The Writer’s Guide to Self-Publishing Costs and Royalties

Thinking about self-publishing your book? Learn the costs involved and what sort of royalties you can except!Last week, I broke down what authors can expect from advances and royalty rates of traditional publishers. Today, as promised, we’re going to take a look at the self-publishing side of things.

I’ve been exploring the world of self-publishing for the first time as I intend to self-publish my upcoming novella, THESE SAVAGE BONES. I’m learning as I go, and I want to share what I’ve learned with you to help make your publishing journey a little smoother. So today, let’s delve into the costs of self-publishing and what sort of profits you can expect.

Self-Publishing Costs

When you publish your book with a traditional publishing house, you’re not expected to pay any of the costs involved in creating the book. But when you self-publish you become the publisher, so all of these costs are left up to you. What kind of costs are we talking here?

Now, how much you spend on all of these can vary widely. Indie authors have published books on budgets of a couple hundred dollars to a couple thousand.

While you don’t have to spend thousands, you do want to make sure you’re putting out a high-quality product. You want your book to look professional inside and out to build trust and credibility with your readers.

So how about much should you expect to spend? Keeping in mind these numbers vary widely, here’s a very rough average: Cover Design ($100) + Editing ($1,200 for a 80k word story) + Formatting ($60)= at least $1,360, plus marketing.

How much should you spend on marketing? Again, that’s another number that varies widely. Maybe you don’t want to spend any money on marketing. Maybe you just want to spend $20 on Facebook ads. Or maybe you want to buy a Kindle for a giveaway. You can do whatever fits your budget.

I know it can be scary spending money on something that isn’t making you money yet. A lot of indie publishers say to view these costs as an investment rather than an expense since once your book is published it will continue to earn you money from royalties without any additional work on your part (except maybe some marketing).

While this is a good mindset, I’m going to be honest with you–just like with a traditional publishing house, when you publish your book you run the risk of it flopping. It might not earn back the money you put into it, or you might just break even. There’s really no way to know until you try.

With any sort of business there is some amount of risk, and as a self-publisher you are now a small business owner. And as any business owner knows, you must spend money to make money. I don’t want you to be afraid to take the risk to pursue your publishing dreams, but I do recommend you be smart about it. Spend what you can afford, and stay within your budget.

Self-Publishing Royalties

As we get into royalties in the self-publishing world, I’m going to specifically be looking at Amazon since it’s the most popular and has some of the highest royalty rates. However, there are are other platforms where you can sell your book such as Kobo, Google Play, Nook, and iBooks.

You might decide to just stick with Amazon, or you could sell your book on multiple platforms to create multiple streams of income. I’d recommend testing out different platforms to see what works for you and where your book might sell well–you never know!

When you self-publish through Amazon your have two options:

1) Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP)–This allows you to publish your e-book on Amazon for Kindle.

2) Create SpaceOwned by Amazon, this allows you to publish print books. Amazon prints the books as they’re purchased and delivers them for you, and you don’t have to pay anything up front. The cost of printing the book is taken out of the profit. Your book will only be sold on Amazon, though you can pay a fee to sell it through other retailers such as Barnes and Noble.

So what are some of the main differences between traditional publishers and Amazon in terms of royalties? Unlike traditional publishers who only send out royalty checks twice a year, Amazon pays out royalty checks monthly as long as you hit the $100 minimum. Amazon authors also receive larger royalty rates, and as a self-publisher you don’t have to pay an agent their 15% of your profits for their services.

The other major difference is that in self-publishing, you don’t receive an advance. That means your book doesn’t have to pay back its advance before you start receiving royalties–you begin receiving royalties right away. (For a more in-depth explanation of advances, click here).

E-book Royalties

So what do Amazon’s royalty rates look like? First, let’s take a look at the e-books:

  • E-books priced between $0.99-$1.99= 35% royalty rate
  • E-books priced between $2.99-$9.99= 70% royalty rate
  • E-books priced above $9.99= 35% royalty rate

Compared to the traditional publishing average of a 25% royalty rate for authors, these numbers look pretty good. Also, remember that as a self-publisher you also won’t have to give an agent her 15% cut of your earnings. Even better.

If you’re wondering about how much to charge for your e-book, let me take a moment to beseech you to please price it at least at $2.99. Your book is worth at least as much as a cup of coffee, and after all the work you put into it you deserve that 70% royalty. You might do a temporary sale or promotion for less, but please don’t undervalue your work. Mmk?

Print Book Royalties

So what about print books? First of all, Create Space only prints paperbacks, not hardcovers (thought I should point that out). Royalties also get a little trickier here, as Amazon calculates your royalties based off the cost it will take them to print the book, which seems fair enough to me. You can use their royalty calculator here to get a rough estimate. Let’s do a little math, shall we?

Let’s say you’re printing a 300 page novel with a standard 5.5″ x 8.5″ trim. Let’s say you set your list price at $12.99. After you add up Amazon’s costs & cut (the numbers listed in the right-hand column if you’re using their calculator), which total $10.02, you’re left with a profit of $2.97. That comes out roughly to a 23% royalty rate.

Now, that might not seem like much, but do you remember the royalty rate of a traditionally published paperback? It was: 8% for the first 150,000 copies sold, then 10% after. (Plus, remember, you have to pay your agent 15% of your profits.)

That means for that same paperback book you’d receive an 8% royalty of $1.04 per sale, minus your agent’s 15%.

Looks a lot better now, doesn’t it?

The Down Side…

But how many books can you expect to sell? Remember that in the U.S. on average, a (traditionally published) book sells around 250 copies per year and 3,000 in its lifetime. But for self-published books, the average is 250 copies sold in its lifetime. Ouch.

That means your $12.99 paperback with its profit of $2.97 per copy would make you a grand total of $742.50. And do you remember that $1,360 cost of creating the book we averaged out earlier? Yep, you didn’t actually make a profit. Double ouch.

The advantage to a traditional publisher is that you don’t have to fear losing money because the publisher is investing in the book, not you. And, a traditional publisher will pay you an advance (anywhere between $5k-$15k), which you won’t have to pay back even if the book loses the publisher money. So in traditional publishing, there’s no financial risk for the author.

Don’t Give Up

I know these numbers can seem disheartening, but you have to remember that they’re just that–numbers. Averages. Statistics. You have no idea how your book might do until you put it out there, so don’t let the numbers stop you from trying. You might sell 500, 1,000, or 10,000 copies–who knows.

Building a loyal readership, putting efforts into marketing, and publishing a back list books to create multiple income streams are all things you can do to increase your odds of success. And, of course, writing a kick-ass story.

Whether you choose self-publishing or traditional publishing, neither road is going to be easy. They both have their advantages and disadvantages. And with either one, it’s going to be really hard to make a living as an author. This is why most authors write for the love of it, not for the money.

But if seeing your books published is your dream and passion, as it is mine, never give up. Keep publishing, keep trying, keep failing, keep learning. And most importantly, keep writing because it’s what you love.


These Savage Bones: a novella by Kaitlin HillerichMy upcoming novella, THESE SAVAGE BONES, is a YA murder mystery set in 19th century Mexico against the backdrop of the traditional festival Dia de los Muertos–the Day of the Dead.

THESE SAVAGE BONES will be released on Oct. 25th, and you can read more about the story and sign up for a publication reminder by clicking here.

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The Writer’s Guide to Advances and Royalties

Considering traditional publishing for your book but confused about how you'll get paid? Here's what you need to know about advances, royalties, and how to really make a living as an author.While I’ve been writing my upcoming novella, THESE SAVAGE BONES, I’ve been doing a lot of research on traditional vs. self publishing lately. Specifically, I’ve been looking into the monetary aspect of both. And let me tell you, it has definitely been eye-opening.

Today, we’re going to look at the traditional publishing side of things and explore advances, royalty rates, and just how you can make a living as a writer. But I’m going to warn you, friend, it isn’t going to be pretty. There are some cold, hard truths about publishing that you might not want to hear, but you definitely need to know.

Next week, I also plan to share a breakdown of royalties and costs from the self-publishing perspective so you can compare and contrast both options, so stay tuned for that! Now, let’s get down to it, shall we?

Spoiler alert: this post will involve math. You have been warned.

Advances

Before we get into the average royalty rates for authors from traditional publishing houses, we first need to talk about advances.

An advance is an “advanced payment” of your book’s royalties. The amount you receive depends on factors like the type of book you’re writing, how well the publisher thinks it will sell, and whether or not you’re a newbie author or a NYT best-seller.

So how much are we talking here? Literary agent Rachelle Gardner says, “A typical first-timer advance might be anywhere from $5,000 to $15,000 per book. Most publishers offer the advance they project your book will earn back in the first six to twelve months after publication.”

That might sound like a good chunk of change, but here’s the catch: you won’t receive your advance all at once. Typically, your advance is split into two payments–one when you sign your contract, and another once you turn in the final, edited manuscript–though now some publishers are beginning to split it into three installments, with the final payment being received when the book is released.

Now, if you’ve hired a literary agent (which you will most likely need to do to even get your foot in the door of traditional publishing), they will receive 15% of your advance as commission for their services. So if you receive a $10,000 advance they will receive $1,500. That being said, your agent will also help negotiate the best contract for you since it benefits them as well. Never begrudge an agent her 15%–she definitely earns it!

The other thing you need to understand about advances is that your book must earn them back before you begin receiving royalties. Yep, you read that right. That means if you received a $10,000 advance and your agent negotiated a royalty rate of $1 per book, you would need to sell 10,000 copies to earn back your advance.

And here’s the hard truth: sometimes, books don’t earn back their advance. If this happens you don’t have to repay your advance, but you’ll never receive royalties from your book and publishers will be hesitant to publish any more stories from you in the future since you just lost them money. Ouch.

Royalties

Are you still with me so far? Good! Now that we’ve covered the advance, let’s dig into the actual royalties.

First, let’s look at the timeline here. It can be up to a year or more from the time you sign your contract to the time your book hits bookstore shelves. In addition to that, remember that your book must first earn back its advance, which, on average, takes around 6-12 months. That means from the time you sign your contract, it can take two years before you receive a royalty check.

I wish I could say the news gets better, but it really doesn’t. You will only receive royalty checks every 6 months. Yep, twice a year. Talk about a sporadic paycheck.

Now, remember your literary agent? She also receives 15% of your book’s earnings for each royalty check you receive. That’s right, that 15% doesn’t just apply to your advance–it applies to all of your earnings.

So what about the royalty rates themselves? Here are the average industry royalty rates:

Hardcover: 10% before the first 10,000 copies are sold, then 15% after

Paperback: 8% for the first 150,000 copies sold, then 10% after

E-book: 25%

So how many copies can you expect to sell? That answer will vary widely and there’s no definite number, but keep in mind that in the U.S. on average, a book sells around 250 copies per year and 3,000 in its lifetime.

Let’s crunch some numbers, shall we?

Let’s say the retail price of your hardcover book is $15 and your royalty rate is 10%. That means you’ll earn $1.50 per book sold (after you earn back your advance, of course). Let’s say you’ve done well and sold 500 copies in 6 months, and you receive a royalty check of $750. After your agent’s 15% cut ($112.50), you’re left with $637.50.

Or, let’s say your paperback book is selling for $10 and your royalty rate is 8%. That means you’ll earn $0.80 cents per book. Again, let’s say you’ve done well and have sold 500 copies in 6 moths, and when your royalty check rolls around you’ve earned $400. After your agent’s 15% cut ($60), you’re left with $340.

Yep, after all the blood, sweat, tears, and countless hours you poured into your book, the publisher will get the biggest chunk of the profit. Granted, they also have to pay everyone who helped in the publishing process–the cover designer, editor, interior designer, etc.–but those percentages can still feel tiny to an author who’s put so much effort into their story.

Making a Living With Fiction

I know these numbers can be disheartening, and they make it easy to see why agents and publishers tell you not to quit your day job. The hard truth is, it’s really, really hard to make a living as an author. Successful authors like J.K. Rowling, Stephen King, and George R.R. Martin are rare exceptions, not the average author.

So how does one earn a living wage from writing fiction? Literary agent Rachelle Gardner shares the key to success:

Making money in this business, for the vast majority of writers, isn’t about having one huge hit. Or even two huge hits. Instead, it’s about building a career, book by book, and building an audience that wants more of your books.

Writers begin to see a “living wage” when they have a stack of books out there in the marketplace. Each book needs to be bringing in royalties regularly. Even if each book is not selling a huge number of copies individually—if you have a whole bunch of books out there, each selling some copies, it starts to add up.

Basically, making a living as an author isn’t a get rich quick scheme. It will take you years to build up a collection of published books that earn you enough royalties to live of off. The truth is, most writers don’t write to make millions–we write because we’re passionate about our stories and we want to share them with the world. And while passion may not pay the bills, there’s nothing quite like the reward of connecting with readers through story.

At the end of the day I don’t write for a paycheck (although it would be nice). I write because it’s what I love, and because I would continue to do so even if I never made a single sent from my work.

What about you?

P.S. Ready to explore to self-publishing side of things? Click here for Part 2 of this post!


These Savage Bones: a novella by Kaitlin HillerichMy upcoming novella, THESE SAVAGE BONES, is a YA murder mystery set in 19th century Mexico against the backdrop of the traditional festival Dia de los Muertos–the Day of the Dead.

THESE SAVAGE BONES will be released on Oct. 25th, and you can read more about the story and sign up for a publication reminder by clicking here.

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How to Find and Hire a Cover Designer for Your Book (+ Cover Reveal for These Savage Bones!)

One of the most important parts of self-publishing is making sure your book has a gorgeous cover. Here's what you need to know about finding and working with a cover designer!If you’ve been following the blog lately, you’ll know that I’ve been working on my first novella, THESE SAVAGE BONES. This will also be the first story I’ve self-published, so there’s a lot of exciting things going on!

And it’s about to get even more exciting, because today I’m unveiling the cover for THESE SAVAGE BONES!

Are you ready to see the cover, friend?  *begins drum roll*

TA-DA!

These Savage Bones: a novella by Kaitlin Hillerich

Now, how gorgeous is that?? *SQUEE*

I’m so, so excited with how this cover turned out, and I have to give a huge thanks to my cover designer Victoria Cooper for her amazing work!

So far, being able to have a say in the design of my cover has been my favorite part of the self-publishing process. Seeing my name on that cover for the first time was also strangely thrilling/surreal, and it’s slowly beginning to sink in that I’m actually going to have a published book out there. I’m definitely starting to feel like a real author!

THESE SAVAGE BONES will be released on October 25th, and you can read a description of the story and sign up to receive an email reminder when its published by clicking here!

Now without further ado, let’s get on with today’s topic!

Why You Need an Amazing Cover

We’ve all heard the saying “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” but unfortunately that’s exactly what readers tend to do. Humans are visual creatures, and a beautiful cover make us want to read a book even more. It creates the perception that what’s on the inside must be just as good as what’s on the outside.

You cover is going to be the reader’s first impression of your book–they’ll probably notice it before they even read the title. In a matter seconds, they will decide whether or not they want to click on your book on Amazon. If you have a gorgeous cover, they will be compelled to click and find out more about the story. But if your cover is a poorly designed eyesore, the chances are greater that they will pass over it and move on to the next book.

As unfair as all of this might sound, there’s no denying that a beautiful cover is more likely to draw in readers. You NEED to convince readers to click on your book. If they don’t, they’ll never get to your blurb or sample your first chapter or read reviews about how awesome your story is.

Your cover is your first step in convincing a reader that they need to read your book, so spending the money on a gorgeous cover is a must!

Where to Find a Cover Designer

Google is literally your best friend when it comes to finding a cover designer. I stumbled across my cover designer through a Google search, which led me to a website called The Book Cover Designer.

The website offers pre-made covers from different designers, and while I was browsing I kept noticing that all of the covers I loved were made by the same designer–Victoria Cooper. When I clicked on her profile I was excited to see she also offered custom designs in addition to her pre-made covers, which was exactly what I needed.

Which brings me to my next tip–if you see a cover you like on Amazon, check the book’s copyright page which usually credits the cover artist. Then, do a quick Google search (I told you Google was your friend!) to find out more about the designer.

Finally, a fantastic resource for finding a cover designer is this list from indie author Joanna Penn. There are a ton of cover designers listed, so it’s a great place to start your search!

What to Look For

When you’re considering a cover designer, there’s a few things you want to look for. First, browse their portfolio and make sure their work looks professional. You’ll also want to consider their style and whether or not it fits the vision you have in mind for your cover.

Additionally, look for reviews and testimonials from the designer’s customers. Was the designer easy to work with? Did they have good communication with the author? Did they finish the work on time? Look into the designer’s reputation and find out what they’re like to work with and if their customers were pleased with their work.

Consider Your Budget (But Also Consider Quality)

You can pay anywhere from fifty bucks to several thousand for a book cover. While you don’t have to spend thousands, you definitely want to invest in a good cover! I would say on average expect to pay at least around $100 for a good ebook cover (front design only), and $200-$300 for a print cover (front, back, and spine).

Of course, you will find designers who charge more or less than those figures. For example, my cover designer charges $85 for a custom ebook cover, which is a little below that estimation. But I wouldn’t be surprised if she raises her prices in the future as her work is gorgeous and I felt I was getting a high quality cover! So a lower price doesn’t always necessarily mean lower quality.

Another option to consider if you’re on a tight budget is a pre-made cover. These covers cost a little less than their custom counterparts and are made specifically for one-time sale to ensure your book is the only one with that design. Since I needed something very specific for THESE SAVAGE BONES this wasn’t a good option for me, but there are tons of gorgeous pre-made covers out there!

Book in Advance

Make sure you don’t wait until the last minute to book a cover designer if you’re getting a custom design! How far in advance will probably depend on the popularity of the designer and how many projects they currently have booked. I think I contacted my designer about a month and a half before my planned release for THESE SAVAGE BONES, but for some designers you might need to book as fear ahead as several months in advance.

You’ll also want to consider how long it will take the designer to complete the cover. I was lucky and received my finished cover in just a few days, but from what I understand the average turnaround is 2-3 weeks. The length of time will also depend on how many revisions you ask the artist to do until you’re happy with the design. Victoria communicated quickly and we only went through two drafts of the design, so that probably helped to speed up the process.

Communicating Your Vision

Sometimes, it can be hard to communicate to your designer how you’re envisioning the cover in your head. Some of the design elements you’ll want to consider are color tones, font style, layout, and imagery. You’ll also want to consider the genre of your story and the overall mood you’re trying to convey. What do you want the reader to feel when they look at your cover? The mood of a romance cover is going to be far different from that of a horror cover!

Try browsing the covers of other books in your genre for inspiration, and if you find examples of elements you really like and are looking for in your cover, show them to your designer. You can also help provide the designer with inspiration by telling them what your book is about, where it’s set, and what your main character looks like.

I would also recommend keeping an open mind as your designer might surprise you with something better than what you had originally envisioned. For example, I originally suggested a desert background for my cover, but when I saw the city background Victoria had used I ended up like it much better! That being said, don’t be afraid to also (politely!) ask the designer to make changes if there’s something you don’t like.

Additional Resources

I highly recommend this in-depth article from Reedsy to help you understand the cover design process even further. There’s also a beautiful infographic at the end of the article that sums everything up nicely!  (Hint: Save it to Pinterest for later!)


What do you think about the cover for THESE SAVAGE BONES? Please leave your thoughts in the comments below!

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A Simple Outline for Writing a Killer Book Blurb

Condensing a novel into a short, enticing book blurb that convinces readers to buy is no easy task. If you have no idea what to include in your blurb, this simple outline of the must-haves will help!In my last post, I mentioned that I’ve been working on a novella (and shared some reasons why you should write one of your own!). This week, I’ve been drafting a blurb to go along with said novella, and I’m finally ready to officially introduce you to the story! (Eep!)

Are you ready, friend? The title of my novella is THESE SAVAGE BONES, and here’s your first peek at the story:

Mexico, 1875. Twenty-three-year old Esperanza de la Rosa knows more about steam engines and electromagnetics than a proper lady should. Fiercely independent, she’s more interested in science and superstition than finding a suitor.

When Esperanza’s uncle is murdered during a festival celebrating the Day of the Dead, her world is shaken. To catch the killer, she must accept the help of the last person she wants to see—her ex-fiancé Alejandro Valladares, a gentleman turned bounty hunter with a troubled past.

Thrust into a tangled web of secrets and lies that threaten to destroy everything she thought she knew, Esperanza must uncover the truth and bring her uncle’s murderer to justice or the guilt of her failure will haunt her forever.

I’m pretty pumped about this story, and I’m excited to finally be sharing the details with you! So when will THESE SAVAGE BONES be available? I’m currently planning on an October 25th release. I’ll also be revealing the cover on October 1st, so stay tuned! (Spoiler alert: it’s amazingly gorgeous).

I’m not gonna lie though, writing that blurb was hard. Which is why today I want to share with you what I learned about writing a blurb so that hopefully you’ll have an easier time of it than I did!

What is a Book Blurb?

A blurb is the description of the story found on the back cover of a book. It’s brief–no more than 100-150 words–and creates interest in the story without giving away major spoilers or the ending.

Basically, the name of the game with a blurb is to entice readers to buy your book. Now, that’s a lot of pressure to condense a 50,000+ word novel into 150 words or less in a way that will convince readers to buy. Where do you even begin?

There are many different ways to write & organize a book blurb, but today I’m going to try to simplify the process for you by breaking it down into two main sections: 1) The hero before the story’s issue, and 2) The hero after the issue is introduced. In both sections, I’ll share the must-haves you’ll need to include to make your blurb work.

Sound like a plan? Let’s get started!

Part 1: Set the Stage

This part of the blurb is a quick snapshot that shows “the calm before the storm” before the hero’s life is turned upside down. It introduces a) the hero, b) the setting, and c) the hero’s life before the story begins.

A. The Hero

When you introduce your hero in your blurb, you want to accomplish two things: 1) give the reader a feel for what the hero is like, and 2) create interest in the hero.

To quickly acquaint the reader with your hero, mention his profession and/or the role he identifies with. Is he a police officer? Retired soldier? Stay-at-home father? Starving artist? College student?  Also, try to use adjectives to sum up what your character is like such as adventurous, street-smart, reckless, outcast, etc.

Next, you want to highlight the most interesting aspects of your hero. Is he a starving artist by day and a master art forger by night? Is he hiding magical powers? Is he on the high school football team but secretly practices ballet? Let readers know what makes him stand out!

Here are some examples of character description in book blurbs:

“Cinder, a gifted mechanic, is a cyborg.” (Cinder by Marissa Meyer)

“Lena Duchannes is unlike anyone the small Southern town of Gatlin has ever seen, and she’s struggling to conceal her power, and a curse that has haunted her family for generations.” (Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl)

“Art student and monster’s apprentice Karou finally has the answers she has always sought.” (Days of Blood and Starlight by Laini Taylor)

“Known among locals as the daughter of a brothel prostitute, Josie wants more out of life than the Big Easy has to offer.” (Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys)

B. The Setting

You don’t have to mention the setting, but it can help set the mood for your book and also attract readers with an interest in that setting.

The only exception to this is if you’re writing historical fiction or fantasy—then including the setting in your blurb is a must. For historical fiction, you’ll want to mention the time-period and place, and with fantasy you’ll need to introduce the reader to the world you’ve created. Here are a few examples.

Fantasy Settings

“In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts.” (The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins)

“Humans and androids crowd the raucous streets of New Beijing. A deadly plague ravages the population. From space, a ruthless lunar people watch, waiting to make their move.” (Cinder by Marissa Meyer)

“But even within the overgrown gardens, murky swamps and crumbling graveyards of the forgotten South, a secret cannot stay hidden forever.” (Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl)

Historical Fiction Settings

“It’s 1950, and as the French Quarter of New Orleans simmers with secrets, seventeen-year-old Josie Moraine is silently stirring a pot of her own.” (Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys)

“It is 1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier, and will become busier still.” (The Book Thief by Markus Zusak)

“World War II is drawing to a close in East Prussia and thousands of refugees are on a desperate trek toward freedom, many with something to hide.” (Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys)

C. Current Situation in Life, Dreams, Desires, etc.

This is optional, but you could provide the reader with a quick snapshot of what the hero’s life is like before the story begins. Do they have a perfect life with everything they’ve ever wanted before it’s suddenly torn away? Do they have plans to attend an Ivy League school before those hopes are suddenly dashed?

Revealing these sorts of details can provide a nice contrast to the disaster that’s about to befall the hero, help characterize the hero, and create sympathy in the reader. Consider whether your hero’s “before” might be worth mentioning.

For example, in the blurb from Cinder, look at the second sentence that goes on to further describe our heroine:

“Cinder, a gifted mechanic, is a cyborg. She’s a second-class citizen with a mysterious past, reviled by her stepmother and blamed for her stepsister’s illness.”

This snippet gives us a little peek into what Cinder’s life is currently like, and it’s pretty dismal. This helps create sympathy in the reader and already puts us on Cinder’s side.

Part 2: Introduce the Problem

This part of the blurb is the big “But when…” that a) reveals the problem that’s about to turn the hero’s life upside down and thus begin our story. It also lets the reader know b) what the hero is setting out to accomplish, c) what opposition or obstacles are standing in his way, and d) what’s at stake. Let’s look at a few examples.

Example 1: “But when her life becomes intertwined with the handsome Prince Kai’s, she suddenly finds herself at the center of an intergalactic struggle, and a forbidden attraction. Caught between duty and freedom, loyalty and betrayal, she must uncover secrets about her past in order to protect her world’s future.” (Cinder by Marissa Meyer)

A. What’s the problem? Cinder is mixed up in an “intergalactic struggle” and a “forbidden attraction.”

B. What’s her goal? “She must uncover secrets about her past in order to protect her world’s future.”

C. What’s standing in her way? She’s “caught between duty and freedom, loyalty and betrayal.”

D. What’s at stake? “Her world’s future.”

Example 2: “Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who lives alone with her mother and younger sister, regards it as a death sentence when she is forced to represent her district in the Games. The terrain, rules, and level of audience participation may change but one thing is constant: kill or be killed.  (The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins)

A. What’s the problem? Katniss is “forced to represent her district in the Games.”

B. What’s her goal? Surviving and winning the games.

C. What’s standing in her way? She must “kill or be killed,” and the blurb hints that the changing terrain and rules as well as the audience might also pose obstacles.

D. What’s at stake? Katniss’ life.

Example 3: “Kaz is offered a chance at a deadly heist that could make him rich beyond his wildest dreams. But he can’t pull it off alone… Six dangerous outcasts. One impossible heist. Kaz’s crew is the only thing that might stand between the world and destruction―if they don’t kill each other first.” (Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo)

A. What’s the problem? Kaz needs to assemble a crew to pull off a “deadly heist.”

B. What’s his goal? Pulling off the heist and becoming rich.

C. What’s standing in his way? The heist is described as “deadly” and “impossible” which suggests this won’t be easy. It’s also implied there will be internal conflict within the band of criminals with the line “if they don’t kill each other first.”

D. What’s at stake? If he succeeds, the heist will make Kaz “rich beyond his wildest dreams.”  On the other hand, “Kaz’s crew is the only thing that might stand between the world and destruction.”

Condensing a novel into a short, enticing book blurb that convinces readers to buy is no easy task. If you have no idea what to include in your blurb, this simple outline of the must-haves will help!Whatever information you choose to include in your blurb, just make sure you keep it short and sweet and arouse the reader’s curiosity.

Remember, the blurb is about teasing readers with your story and enticing them to (hopefully) buy. You don’t have to include every detail, but make sure you include just enough to get readers itching to pick up your book.

Also, I would LOVE to hear your thoughts on my blurb for THESE SAVAGE BONES! Does it make you interested to read the story? Let me know in the comments below!

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How to Write a Kick-ass Synopsis for Your Novel

How to Write a Kick-ass Synopsis for Your Novel | Struggling with your #synopsis? Learn how to break down your novel into a compelling synopsis!You know what’s more terrifying than writing a novel? Writing a synopsis of your novel. Just the word ‘synopsis’ is enough to make even an experienced writer break into a cold sweat. Or run away screaming.

I’m not going to lie: writing a synopsis is hard. It’s confusing, frustrating, and overwhelming all at once. But it’s so important. Your novel may be brilliant, but if your synopsis is crap an agent or editor may never request to see it.

So how do you write a kick-ass synopsis? Let’s get down to it.

What is a synopsis?

A synopsis is a brief summary of your novel from its beginning to end, written in third person present tense. Yes, its end. You need to give away the ending! Spoilers be damned.

But here’s the trick. You’re not just giving us a play-by-play of the events in your novel. First this happens, then this happens, oh, then that happens–

Stahp. Don’t babble on like a six-year-old telling her mom about her day at school.

You need to leave stuff out. Resist the temptation to include every event, detail, and character. Only include the most important. And then tell us what happens in a compelling way.

But how do you make a synopsis compelling?

  • Cut out the clutter and tell only the most important details.
  • Use specific nouns and strong verbs
  • Avoid passive voice–keep it active
  • Use word choice and voice to reveal the tone of your story
  • Be clear and avoid wordiness
  • Reveal your character’s emotions and reactions to events

That last one is extremely important. Without it, your synopsis is just a dry, boring regurgitation of your story’s events. And word vomit isn’t going to agents and editors excited about your novel.

Remember, stories create an emotional experience for the reader. It’s why we read them. You need to give the agent/editor a taste of the emotional experience of your novel. To do that, you need to include how your character feels about what happens to him. With each turn of events, reveal his fear, excitement, hope, disappointment, etc.

Why do agents and editors want a synopsis?

Do they just enjoy torturing you? Do they sit in their little agent nests surrounded by slush piles and cackle at the thought of you slaving over your synopsis? It may feel like it, but no.

A synopsis lets the agent or editor inspect your story without having to read the book. It’s a way for them to determine if it’s worth their time. A synopsis will let them see if there are any plot holes, if the story’s all over the place, if it makes sense, and how unique (or cliched) it may be. Basically, they want to see 1) that you know what you’re doing 2) how your story is different & interesting.

How short does it have to be?

Typically, a synopsis is one single-spaced page. Yes, one. Try not to panic.

But that’s not always the case. If you have a really long novel (100k + words) you may need more space to get the story across. Always check the submission guidelines of the editor or agent first. Some will ask for a synopsis of 2-3 pages, others will want you to stick to one page. The point is, don’t make your synopsis too long. An agent doesn’t have the time or patience to read a 10 page synopsis when she has a stack of submissions to sort through.

What should I include in my synopsis?

That is the question, isn’t it? To tell, or not to tell. How do you decide? It can drive a writer mad. Here’s my break-down guide of what should be in your synopsis:

  1. A compelling hook and opening paragraph
  2. The story’s inciting incident.
  3. An introduction of your hero, including her goal, motivation, stakes, and internal/external conflict. Also let us know who she is at the beginning of the story.
  4. Any major characters who play a part in the events you will include. Tell us their relationship with the hero and how she feels about them. (Introduce them as they arise in your story’s events, not all at once).
  5. The event that causes your hero to decide to commit to the story’s problem and take action. (Why can’t she ignore it any more?)
  6. The main events that oppose your hero and keep her from achieving her goal. Also, how these events change/challenge who she is and cause her to grow.
  7. The main events that advance the story.
  8. How the relationship between your hero and any important characters changes over the course of the story. (For example, if you have a love interest).
  9. Any important plot twists.
  10. Your hero’s darkest hour/all hope is lost moment (if you have one) and what causes her to bounce back and try again.
  11. The climax–the final showdown where your story’s conflict comes to a head.
  12. The resolution of the conflict and your story’s ending. Did your hero achieve her goal or fail? Also, reveal how your hero is different at the end of the story vs. the beginning (aka the character arc).
  13. Throughout these events, remember to weave your hero’s emotions, reactions, and decisions.

It’s a lot to cram into one page, I know. You’re probably already getting the synopsis sweats. But take a deep breath. You can do this. You wrote an entire novel, by golly. You can write this synopsis. It will probably take several drafts and many tears and screaming, but you can write this.

The First Paragraph

Before you launch into a full onslaught of what happens in your book, you need to set it up for the agent or editor. Your first paragraph should try to include:

  • A first sentence that hooks the reader
  • The setting and, if relevant, the time period
  • A premise that reveals how your story is different or interesting
  • Your hero, and why she’s interesting/likable
  • The goal, conflict, and stakes

Synopsis Examples

Okay, so what the heck does a synopsis look like once you have it written? Click here to check out some examples of successful synopses that got their author’s published.

Also, keep in mind that there’s more than one way to write a synopsis! It’s up to you to organize and present the information in the best, most compelling way possible, and to decide what’s most important to include for your story.

Do you have the synopsis sweats? Share your struggles, worries, and tales of woe in the comments!

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How to Format Your Novel Properly Before Querying Agents

Learn how to #format your #novel professionally before querying so agents won't toss it aside! So you’ve finally finished writing your novel and have edited the heck out of it. You’re exhausted, and probably over caffeinated and sleep deprived, but the pains of your efforts have been well worth it.

You cradle your newborn manuscript you’ve brought into this world. You’ve now reached the moment of truth–you’re ready to submit to agents.

It’s a scary thing sending your defenseless little manuscript out into the world. Agents and editors can be vicious, and the last thing you want is for your baby to get rejected. So before you start querying, it’s important you take the time to learn how to format your novel to give it it’s best chance of getting adopted by a publisher.

This is not a step you do not want to skip over! I know you’re itching to submit to agents, but wouldn’t it be a shame for all of your hard work to be for nothing because you were too lazy to do a little formatting?

“But do agents even really care about formatting? Aren’t they just interested in my story?” you ask.

Oh yes. Trust me, agents care. And they take notice of sloppy formatting. It will earn your manuscript a one-way ticket to the slush pile. Why?

First, poor formatting can make your story difficult to read. If an agent has a whole stack of manuscripts on their desk to sort through, they’re not going to take the time to struggle through yours. You don’t want to annoy the person who could get your story published!

Second, your formatting reveals who you are as a writer. If your manuscript is properly formatted, the agent will think “Oh, this writer knows what they’re doing. They’ve done their research and have taken the time to present themselves as a professional.”

But if your manuscript is a hot mess, it sends up a red flag and signals to agents that you’re an amateur and/or lazy. “Man,” they’ll think, “If the formatting is this big of a mess I don’t even want to know what the writing looks like. It’s probably a train wreck.”

Plus, it’s just rude to send an agent a sloppy manuscript! Don’t waste their time.

If the idea of formatting freaks you out, relax. It’s not as complicated as it sounds–and I’m here to help you out! I got your back. 😉 I’m going to show you how to format your manuscript professionally according to industry standards so you’ll get on the good side of agents. Ready? Let’s do this!

Proper Manuscript Formatting

Step 1: Always, always check the agent’s publishing guidelines first! Mostly they all tend to be pretty much the same, but sometimes they vary. So do your research and adjust your manuscript accordingly.

Step 2: Set your font to black, size 12 Times New Roman font. (Do NOT try to be artistic and make your manuscript stand out by using weird fonts).

Step 3: Set your margins to 1 inch on all sides.

Step 4: Create a title page. Type your name, address, phone number, and email in the upper left-hand corner of the first page, single spaced. Then, place the word count of your story under your email or at the top of the page on the right (round off the word count to the nearest thousand or five hundred). Optional: include your genre or sub-genre above or below the word count.

Next, about halfway down the page, type your story’s title and center it. The title can be capitalized normally or in all caps. Skip a line, type ‘by,’ skip another line, and type your name.

Step 5: On a new page, begin your story. You will start each chapter on a new page 1/3 of the way down (about 6 double-spaced lines), and center the chapter’s title (the title can be capitalized normally or in all caps). Then, skip two lines before starting the body of the chapter. The first paragraph of your chapters or new scenes can either be indented or left flush.

Step 6: Create a header on each page excluding the title page. It should include your last name, the title of your story (or keywords if it’s too long), and the page number. Separate your name, title, and page number with a / and align the header to the right. (Also, make sure your chapter lengths are reasonable. 12-17 double-spaced pages is a good range).

Step 7: Double space your entire manuscript.

Step 8: Make sure all of your paragraphs have a 1/2 inch indent. This is equal to 5 spaces, or make things easy on yourself and use the tab key 😉

Step 9: To indicate a scene break, insert a # between paragraphs and center it. Asterisks *** are also acceptable.

Step 10: To emphasize words, use italics. Don’t underline or bold your words.

Step 11: At the end of your manuscript, insert a # sign or type “The End” and center it. This lets the agent know there aren’t any missing pages.

Step 12: If sending your manuscript through snail mail, don’t staple or bind your pages in any way.

“Um, okay, great but what the heck does this all look like?” you wonder.

Well, allow me to show you.

The title page:

Title Page Example

The manuscript pages:

Chapter Example

See, that wasn’t so bad, was it?

Now, if you look around online and see variations of the format above, don’t panic or get confused!

There can be slight variations, though nothing real drastic. (For example, some recommend Courier font, but others say it’s outdated. Really, either Courier or Times New Roman is acceptable). This format isn’t the one and only way to do it. I think that’s why writers get confused and stress out over formatting.

Just remember to always check the agent’s guidelines first. And as long as you are presenting your manuscript in a professional format like the one I’ve shown you above, you’ll be fine. Don’t sweat small variations you might see online.

You’re now ready to send out your beautiful baby manuscript! Check out my list of 100 YA agents to get you started.

Still confused? Have questions? Need help? Leave me your comments below!

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100 Agents to Submit Your YA Novel to Right Now!

A giant list of 100 #agents looking for #YA stories! Plus, a FREE organizer to help you keep track of your submissions! Are you looking for YA literary agents to submit your novel to? You’ve come to the right place!

I’ve rounded up a ginormous list of one hundred literary agents who are looking for the next great YA novel (which is going to be yours, right?).

The links will take you to the agent’s profile or submission guidelines so you can find out more. Some agents listed specific stories they were looking for so I included those here. If there’s nothing specific listed beside an agent they are likely open to all genres, but always double-check and do your research as things may change!

And of course, before you submit your novel to any agent always edit it first! (Preferably until you want to cry. Or sleep for days.)


Giant List of YA Literary Agents

Last updated: April 15, 2015

1. Maria Vicente of P.S. Literary

2. Kurestin Armada of P.S. Literary–select YA

3. Eric Smith of P.S. Literary–seeking diverse YA, particularly Sci-Fi/Fantasy

4. Lydia Blyfield of Carol Mann Agency–seeking YA with strong hooks/modern themes. NO High Fantasy.

5. Pamela Harty of The Knight Agency

6. Elaine Spencer of The Knight Agency

7. Lucienne Diver of The Knight Agency–any, preference toward Sci-Fi/Fantasy & Romance

8. Nephele Tempest of The Knight Agency

9. Melissa Jeglinski of The Knight Agency

10. Luara Zats of Red Sofa Literary–particularly interested in retellings & contemporary. NO dystopia or paranormal/contemporary romance.

11. Dawn Frederick of Red Sofa Literary

12. Kevan Lyon of Marsal Lyon Literary Agency

13. Kathleen Rushall of Marsal Lyon Literary Agency

14. Shannon Hassan of Marsal Lyon Literary Agency–open to a wide range of genres, with particular interest in diversity, contemporary/realistic, magical realism, mystery, horror, and fantasy.

15. Jenny Bent of The Bent Agency

16. Gemma Cooper of The Bent Agency–preference for contemporary settings, standout romance, strong friendships, & sibling relationships

17. Heather Flaherty of The Bent Agency–any YA, but would love to see contemporary stories with Sci-Fi or Fantasy elements, retellings, and horror.

18. Louise Fury of The Bent Agency

19. Molly Ker Hawn of The Bent Agency

20. Susan Hawk of The Bent Agency–open to mystery, fantasy, scifi, humor, boy books, historical, contemporary (really any genre).

21. Victoria Lowes of The Bent Agency–any, but favorite genres include historical fiction, suspense, mysteries, and romance

22. Beth Phelan of The Bent Agency

23. Brooks Sherman of The Bent Agency–seeking “young adult fiction of all types except paranormal romance. I would especially love to get my hands on a creepy and/or funny contemporary young adult project. “

24. Taylor Haggerty of Waxman Leavell Literary Agency

25. Kirsten Carleton of Waxman Leavell Literary Agency

26. Holly Root of Waxman Leavell Literary Agency

27. Scott Waxman of Waxman Leavell Literary Agency

28. Reiko Davis of Miriam Altshuler Literary Agency–“Actively looking for young adult and middle grade fiction—whether it be contemporary, historical, high fantasy, or simply a story with a timeless quality and vibrant characters.”

29. Miriam Altshuler of Miriam Altshuler Literary Agency–“most interested in contemporary and historical YA… She loves dystopian worlds and great stories that have some fantasy to them…but that are not strictly in the fantasy genre.”

30. Sara Crowe of Harvey Klinger Inc.–“She is consistently ranked among the top three YA and MG agents in Publishers Marketplace.”

31. Andrea Somberg of Harvey Klinger Inc.

32. Laura Rennert of Andrea Brown Literary Agency–“particularly seeking contemporary, multicultural, sci-fi/fantasy, paranormal, alternate history, retellings.

33. Caryn Wiseman of Andrea Brown Literary Agency–contemporary YA, NO fantasy

34. Jennifer Laughran of Andrea Brown Literary Agency

35. Jennifer Rofe of Andrea Brown Literary Agency–seeking contemporary, romance, and urban fantasy.

36. Jennifer Mattson of Andrea Brown Literary Agency–particularly drawn to fantasy

37. Stacey Kendall Glick of Dystel and Goderich Literary Management

38. Jim McCarthy of Dystel and Goderich Literary Management

39. Lauren Abramo of Dystel and Goderich Literary Management

40. John Rudolph of Dystel and Goderich Literary Management

41. Rachel Stout of Dystel and Goderich Literary Management–“Believable and thought-provoking YA as well as magical realism.”

42. Erin Young of Dystel and Goderich Literary Management–“Interested in all forms of young adult fiction, particularly fantasy, paranormal, and magical realism.”

43. Rachel Kent of Books & Such Literary Management

44. Katie Reed of Andrea Hurst & Associates–any, but particularly seeking contemporary, romance, sci-fi/fantasy, retellings.

45. Genevive Nine of Andrea Hurst & Associates–seeking sci-fi/fantasy, mystery, historical fiction, retellings (classics, fairy/folk tale, myth), contemporary.

46. Sarah Davies of Greenhouse Literary–“currently very keen to find a powerful big YA fantasy (in the vein of Kristin Cashore) and unique contemporary, realistic fiction; also loves historical, so long as it’s got strong appeal to contemporary teens. “

47. John Cusick of Greenhouse Literary–“Particularly keen to see fast-paced/thrilling/heart-breaking stories, contemporary realism, historicals, speculative fiction, sci-fi and fresh fantasy.”

48. Sandy Lu of L. Perkins Agency–particularly seeking Victorian historical thrillers or mysteries.

49. Leon Husock of L. Perkins Agency

50. Rachel Brooks of L. Perkins Agency

51. Laura Bradford of Bradford Literary Agency

52. Natalie Lakosil of Bradford Literary Agency

53. Sarah LaPolla of Bradford Literary Agency

54. Amy Boggs of Donald Maas Literary Agency–“All things fantasy and science fiction, especially high fantasy, urban fantasy, steampunk (and its variations), YA, MG, and alternate history.”

55. Jennifer Jackson of Donald Maas Literary Agency

56. Elizabeth Kracht of Kimberly Cameron and Associates

57. Pooja Menon of Kimberly Cameron and Associates–“looking for stories that deal with the prevalent issues that face teenagers today. She is also interested in fantasy, magical-realism, and historical fiction.”

58. Kathleen Ortiz of New Leaf Literary–“She would love to see a beautifully written YA set within other cultures and experiences.”

59. Suzie Townsend of New Leaf Literary

60. Jess Regel of Foundry Literary + Media

61. Erin Murphy of Erin Murphy Literary Agency

62. Ammi-Joan Paquette of Erin Murphy Literary Agency

63. Tricia Lawrence of Erin Murphy Literary Agency

64. Frank Weiman of Folio Literary Management–endearing characters, strong voice, no paranormal

65. Erin Harris of Folio Literary Management–seeking “Contemporary, voice-driven novels that approach the universal experience of being a teenager from a surprising or an unlikely perspective.” Also, thrillers and mystery.

66. Molly Jaffa of Folio Literary Management–“fiction set in another country…I’d also like to see: Contemporary YA that’s not afraid to explore complex social issues, historical fantasy…and good, old-fashioned YA romance.”

67. Melissa Sarver White of Folio Literary Management–“I’m attracted to realistic contemporary stories with a strong sense of voice…I’m also looking for YA mysteries, thrillers, horror, science fiction, urban fantasy, speculative, historical with a twist (alternate historical or historical with magical realism).”

68. Jessica Faust of Bookends Literary Agency–contemporary YA

69. Kim Lionetti of Bookends Literary Agency–any except sci-fi or fantasy

70. Beth Campbell of Bookends Literary Agency

71. Kristin Nelson of Nelson Literary Agency

72. Catherine Drayton of Inkwell Management

73. Stephanie Rostan of Levine Greenberg Literary Agency

74. Kerry Sparks of Levine Greenberg Literary Agency

75. Ginger Clark of Curtis Brown LTD

76. Jonathan Lyons of Curtis Brown LTD

77. Alice Tasman of Jean V. Naggar Literary Agency

78. Laura Biagi of Jean V. Naggar Literary Agency

79. Caitlin Blasdell of Liza Dawson Associates Literary Agency

80. Hannah Bowman of Liza Dawson Associates Literary Agency

81. Lauren E. MacLeod of The Strothman Agency

82. Michelle Andelman of Regal Literary

83. Adrienne Rosado of Nancy Yost Literary Agency

84. Lisa Rodgers of JABerwocky Literary Agency

85. Joanna MacKenzie of Browne & Miller Literary Associates

86. Katie Grimm of Don Congdon Associates

87. Katie Kochman of Don Congdon Associates

88. Maura Kye-Casella of Don Congdon Associates

89. Rosemary Stimola of Stimola Literary Studio

90. Sarah Heller of The Helen Heller Agency

91. Bill Contardi of Brandt & Hochman

92. Emily Forland of Brandt & Hochman

93. Emma Patterson of Brandt & Hochman

94. Faye Bender of Faye Bender Literary Agency

95. Jason Anthony of Lippincott Massie McQuiken Agency

96. Folade Bell of Serendipity Literary Agency

97. John Weber of Serendipity Literary Agency

98. Danielle Chiotti of Upstart Crow Literary

99. Ted Malawar of Upstart Crow Literary

100. Alexandra Penfold of Upstart Crow Literary

You’re welcome. 😉

Now what are you waiting for? Get to querying!

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8 Stories YA Agents and Publishers Want Right Now

8 StoriesNo clue what to write next? It might feel frustrating, but you’re actually in a great position. How so, you may ask?

Well, you have the opportunity to consider what agents and publishers want before you become attached to a new story idea. Think of it as fishing with bait as opposed to tossing out a net and hoping for the best.

Knowing what the people who are buying the stories want will definitely be to your advantage! Here are 8 stories you can use to hook an agent or publisher right now.

#1: Diverse Protagonists

There’s a huge need for diverse books, and publishers and agent are eager to get their hands on some. YA is flooded with way too many protagonists who are white American females–we need to see some representation of other cultures!

#2: Strong Male Protagonists

I honestly can’t even remember the last time I read a book with a male lead. I can’t even name five…the only ones I can think of off my head are Harry Potter and Percy Jackson.

There’s no denying it–YA is inundated with female protagonists. This is probably because the majority of YA authors are women. It may be challenging to write from a male’s perspective, but this is definitely something publishers are looking for.

#3: Stand-alone Novels

Believe it or not, we writers don’t have to make every story a trilogy. Publishers are actually getting worn out on trilogies and are looking for stand-alones, especially dystopians. The thinking behind this is it’s less investment on the reader’s part and frees up more time for them to read other books rather than commit to a whole trilogy or series.

#4: Fairy tale Retellings

Fairy tale retellings are really popular right now, and not just in books. There’s the t.v. series Once Upon a Time, and Disney is taking advantage of the trend with it’s recent film remakes: Snow White and the Huntsman, Malificent, the upcoming Cinderella, and the recently announced Beauty and the Beast.

If you can come up with a fresh twist on a classic tale you will definitely catch an agent’s attention.

#5: Steampunk

There’s not a whole lot of steampunk in YA, and I think that’s part of the reason why agents are looking for it. They’re getting tired of all the paranormal and even (dare I say it) dystopian stuff. It’s time to explore new territory.

#6: New Adult

This is a newly emerging genre, featuring characters aged 18-25 either entering or already in college. There’s not much NA out there right now because it’s so new, so agents and publishers are eager to find some captivating stories in this fledgling genre.

#7: Crime and Con Artists

There seems to be a spark in interest relating to crime, spies, con artists, and heists. Think Heist Society or the Gallagher Girls series by Ally Carter.

#8: Historical Fiction

With the avalanche of fantasy and dystopians out there right now, there’s not a whole lot of historical fiction. It’s definitely something agents are looking for, however. Especially historical events that haven’t been done a lot or bring a fresh, interesting take.

But What If…

So, what if none of these ideas are what you want to write? Don’t stress. Always write what you are passionate about, no matter what the trends of the market are or what agents and publishers are looking for. You have to love what you write above all else. And someone’s gotta start the next trend, right? 😉

What kinds of books would you like to see on the market?

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How to Write an Opening Line that Will Hook Readers (and a Publisher!)

post4The first sentence of your story is the most important you will write. It will determine whether the reader (or publisher) decides to keep reading or toss your book aside.

Think of it this way: when you meet someone new you decide from your first impression whether or not you like the person and are interested in continuing a conversation. (Or if that Hitler stache is just too creeptastic and you want to hightail it out of there first chance you get).

The first sentence is your story’s first impression to a reader. So you need to make it brilliant.

The first thing I do when I pick up a book at the store is read the opening line. If it catches my interest, I’ll examine the book further, maybe even buy it. If not, it goes back on the shelf. So how do you keep a reader from putting your book back on the shelf?

Let’s look at some examples of opening lines. On a scrap of paper, jot down which numbers make you want to read the rest of the story.

  1. “I’ve been locked up for 264 days.”
  1. “The songs of the dead are the lamentations of the living.”
  1. “She killed him in the darkest part of the night, before the dew had settled on the grass.”
  1. “Around midnight, her eyes at last took shape.”
  1. “Blue Sargent had forgotten how many times she’d been told that she would kill her true love.”
  1. “Laurel’s shoes flipped a cheerful rhythm that defied her dark mood.”
  1. “I remember lying in the snow, a small red spot of warm going cold, surrounded by wolves.”
  1. “Chauncey was with a farmer’s daughter on the grassy banks of the Loire River when the storm rolled in, and having let his gelding wander in the meadow, was left to his own two feet to carry him back to the chateau.”
  1. “After a year of slavery in the Salt Mines of Endovier, Celaena Sardothien was accustomed to being escorted everywhere in shackles and at sword-point.”
  1. ““Four-ball, side pocket.” Aislinn pushed the cue forward with a short, quick thrust; the ball dropped into the pocket with a satisfying click.”

Which of these books would you like to read? Which opening lines arouse your curiosity and make you want to know what happens next?

The odd-numbers are examples of excellent opening lines; the even-numbers are examples of weak opening lines. I’m willing to bet the odd-numbered examples were the ones that made you want to read the rest of the story.

And guess which books are on my bookshelf? That’s right–the odd-numbers. They aroused my interest enough to make me want to buy the book, which is exactly what you want as a writer.

So what makes the good lines good?

  • They arouse curiosity: Why is she locked up? Why did she kill him? Why would she kill her true love? Why is she surrounded by wolves? How did she become a slave?
  • They present conflict: Will she escape prison? Will she get away with killing him? Will she really kill her true love? Will she be killed by the wolves? Will she escape slavery?
  • They start near the action—things are happening or about to happen. There is the feeling of forward momentum from the combination of curiosity and conflict. You want to plunge your reader into the heart of the story as quickly as possible—start in the middle of the action.

What makes the weak lines weak?

  • They don’t arouse curiosity or present conflict.
  • #2 tries to be profound but just ends up being confusing.
  • #8 is description, which slows down the story before it even starts.
  • The problem with opening with dialogue as in #10 is it’s somewhat jarring–we haven’t been introduced to the characters yet and we don’t know who’s speaking.

In case you’re curious, here are the books whose opening lines were used in the example: 1. Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi 2. Eldest by Christopher Paolini 3. Claire de Lune by Christine Johnson 4. Fallen by Lauren Kate 5. The Raven Boys by Maggie Steifvater 6. Wings by Aprilynne Pike 7. Shiver by Maggie Steifvater 8. Hush, Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick 9. Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas 10. Wicked Lovely by Marissa Marr

The purpose of your opening line is to hook the reader by arousing curiosity and/or presenting conflict and action. Give your reader a reason to keep turning those pages! Are you up to the challenge?

Go to a library, bookstore, your own bookshelf, or even amazon.com, and browse through some books examining the first line. Which ones draw in your interest? Which ones don’t? Share below!

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