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Right Writing News, July 27, 2007, Issue #28
July 27, 2007
Welcome to the 28th issue to subscribers of Right Writing News. If you are reading this issue forwarded from someone, be sure and use the link below to get your own free subscription.
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Table of Contents1) Must Be Willing To Learn
By W. Terry Whalin
2) Quit Your Day Job & Write For A Living
By Jim Denney
3) New Math Equals FREE Publicity
By Carolyn Howard-Johnson
4) Looking For A Few More Affiliates
By W. Terry Whalin
5) Simple Ways To Keep Going When You Feel Like Quitting
By Karen O'Connor
6) In My Humble But Expert Opinion
By Andrea Campbell
7) Two Writing Opportunities
8) Practicing PitchCraft
By Katharine Sands
9) The #1 Ingredient for Successful Children's Writing Is...
Must Be Willing To Learn
By W. Terry Whalin
Successful authors are continually growing in their writing life. They certainly deserve a certain amount of respect for their creation of a bestselling product or book. But they aren't pushy about demanding this respect nor do they flaunt their bestselling status (as some people do). These writers recognize that each of us are on a journey and they are trying to grow in their craft and are willing to continue learning.
I've written a series of entries for the Writing Life about the key qualities of bestselling authors. These qualities aren't anything scientific but simply from my years of interacting and observing these authors in different settings. If you have missed any of these posts, go back and pick up the other qualities since each one is a valuable aspect to build into your own writing life.
A few months ago I was at a large convention and had another opportunity to meet additional authors and see old friends in this business. Certain authors try and set themselves above the others in this setting. The authors move with a group of people around them. These authors have people who meet their every want or need--and instantly. Also you can't get to these authors without going through the intermediary or having a pre-arranged appointment. This convention was a closed trade show. No one can enter the floor unless they are a part of the publishing industry and obtain a badge. The majority of authors feel free to roam the floor without their contingent of assistants. The danger for those with this type of arrangement is simply having a bunch of "yes" people around them. They will only tell you the positives and never help you learn or grow in life.
Many years ago, I supervised an author who had written numerous books. One day I asked him if he ever attended a writer's conference. He looked at me and sincerely said, "Yes, I go when they ask me to teach." He missed my question. I was trying to see if he was actively learning and growing in his life as a writer. In a backhanded way, the author answered, "No. I've learned it all." No one has learned it all and each of us (no matter at what point in our writing and publishing career) has more to learn.
Despite my numerous published books and magazine work, I continue to learn more about the craft of writing. I continually read new how-to writing books and magazines. I can improve and will be improving in the days ahead.
On the Sunday night at the convention, the featured speaker was Rob Bell, the founding pastor of Mars Hill in Grandville, Michigan (one of the fastest growing churches in America). It was fascinating to hear Rob talk about the Christian life as a journey and each person in the room trying to get to the next point of growth. In contrast, many pastors and teachers contend the Christian life is a destination--and once you arrive, you are there. Danger lurks when you believe this second view and you encounter a bump along the road. The same type of danger exists for the writer--even the bestselling writer. They begin to believe their own press and reputation. When they hit a bump in the road, it throws them for a huge loop. Instead, I believe there is wisdom in the writers who are continually growing in their craft and willing to learn--from any source. This type of availability will show to others around you--whether you are aware of it or not.
Quit Your Day Job & Write For A Living
By Jim DenneyI broke into the writing business in 1983, working primarily as a collaborative writer. In other words, I helped other people write their books, usually by interviewing them, then transcribing the interviews and turning those conversations into books. Collaborative writing was a good way to practice my craft while making a living. In the process, I had the privilege of working with some extraordinary people in various fields, from NFL legend Reggie White to supermodel Kim Alexis to Star Trek actress Grace Lee Whitney, and many more. It's been fun--and quite an education.
One of the principles I've learned during my two-dozen years in the writing business is so simple that it seems self-evident--yet many writers fail to grasp this simple truth: A writer must write words that people will pay to read. If people will pay money to read your words, you'll make a living as a writer. If they won't pay for your words, you won't make a living. It's as simple as that. So you must approach writing as a business--not a hobby.
The money you make as a writer represents more than just the ability to buy groceries and pay the mortgage. It's the writer's strongest and finest affirmation. It's tangible proof that someone thinks your words are worth purchasing and paying attention to.
There's nothing crass or ignoble about trading your writing for money. Your words are your stock in trade. Doctors sell their medical knowledge for money, lawyers sell their legal knowledge for money, and you sell words. If they are good words--well-chosen, skillfully crafted, filled with ideas and energy--the world will buy them.
It's a great feeling to receive a check for a book advance. But it's an even greater feeling to receive a royalty check, because a royalty check means that thousands and thousands of readers are willing to pay hard-earned money to read what you've written.
Here are a few nuggets of wisdom I've acquired during my freelancing career on how to master the business of writing:
• Sell now, write later. This is the only sensible way to sell nonfiction, whether article-length or book-length. When you want to sell article-length nonfiction to magazines, you first write and submit a query letter. A query is a short (preferably one-page) letter designed to grab an editor's attention, describe the content and slant of your article, lay out your credentials to write the article, and "bait the hook" so that the editor must see more!
Propose only one article per query--make sure your query is sharply focused, not scattershot. Your query should sound confident and professional, and should be carefully proofread and spell-checked before it goes out. It should be as fun to read as your finished article is going to be. Don't forget to enclose an SASE.
You sell nonfiction books by first writing a book proposal. A proposal is more extensive and lengthy than a query letter, but serves the same function: grab the editor's attention, describe the content of the book, demonstrate your qualifications, and bait the hook. Winning proposals I have written have ranged from two pages to over 75 pages. The average proposal consists of a number of essential components:
1. The hook. Write a "grabber" of an opening or introduction that makes the editor want to keep reading. Your proposal is one of a stack of proposals that are skimmed rather quickly, and you are up against some tough competition. Your proposal should make a compelling "buy me" argument, and should do so as concisely as possible.
2. Description. Write a brief, memorable synopsis or overview of the entire book. Include such details as content, intended audience, length of the finished book, projected delivery date, and other special features.
3. Marketing and spin-offs. If possible, include the names of prominent people who will write the forward and/or jacket endorsements. Better yet, get a couple of endorsements ahead of time. Talk about how you plan to promote the book. Could the book spin off ancillary products, such as sequels, audiobooks, or videos? Mention those, too.
4. Your qualifications. What expertise or experience do you have to lend credibility to this book? Don't forget to include your published credits.
5. Chapter-by-chapter outline. Describe each chapter in three or four paragraphs. When the editor has finished reading your chapter outline, he or she should have a feeling of what it will be like to read the finished book.
6. Sample chapters. Include one or two sample chapters. The best approach is to include Chapters 1 and 2. If you skip Chapter 2 in favor of, say, Chapter 12, the editor is likely to wonder, "Why didn't the author give me Chapter 2? Is that a weak chapter?" After you have built up a track record as a dependable writer, you won't have to write sample chapters anymore.
For a complete discussion of the structure of winning book proposals, read Book Proposals That Sell by W. Terry Whalin. This book tells you everything you need to know about book proposals, presented clearly and concisely.
It's foolish to write an entire nonfiction book "on spec"--that is, on speculation, in the hope of making an eventual sale. You can't make a living writing on spec. You have to sell your ideas first, then write them.
I recently had conversations with two unpublished writers who are working on nonfiction books. Both told me, in essence, "I don't want to write a proposal. I want to write a finished book first, then sell it. I'm afraid that if I write a proposal first, the publisher will say, 'We like your general idea, but we want you to do it our way, not your way.' If I write the whole book first, I'll be in control--they'll have to publish the book as I wrote it."
That's delusional thinking. Whether you sell your book as a proposal or a complete manuscript, you can count on one thing: You'll probably make some compromises before it is published. Your book will be edited, and you will likely be asked to do revisions, if not a major rewrite. And that's a good thing. Every time one of my books has gone through editing, it has emerged clearer and stronger.
If you write nonfiction, it's the height of foolishness to write an entire manuscript first, then peddle it. You could spend months or years producing a 300-page manuscript on spec. Once done, you could spend years trying to find a publisher. If you don't find a publisher, all that time is lost--and your book ends up in a trunk in the attic. You can't make a living writing books nobody buys. The smart, successful writer always sells the book first, then writes it--not the other way around.
"What about novels?" you ask. "Can I sell a sell a novel to a publisher on the basis of a couple chapters and an outline?" Occasionally, but rarely--at least until you're established. Typically, an editor will want to see the first three or four chapters of your novel to start with--just to see if your book gets off to a good start (if it doesn't start with a bang, no one will stick around for the ending). If those first chapters capture the editor's attention, he or she will ask you to send the entire manuscript. That means, of course, that you must have a complete manuscript ready to send at the time you submit those sample chapters.
Of course, after your first couple of novels are successful, you have proven yourself. Then you can then sell a novel on the basis of a two-page outline, or even a conversation with an editor over lunch. But to break in as a novelist, you almost always have to begin by writing an entire book on spec.
• Writing is serious business; approach it in a businesslike way. Sure, writing is an art--but it is also an act of commerce. The art of writing has to do with language skills, imagination, creativity, and craft. The business of writing has to do with understanding contracts, negotiating deals, scheduling projects, dealing with editors and collaborators, marketing and tracking manuscripts, and managing cash flow. A successful working writer treats writing as a serious business, not a hobby.
• Rely on professional advice. Make sure you have an accountant in your corner to help you set up your bookkeeping system and alert you to all the tax advantages that are available. Good financial advice doesn't cost--it pays. You don't need an agent at first, but you should have an attorney read all your contracts--not a general practitioner, but someone who specializes in contract law. This does not relieve you of the responsibility to read and understand the contracts yourself. You should know everything you are agreeing to when you sign on the dotted line.
Jim Denney has more than 70 books to his credit and has been a fulltime freelance writer since 1989. His titles include Answers to Satisfy the Soul and the "Timebenders" science-fantasy series for young readers (beginning with Battle Before Time). Visit Jim's website at www.denneybooks.com. This article is adapted from his book Quit Your Day Job!--How to Sleep Late, Do What You Enjoy, and Make a Ton of Money As a Writer. You may order Quit Your Day Job! from Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, or your local bookseller. You may also order directly from the publisher, Quill Driver Books, at 1-800-497-4909.
New Math Equals FREE Publicity
By Carolyn Howard-JohnsonThe new math for free publicity is: E-book + E-gift = Promotion. Oops. Error. Make the answer FREE promotion!
There are three magical concepts to this e-book formula
My best promotion ever, a free e-book called COOKING BY THE BOOK, accidentally fell into my lap and it uses all three. I'll share more about these three promotional potions a bit later.
COOKING BY THE BOOK began when more than two dozen authors from several countries contributed to a book that would be given away free to anyone--as a gift of appreciation to the support teams it takes to write and market a book and to the legions of readers who cook but were probably never exposed to our books. Each invited author had written at least one kitchen scene in his book. Each segment of the cookbook begins with an excerpt from that scene, the recipe comes next and that is followed by a short blurb about the author.
This cookbook e-tool is a cross-pollinator. Each contributing author was to publicize it any way she chose. Participants promised to promote it and not to charge for it. That way each contributor benefited from the efforts, the lists, and the contacts of the other authors. We had some superior promoters among us:
* Most of us set up a page on our websites.
* Contributor Peggy Hazelwood promoted it in her newsletter for book lovers.
* Mary Emma Allen featured it in the columns she writers for New Hampshire dailies, The Citizen and The Union Leader.
* David Leonhardt, (http://thehappyguy.com/) author of CLIMB YOUR STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN, incorporated the cookbook into a Happiness Game Show he uses in his presentations.
* We gave away coupons for this book at our signings. Because it costs nothing, it can be given to everyone, not just those who purchase a book.
* I use them as thank yous to people who visit my site.
* Some include information on these feebies on the back of business cards and bookmarks.
* I query site editors whenever I run across another place that seems as if our CB Book would interest their audience.
Reviewer JayCe Crawford (http://www.authorsden.com/jaycecrawford) said, "For a foodie-cum-fiction-freak like me, this cookbook is a dream come true." That review has popped up in places we didn't know existed.
Our most startling success came from sources we had no connection to. It was featured in Joan Stewart's The Publicity Hound, in Writer's Weekly, on MyShelf.com, in the iUniverse newsletter and more. I had the highest rate of interest I'd ever had when I queried radio stations for interviews and that was in competition with a pitch for THIS IS THE PLACE just before the 2002 games in Salt Lake City and an intolerance angle on the same novel right after 9/11.
Wait, we're not through yet. Mother's day invites us to repeat our publicity blitzes every year, because -- if you haven't noticed -- mothers tend to do lots of cooking. This book was so successful I collaborated with Sarah Mankowski on a similar one called SEASONED GREETINGS for holiday promotional blitzes.
Back to those three magic words:
1.Accidental: I don't take credit for knowing a good thing when I saw it. What I learned from this experience is to never dismiss something that is placed on your desk without careful consideration-- even if it seems vaguely hokey. I nearly did just that. "E-book indeed," I said to myself. I was worried that association with this concept might taint my literary works. Hubris can be very self-defeating.
2. Free: This charmed word convinced editors to offer our cookbook as a freebie to their readers. Usually the contributing author who pitched it was privileged with their own promotional site's URL being used as a link but when some editors chose to place the entire cookbook download on their own sites, we all benefited just the same.
3. E-book: An e-book is easy for readers to obtain. The author need not budget for postage or processing expenses. In the invitations, queries, and releases I sent out, I emphasized a no strings attached attack: I assured everyone that they would not be expected to register to the site, sign up for a newsletter nor purchase a thing. The E-book concept is also important because--though it may not be new to you and me--the media is still infatuated with it.
Here is a fourth magic word. Cookbook. It has universal appeal. You might find something else that works better for you.. I've been thinking of doing something similar utilizing the subject of genealogy because my novel is based on the stories of my own ancestors--four generations of them. It is not necessary that the freebie be knitted to your primary title; you may benefit by a theme that reaches out, draws in those who might not otherwise be exposed to your work. Your idea may appeal to a narrower audience but niche markets work, too. Everyone loves something that is FREE.
COOKING BY THE BOOK and my other e-books (check out several at my site or at http://authorscoalitionandredenginepress.com) are like hospitality gifts. Only better. That's because they promote not only my work but that of others. Those who are interested in how these work can download a sample at http://www.tlt.com/authors/carolynhowardjohnson.htm.
Carolyn Howard-Johnson is the author of the award-winning This is the Place, Harkening, Tracings and The Frugal Book Promoter: How to Do What Your Publisher Won't, the winner of USA Book News' Best Professional Book 2004 and the Irwin Award. Frugal is available in a full 248 p. e-book format at and in paperback at www.Amazon.com. The author was honored by members of the California Legislature as Woman of the Year in Arts and Entertainment and was named outstanding woman of the San Gabriel Valley in California for her "literary activism." She is the founder of Authors' Coalition http://authorscoalitionandredenginepress.com. Find the subject of this article, Cooking by the Book, along with other cookbooks and a book of inspiration for writers FREE at this URL: http://www.tlt.com/authors/carolynhowardjohnson.htm.
(An excerpt from The Frugal Book Promoter: How to Do What Your Publisher Won't)
Looking For A Few More Affiliates
By W. Terry Whalin
Do you have associates or affiliates? According to the Merriam–Webster dictionary, an affiliate is someone that you have a close relationship. Several months ago, I started an affiliate program which is a part of my shopping cart. Some people have signed up for this free program. My sign-up page is simple and can be completed in a few minutes. After you sign up, then you receive an email with your own affiliate number and link to my products. Also you will have access to my banners and promotional emails for different products. Several of my affiliates are actively using their links and earning the benefits of such activity. They are receiving checks for their efforts.
Yet the majority of my affiliates have signed up and aren't making any sales. I'm unsure of the reasons. Maybe they don't understand how to use the links or haven't taken the time to put them into emails or on their websites. I don't have any idea what their particular barrier is to using their links—but I'm working to get this information.
Some of the most successful affiliate programs provide training and sales ideas for their partners. I'm going to continue to provide free training for my affiliates. The TeleWebcast allows them to ask their questions. I organize the training sessions around your questions plus give you some innovative ideas about how you can improve your affiliate marketing. If you can't get to the training session, then I take the replay of the event and store it in the affiliate area so you can listen to it on your own schedule.
If you have not signed up to become one of my affiliates, I hope you will do so. As an affiliate, you touch people that I will never cross their path. You can tell your audience about my products and lead them to the landing page. If the individual buys the book or product, then you receive an email and I receive an email notifying us of this purchase. Then following the unconditional guarantee period, I pay 50% commissions from this referral. It's a good way to boost your passive income and help other writers in the process.
If You Can Write 7-15 Page Reports, Then You Can Make A Living Online Working Just A Few Hours Each Week From The Comfort Of Your Home. Find out how in this free report (http://infoprofitshare.com/go.php?offer=write2sell&pid=5 )
Simple Ways To Keep Going
When You Feel Like Quitting
By Karen O'Connor
Cookies. Candy bars. Coffee. These and more are lined up beside paper clips, pens, and scratch paper on the desks of two of my writer friends. They've become as important to the daily routine as e-mail, phone calls, and query letters.
This simple, yet powerful 6-step system will show you how to grow your list, provide your readers with the content they crave and start making more money than you ever expected from your list. Do I have your attention yet? Then visit http://infoprofitshare.com/go.php?offer=write2sell&pid=6 to get your copy of the List Profit System today.
In My Humble But Expert Opinion
By Andrea Campbell
When I started writing books in 1990, it never occurred to me I might one day be considered an "expert," let alone an expert in several categories. But consider this: A nonfiction book takes one to two years of research to come to fruition, your subject area is narrowed for clarity and focus, the author reads everything in a similar vein to present a comparison market, and he or she also saves articles for future reference. The final book stage then, is about creating an original manuscript to distinguish it from other titles, while making it interesting enough for readers to want to plunk down twenty dollars or more to learn something new.
Two Writing Opportunities
When Miracles Happen From GuidepostsGuideposts Books is currently working on an exciting new series entitled When Miracles Happen. Each book in the series will be a collection of 40 true stories that describe how someone's life was changed in an extraordinary way. Each book will be a wonderful exploration of the many different ways that God intervenes in our lives.
Some stories will be dramatic and action packed, while others will bear witness to the power of that still soft voice in each of us. Story topics include: illnesses that mysteriously disappear; prayers that are answered in unexpected ways; coincidences too amazing to be happenstance; dreams that reveal astonishing messages; silent whisperings or nudges that help save lives; strangers that appear from nowhere just in the nick of time; and more.
Previous volumes have included Miracles of Healing, Miracles of His Care, Miracles and Children, Miracles and Prayer, Miracles of Love, Miracles and Rescues, and Miracles of Renewal.
Upcoming titles in the series and submission deadlines for each are as follows:
* Miracles and Animals, 8/17/07
Stories of how animals have taught us lessons, helped us, saved us, shown us love.
* Miracles and God's Word, 9/14/07
Stories of how Scripture bears messages, meanings and signs of God working wonders in our everyday life. Stories of how the Bible has played a roll in revealing and being a part of a miracle.
Still other titles in the planning stages are:
Miracles of Caring
Miracles in Tough Times
Miracles of Coincidence
Miracles of Wonder
Miracles of Dreams
Submitting a Story for When Miracles Happen
We are accepting submissions of stories anywhere from 500 to 2,000 words in length. Each story should be a first-person narrative written in a simple, dramatic, anecdotal style with a spiritual point that the reader can "take away" and apply to his or her own life. The story may be the writer's own or one written in the first person for someone else. Each submission should be authentic and genuine, and any concrete facts should be true and verifiable.
* Don't try to tell an entire life story in a few pages. Focus on one specific happening in a person's life. The emphasis should be on one individual. Bring in as few people as possible so that the reader's interest stays with the dominant character.
* Decide what your spiritual point, or "takeaway," will be. Everything in the story should be tied in with this specific theme.
* Don't leave unanswered questions. Give enough facts so that the reader will know what happened. Use description and dialogue to let the reader feel as if he were there, seeing the characters, hearing them talk. Dramatize the situation, conflicts and struggle, and then tell how the person was changed for the better or the problem was solved.
* Telling a compelling story that illustrates powerful spiritual themes that any reader can identify with is the key. Avoid specialized religious language or proselytizing.
* Study our stories in Guideposts, Angels on Earth, or our books. You may order any of the individual existing volumes in our new series by calling Guideposts customer service at 845-225-3681.
. Submissions may be sent to:
The Editor, When Miracles Happen
Guideposts Books, 12FL
16 E. 34th Street
New York, NY 10016
Submissions may also be sent as MS Word attachments to emails to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please include a cover letter with your contact information, a brief paragraph summarizing what your story is about, and the manuscript. Allow two months for a response. Regrettably, we are unable to acknowledge receipt or give status reports regarding unsolicited manuscripts. Please include a SASE if you wish your submission returned. Rights and fees will be negotiated for accepted manuscripts.
God Allows U-Turns Wants You
Send Your True Short Stories Now!God Allows U-Turns is the acclaimed Christian inspirational book series with 23 books under the recognized God Allows U-Turns "brand." The editors have just announced a new CALL FOR TRUE SHORT STORIES and are compiling stories for THREE new volumes to release in 2008, 2009, and 2010. Submit true short stories for God Allows U-Turns - Parents Setting Boundaries, God Allows U-Turns - Boomer Babes Rock, and God Allows U-Turns - Writing from the Heart and Soul. For complete writer's guidelines, visit the web site at:
Submit stories to:
By Katharine SandsIt's the pitch and nothing but the pitch that gets a writer selected from the leaning tower of queries in a literary agent's office. Are you writing a novel that will keep readers turning pages, instead of turning in for a good night's sleep? Will your book show readers how to talk to the dead, trim their thighs, manage their money, make better love--or all at the same time? Then get ready to distill the most dynamic, exciting, and energized points about your work: your pitch.
Your pitch is the passport that you carry into the literary marketplace. Why is pitching your work so important? Because whether for fiction, faction, nonfiction, thriller, chiller, cozy, category romance, or chick lit, it's the pitch and nothing but the pitch that gets an agent's attention.
The writing you do about your writing is as important as the writing itself. To effectively introduce a novel or book idea to a literary agent, you must persuade him/her that there is a readership for your book. The writing about your writing is part "hello," part cover letter, part interview for the coveted job of book author. It's the best of the best of the best of your writing. If you were an Olympic figure skater, it would be your triple axel on the ice.
Yes, agents do deeply care about the craft of writing. But understand that now you are taking your work into the literary marketplace. Like any other industry, the book business--the actual business of books--has certain quirks and processes and challenges. For you, the writer, these are separate from the act of creativity itself.
"Publishing must tread the tightrope between art and commerce," says agent Michael Larsen of San Francisco. "Publishers want books that they can publish with pride and with passion, but to survive, they must publish books that sell."
An agent needs to know from the get-go why you will appeal to readers. You must put aside your deep connection to your work and even the amount of work you have put into it. Your work is literary wares that you are now selling in the literary marketplace.
While many agents became agents because they love literature, venerate books, and wrote papers on the novels of Jane Austen in school, this alone does not spell success for an agent in the business. One succeeds by having what P.T. Barnum described as "the ability to see what is all around you just waiting to be seen." We see raw material, raw ideas, and the gleam in authors' eyes. Then, we envision how these could be grown into a book. We ask ourselves how your writing will be considered inside a publishing house, how your writing--as a literary property--would succeed in its bid for publication. This is paramount in our minds from first write to last rights.
The way you query an agent--the way you introduce your work--must be influenced by these things. They are more than trends. If you want to understand and speak the language of bookselling, answer the question posed by editor Max Perkins (who discovered Hemingway and Fitzgerald), still being used by editors today: "Why does the world need this book?"
Make sure the reasons readers would like it are clear. The way publishing professionals look at your work is the difference between the how a loved one looks at you and how your doctor looks at you. To your loved one, you are a sight for sore eyes, loved, chosen. But to your doctor, you're a bunch of symptoms and a gaggle of body parts. You're still you; but you are regarded differently. Literary agents read writers' works to diagnose the page to make a prognosis, a professional assessment for how that work will fare.
Your Query Letter
Imagine you are Atticus Finch arguing for the life of an innocent. Because you are. From the agent's point of view, your query letter is a plea for life.
The best nonfiction queries are short and informative and show that the writer has done some research and knows his field. --Lori Perkins
The pitch makes the most of the project's strengths. For me the perfect pitch generates an instant understanding of the potential of the work and the path I'll be on to find the perfect publishing partner. --Rita Rosenkranz
A good query answers the three questions I will have: why (nonfiction writers) are uniquely qualified, who the audience is for the book, and what the competing books are. . . . For fiction I'm just really looking for good writing, I think the letter should really pique my interest in some way. If the letter isn't well written, it is unlikely that I'll believe that the novel will hold my interest. The letter is the first indication for me of their ability to communicate. -Anna Ghosh
Go ahead, give these a try: Start writing long descriptions of your book, your market, yourself. Then shrink them down to query size. What is your strongest area? Your credentials? Your book idea? Or the potential market?
One page, that's how brief your query letter should be. Never, ever go longer than one page. You need to distill your brilliance, your wisdom, and your expertise into one potent page-long brew that will leave a reader reeling from its power. Here is a quick exercise . . . : Sit down with one blank page of paper. Write out a two-paragraph description of the book. Write out a two-paragraph description of the market for your book. Write out a two-paragraph description of yourself, the author of the book. Okay, now pretend you are Ernest Hemingway. No, you don't have to run in front of a herd of bulls: all we want you to do is simplify your writing. Turn wordy paragraphs into punchy paragraphs. -Sheree Bykofsky
A fiction query should read like jacket copy that makes me want to read the book. -Andrew Zack
But how to reduce your novel to one paragraph? Don't try. Tell the beginning of your story, which requires only three elements: the setting, your protagonist and the problem that he or she faces. Convey these elements succinctly and colorfully, and your prospective agent may well wonder, ‘Gee, what happens next?’ To find out, they may well ask for your manuscript. Bingo. Your fiction query has done its job. -Donald Maass
Here is a sample fiction query (excerpt) that does its job:
Blue Honor is told through the eyes of Emily Conrad, daughter of a wealthy farming family in Vermont, who falls in love with Joseph Maynard, a young lieutenant with a commission under General McClelland in the Army of the Potomac. Blue Honor interweaves the lives of three families--and the deeply felt injustices of Henrietta Benson, an escaped slave who takes refuge in the Conrad home--with the important political events from the succession of the South to the surrender of Lee to Grant. Set against a vividly created landscape of Federals and Confederates, Blue Honor examines the conflict between duties and desires.
. . . My debut novel is a story of love and its struggle to survive amidst a country's struggle to hold together. My name is Kelly Williams and I hope my story will appeal to readers who loved the way documentarian Ken Burns brought this era's period and portraiture to life, by writing a satisfying book for readers who loved The Killer Angels and Cold Mountain.
Here’s another example of how to practice pitchcraft:
Elvis and You: Your Guide to the Pleasures of Being an Elvis Fan
Elvis and You is a guide to the universe inhabited by Elvis Presley and his fans presented in a way that's entertaining, enlightening and undeniably unique.
Elvis and You is about the many joys of Elvis - things to do, places to go, activities, projects, adventures, guilty pleasures - hundreds of ways to interact with, and get closer to Elvis. No other book succeeds in offering such a comprehensive guide to experiencing Elvis.
Quite simply, Elvis and You is a book that celebrates every aspect of being an Elvis fan with a big emphasis on the fun. Because in addition to his monumental talent and staggering appeal one of the few things on which all of his biographers agree is that Elvis Presley was known for his rollicking sense of humor and relentless pursuit of a good time.
Elvis often asked the people around him, "Y'all havin' fun?"
Elvis and You answers that question with an enthusiastic, "Yeah, baby!"
Notice how authors Laura Levin and John O'Hara tell you that you’re going to have fun--and you do. See how this shines with authority and humor and delight. Note how they follow the agent's golden rule:"Show, don't tell." The same principles apply to serious and practical nonfiction as well. See how they clearly address the famous question posed by iconic editor Maxwell Perkins: Why does the world need this book? The authors have the answer: "No other book succeeds in offering such a comprehensive guide to experiencing Elvis."
Building a Platform
Your must clearly convey: I can be a successful client for you. When reviewing writers' query letters and proposals, an agent is thinking: who would I call about this project? Which editor would be right for this? Less frequently are writers today seen as artists who need monies to live on while they create. More and more, publishers are looking for hooks, media sound bytes, and promotional platforms that have been identified by the writers themselves.
You might cry out, "But I'm a writer not a woodworker. What do I need to know about platforms?"
This new publishing term is too new to be found under "P" in the indexes of classic books on the craft of writing and the writing life. Once, writers could focus solely on prose, and publicity was the province of a publisher.
Today Publishers are using "platform" to mean the groundwork that is being laid by a writer. For writers, a platform sets the stage for reaching readers through marketing and publicity. Simply put, your platform is a list of all of your book's selling points. "In the context of publishing, a platform refers to the author's ability to manifest meaningful sales through her own efforts, whatever they may be, outside of anything a publisher might do," says Jeff Herman, author of The Writer’s Guide to Book Publishers, Editors, and Literary Agents
To describe your platform, detail all of the ways you are promoting your proposed book to readers--media attention, academic and literary journals, online promotions, lecture tie-ins, official author web sites, cross-promotions, targeted advertising, e-mail newsletters, holiday and specialty retail catalogs, national and regional periodicals, ongoing author appearances, features and interviews.
Fiction writers build their platforms with blurbs from published writers, literary awards, reviews, and through participation in readings, events and book festivals.
If you are wondering: Did Ernest Hemingway have to think about building a platform? No, he did not. Before the era of the superstore and the conglomaterization of book publishers, Hemingway could devote himself to lion-hunting and running with the bulls.
How to Get Started
To build your platform, here are questions to consider: Do you have access to mailing lists? What might work for publicity purposes? Where might your book be promoted--conferences, professional organizations, public events? What are your current public speaking venues (seminars, workshops, professional meetings, readings) where book promotion would be possible? Develop your answers to build your platform.
Writers often assume their selling points are obvious, but they may not be. An acquiring editor needs have confidence not just in the writing, but in the platform. Editors refer to a writer's salability when discussing projects with sales reps, who in turn must pitch to booksellers.
"When a publisher buys an author these days they are also buying the whole package which includes the platform, and the platform is the prospective author's ability to to reach a large segment of their reading audience such as via radio, television, websites and newsletters, the author's visibility to the market and ability to reach the market," notes literary agent Sheree Bykofsky.
Publishers want to launch books to the widest possible audience. And your platform will lay the foundation for a successful book. Remember, you are doing your publisher a favor by pointing out your book's potential, and you are doing your reader a favor by getting your book published.
Practice PitchCraft checklist
1) Interview yourself. Pretend you are about to be interviewed on your favorite talk show. What would you say if you were on Oprah? What would you want your listeners, your readers to know about your work?
Think and write out five questions. Answer them. Your answers can now be crafted into your pitch in 25-50 words. Try to the mirror, the cat, think of pitch as a show, produced written and directed by you. Your query is a kind of performance, think of it as theatre of the page
2) Practice your PitchCraft in the form of a Sound bytes? What are the best words and phrases to use? Remember to pick descriptive words that work well together.
3) Have you identified your hooks? Hooks are the most exciting elements to compel your reader and propel your story. Think of a way of building in a cliffhanger, a question in the reader's mind to be answered by more reading.
"The best query letters have a strong hook in the first two lines. What is a strong hook? Something that grabs the reader’s attention and keeps them reading," says Sheree Bykofsky.
4)Think of your pitch as a movie trailer-- Imagine your setting, your world, your universe for someone who has not lived in it before. You, the writer, are a camera. Put the camera on one character, the setting, the aliens…..
Have you set up the reader and communicated quickly your concept and the overview, the impact? Have you identified what is provocative and compelling in your overview, your argument for book’s life, your insights, what’s fresh and unique, your ability and authority.
Have you told a story arc?"It starts here, ends there, boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl." It’s is the old Hollywood chestnut, but it works
"Study ads, movie trailers, junk mail," says Jeff Herman. "Junk mail is a free mail-order course in how to write excellent copy. Junk mail is a billion-dollar industry that test markets how to write copy that will have an impact.
Are you leading with the most important points?
Do you have evidence, statistics, articles, zeitgeist? Point out why readers want this book. Argue your case. Pretend your book is on trial. Indeed, an acquisitions editorial meeting is a trial for life for your work.
Does the tone, descriptive words, intention match? If you are writing a dark and disturbing thriller the pitch should reflect that. For chick lit, you want cute, punchy title, and voice.
5) Things to do when Making the Perfect Pitch
Writing is solitary, publishing is collaborative. The key point is to understand is that you want to get others excited about what is exciting to you. If you don't get them to read you, you are not going to get anything else. An assistant or editorial reader's job is to review and pass the promising queries to the agent. Each query gets a cursory glance from the reader (invariably named Jennifer).
She looks for a minute and makes the decision to read more or to reject it. This is why it's so important to give a reader a reason to read more, and why you have to do it fast.
Agents know the most interesting books on the bestseller lists are the ones nobody could have predicted. "There is no formula for getting on the New York Times Bestseller List," says Charles McGrath, Book Review Editor for the New York Times: "We don't want the list manipulated. Its complex methodologies are kept deliberately confidential to keep people from manipulating it." To everyone’s surprise, a New York City high school teacher spent twenty years telling stories of his impoverished childhood in Limerick during WWII, then published his memoir, Angela's Ashes, and became a much-loved literary figure, winning the Pulitzer Prize and every kind of accolade.
And who could have imagined a single mother on the dole would spend ten years conjuring up a wizard-ing universe that would set the publishing world on its ear, as J.K. Rowling did, with her phenomenally successful Harry Potter series. So successful, in fact, that the New York Times created a new bestseller list for children’s literature. "We had been thinking about it for years. Harry Potter pushed us over the edge," said McGrath.
"Now is the most exciting time ever to be alive, and it's the best time ever to be a writer," says Michael Larsen of the Larsen-Pomada agency. "Information is doubling every eighteen months, and the age of information is also the age of the writer. There are more subjects to write about; more media and more formats for your books to be published in; more agents; more options for getting your books published; more ways to learn about writing and publishing; and more ways to promote your books and profit from them than ever before," says Larsen.
It is indeed an exciting time to be writing. Machines cannot produce content. We need hearts and minds for that. We need writers!
Katharine Sands is a literary agent with the Sarah Jane Freymann Literary Agency. She represents a wide range of authors in a broad range of categories: from category and literary fiction, chick lit, and dysfiction to faction to nonfiction (popular culture, entertainment, personal growth, leisure activities) to home arts (lifestyle, cookbooks, home design) to the more eclectic (travel, humor, and spirituality).She has represented the literary estate of Norman Wexler, Academy Award-nominated screenwriter for Saturday Night Fever, XTC: SongStories; Under the Hula Moon by Jocelyn Fuji (as co-agent); The Tao of Beauty by model Helen Lee; Make Up, Don’t Break Up by Oprah guest Dr.Bonnie Eaker Weil; Elvis and You: Your Guide to the Pleasures of Being an Elvis Fan; Asian Bistro: Sumptuous Recipes from Honolulu’s Indigo Restaurant, among many others.Katharine has been a guest speaker on writing and publishing topics for Poets and Writers, The American Society of Journalists and Authors, New York University and the New York State Council on the Arts. Her book reviews appear in Publishers Weekly and the New York Times Book Review.
This article is excerpted from Katharine Sands' book, Making The Perfect Pitch. Used with permission.
The #1 Ingredient for Writing Success Is....
By Laura BackesI need to replace the caulk in my shower. Every time I get in there, I see the yellow-brown seam between the tile and the floor, and think how much nicer it would look if it were white. Then I come up with a list of other things I need to do first --walk the dog, weed the garden, write my editorial. And surely, if I accomplish all those tasks, couldn't the caulk wait another day?
I've met people who approach writing like caulking. They love the idea of building a world from words. Wouldn't it be nice, they think, if my manuscript was done. Then a publisher would buy it, I'd hold book signings and school visits, and eventually find myself being interviewed on the Today show. But when it comes time to sit down at the keyboard, they find 10 things they absolutely must do first.
When I speak at writing conferences and at my Children's Authors' Bootcamp workshops, I've noticed that participants tend to get most fixated on the mundane details: how big the margins should be around the edge of the text in a manuscript; whether you should put your fax number with your contact information (If you don't have a fax, should you get one?); how many hours a day you should write (A.M or P.M.?). It's as if, by following all the "rules," a person can trick herself into becoming a writer. Somehow, the creativity will flow if the lighting's just right, the font is appealing, and there's the correct level of background noise. I answer all these questions, but I also warn that this is not a magic formula for success.
The truth is, deep down, if you don't value writing more than anything else, you simply won't do it. I'm convinced that the most vital trait of successful writers is passion. Passion makes you find time to write. It's satisfied with a half hour every morning before your family gets up if that's all you can do, and it makes the best use of that time. It creates a workspace out of a corner of the laundry room because it's quiet, and no one would think of looking for you down there. It forces you to carry around a notebook to jot down random ideas, and then can't wait to get to the computer to incorporate those ideas into lines of dialogue or details of setting. It allows the caulk in your shower to turn yellow, and you don't care because you'd rather be writing.
People with passion write for themselves, because they have something they need to communicate to readers. They also know that learning to write is a lifelong education, and are constantly seeking out workshops or critique groups to help them improve their craft. The hallmark of someone destined to become a published author is a writer who is not afraid to pick apart their work if necessary.
I often do one-on-one critiques at conferences, and many people really want me to tell them their manuscript's perfect, then hand them a list of editors to whom they can submit. Invariably, these are the manuscripts that need the most work. They try to minimize the revisions ("You're telling me my main character isn't developed enough. If I add a line at the end of page two saying he likes to play soccer, will that do it?"), or brush off constructive criticisms altogether ("But I don't want a story where anything actually happens. This is a quiet bedtime story, because there aren't any nonreligious bedtime stories on the market.") No amount of convincing will change their minds, so I let it drop. For these writers, fulfillment comes in the form of the fastest route to a finished book with their name on the cover. If that doesn't happen after a few submissions, they moan that the publishing industry is out to get them, and give up.
By contrast, the writers who are there to learn say, "I don't think my story's quite working. Can you help me pinpoint the problems?" or "Do you see this book holding its own on the shelves with what's already on the market? If not, why?" Instead of wanting specific publishers for submissions, they wonder which type of publisher might be appropriate-- national or regional, small or large--and then go off to do the research themselves. They understand they're responsible for every aspect of their book's success, and are willing to put in the time to create a work they're proud of. The process of learning and growing as a writer is fascinating and fulfilling in itself. Theirs are the names you'll see on the covers of books.
Yes, being a published author is cool. But if you don't have what my father, himself a writer, dubbed "the fire in the belly," then find something else that calls to your soul. There are many creative, important jobs to be done: gardens to plant, houses to decorate, music to play, children to raise. It's okay to try writing and then decide it's not for you. I'm a decent house painter, and I don't mind doing it, but I don't lie awake at night agonizing over how I'll squeeze in an extra hour each day to repaint my bedroom. Given the choice, I'd rather hire a professional. Write because given the choice, you'd do it over anything else.
About the Author: Laura Backes is the publisher of Children's Book Insider, the Newsletter for Children's Writers. For more information about writing children's books, including free articles, market tips, insider secrets and much more, visit Children's Book Insider's home on the web at http://write4kids.com
Reprinted with permission.
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