Friday, July 22, 2011

My Time at Borders

I was a Borders, Inc. employee from about 1995 until 2004 and I have to say they were one of the better companies I have worked for. They purchased a large music store where I was employed (Planet Music in Virginia Beach) and when they sold the store two years later, I decided to stay with Borders and got a job at Waldenbooks, which they also owned.

They treated their employees well, and although I can’t say they always hired the best store managers, they did tend to hire some pretty knowledgeable, talented people. I had the time of my life working for Waldenbooks and made a lot of friends with other employees as well as customers.

The closest Borders store to me is the one in Virginia Beach, about 60 miles away. I played my music there once and they even sold my CD on consignment. Pretty cool. And their coffee was way better than Starbuck’s (sorry Starbuck’s fans).

One of the draws for me was the fact that they sold tons of multi-media, i.e., video, music and books. But not just in a little room in the back of the store—I’m talking aisles of stuff. They carried music that I just couldn’t find anywhere else without going online or to a specialty store. And as an employee, I got a really awesome discount.

At Planet Music, you could listen to any music before you bought it and we had a huge room that catered specifically to classical music fans. We sold new and used CDs and also had the biggest video and DVD selection you’ve ever seen. It was paradise.

But when they sold the company, I decided to stay with Borders and began as a bookseller at a little stand-alone Waldenbooks in Virginia Beach before becoming assistant manager. Then, writing called and I never looked back.

But I have to say that I will never forget my time working for Borders, shopping in their stores and making so many friends. They were a great company and I will miss them.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Writing a good query letter

Since I am asked about it so much (well, okay, maybe two people asked about it) I have decided to post the query letter for my latest military thriller/dark fantasy, LILITH. So far, I have gotten full manuscript requests from four literary agencies and from what I understand, those are pretty good numbers. Two of the agencies are small, one-person operations, one is medium (three agents) and one is a large New York agency (about eight agents).

This letter has been through several revisions and could go through several more, but as of now, this is the one I’ve been sending out. It pretty much answers the questions agents want answered in a query in a short, succinct way. Feel free to peruse it and get some ideas for writing your own query, if you want. But please, no copying, or I’ll have to tell the teacher! Of course, I personalize each letter so it isn’t the exact same thing every time, but this is the gist of the query:

Before evil had a name, there was Lilith.

Something has come aboard the U.S. Navy’s newest state-of-the-art super carrier, the USS Gerald R. Ford—a creature that has existed since the time of Adam and Eve is masquerading as a human and secretly taking over the ship and her crew.

Reporter Hunter Singleton and his wife, Lisa, are invited aboard the Ford as part of a media tour to witness training operations off the coast of North Carolina. Instead, the couple find themselves in the midst of a nightmare.

The CIA has an operative on board, someone who has been closely watching the creature, following its every move, hoping to find a weakness before it’s too late. But it possesses powers that defy the very laws of nature.

A hurricane materializes practically overnight, taking the ship and her crew by surprise and forcing them to go north. Soon the hurricane gains strength, following close behind the Ford.

The crew discovers that the hurricane, now a category five, is headed directly toward New York Harbor. The Ford is called to assist in the aftermath, but whatever has come aboard has other plans, a terrifying plot that could destroy the carrier and wipe out the entire population of New York City.

The true horror lies not only in the creature’s supernatural abilities, but also in its ultimate goal—to eradicate the human race and become the Earth’s dominant life form.

LILITH by Toby Tate

LILITH is a dark fantasy of about 80,000 words. I feel the target audience for LILITH would be 18-50 year-old men and women who enjoy a good scare, an intricate plot, lots of action and true-to-life characters. It is part of a series featuring man and wife team Hunter and Lisa Singleton.


My first novel, DIABLERO, was published in paperback by Nightbird Publishing in Oct. 2010 and in e-book form by Crossroad Press in March, 2011. It was endorsed by NY Times best-selling author Steve Alten (MEG) and is currently the #2 bestseller at Eagle Eye Book Shop, Atlanta’s #1 indie bookstore. DIABLERO has been nominated for the Southern Independent Booksellers Award (SIBA).

Some of my favorite modern authors include Dan Brown, Douglas Preston, Lincoln Child, Steve Alten, James Rollins, Vince Flynn, Brad Thor, James Patterson, Nelson DeMille, Clive Cussler, Lee Child, Stephen King and Bentley Little. Some of my influences include Ray Bradbury, Stephen King, H.P. Lovecraft, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Robert Heinlein, Rod Serling, Edgar Allen Poe, Jules Verne, J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis and Arthur Conan Doyle.

I am deeply involved in the marketing and promotion of my own books, with over 12,000 hits on my website, over 1,200 friends on Facebook and over 5,000 reads on my Scribd page. I am also on Twitter and have my own blog, “Here There Be Monsters,” which I frequently update. I have done internet radio and newspaper interviews and guest blogs. I have pages on,, and have created a YouTube video for DIABLERO, which has received nearly 2,000 hits. I post often on message boards such as Kindle Boards, Author Nook, Mobile Reads, Absolute Write, and on local North Carolina boards.

I have also done many book signings and question and answer sessions, where I sell anywhere from 20 to 30 books at a time.

I was a newspaper reporter for five years and have also been published in The Pedestal Magazine, Famous Monsters of Filmland, Scary Monsters Magazine and other periodicals. I am currently a freelance writer and journalist with regular articles appearing on and other websites and newspapers.

I am currently working on my third novel in the series, NOCTURNAL, and have ideas for several more in the series and some stand-alone novels.

Thanks for your time and I look forward to hearing from you.

Toby Tate
Author of DIABLERO
Elizabeth City, NC
Phone # here
Visit for
an excerpt from the book, as well as links
to my writing on the publishing industry,
the music industry, and more.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Cashing In and Selling Out

I always hear people talk about authors who are sellouts, i.e. an author that becomes popular. A good example of this is J.K. Rowling. Before becoming a multi-millionaire, Ms. Rowling lived in what most would describe as poverty, eking out a living writing books that weren’t big sellers. The same with Stephen King, who mostly wrote short fiction and taught high school English; or John Grisham, who famously sold his first novel out of the trunk of his car. All of these authors would be considered successful by most standards, but to some, they are sellouts. Why?

People come up with lots of different reasons for thinking someone is a sellout. The biggest offenders are the authors who let someone else publish their books instead of doing it themselves. In the publishing industry, most self-published books are ignored, and for good reason—most have never had the advantage of a good editor going over the manuscript. Words are misspelled, punctuation is off, grammar is atrocious, the plot has more holes than a block of Swiss cheese, the characters are shallow and one-dimensional, or the story just plain stinks.

Don’t get me wrong, I have friends that have published some wonderful books, but virtually anyone with enough money can self-publish. And when it comes time to get an agent to sell your next book, guess what? Your self-published book, unless it was a huge seller, will be counted as a big zero. Unfortunate, but that’s the way the cookie bounces.

Another form of sellout is the writer who decides to write something, perhaps in another genre, that is a breakout best-seller. The loyal fans that had been following her for the last ten or so years are incensed that said writer could do such a thing—sell out to the big corporate publishers and actually—gasp!—make money! How could she?

But it’s not about authors following current trends, though that does happen. I mean, how many vampire novels have you seen lately? But often, an author will tire of writing the same old thing and go a different direction or simply write a book that has wide appeal. A good example of this is Walter Moseley, who writes everything from science fiction to mystery and even erotica. I have author friends with four or five unpublished manuscripts who were ecstatic when they were finally able to sell a novel. Sellouts? Hardly. I call it something else—patience.

I have been asked so many times why I bother trying to find an agent or why I decided to go with an actual publisher for my first book instead of doing it myself and keeping all the rights. But guess what? I retained all the rights to my book after it got published, albeit to a larger audience than I ever could have gotten, or would have had time to get, on my own. My publisher gave me a lot of encouragement and insight, edited my book, listened to my input, printed, distributed and then marketed my book. And they even paid me!

Guess that makes me a sellout.