Friday, December 15, 2017

Elaine Ash, Editor & More, On Publishing

by Paul D. Marks

Since this will be my last post before the holidays, I want to wish everyone a terrific Holiday Season and a Happy New Year!

Today I’d like to welcome Elaine Ash, editor, writer and friend. Elaine was born and grew up in eastern Canada, but calls L.A. home these days. Under the pen name “Anonymous-9,” her crime fiction is included in numerous “Best of” lists every year. It’s won consecutive Readers’ Choice Awards from the House of Crime and Mystery, as well as Best Short Story on the Web, 2009 from Spinetingler Magazine. Anonymous-9 was invented as a blind for her hard-hitting, experimental short stories. Her work has been praised by T. Jefferson Parker, Ray Garton, Johnny Shaw, Douglas Lindsay, Josh Stallings, Robert Randisi and many others.

But Elaine also edits fiction writers, from established authors to emerging talent. As the former editor-at-large for Beat to a Pulp webzine, Elaine worked directly with writers of all genres to develop stories for publication. Some of those writers went on to fame and fortune such as recent Edgar nominee Patti Abbott (Polis), Jay Stringer (Thomas and Mercer), Chris F. Holm (Mulholland), S.W Lauden (Rare Bird), Kieran Shea (Titan), Hilary Davidson (Macmillan) Sophie Littlefield (Minotaur, Delacorte) and more.

Today, she works with private clients, helping them shape manuscripts, acquire agents and land publishing deals. She also ghostwrites and edits for industry clients.

Organizations book her for speaking and teaching engagements, such as West Coast Writers Conferences, the Greater Los Angeles Writers Society, Sisters in Crime, the Mystery Writers of America, the Coffee House Writers’ Group, and more.

Elaine has a new book out called BESTSELLER METRICS. It’s a different approach to writing novels and one definitely worth checking out. But today she’s the perfect person to respond to our question of the week. Take it away, Elaine:

Q: Business—If you were in charge, what big change would you make to the publishing business?

A: I would change the query process. Crafting a great query letter is a specialized skill. Most novelists need help writing a synopsis—they're long distance runners, not sprinters. After creating a full-length novel, the novelist might find it unfair that everything balances upon the fate of a one-page missive. But, that’s the way getting an agent currently works. Until we find a better way, mastery of the query is necessary.

There is a bright spot: The way you summarize your story in a query can translate well to in-person conversations. It focuses the mind on information pros want. Countless writers catch the attention of agents and publishers at conventions or writers’ gatherings with a quick verbal version of a query. This is commonly known as the “elevator pitch” and it’s a 30-seconds-or-less overview of your story, genre, word count and writer’s bio told in short.

Here’s the query synopsis for THE BIG CRESCENDO, a humorous private eye novel by Jonathan Brown:

—Synopsis — When Lou Crasher falls head-over-cymbals for a femme-fatale customer at The Practice Joint, a low-rent studio on the wrong side of  Hollywood, he’s soon embroiled in a musical equipment theft ring. Lou is forced to go undercover armed with only his quick wit and deadly dialogue. Clues lead to a missing colonial snare drum once owned by none other than Frederick Douglass—the African American social reformer and  abolitionist. But this precious artifact is now owned by a degenerate Beverly Hills music producer with a hardcore coke habit, forcing Lou to get funky with druggies and dealers. Good thing Lou can throw a drum stick as straight as a Bowie knife—he’ll need to watch his own back while dealing with local police, who are none too trusting of this amateur sleuth.

(Tip of the hat to Mr. Dan Kelly who added secret wordsmith sauce.)

Here’s the same synopsis translated into a more casual, conversational elevator pitch:

Lou Crasher is a journeyman rock drummer and an amateur P.I. His day job is working at a rehearsal space in Hollywood called the L.A. Practice Space. When the place gets robbed, Lou agrees to get the gear back for one of the musicians, Angela, because she happens to be a dime-piece knockout.
His thought is: get the gear—get the girl.

The trail leads him to a theft ring, which later takes him to a very rare snare drum once owned by Frederick Douglass, but currently owned by a big time coke-head Hollywood music producer. As Lou falls hard for Angela he bumps up against a dangerous drug dealer, the cops get involved, and there’s a dangerous little pissant bent on taking Lou out of the picture for good!

 See how that works better for casual conversation face-to-face?

There’s a lot of information out there on crafting a query, but not so much on pitching in a live situation. The key is to be practiced and ready. Be prepared to mention the word count, the genre, and a few writerly accomplishments without fumbling for information on the spot. You want to appear practiced and smooth.

When your query letter grabs agents, most will google your name. This instantly reveals if you have a social media presence, a blog post or two, and if you have a website. The more presence you have online, the more weight it lends the query.

Be mindful of your attitude as you compose. You’re ready to tell the world about your story, so be positive and confident. Seriously, get in the mood; watch a comedy, even have your mother tell you how wonderful you are. Whatever it takes, get a good state of mind going. Your energy and positivity will translate to the letter.

Agents and publishers really do want to hear from you. Their businesses depend upon you, the creator of fresh material. If cramming it all into one page causes stress, remember that a query is nothing more than a taste and a tease. It’s meant to pique interest, not tell the whole story or relay your entire history as a writer. A few highlights will suffice.

If the prospect of querying still fills you with dread, all is not lost. You can outsource the whole shebang to someone like me, who will synopsize your story, whip up a letter, source the right agents and handle correspondence.

For a free pdf copy of my query guidelines and samples, please go to and use the contact form to make a request. A free copy will be sent to you.

Thank you for stopping by Elaine!

And now for the usual BSP:

Check out my website:


Lawrence Maddox said...

That was very helpful. Thank you Paul and Elaine!

Dietrich Kalteis said...

Thanks for having Elaine stop by, Paul. And thanks Elaine, that's great advice.

Cathy Ace said...

Truly helpful advice. Thanks :-)

EA said...

I'm so happy to hear from you,Lawrence, Dietrich and Cathy. It was a blast doing the interview with Paul.

Anonymous said...

Elaine, This is a helpful post. I'm looking forward to working with you in the coming months.

Paul, thanks for the intro.

EA said...

Maggie, Hiya! Thanks for dropping by. Can't wait until your ms is ready. Also, I'd like to give author Albert Tucher a shout-out as he helped me with some of these answers. Thanks Al!

Also, I'll be checking comments and if anybody has a question just throw it at me. I'll answer here.

Sarah M. Chen said...

Great post! Thanks, Paul, for bringing Elaine on. And I LOVE that Lou Crasher made an appearance as well! :)

EA said...

Hi Sarah, I just came back from a SoCal Writers Association meeting and CLEANING UP FINN was mentioned just before Matt Coyle took the podium. Small world.

Dan said...

I believe Elaine is offering an almost revolutionary service here. It doesn't seem fair, but we all need to develop a brand new skill (querying) after finishing our books. And Elaine has been focused on this skill like a laser, the same way she has mastered the elements of writing a bestseller.

Thanks to Paul D. Marks for lending his Criminal Minds soap box for this important topic.

JB said...

Hey Paul, thanks so much for having the brilliant Elaine Ash as your guest. And thank you Elaine for using my query for The Big Crescendo as your example: I'm honored! Tip o' the cap to you Elaine, it's been an absolute creative blast working with you! I can't wait to send you my next ms now that you know (and dig) Lou Crasher.

Paul btw I'm knee deep into White Heat and truly digging it. It's taken me back to the time when I was a budding young rock drummer living in Hollywood.

Hey, hey Sarah M. Chen thanks for the shout out on this rockin' platform.

Paul D. Marks said...

Thanks, everyone for your comments. And, of course, Elaine for stopping by.

And Dan,I'm glad to be able to give Elaine this space.

And JB, The Big Crescendo is a great example. And thanks for your comment on White Heat. I really appreciate it.