I had the pleasure of hanging out with author and editor Chuck Sambuchino of Writer’s Digest Books last summer at the first Texas Writing Retreat. Chuck edits the GUIDE TO LITERARY AGENTS and the CHILDREN’S WRITER’S & ILLUSTRATOR’S MARKET. His Guide to Literary Agents Blog is one of the largest blogs in publishing.
Chuck is a great guy–fun and entertaining. He also is a gifted author, editor, and writing consigliere! Chuck’s 2010 humor book, HOW TO SURVIVE A GARDEN GNOME ATTACK, was optioned by Sony Pictures. Chuck has also written the writing guides FORMATTING & SUBMITTING YOUR MANUSCRIPT and CREATE YOUR WRITER PLATFORM. For all you aspiring writers out there, Chuck is a freelance book & query editor, and he’s also a husband, sleep-deprived new father, and owner of a flabby-yet-lovable dog named Graham. Find Chuck on Twitter and on Facebook.
Below are my five questions to Chuck and his answers. Thanks for your time and for your insights, Chuck! Hope to see you soon!
1. What is the single most important tool an author must utilize to build his or her author platform?
There is not a single important tool, exactly. Some people may focus on a blog while others focus on Twitter while others focus on a mailed newsletter, etc. The means is different for everyone. I would say two things, though: 1) Everyone should at least have a basic author website — even if that site is just one stagnant page. 2) Everyone should drive to give readers an incentive to follow them. Don’t start a blog or social media outlet and simply expect followers or listeners. You must give them a reason to come.
2. What are the TWO most common errors you see authors make in drafting their query letters?
Some people simply don’t understand that a pitch can run up to 10 sentences, and they just give a few quick lines about their book (that convey little/nothing) and then wrap it up. In other words, the pitch is too short. Another problem is a generic/vague pitch with no specific details. A lot of people write novels, so you have to try and explain what makes your story unique or interesting.
3. What are the three most common errors you see authors make in drafting their synopses?
People haven’t seen examples of synopses and don’t understand exactly what they are, or what they should do.
They’re too long. Nowadays, a lot of agents ask for one-page synopses, so that’s what you should be shooting for.
They have confusing elements. A synopsis must be clear. If you can’t explain the story without confusing the reader, then the logical thought is that the novel will be confusing, as well. Use simple, clean language.
4. In your opinion, what must occur on page one of a manuscript, and what must not occur on that page?
There are exceptions to every rule, but that said, I do believe that Page 1 has to have some kind of problem, conflict, tension or trouble. Pull us in and make us want to know more. A big thing to avoid on Page 1 is simply a full page of description. There is definitely room for description in a novel, but if you spend the entire first page explaining how a place looks, it will bore the reader.
5. What inspired you to write How to Survive a Garden Gnome Attack (2010) (Film rights optioned by Sony & Robert Zemeckis)?
I was thinking about the 1997 UK comedy THE FULL MONTY and remembered a funny garden gnome scene in it. That got me thinking about how awful and tacky gnomes actually are. But then I started to worry that some were spying on me right that moment. The more spooked I got, the more jokes developed. That was the genesis. I wrote notes and jokes for an hour that afternoon before the thought left my head.