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Writing For Star Trek Part III: The Star Trek Book

By Joseph D. Di Lella
Posted at October 31, 2002 - 12:52 AM GMT

In Part One, we learned about the lives of several famous Star Trek writers, what it takes to write for Enterprise, and discovered a few new insights about the creative forces driving successful writers today. In Part Two, we looked at one way to start off a Trek writing career - in short stories.

This week, in part three we'll examine just what it takes to write a Star Trek novel. Get your typewriters, PADDs or chewed biros at the ready and read on...

Writing a Book Proposal - Non-Fiction and Fiction

A Bumpy Road Awaits

This is not an level, graded path to take, authors. It's a lot like driving to Las Vegas from San Diego in late August, during mid-day traffic. Lots of hills, miserable heat and crazy drivers. It's hardly worth the strenuous effort, considering you'll probably lose all your money to the casinos anyway.

Why the comparison? I traversed this travel route to attend the Slanted Fedora Convention ('Star Trek Bridge Party For the Fans') of this year. In fact, if you missed it, you may access my report here and here. Free admission. Great time. I'm not sure if I'd make that same drive again, in February, to see thirty actors, even though that includes the rarely seen, reclusive actor, Avery Brooks (Captain Sisko). Still, I might be motivated to see Jolene Blalock (T'Pol) out of that Vulcan wig. And to think, she attended high school in San Diego, just down the road from my home.

Back to the trip analogy, you are the driver (writer) of the car (book proposal). As an author, you need to weigh to pluses and minuses of taking the trip [writing the book proposal]. The pounding heat represents the long, cruel days and nights you need for writing and revision. The casino that takes your money? The agent (crazy driver) you may find [which is an incredibly difficult process alone] who makes grand promises, then can't place the work with a publisher. Or it could be the editor (police officer who gives you the speeding ticket on your trip to Vegas) who asks to see the entire book, without contract in hand. Could you accept the "thanks, but no thanks" speech after you've devoted months of your life to creating the masterpiece he/she calls a Frankenstein?

Speaking of a monstrous situation, I met a man who was offered a huge literary contract to complete a non-fiction book about prominent political administrations of the late 1960's, early 70's. Doesn't appear so bad, right? Sounded like a pretty sweet deal to me, at first.

This writer received the normal advance (one third share of the contract), wrote well over three-hundred pages, then turned the draft over to the editor of the major publishing house. No problem, right? Wrong. The editor balked, telling the author the focus of the manuscript should not have been him, the minor player, but the high level politicians he served under. Well, the author declined to pen the re-write. He kept his advance; and although the publishing house cried, 'foul,' they never went through with their lawsuit.

In the end, you could have a similar problem. Hundreds of hours of work invested in that 75-150 page proposal/manuscript. If it's turned down at any stage, and you don't have the 'chops' to make the proper or desired revisions, you have the option of either giving up as a book writer, throwing it all in the paper shredder, or beginning a new project with the same or a new agent.

After the pep talk, are you ready to learn about this specialized and time consuming writing process? I'm not. I'm depressed. Still, if I don't complete this assignment, TrekToday webmaster Christian won't pay me the 25 cent a word promised for this article. Are you listening, Christian? Is the check in the mail? What check, you say? Let's go on anyway...

The Query Letter

You have a choice. You can either spend countless days creating the modest proposal, chapter abstracts and partially completed manuscript, or you can send out a query letter first to find a literary agent interested in representing you. If you send the letter first, you better have an in-progress work going. You must not indicate to any agent that you're all talk and no action (no work to back up your marvelous claim/idea).

A book query is a one page letter. It is divided into four main segments. That's the trick. Articulating your thoughts clearly, concisely and in a comprehensive manner. Try that in 225 words or less.

The opening paragraph is an 'overview' of the book concept. This is where you 'wow' the reader with the concept. Make sure the topic sentence [first line] peaks their interest. It is often said that if you don't hold someone's interest by the first five words, you've lost their attention.

The second paragraph reveals the 'marketplace' of the book you're promoting. Tell the agent what's out there and how your book fills the gap. Go to the bookstore to make sure someone hasn't already published your great idea.

The third is the 'approach' paragraph. It tells the agent your unique way of presenting your idea in the book. In other words, tell them about the organization, style, word count, etc., of your book. This may be the key paragraph of the letter.

And four, tell the reader your qualifications. What's your highest education level? Have you written this type of material before in a journal, magazine, newspaper?

The fifth paragraph simply tells the agent/editor you hope to hear from him/her soon and offers 'thanks' for reading the letter. Don't forget to send a resume and SASE (self-addressed, stamped envelop) or you'll never receive a reply.

If you can write this well, your foot is in the door. As a beginning writer, that's what you must do to succeed. If you write a great proposal and a crummy query, you have no chance of finding representation. You may include a resume with the query letter. Remember: you are not allowed to send the proposal, until asked by the agent.

I lucked-out on my first Star Trek book query to agents. First, I scanned the marketplace in the local bookstores. Second, I looked to the internet and researched trek books published over the years. Third, I spent several weeks outlining new ways to meld Trek into a self-help book. Lastly, I made a brilliant leap of logic, crossing over religion and Sci Fi, thus, stumbling upon a winning idea. Shortly afterwards, I composed my query letter.

The results? I ended up with first three of the first five agents I queried (one agent in particular the biggest name in America called me at home and begged for representation rights) saying they wanted to see my work. The hardest part occurred when I moved from the idea stage (query letter) to writing the 'perfect' proposal, generating abstracts and the sample chapters. Three months and one hundred and eighty-five pages later, I sent my work to the agent.

The Book Proposal

The best 'how-to' book I've found on the reference shelve is Jeff Herman's, Literary Guide to Agents and Publishers, 2003-2004: Who They Are, What They Want and How to Win Them Over. Another fine book is Herman's How to Write a Perfect Book Proposal: 10 That Sold and Why. Jeff makes the hardest thing you'll ever do seem simple. In Jeff Herman's Guide to Literary Agents and Publishers, the author gives you easy to follow directions, excellent models, optimistic, but straight talk about what it takes to write the perfect proposal.

The Proposal

There are six elements to composing a book proposal: overview, competition, market analysis, approach, promotion and author's biography. After completing these six sections, one must write chapter abstracts [for fiction and non-fiction Star Trek books] and a sample chapter(s). In a sense, the proposal is simply a query letter made fuller and richer by the writer making his/her point in a longer winded fashion.

Any Star Trek 'overview' should place the work in its cultural context. As a Trek writer, tell the audience why this Sci Fi storyline works. Discuss its broad context of television and movie popularity domestically and internationally. Certainly, speak to the large books sales around the world.

Then, when the mood is right, hit the reader with your concept for designing the perfect Trek book that will make you, your agent and the publisher lots of cash. If explained in a robust, self-assured fashion (no bragging, just plot out the idea succinctly), you'll have caught the attention of the agent/editor.

The 'competition' section puts your idea in context with other books in the marketplace (past and present). Tell the reader what your book closely aligns itself to in the a Trek fiction series or non-fiction book line. Is your book more for business people like, 'Make it So: Leadership Lessons From Star Trek, Next Generation' (Ross and Roberts)? Is it a self-help book in the tradition of, 'All I Needed to Know I Learned by Watching Star Trek' (Marinaccio)? Does your book provide much desired, but little known trivia knowledge such as found in the book, 'The Nitpicker's Guide For Next Generation Trekkers' (Ferrand and Crosby)? Find the particular category, pinpoint it for the reader, and show how your book fits in nicely.

The 'market analysis' it like a economic forecast chart. You need to prove your point strongly: your book will make back the money in initial publishing cost plus MORE. Research this information on the internet, fan magazines, etc., to show sale figures over the past three, five or even ten years.

The 'approach' section is just as critical as it was in the query letter. You've talked about the commercial value of Star Trek books, in general, in the previous pages (market analysis). What matters now is that you have a specific plan in mind for your book. Articulate it in a precise, clear fashion.

A full 'table of contents' (TOC) is a definite plus. Your may use the TOC as a spring board to writing your abstracts latter on in the proposal. In fact, the TOC is the key to showing others you have a clear concept of the compete layout of the book. Personally, I wouldn't write the 'approach' section until I had a completed TOC.

'Promotion' angles of the book is a projection, a promise of what you are willing to do to sell the goods. Will you do radio and television spots for the publisher? Will you go to book signings? How can you, as an individual, become a respectable spokesperson for the first printing run?

An author's biography is a simple thing to write. Just the facts, shown in a positive light. It's just a glorified resume.

Abstracts, at least for an agent's knowledge, should tell the story of a complete chapter. Three, five, fifteen pages. Whatever it takes. Same with a sample chapter.

Simon and Schuster desire the first three chapters outlined for their fiction line. See their website, and the section titled, 'Simon Says,' offered to perspective Trek fiction writers, for further details. But you need an invite, or an agent you can slide it into the right editor's hands.

Don't go at this in the dark. Go to any search engine on the internet and punch in: 'Star Trek books: Self-help and Religious,' to find a great resource for identifying recent Trek publications. In, 'The Complete Starfleet Library' section of the site, take a look at the authorized and unauthorized non-fiction book list. It's a good barometer to see what type of books hit the shelves on a regular basis.

Where does your in-progress, manuscript fit in? Take special care when looking at the 'table of contents' of these books. If your concept is strong, it must make a rather dent into a minor area, i.e., expand the notion so it's more than fifty pages. If your idea can not be stretched over 200-300 pages in finished form, re-think the project.

Now you've got the Trek book business down pat, let's look at how to write a teleplay... in the next part of this series.

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Joseph D. Di Lella is a freelance writer and pannelist at the San Diego Comic Con. He can be reached via this page at AllExperts.com.

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