Tuesday, August 05, 2008

 

Mistake Noted

Not too long ago in my zest and zeal to send out query letters, I began coming up with ideas for queries that related to life as I was living it. And how was I living, you may ask? During this rampant, query-writing fest I had a two-and-a-half year old running around and a two-month old nursing every 3 hours. Life was crazy, and maybe I can blame the query faux pas I committed on sleep deprivation and hormone fluctuations.

I came up with what I thought was the greatest idea for a story: how to breastfeed in public. My own mom didn’t give me many tips except “Just put a blanket over your shoulder,” and the lactation nurses weren’t much more helpful (they told me to just wear big shirts). I figured if I was having a hard time other moms were probably having a hard time, too, and would appreciate a how-to article that showed them the ropes.

I had my sources lined up, a body of research and I knew which magazine I was going to pitch the story to: American Baby Magazine. I looked through old issues to make sure that they hadn’t covered my exact topic but found that they did lots of articles about feeding new babies.

I wrote the query, thinking that I had the golden ticket for making it in the glossies with this pitch. With trepidation, I mailed off my query and began to wait. The odd thing was I didn’t have to wait very long.

I received back a letter a week later that said thanks but no thanks. Instead of being devastated, truthfully I was a little relieved. After all of my research on different tips and tricks for breastfeeding in public, I had exhausted my brain on the topic and it was no longer very interesting to me. I was glad was not to be required by an editor to make that story happen.

My relief aside, I did want to understand why the story was rejected. I don’t know for sure but some clarity came a few weeks later when I was telling a friend about that particular query. I told her it was about breastfeeding in public and she looked at me almost startled.

“Omigosh, Sue,” she said, “that is such a controversial topic. Ask three women about it and you’d get four opinions back. If I was an editor I wouldn’t want to touch that topic with a ten-foot pole.”

I sat there a little more than stricken by my friend’s bluntness, but I thought she was right. In all my research, in all my consideration of whether or not women would want to hear about my topic, I had not taken into account that the subject of breastfeeding in public was too taboo for that particular magazine. Now, if I had pitched it to, say an OB nurse quarterly, or a publication of the La Leche League, perhaps I would have gotten a different response. Since I chose to pitch it to a national magazine that needs to carefully take into account the sensibilities and opinions of a wide audience, I’m not surprised that this one was quickly overlooked.

Of course, I don’t know for sure why this query was rejected by that magazine; there could have been many other reasons besides the topic being controversial. Through the experience, though, I learned to take into consideration a different aspect of what a publication may look for or avoid in an article.

-Susan L. Eberling

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Friday, June 06, 2008

 

Another dose of inspiration

by LuAnn Schindler

I'm working on some queries this morning, and I'll show you how I came up with some of the ideas I'm pitching. Inspiration is everywhere!

Sometimes, you need to step outside your comfort zone and write. When I taught creative writing for a local community college, I could write a couple poems during a class period and work on revisions later. Poetry was easy for me and I wrote a lot of them. Of course, now most of those pages are in three-ring binders and need more revisions. Later in my writing life, I became more interested in newspaper and magazine writing. I like telling a story through nonfiction. I haven't written a poem in five years. It seemed like the muse had disappeared. But recently, I stumbled upon a contest for a 50-word narrative poem. I opened my binders and found a selection that I thought told a solid story in limited words. But I still revised some here and there and submitted it. Stepping back into the poetry shoes wasn't an easy fit, but it opened a shoebox full of ideas. And hopefully, the contest judges will appreciate my efforts, too!

Yesterday, when I was cleaning my office, I found an old notebook from my teaching days that I used for brainstorming. When I opened the pages, I discovered a list of topic ideas using a method I used when I taught writing and when I first started freelancing. It works like this: Across the top of a page, I write 10 topics I'm interested in. Underneath each of those, I list 10 subtopics. Then I use the subtopics as the headings on a new sheet of paper and list 10 more subtopics. You can keep using the subheads as new headings until you run out of ideas. I literally had hundreds of ideas in this notebook. As I was flipping through these pages, I found a topic that I just had received a press release about, did a bit more research and drafted a query. This morning, I'll be emailing it to an editor at a national food magazine.

The new phone books arrived the other day. I was flipping through the yellow pages because I needed to find someone to fix my vehicle. On my way to the automotive section, I found an ad for a new air conditioning business. Since the lazy, crazy, hazy days of summer heat will soon be upon us, I called and asked about tips for preparing the air conditioning unit for summer use. Then, I wrote a short article and sent it to the local paper. If you leaf through the pages, all kinds of article ideas stand out.

And sometimes, you just need to take a break. This is a hard one for me to do because if I'm not writing, I feel like I'm wasting time. But, a break - an afternoon outing with friends or family, time away from the computer and email, reading a book, exercising, cooking - can reignite the inspiration. The tricky part will be giving yourself permission to relax and take some time off. Hey, there's a possible article idea in that thought!

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Sunday, April 06, 2008

 

The Art of the Query Letter

by LuAnn Womach

For freelance writers, the query letter is the element that either opens the door to the publishing world or slams the door shut without any warning. Writing a query is, in a sense, a balancing act between selling an idea without giving away too many details and selling yourself as a writer.

When I started taking my writing career seriously about 10 years ago, I think I subscribed to every writing newsletter I could get my hands on. I read them thoroughly and gleaned pertinent information that I believed was helping me with my queries. Sure, I'd land a few stories every now and then, but I wasn't establishing any consistency in bigger markets. Yes, I had a steady stream of assignments for regional magazines and newspapers, but something seemed amiss.

Last May, I took a leap of faith and left a full-time teaching career for the freelancer's life. I spent the first two months sending out three or four queries a week. Personally, I like Hope Clark's advice about keeping 13 queries in play. It's been pretty successful for me, too.

What really made the difference was a writing book I bought after reading a review. The book : The Renegade Writer's Query Letters That Rock by Linda Formichelli and Diana Burrell. I studied each letter and compared those queries that hooked an editor to the letters I had been writing. Now, I'm not saying the letters I was writing were bad, but they were lacking in passion for the subject.

Since reading the book, I've developed my own query style. And, it must be working. I've landed assignments in two national magazines. And hopefully, I'll land more!

As you write a query letter, remember that you need to show that you are insightful and have a genuine interest in the topic. Making personal connections should help you make a sale!

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Monday, March 17, 2008

 

Lucky Query Letters

Since I am part Irish and it's St. Patrick's Day, I have to write about luck. But leaving our writing to luck is not a good strategy if we want a successful freelance career. Sure, there are those lucky few, who seem to just sort of wander into an on-going assignment with National Geographic or who just happen to query People magazine and get an assignment to interview Tom Hanks. But usually writing does not come down to luck, even on St. Patrick's Day. So, how can you get your query letter out of the slush pile and into the hands of the right editor?



The secret, which has nothing to do with luck, is not even that hard. All you have to do is find the name of the editor, who would most likely publish your article in her section of the magazine. For smaller mags such as Missouri Life, this would probably be the managing editor or sometimes the associate or submissions editor. For a larger publication such as Vogue, many of the individual departments, such as Beauty or Health, have their own editors.



The easiest way to find the name is to see a copy of the magazine. This is recommended, anyway, before you query the editor. Go to your local library, view a copy online, buy one at a book store, or send for a sample copy.



Once you have a copy, then look at the masthead. You will see the names of the editors and their job titles. Find the editor that fits your submission and send your query directly to them. If Nancy McFarland (had to pick an Irish name :) is the Health editor and your article is about a new exercise plan, then start your letter: Dear Ms. McFarland. When you address your envelope, put Nancy McFarland on the top line and the magazine name and address below. One way to end up in the slush pile is to address your envelope to Submissions Editor. (You can also use the Web site, www.mastheads.org , to view the masthead of many magazines.)



Some words of caution: If you are looking at a huge magazine such as Family Circle, do not send your submissions to the top editor. She is in charge of the entire magazine, and usually, her associate editors or department editors bring her ideas they love from the query letters they've read. Address your letter to one of them. Going straight to the top is not always the way with query letters.



If the name is gender neutral such as Riley or Kelly, don't assume the editor is a woman or man and address the person with Mr. or Ms. In these cases, I address the letter with the editors first and last name such as Dear Riley Smith. I've also heard of writers, who have called the magazine and asked if the editor was male or female. Writers also call and confirm the person still works there. I've never done this personally, but I do know a lot of successful writers who have. Don't ask to talk directly to the person. That is the kiss of death. Just ask the receptionist your question.



I also double check the name on the publication's Web site if possible. Most print publications have a Web site, and sometimes, names and email addresses of editors will be listed. This is only a tool for double checking. I do not email my query to the editor unless the guidelines say I can. I also use the Writer's Market guide to double check editors' names. Sometimes, the market listing will be specific and tell the name of the acquiring editor, but I like to check this with the Web site or masthead. Market guide listings are sometimes written a year in advance, and in the publication world, people change jobs often.



However you do it, find an editor's name before you address your query letter. This strategy gets you one more step closer to publication without relying on luck.



Happy Writing!
Margo Dill

http://www.margodill.com/

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Sunday, April 01, 2007

 

Best of Luck Placing this Elsewhere


By Nadia Ali


We have all received that SASE that’s not heavy enough to be a contract and appears to have one single sheet of paper in it. For me, it is a time of awe and excitement as I look down at my own hand written address – a way that I have devised to differentiate my return envelopes.
Fragments of a query letter or article flash through my mind as I struggle to remember what I had submitted all those months ago. A part of me jumps up and down saying, "open it, open it" while a larger part of me stares hard at the envelope wondering whether I should open it now or later. My finger begins to slide across the top ripping it gently as I unfold the letter therein.

It is a rejection letter. I always try and handle it like a "professional writer" after all every job has it’s disadvantage and the biggest one in our line of work is the fact that we have one shot to impress an editor through our writing abilities in order to receive an assignment.

To date, I have only received one personal rejection letter that actually gave constructive criticism as to why the editor did not like it. Most of the time they are just form letters with my name either typed or hand written across the top. Some delivered with dignity and hope, others like a screwed piece of paper aimed right at me.

Rejection letters do hit hard, they do have a way of bringing you down, but after a while and having received so many of them you tend to see them in a different light and not as just being a personal attack. Bear in mind, that it takes a lot of courage to become a professional writer. Particularly as we tend to put ourselves into our work, so when an editor sends a rejection letter it is obvious that there is an emotional effect.

Instead of making airplanes, paper mache projects or other such creative things with your rejection letters, use them to your writing advantage. They should serve as an instrument to encourage you to sharpen your skills, tighten your writing and better your query letter.

Don’t forget that editors receive hundreds of queries for one slot and only one writer gets the assignment. So develop a healthy attitude by realizing that he will receive similar queries to yours no matter how unique you think it is. So don’t despair. Pitch to another market.

The truth is, if you are going to be a writer, then rejections will be part of your life. If you want to stop receiving rejections, then stop writing. I knew that would shake you up, it seems one of those hard and cold truths that you rather not hear.

Before I go, I would like to share with you the greatest advice from a standard rejection letter that I have received over and over again. "Best of luck in placing this elsewhere" which is encouragement to go out and do just that. Keep submitting and surely your work will be placed somewhere!

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Nadia Ali ( nadiafreelancewriter@yahoo.com) is a freelance writer who works from the comfort of her home. As a mother of two, she tries to balance the schedules of her children and writing deadlines.

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Thursday, March 01, 2007

 

The Query Letter: Your Tool For Success


By Patricia L. Fry

If you want to get published, you have to make a good first impression when approaching an editor or publisher. How? Write a good—no, write a great query letter.

Why is the query letter so important? It saves everyone a lot of time. Editors are more likely to look at a one-page letter than an entire manuscript. And you don’t have to write the piece until you know there’s an interest. Often, an editor will suggest changes to your initial idea. If the article is already written, you’ll have to do a rewrite.

For example, two years ago, I queried Technology and Learning Magazine about an article on preparing girls for careers in technology. Instead, the editors asked me to write about public relations programs in American schools. I recently queried Children’s Voice about an article highlighting the healing powers of gardening for at-risk children. The editors saw more merit in a piece featuring specific gardening programs for kids, however. These are only a few examples showing the benefits of querying first.

While there is plenty of room for creativity when writing a query letter, there are also certain standards. Following is the anatomy of a query letter:

1: Date your letter and address it to the appropriate editor. If the source you’re using for contact information is over six-months old, I suggest confirming the information. Use a current issue of the magazine or their website, for example. If you’re not sure how old your information is, send an Email or call to verify the contact information.

2: State your intent. Identify your correspondence as a query letter. I typically write, “I’d like to propose an article featuring…” Or I might start my letter with an attention-getting statement. Here’s an example: “Do people often interrupt you when you’re talking? Are your comments sometimes ignored? Do you feel inadequate when expressing your ideas in a business meeting? In a recent survey, over fifty-percent of the women polled said they do not feel as though they’re taken seriously at work. My article, ‘Be Heard: How to Get People to Listen When You Speak’ could change your life.”

3: Give a synopsis of your proposed article or book. Briefly and succinctly describe your story and your slant. Introduce your experts and/or supply a list of research sources and one or two sample anecdotes. Avoid inundating the editor with details, but don’t play guessing games, either. Be straightforward in your presentation. Give the editor everything she needs in order to make her decision while keeping the synopsis portion within a paragraph or two.

4: Demonstrate that you’ve done your homework. Hopefully, your article or book idea is on target for this magazine or publisher. That’s the first indication that you’ve done adequate research. If you believe that your article is a good fit for a particular column, mention it. Also, state your proposed word count based on the magazine’s or publisher’s guidelines

5: List your qualifications. If you have a particular expertise related to your proposed topic, mention it. In a query letter for my article on handling the irate customer, I revealed that I worked for two years in customer relations and attended workshops on this subject. When querying for my article about helping instead of criticizing neighborhood kids, I told about my affiliation with a youth mentoring organization and a Neighborhood Watch program. When querying about a writing or publishing-related book, I would provide my resume as a freelance writer/author/publisher.

6: Give your writing credits. This is no time to be modest. List your most significant and pertinent works. If you’ve sold anything similar to this topic, say so. If you’re hard-pressed to come up with appropriate writing credits, go ahead and mention your work on the church newsletter or the fact that you’re a 4th grade teacher. Send a couple of published clips, if available.

7: End it. I generally close with something like, “Please let me know if you’re interested.” In the case of a rather complicated piece, I might say, “If you’d like to see a more detailed outline, please let me know.

8: Keep things simple. Make it easy for the editor to work with you. First, find out how the editor prefers that you send your letter—regular mail, email or fax, for example. This information generally appears in their Guidelines for Writers (usually available on their web site or by request through the mail). Send just what the editor requests (a query letter and 3 published clips, for example). If he or she wants more later, they’ll ask.

Like many writers, I have a web site. At the end of my letter, I often add my website address and write after it, “for more about me.”

Keep your query letter to one page if at all possible. I’ve been known to spill over to a page and a half when I have several experts and research sources to list and that’s forgivable.

Additional tips (and these are important, too):

• Neatness counts.
• Always include a self-address-stamped envelope (SASE).
• Log every transaction. List date sent, magazine/publisher name and article/book description. Leave a space to record any notes.

The Waiting Game

Waiting for a response is sometimes difficult. With the advent of email, however, the waiting period can be eliminated completely in some instances. I’ve been rejected (or had an article accepted) just minutes after emailing a query. But expect to wait for anywhere from 10 days to 3 months after sending a query letter by mail. The average wait is probably 4 – 6 weeks. Before using email to query, make sure this is okay with the editor. While some editors adore this mode of communication, others will not look at anything that isn’t sealed in an envelope.

I like to use email, because, generally, an editor will respond more swiftly. Some editors and publishers never respond. My records indicate that nearly one-third of the query letters I sent last year were ignored. It’s frustrating, isn’t it? And the waiting game can be most annoying.

New writers, especially, often lose patience with editors who take their time to respond. One way around this discomfort is to avoid putting all of your hopes and dreams into that one query letter.

I don’t wait for query responses anymore because I’m too busy sending out new queries.
Send your query to more than one editor. Write new queries on different topics. Be productive and you won’t get stuck in wait mode

Here are some additional tips:

• Wait at least 4 – 6 weeks before inquiring about a query or a manuscript. Then send a tracer letter stating, “According to my records, on January 12, 2002, I queried you about an article featuring techniques for attracting birds to your patio garden. I’m writing now to inquire as to the status of that idea.” I’ve sold several articles by following through like this. Editors misplace letters. Sometimes queries are never received.
• Set goals. Send a query on a new topic every day or submit three queries per week, for example. I send between 30 and 50 queries each month.

For those of you who are still a little overwhelmed by the idea of writing a query letter, I’ve devised this guide. Ask yourself the following questions to help you write that query.

1. To whom shall I address this query?
2. What type of material is this publication requesting? (How-to articles, essays, exposes, inspirational pieces…?)
3. What do I have to offer them that might meet their current needs?
4. What aspect of my idea will appeal to them most?
5. How can I let the editor know that I’m familiar with his publication/publishing company?
6. How can I convince the editor/publisher that I can create a good and credible story from this topic?
7. How can I convince the editor/publisher that I am the person to write this piece?
8. How can I make it easy for the editor/publisher to work with me?

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Patricia Fry is a full-time freelance writer and the author of 25 books. Her latest book contains sample query letters. Order, “The Right Way to Write, Publish and Sell Your Book” today at CLICK HERE. Visit Patricia’s BLOG often.

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