Monday, March 29, 2010

Query Components

Obviously, the first step to getting published is to write…then rewrite…then rewrite again, and again, and again.  You want to put forth your best effort.  First, or even early drafts are NEVER best effort. I've talked about that a couple times on this blog, here and here, and probably in a few other posts as well. But what do you do once you've reached "ready"?


Now, with magazine articles or other periodicals or nonfiction books, you don’t always have to have the entire piece written beforehand. This is good news! If you have an idea for an article but haven’t written it yet, you can submit a query letter and hope the editor then asks you to write it. Keep in mind, though, first drafts of query letters are NEVER best effort, either.  So, it’s very important to take time to edit yourself and look for ways to improve the piece. Have others read it and give their suggestions.  Participating in a writers’ group is very beneficial.  I would not have gotten my first article published if not for the gentle wisdom of my writers’ group peers.

So what is a query letter? It is a one-page letter used to get an editor or agent interested in your idea. When you query magazines, you’re trying to get the editor to buy your article or idea. When you query book publishers and agents, you’re trying to get the editor or agent interested enough to request a full proposal or the entire manuscript. It’s basically a sales pitch, and it needs to be very well-written. 

Writer’s Market, put out annually by Writer's Digest Books, contains a query letter clinic which gives examples of good and bad queries and details what made each good or bad. According to their experts, a successful query letter consists of four key components:  Be as sharp and concise as possible.

1) Author’s authority/qualifications: The author's authority is simply your expertise. The editor might like your idea, but why should he trust you to write it? What makes you the person to write this article?

2) The need for this book/article: Why do readers need this information? In this information age, it's relatively easy to get answers to pretty much any question, so why should this editor print this story?

3) Specifics about the book/article/story/idea: Ok, here is where you tell the editor what your article is about. Here is your hook. In ONE sentence, in a very interesting and appealing way, summarize your idea. This takes practice. In fact, I've had writers bring one-sentence summaries to critique meetings and work on that one little sentence the entire time.

4) Suggested word count: This is self-explanatory. Tell how long you anticipate the finished article to be. Please be sure to check the publication's writer's guidelines before you query! You want to make sure your topic is a good fit, but you also need to know what they expect, their word count limits, formatting, etc.

As I mentioned in a previous post, always be formal and professional. Address the editor by name (Mr. or Ms.), and make sure your name and contact information are complete. If mailing by snail mail, be sure to sign your letter. Editors and agents receive several hundred submissions each week. You want your letter to stand out because it is well-written and your idea is well-presented. Fancy fonts and pretty stationery are unprofessional and will usually land your submission in the garbage. Small details, like misspelling the agent’s name or mixing up your words (i.e. I’ve written a nonfiction novel… huh?) make a poor impression and can quickly lead to rejection. 

Are you ready? Get set. Query!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Andrea Carter and the Trouble with Treasure, by Susan K. Marlow

I finished reading Andrea Carter and the Trouble with Treasure today. It's a nail-biter! Lots of suspense, lots of action, lots of trouble. This fifth book in Susan K. Marlow’s Circle C Adventures series for ‘tweens continues to showcase the author’s readability and appeal to the younger audience.

Main character Andi Carter has recently turned thirteen and is struggling with the idea of growing up. After innocent horseplay lands Andi and her friends in jail, they venture into the Sierra Nevada mountains to pan for gold and leave their troubles behind. But trouble finds them. A shootout with bank robbers leaves her brother seriously injured and sheltered in a remote cabin. Andi must nurse him to health and fend off some serious dangers while keeping hope alive.

Andi is able to count on her friends to get through the tough times and comes to find out that treasure is more than just a handful of shiny gold.

Once back home on the Circle C Ranch near Fresno, California, with her brother on the mend, Andi realizes growing up might not be such a bad idea after all. She recalls her brother’s words to her from their first night on the trail, “I’d rather have a sensible young woman around—one who can think clearly and do what’s got to be done,” and rather likes the idea of being considered sensible.

While this book is the fifth in the series, Trouble with Treasure is quite enjoyable on its own and can stand alone. I do recommend reading books one through four, though, to get to know Andi, her friends, and her family, and to catch a glimpse of the Old West and 1880s America.

For further study, a FREE enrichment study guide is available for Trouble with Treasure and includes a geography study, a vocabulary list, and a recipe for Andi’s Beef [Jerky] Broth, as well as web links of period photos, an Annie Oakley word puzzle, and a creative rattlesnake craft. Click the PDF graphic at the bottom of Susan’s website to download. Lapbooks are available by separate purchase for grades 3-6. You can sample Susan’s panning for gold activity at this Magical Mouse Schoolhouse feature.

Read more about Susan in this Aim for Perfection Editing interview or by visiting her website. Be on the lookout this fall for Susan’s sixth and final Circle C Adventures installment, Andrea Carter and the Price of Truth. Andi's adventures are not concluding, however. Soon younger children can learn to read with Circle C Beginnings, an upcoming series of early reader chapter books that introduce a six-year-old Andi to the elementary audience. Each Circle C Beginnings book will have color covers and illustrated pictures. Look for Pony Trouble next winter. Visit Andi’s blog for an adorable treat to hear little Andi herself tell all about it.

The Circle C Adventures series is wholesome reading for the entire family.

Compensation Disclosure: I received one complimentary copy of this book from Kregel in exchange for reviewing it on my blog.

Monday, March 8, 2010

When the Picture Fades

Has this ever happened to you? You start a project with great energy. Your fingers fly across the keyboard. You write a page or two or fifteen. You down a pot of coffee to stay alert and try to keep up with the action. Your characters speak—and you hear them. You watch them dance. You fear for their lives. You cry their tears.

Then the picture fades.

What do you do? What happens when the spark goes out? Do you quit? Give up? Take a nap?

Here’s what you do. You clean the toilet, scrub the shower, and mop the floor. When you’re done, you wash your hands, of course, then you sit back down and stare blankly at your computer screen. You read your piece out loud very slowly, noting strong areas and highlighting weak spots. You listen to your own inflections and mark the sentences you tripped over. And you ask yourself the following questions:
  • Who cares? Is your story worth a reader’s time?
  • How did this happen? Did I exploit nouns and verbs?
  • Does it matter? Is every aspect significant?

You want to write something that people will read. Reading a book, short story, or article is a time investment. Offer something of value to your audience.

Eliminate as many gerunds and participles as possible. Minimize adverbs and adjectives. Reduce clauses. Show, don’t tell. Appeal to the senses.

Give your reader credit. Trust that he/she knows things like tears are salty and oceans are sandy, but do authenticate your characters with unique details. If your characters came to life, you’d want your readers to recognize them.

Now take another look. Has the vibrance returned? If not, go eat a snack, start a load of laundry, and give the dog a bath. And try again tomorrow.

This sums it up ;)

This sums it up ;)