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First, because I have a great many aspiring authors who follow this blog, would you share your query letter here, and tell us why you think it got a response? Also, you've had sort of a tumultuous ride to publication--can you share that with my readers, as well?
I actually had two successful query letters for Water Dreams. The first query was to Secret Cravings. It was the first publisher I queried and I was shocked that my manuscript was accepted. Unfortunately, Secret Cravings declared bankruptcy ten days after my book released as an eBook. The book was removed from the market with all the others from Secret Cravings and I had to find another publisher. I only submitted Water Dreams to two others before Foundations, LLC accepted it. One of the publishers that didn’t accept the book asked for a full manuscript based on the query letter. I will include copies of both query letters, which were similar but not exactly alike. I think there were several reasons why these query letters were so successful. First, I reviewed a lot of other successful query letters and patterned mine after them. I tried to hook the editor with an intriguing first sentence. Then, I provided enough information about the book so that the editor knew a little about the main characters, their problems, the word count, genre, and that the book was complete.
For the first query, I didn’t have any publication history, but I listed my membership in Sunshine StateRomance Authors (SSRA) and my PRO status with Romance Writers of America, to let the editor know that I am a serious writer. For the query to Foundations, I was able to list my successful publication with Secret Cravings and tell them that the rights to the book had reverted to me after the bankruptcy.
One of the most important things I did was research the publishers before I submitted. I studied their websites and found out everything I could about them before I sent my query. Then I made sure I complied with their submission guidelines completely. In the case of Secret Cravings, I even downloaded their style guide and formatted my manuscript according to their requirements. The idea was that when the editor looked at it, he or she would realize there would be a minimum amount of editing required because I had already done a lot of the work.
Finally, I found a connection with both publishers that might help my book stand out from the slush pile. Several fellow members of SSRA published with Secret Cravings and one suggested I use her name when I queried. I took her name out of the letter included here, but I mentioned her in the letter to the editor. I wouldn’t do this without permission, but since she suggested it, I took her up on it. I decided to submit to Foundations because I found my cover artist from Secret Cravings on their staff list. I loved the cover she designed for me and wanted to use it again, so I said that in the query letter. It not only provided a connection with them, it gave them the opportunity to ask her about me and what I was like to work with, if they wanted to do so.
If all of this sounds like a lot of work, believe me, it was. I spent many hours preparing my query letters and submission packets. However, I think it was better than a scattershot approach, querying and submitting everywhere and getting many rejections.
Here are the two query letters. The first is the one for Secret Cravings.
“The Heartless Mermaid,” a wooden sculpture recently purchased by Nik’s boss, hangs on the wall at Sponger Souvenirs, the shop where Nik (not Niki) Aronopulos works, in the small Greek community of Tarpon Springs, Florida. It carries an air of menace, frightening her more than an inanimate object should. It almost makes her want to quit her job, but she refuses to let an old piece of wood get the better of her.
When a mysterious stranger enters the shop and echoes her thoughts about the creepy carving, Nik agrees. However, when he tells her that he is a kind of wizard, and that mermaids are real and interested in her, she figures he’s a con artist. She’s too smart to fall for his line. Then she meets the gorgeous, but arrogant, Bas, who insists that in water he shape-shifts into one of the mermen—they call themselves Nerei, a name derived from a Greek word for sea nymphs--and her father was one of them too. Bas turns Nik’s life into a tale that could come straight out of Greek mythology. She must fight tricky mermaids, kidnappers, a water phobia, recurrent nightmares, and her growing attraction to both the con artist (aka swamp mage) and the lunatic, Bas.
Bas knows he and his twin need to convince Nik to cooperate with their testing, so they can determine why she is able to survive away from water, while they are dependent on it for life. Although he considers her an inferior crossbreed, he can’t stop thinking about her. Since she refuses to help them, and the Nerei forbid interspecies relationships, he’s on the hook.
Bas and Nik have to bridge the gulf, for the sake of everyone, especially the two of them.
Complete at approximately 93,000 words, this paranormal romance explores what happens when a contemporary Greek girl meets her soul mate—only sometimes, he has a tail. It is the first of a planned series of three books about the world of shape-shifting mermaids (Nerei), Swamp Mages and humans involved with them.
I am an active member of Sunshine State Romance Authors and colleague of (Name Removed), who publishes with Secret Cravings. I have obtained PRO status with Romance Writers of America.
Enclosed, please see the synopsis and complete manuscript for Water Dreams. I look forward to hearing from you soon. I plan to submit this work simultaneously to other publishers, but Secret Cravings is my first choice. I reviewed paranormal novels offered on your website and think this work is a good fit, because you provide your readers with a number of books about shape-shifters, but none of them are mermaids. I believe this book will work well with the other shifter books and at the same time offer your readers a different take on this popular concept.
Katherine Eddinger Smits
Here is the one for Foundations:
Nik believes she is an average Greek-American, except for her phobia about water. When she gets a glimpse of gorgeous Bas at a disastrous Epiphany cross dive in her hometown of Tarpon Springs, Florida, she is fascinated but surprised at her interest in a tourist. Then a man who claims he is a swamp mage warns her not to trust strangers who want something from her. She thinks he is a con artist and dismisses his advice. When she runs into Bas again and he tells her he is a Nerei, a race of merfolk who shape-shift and need her help, she decides he is a lunatic.
Bas must convince Nik to cooperate with testing, so his species can determine why she is able to survive out of water, while Nerei, who share DNA with her, cannot. Although he considers her an inferior crossbreed, he can’t stop thinking about her. Since she refuses to help them, and the Nerei forbid interspecies relationships, he’s on the hook.
Complete at approximately 83,000 words, this contemporary paranormal romance explores what happens when a young woman meets her soul mate, who is a merman. It is the first of a planned trilogy about the world of Nerei, Swamp Mages and the humans involved with them.
I am an active member of Sunshine State Romance Authors and I have obtained PRO status with Romance Writers of America.
Sweet Cravings Publishing, a division of Secret Cravings Publishing, digitally published Water Dreams, Book One of the Love’s Siren Song series, on Aug. 21, 2015. On Sept. 1, 2015, Secret Cravings declared bankruptcy and the book is no longer available. All rights reverted to me. I will provide a copy of the reversion letter, if requested. The book was only for sale for ten days, but in that time, it reached number one on the Sweet Cravings Top Sellers list.
I was pleased to discover that Dawne′ Dominque, who designed the cover for Water Dreams, is a Foundations Books staff member. I decided to submit to you because I loved the cover and was impressed with her professionalism.
I look forward to hearing from you.
Katherine E. Smits
If you noticed that in the second letter, the word count went from 93,000 to 83,000, that’s because I edited it again before querying Foundations and cut another 10,000 words. The second query letter is also shorter than the first one and I think a better-crafted letter. The effect of practice!
Thanks for sharing your story and your letters! You are a perfect example of the tenacity every writer NEEDS to have to be successful! Tell me, what do you think is THE most important thing writers can do for themselves to get an agent/publisher in today's market?
I say this to anyone who will listen (and some who won’t), join a writer’s group. RWA and local chapters are the best. They keep you informed on everything you need to know about the publishing business, provide support, teach you the craft and more. I am so grateful to SSRA for all the help the members gave me. I’m sure I wouldn’t be published without them.
If you could have done anything differently with your writing career so far, what would it be?
It would be nice if I had a crystal ball and knew in advance that Secret Cravings would declare bankruptcy. I would have been prepared for the shock and pain of losing my book so soon after it was born. However, I think I would still have published with them. It was a foot in the door. If I could do anything differently, I wouldn’t wait so long to start writing or waste so much time not writing and not finishing my first book. It took seven years before publication, but most of the time I only worked on it occasionally. After I joined SSRA, I rewrote it several times and had it published within a year.
Who are your writing role models, and how have they influenced you?
My grandmother was my first role model. She wrote and published a book of recipes and stories of growing up on a farm in New Hampshire. She did this when she was in her 70’s and I was a teenager. Macmillan published the book and it had several editions, including hard cover and paperback. That was before digital publishing, when it was unheard of for an unknown to land a contract with a major publishing house, especially with a cookbook, but she did it. Knowing that she accomplished this gave me hope that I could publish too.
My other role models are the members of SSRA who are published authors. I learn absolutely everything I can from them about the craft.
For my own writing, I don’t have anyone I consciously use as a role model. I try to nurture my own voice and tell the stories I would enjoy reading. I have been a voracious reader my whole life of everything, although more fiction than nonfiction. I am sure I have been influenced by many authors over time. Stephen King is like the god of fiction for me. There are too many others to mention.
LOL--I agree about Stephen King! He is pretty incredible! Do you have any upcoming releases? If so, tell us about it!
No new releases yet, but I have one manuscript in rough draft that I’m editing. It’s another contemporary paranormal romance set in Florida. The working title is Witch Trial Legacy. Sybilla Sanborn sees visions of future tragedies but no one believes her when she tries to warn them and she is not able to stop the events she foresees. She moves to Cassadaga, Florida where she hopes the mediums who live there can help her find a way to help prevent these horrible events. Conn is an Iraq war vet left with physical and emotional scars, who doesn’t believe in psychic phenomena. They will need each other to heal their own pain and save the lives of many others. However, will they be able to overcome judgement, prejudice, and fear in order to do so? Also, I have the second book in the Love’s Siren Song series outlined and the first chapter posted on my website. I put it up because so many people asked me about what happens next, that I wanted to give them a little something, like an appetizer. (Warning: it includes spoilers of the first book.) I intend to have the rough draft finished by the end of this year. I hope that I’ll be able to edit it and get it published in a reasonable amount of time after that.
What's one fact about you that most people don't know.
I’m left-handed. Most people don’t notice because I do a lot of things right-handed, like use a computer mouse. However, if you ever go out to dinner with me, you will know, because I insist on sitting where I won’t bump elbows with anyone. I hate that.
Life is harder for a leftie, I'm convinced! Okay, I know people will want to check you out online. Can you give us your website links and contact information?
Sure. My website is: www.katherinesmits.com I’m on Facebook as Kathy Eddinger Smits and my Facebook author page is Katherine Eddinger Smits. My twitter handle is @katherinesmits. I don’t tweet a lot, but I’m trying to do it more often. You can also find me on the Foundations, LLC author page at www.foundationsbooks.com and my e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Water Dreams -- Blurb:
Katherine Smits Bio:
Water Dreams -- Blurb:
Nik—an outwardly normal young woman terrified by water, living in the Greek-American town of Tarpon Springs, Florida.
Bas—a shapeshifter merman tasked with obtaining Nik’s help to gain what his species most desires.
The Nerei—a race of beings who want humans to continue to believe they are mythological.
What happens when Nik refuses to help Bas and the Nerei?
How will Nik and Bas save each other when they fall in love, against his species laws?
Katherine Smits Bio:
Katherine Eddinger Smits grew up in Tarpon Springs, Florida. Although not from a Greek background, she fell in love with the Greek culture of the town and its close-knit families. She moved away years ago, but she still visits Tarpon Springs frequently to visit old friends and classmates, walk the beaches or shop and eat at the Sponge Docks.
Katherine started writing stories in grade school and always intended to write novels someday. However, she put off writing fiction while she raised her family and worked as a clinical social worker at four different Veterans Affairs Medical Centers around the country. She was devastated to learn that her first career choice—mermaid, was not realistic. However, Katherine found helping veterans and their families fulfilling, and managed to squeeze writing into her life. Whether it was writing clinical assessments, creating brochures for social programs, or putting together newsletters for clubs and organizations, she always had some kind of writing project in the works.
Katherine lives with her husband in Homosassa, Florida and Falling Waters, West Virginia. They have a daughter who lives in Alexandria, Virginia and a son, daughter-in-law and granddaughter who reside in Chesapeake, Virginia.
Water Dreams, Katherine’s debut novel, is a paranormal romance set in Tarpon Springs, Florida and is the first book in the Love’s Siren Song series. Available now from Foundations www.foundationsbooks.com or Amazon.
Thanks for being so candid and helpful today, Katherine! I so appreciate it, and can't wait to read my copy of WATER DREAMS! :)