Standing out from
the Slush Pile
By Cheryl Bolen
One new author and two established authors and their Blaze editor gave
tips at the Dallas Romance Writers of America Conference on how to make
your submission stand out.
Joanne Rock said packaging your story is a great selling tool. The total
package consists of a blurb which encapsulates your story and provides a
market hook that's written like the back cover of a book; a cover letter
which details your credentials (publishing history, contest wins, or
relevant experience to tell the story) and shows that you have targeted
the line's audience.
The cover letter should also include your name and contact information,
along with the name and title of a specific editor, word count, SASE,
and a title that captures the essence of the line.
Rock recommended a potential author study the line's titles and keep
that same voice in her title.
Debut author Tawny Weber said the first line of the opening chapter
needs to not only grab an editor but must be carried through in the
remainder of the book.
Blaze senior editor Brenda Chin gave the example of a Kimberly Raye
first line that hooked her on many levels, but especially for its
appropriateness to the spicy line: She needed really good sex in a
really bad way.
Weber also recommended refraining from writing the synopsis in a dry,
chronological order but to write it in your own voice. A strong voice is
what sells a proposal.
Jamie Sobrato urged prospective authors to display professionalism.
"Have dignity," she said. Don't beg editors and don't be pushy.
Give the editors time to respond before following up with additional
queries, Sobrato said. Chin said it is okay to call an assistant at the
publishing house when an author has not heard back from a query letter
in 3 months, a partial in 4-6 months, or a full manuscript in 6 months.
"At Harlequin we don't buy authors," Chin said. "We buy careers." She
looks for hard workers who are willing to rewrite a book two or three
times. She said authors must be able to take direction because, with 38
authors, she doesn't have time to hold their hand.
Sobrato said it took her five years, five months, and two Golden Heart
finals before she finally sold. Weber's path to publication took four
years. She could not grasp the tone of Blaze but finally managed to win
the Blaze contest, which led to her first sale. Rock said her quest for
publication also took a long time, and she credits Chen for helping her
shape several proposals before one actually succeeded.
Chen went on to discuss Blaze's audience, which appeals to women age
25-40. The line will expand to Blaze Blush in December. Some new
directions are also being experimented with. One will have a Chinese
setting, and Hope Tarr will be publishing a historical Blaze.
Chen also cautioned against using overdone plot devices and encouraged
authors to think of single-title themes. Sex therapists have run their
course in Blaze.
All of the presenters stressed that rejection means "not now," not
This article was first published in In Print, August 2007.