not just about social media, it’s about writing a lot of articles. Become known. Start networking with tons of writers in your genre. Read some of their books and write reviews, saying I’ll help you if you help me. You really have to network and try to do events. For example, if you write a novel, how many people are going to come to a library event? Probably not a lot, so what I would do… let’s say you’re promoting a children’s book that you traditionally or self-published. Get forty children’s book authors, traditional or self published, and make an event for the town. Get amusement rides, cotton candy, magicians… make it a huge event so that the whole town and towns nearby will write about it in their newspapers, and so that schools will know about it. The children’s book authors can each have their own booth, and that’s the way to really sell books. The more people you get coming into these fun activities for kids, the more likely the parents will buy a book. You can’t just do it by yourself; you have to help each other.
For non-fiction: Enhance your website. Put on the website really interesting things related to your content, so that it’s more than just about you and your book. Be THE source to go to for your subject,…so that your website is filled with, for example, good images, useful information, descriptions, relevant customs or history.
You can write to bestselling authors in your genre and ask for quotes. But, the big authors can have contractual restrictions. Some publishers won’t allow their authors to give a quote to someone else in their genre, because those authors are in competition with each other. They might be allowed to give a quote to another author in that same publishing house. Publishers are very competitive.
How does an author know when a manuscript is ready?
If you rush your book and your manuscript is not in good shape, but you think it’s ready, you need to get about twenty-five beta readers to be brutally honest. That’s why I started the meet-up group. We needed writers to read and listen. They can be nice and diplomatic, but they have to tell the truth. There will be similarities, and if two readers say you need to improve your dialogue, then you’d better start listening. You can’t trust your family or friends because they’ve heard about your book so much, that the characters now live in their brains. You need someone who can be totally objective and who will use their gut feelings and instincts.
First, get to the core with your manuscript. Don’t think that agents are going to give you direction, because they don’t have the time. The big agents get so much material, they don’t have time to waste. They want something special or different. They don’t want another vampire book.
An agent advised against starting a novel with divorce. What’s your opinion?
I wouldn’t start a book with divorce…you know why? It’s sort of a negative thing. Why not start it with a beautiful love scene or a scene where the two met when they were falling in love? Because if I know how much the character loved that person at one time, I will care about that character a lot more. If you suddenly start with a divorce and how the couple fall apart, and all their struggles….well, I want to see the good things, I want be hooked emotionally. It’s so important to hook us this way, and then you can go into the pain and suffering.
A good novel has a rhythm to it, like a piece of music. There’s a conflict…it’s like watching a movie. When you watch a movie, you know something bad is going to happen, and then it does. And start looking at your book visually. That’s very important. It bothers me when I can’t distinguish between one character and another in a novel, because the author hasn’t distinguished their voices, and hasn’t given me visual descriptions of the differences between the characters. I need to see how they look. I need to see differences in dialogue. You need to weave it together.
Please tell us about the 2015 Unicorn Writers’ Conference.
The next Unicorn for Writers’ Conference will be held from 7:30 A.M. to 8:00 P.M. on March 14, 2015, at Reid Castle in Manhattanville College, Purchase, NY. I’m already getting emails from agents asking to come. Some agents that have come in the past, have asked to come back. Other agents who we have not had in the past have asked to come. We have no problem in getting major agents.
I created this conference to educate writers on how to get effectively published, how to find the right literary agent, to educate writers on all the various departments within a publishing company, and to give writers an opportunity to meet leading book executives, agents, and editors. The evening will conclude with a fabulous networking party and dinner. Networking is essential for writers as you promote your book through your website and blog. Visit http://www.unicornwritersconference.com/Pages/Unicorn_Sucess_Stories.html to read about our success stories, “Unicorn Writers Land Book Deals!”
Our signature is the offering of our 1-1 manuscript review sessions for $55 for 40 pages to be read with comments by a literary agent and/or editor. You chose the agent or editor, register and provide the 40 pages, and then meet with them for 30 minutes during the conference.
Conference registration is now open at: http://www.unicornwritersconference.com/Pages/Registration.html. Information about sessions, agents, editors, speakers, and workshops will be updated as they become available. For more updates and information, visit the conference blog at: http://unicornwritersconferencect.blogspot.com/
THANK YOU, JAN KARDYS, FROM The Writers’ Loop!