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- Four Steps to Successfully Get Your Book Published!
Getting a book published is quite possibly the most romantic idea, next to finding true love, isn't it? Getting traditionally published is also just as hard, if not harder, than finding true love. Statistics tell an ominous story--chances of finding true love is 1 in 562, and chances of getting published...one in 2000. Yikes! And yet, here you are, with your dreams bursting at the seams, and with your hands clutching your prized manuscript, you're ready to show-and-tell to the world. You're ready to bloom into a published author. What does that say? That you, my friend, have grit. The statistics don't scare you. The naysayers to you sound like cheerleaders, and every no, while at first feels like a punch to the gut, oddly makes you stand up taller--stronger than ever before. Way to go, you! We've established the premise--you are awesome. Now, let's talk about grit and how to "grit it right", shall we? Let's dive in to look at the four "simple" ways you can turn your dream into a reality--go from being a writer to a published author of a book. STEP ONE TO GETTING PUBLISHED: Complete your manuscript: Now don't sprout hives as you read this, thinking, "Really? Seriously? You call this advice?!" YES. And here's what I mean when I say that. When I first started out as a writer I was under the impression that a "complete manuscript" is basically your completed story, from chapter one to ten (or whatever that number might be in your case). WRONG. A complete manuscript is much more. It's a product you want to sell. It needs to be "sellable". It needs to be "market-worthy". It's like when my husband asks me if I'm ready to leave and I always respond, "Of course, I'm ready." But I'm not, am I? You're not ready if you don't have shoes on, or that last coat of lipstick, or made that final-final trip to the bathroom. Your "completed manuscript" once typed up, needs to be as fully formatted, proofread, edited, cover-to-cover done and ready. If you begin sending your manuscript out to agents and editors when it's half-cooked, you're further reducing your chances in an already unlikely scenario. For tips on how to properly format, proofread, and edit your manuscript, read my blog post, "The Perfect Manuscript". STEP TWO TO GETTING PUBLISHED: Get feedback on your story: This is a vital step that should almost always occur prior to you sending your story out to a hundred different agents and editors. "Why, oh why?" you ask. Because you may have a perfectly formatted manuscript, with that perfect font size, and perfect margins, and next to no errors in spelling and punctuation, and yet your story may have structural flaws that only a fresh perspective can detect. You're the creator of your fabulous story. You've read and re-read your story a hundred times over. What that essentially means is when you read your story, you're reading from memory, not from an editor's vantage point. It's the same as when you're looking for your keys, or your wallet and can't find it anywhere, and then your friend, or your spouse, or your dog walks right in and finds the thing sitting right under your nose. Structural flaws, inconsistencies in your story either relating to the plot or even your characters; scene development ideas, or even just an overarching perspective on whether the narrative works or how you can improve it are all things that a new pair of discerning eyes will provide. If you were going out somewhere to the most important outing of your life, wouldn't you instinctively ask the nearest person you trust "How do I look?" before you head out that door? You would. That's what this step is. So, takeaway? When your manuscript is ready to share, don't share it straight with an agent or editor. Share it with beta readers. These could even be your friends--friends you trust who you know have your back and will tell it to you like it is; it could be a writing group; it could be anyone you feel comfortable sharing your manuscript with who you trust will provide you with some honest, constructive feedback on your story. STEP THREE TO GETTING PUBLISHED Start querying agents! This is a hard first step to take. It was for me, when I first drafted an email to send to an agent, I couldn't bring myself to hit "Send". It's a daunting thing to do, and the fact is you may hear "no" more than "yes". But stay strong. Take comfort in the fact that all authors have been there at some point in their career. This step also has a few extra measures attached to it. Here they are: a.) Shortlist agents: Shortlist your top ten agents based on the genre your book falls into, and what the agent represents. Make sure they match--your romance story should hit the desk of agents that represent romance. Not mystery. The healthier your agent list, the better your chances of your manuscript escaping the dreaded slush pile. b.) Personalize your queries: Once you have your top ten agents, send them a personalized email. Do not copy past a template, because when you do, they can tell. Trust me. Templated emails sound templated. Agents get hundreds if not thousands of queries per month. If you want your query to stand out, you need to put something in it that doesn't sounds like every other query. "How the heck do I do that?" Here's one way--do some basic online research on the agent. Read their bio on the literary agency's website. Anything standout in their profile? If so, use it to catch their eye when you write your query? For example, if your agent likes to scuba-diving, and you do too, maybe find a fun way to highlight that in your query letter. Your letter should sound like a piece of you--your personality, and by extension, the personality of your writing. c.) Check for errors and avoid email faux pas: Check for errors before hitting SEND. A final and general tip is to ensure your query doesn't have any glaring errors relating to punctuation, grammar, sentence structure, spelling...you get the flow. Also, be sure to address the agent by their name specifically (either first or last, depending on what you're comfortable with). Do not address them as "Dear Agent". Agents can't stand that, because...well, "Agent" is not their name. At least, not usually. Lately, don't try to be too cute in your query. Be yourself and let your personality shine through. But don't try to woo the agent with flattery. Also be sure to avoid sarcastic humor and slang which may lack proper context. d.) Rethink at intervals: If you've sent out fifty queries and received fifty rejections in the form of a "no" or no response, stop and assess. Go back to your manuscript and review. Go back to your query and review. A "no" doesn't spell disaster. It doesn't mean your story isn't a good story. But a fleet of rejections may mean that you need to rethink either your strategy (your querying process) or your product (your story). STEP FOUR TO GETTING PUBLISHED: Pitch your book at conferences. I know this is not a cheap deal. Conferences can be expensive, not to mention nerve wracking. The thought of standing face-to-face with a literary agent or editor and chatting about your book is bound to leave even the most extroverted human being curled up in a fetal ball on the floor. But this is the best way to get in front of agents and editors. Consider this scenario--you have a solid literary query backed by a stellar story and you're sending it out to literary agents via email. Another writer has an equally solid story and is pitching it in-person to the same literary agent. Which do you think will have a greater impact on the agent? There's something about facetime, about an agent being able to see the palpable excitement in a writer's eyes, their body language when they talk about their story, the passion they show for their story and the way they talk about their book that has a much greater impact than an email query. I personally feel this is a great way for writers to get their books noticed by an agent or editor--pitching at literary conferences. As part of this final fourth step, I urge you to scout out local conferences in your state. Start slow, with maybe one conference a year. Get your feel wet, and eventually, you will find yourself across the shore on the published side. You will make it, if you believe you can. Good luck!
- The Perfect Manuscript
Hey, you! I gather you're here because you're looking for tips on how to format the perfect manuscript to send out to agents and editors. Whether that's true or not, or whether you're simply looking for tips on how to properly format a written work, I hope you'll find this article useful! Specific to querying, one of the most important steps in successfully landing a book deal with a publisher is having a perfectly formatted manuscript. For an in-depth look at how to successfully get your book published, be sure to check out my blog post "Four Steps to Successfully Get Your Book Published". You've written your story, and I can picture the pride in your eyes. Now, it's time to dress the bride--let's learn how to properly, consistently, and perfectly format your manuscript in a way that an agent or editor would look at it, sigh longingly, and reach back out to you with a big, fat "YES!" Here are the key elements that I believe every manuscript should have in place: Font Type: Your writing font in your formatted manuscript should traditionally be Times New Roman. I know some folks lean toward Courier, but I strongly advise you to stick to Times. Publishers and agents, in my humble opinion, tend to favor this font style. Font Size: Other than your chapter headings and the title and sub-title on your cover page, your manuscript should entirely be in 12-point font size. I once had an agent specifically ask that the manuscript be in 16-point font size. If you specifically get this request, then sure, go for it. But otherwise, I'd stick with the 12-point. Margins: Your entire manuscript should sport a one inch margin. This is, as I understand it, the default setup in Word, but always be sure to check it is set up as such before submitting your manuscript. Line Spacing: Always double-space your document from start to finish. Indent In addition to double-spacing your manuscript, be sure to indent the first line of your manuscript. Here's how in a Word document: a.) Select the contents of your manuscript (Ctrl A) b.) Right click, and from the window of options, select "Paragraph". c.) In the window that opens, look for "Indentation". d.) Under "Indentation" you will see a drop down menu under "Special". e.) From the drop down under "Special" select "First line" and you will see a default setting of 0.5". This is as it should be! Left Alignment Your manuscript should be left aligned. Best way to do this is Ctrl A, followed by Ctrl L or click the left align button on the toolbar in Word. Cover Page Your manuscript cover should include your book title formatted as "Heading 1" in Word, followed by your name under your book title. In the header of your cover page, please be sure to include your name, and page number in the top, center or corner. That's it! I know, right? So near and yet so far? You'll get there. Remember, you've got grit, or else you wouldn't have kept reading all the way down to this line. Smile, dream, and keep writing!
- How to Make "The Best Ever" Tikka Masala
I moved to America when I was twenty-one. I'd never been outside of India where I was born. I'd never travelled oversees to another country, ever. And after almost two decades of living in the same country, seeing the same neighborhoods, the same friends, smelling the same essences of coconut oil, curry, incense, interlaced with a smattering of air pollution, I decided to leave it all behind. I got married and moved to America. It was the Indian-dream--going to America, living the "American life". And now, it was going to become my reality. Was I ready for it? I was sure I was. I was familiar with western culture, although from an Indian vantage point. But I was familiar. By the early 2000s, India had become pretty "westernized". I'd read books by American authors, I'd watched American shows on our Indian TV; I'd eaten burgers and fries at our local snack joint which inevitably tasted of curry. I knew the American phrases ("Got it"..."What's up?"..."Yeah, man"..."Cool"). I'd done all the pertinent things one needed to do to feel ready to face the "real America." But then there was this one phrase that kept cropping up at every discussion I had with my American cousins--the transplanted relatives whose parents had crossed the raging seas back in the sixties and seventies from India over to the U.S. They were the first to leave the safety of the Indian nest and now, after four decades of living in America, they were the official "Indian-Americans" in our Indian family. And they kept harping on something I didn't quite understand: "Culture shock". They kept referring to "culture shock" whenever I voiced my excitement in coming to America. They'd say "Oh yeah, you'll love it here...once you get over the culture shock." Once I what?! What the heck was "culture shock"? I had no freakin' clue. Lucky for me--I'm always lucky like that...you know, when I prefer not to be--I got a taste of the phrase "culture shock" on day one of my arrival. The shows I'd watched, the food I'd eaten, the American phrases, all vaporized into thin air against a western wind. It was different than what I thought it would be. America was different in person than on TV, or in print form. She was beautiful. She was larger-than-life. She had pride, but she knew how to laugh at herself. She had integrity, she had culture. It was shockingly different than what I was used to. "I'm in culture-shock," was my first report back to the homeland. My relatives promised to pray for me. My grandma told me to slow-cook something to calm my nerves, my friends said, "I told you so". It was all very natural. As it should be. Of course, I didn't know that then. But I realize it now, after almost two decades spent in this incredible country. The river ran its course, teaching me the lessons I needed to learn to become who I am today. It was slow, it was painful--sometimes embarrassing. For example, I now know that the red covering on Babybel cheese is not meant to be eaten. It's a coating, not a crust. I was a fast learner, so I learned the ropes. I became, over the decades, the Indian-American immigrant who'd survived "culture shock." One of the things I turned to in my adaptive years in America was comfort food. Food that reminded me of home. Food I loved to eat but also cook for myself and my family. Tikka Masala was one such food item. Tikka masala, for those of you who may not be familiar, is a curry-flavored sauce which you can use as a base for most any Indian dishes. All you need to do is add any kind of protein to your tikka masala sauce, and you're good to go! My aunties used to make this in large batches which they'd use to bang out three different dishes which all incredibly tasted unique, even though they shared the same sauce base. In this blog, other than the ranting I did earlier, I'm going to share my go-to tikka masala recipe. No fancy stuff. But a tikka masala that you can make with your basic pantry items but one that'll taste like you've got Indian DNA in you. So, here goes... Ingredients you'll need to make a batch of Tikka Masala for about four hungry people: 4-5 medium tomatoes* (I like to use Roma, if you're using Beefsteak, just use 2-3)*Tip: The riper the tomato, the better the sauce. 1/4 cup of heavy cream (I like to cheat sometimes and use half n half) four-five large cloves of garlic An inch long piece of ginger 1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder 2 teaspoon coriander powder 1/2 teaspoon red chilli powder (also called "Deggi Mirch" which you can find at your local Indian store or online) 2 teaspoons curry powder or garam masala, whichever you have fenugreek leaves (if you have it, or you can leave it out) 3 tablespoons ghee (if you don't have ghee, use the same amount of olive oil) 1 tablespoons olive oil Salt to taste 1/4 teaspoon of sugar A handful of freshly chopped coriander leaves (if you think it smells like soap, leave it out) Take it over the edge with a splash of kewra water (found in the local grocer store or online) Method: First step is to prep your ingredients. Blend your tomatoes up into a puree. You can go as far with this as you like, depending on the kind of texture that appeals to you. But be sure the tomatoes are not left in small pieces or chunks. Roughly pound your garlic and ginger together, without seeking perfection. Think "rustic". In a saute pan, heat up some ghee* with your olive oil (so the ghee doesn't burn). *Ghee is clarified butter and you can find some excellent quality ghee online or in any of the local grocery stores, not just Indian grocery stores. You'll typically find this product in the baking section, where one would find shortening. If you don't have ghee, just use olive oil all the way. Don't you worry, you'll still get a slam dunk, tikka masala. To your heated oil-ghee, add the freshly pounded ginger-garlic. Saute for just about fifteen-twenty seconds, on low-medium heat. Now add the following spices in no particular order: turmeric, coriander, red chilli powder, curry powder or garam masala, fenugreek leaves*. *Tip: Crush the fenugreek leaves between your fingers before you toss them in. They smell awful by themselves, but they'll have a pixie-dust effect on your tikka masala). Leave out the chilli powder and fenugreek if you don't have these, though. You can find this spice at your local Indian grocery store or online. As soon as you add your spices in, go right ahead and add your tomato puree. If you let the spices roast in the oil too long, even a few extra seconds, they'll burn. Once your tomatoes are in, cook this mixture for at least ten minutes until your tomatoes-spice mixture begins to look almost jam-like. This takes time, and rushing this step could make your dish taste uncooked. So, endure the wait time, until you get the texture. You'll also notice the oil separating from the mixture. At this point, add in your cream or half n/ half. Mix together and add in about a 1/4 cup of water, followed by salt (as much as you like) and a sugar. Cook it about thirty-seconds, turn off the flame, add in some freshly chopped coriander leaves if you like with a splash of kewra water if you have it. Tikka Masala--done! You can add whatever cooked protein you like to your tikka masala sauce, or you can eat it, as is, with rice, or naan, or roti. I hope you'll find this recipe useful. My book, A New Mantra, has lots of fun dishes included in the story, because my heroine, Mira Sood, loves to cook. If you've read the book and would like me to share a recipes for any of the dishes in the book, please let me know in the comments section below. If you have general feedback, I'd love to hear that, too! Enjoy!