Query Letter Help

[found on maxbarry.com; by Max Barry]

“The Query Letter

The idea of a query letter is to take this book you’ve written, this incomparable masterpiece that took five years and destroyed your marriage, and summarize it on a single piece of paper while still leaving enough room in the margins for a publisher or agent to scribble, “Sorry, not for us.” You have to try to pitch your book in such an intriguing way that the publisher immediately writes back to you, demanding to see sample chapters (or the entire manuscript). This may sound tough to do, but in truth it’s even harder. Your query needs to stand out from the other 80 the editor is going to read that day, but avoid amateurish gimmicks, like $50 bills.

There are plenty of good web sites on how to write a query letter and approach agents/editors. Some of them are:

One thing you must do is say what sort of book you’ve written. This is what agents/editors will be scanning for when they read your letter: is it a thriller, a comedy, a rural human drama? Most writers, including me, find this very difficult to do, and tend to produce descriptions like, “It’s kind of a futuristic science-fiction comedy-come-romance set in Medieval France with a strong anti-war message.” This is why authors should be banned from describing their own novels.

So I suggest enlisting help: have your friends read your book and ask them what novels they think it’s similar to. Then at least you’ll have a rough genre to start from. Also, for practice, try to describe your book in a single, short sentence. Ask people if it sounds interesting, and rework it until it does.

This is very much personal opinion, but I think a good description often combines something common (“It’s a detective story”) with something original (“where the PI has a terminal illness”). The common part grounds the story, letting us know what ballpark it’s in. The original part shows it’s something special.

Update (May-07): If you’re interested, I’ve posted my old query letter, which I sent out while agent-hunting in 1998. It’s kinda cringe-worthy reading it now, definitely over the top, but since it worked…”

For more great info from MaxBarry, click here.

[found on http://maxbarry.com/writing/help.html]

Writing Articles for Newspapers and Magazines – Tips and Tricks

[found on janetshaw.com]

“When it comes to writing for magazines and newspapers, the technique is quite different to that of writing fiction and non-fiction books, and even writing for the web. At the Boyup Brook Book Bonanza in May, I went along to a workshop on this particular subject. I picked up some useful tips which I thought I’d pass along to you.

The Opening Line

The opening line of the article must grab the reader’s attention straight away. This is no different to any other form of writing: a story must hook the reader in a very short space of time. The difference? In article writing, this hook must be the first sentence, not the second or the third.

Another crucial point here is the length of the opening sentence. The word count needs to be no more than twenty-two words for your grab line. This in itself is a challenge.

Sentence Style and Structure

Sentences need to be short in this style of writing. Similarly, paragraphs consist of only two or three sentences. There’s a lot of what they call white space in articles, a technique that’s used to break up the text, make it more appealing to read.

The Use of Quotes

An article is always more interesting to read if it includes quotes from someone with an expert opinion on the matter. But when doing this, the writer must make sure that he or she has relayed the quote accurately. It’s important to always check with the source to avoid the possibility of misquoting. This sounds like common sense, but it wouldn’t be hard to make assumptions or get a bit slack towards a deadline.

Language

In the examples read out at the workshop, and in further research I’ve done, it seems that the rules of fiction writing go out the window in article writing. Adverbs and adjectives are scattered throughout the text, as are metaphors and similes. Whereas in fiction writing, the emphasis is on erradicating adverbs and not overusing metaphors which can distract the reader, this is not the case in composing articles.

How To Query Editors

Sending off a query to a magazine or newspaper editor is different again to querying book publishers. In the latter case, the writer must follow the publisher’s submission guidelines to the letter. This could mean submitting a query letter and a synopsis, or a cover letter, synopsis and the first three chapters, or even the full manuscript. If the guidelines aren’t followed, the publisher won’t even consider the manuscript.

When a writer is contemplating having an article published in a magazine or newspaper, the instinctive response would be to send off the article as a way of demonstrating the high quality of work. Wrong. The advice in this workshop was not to waste time and energy producing articles that might never be picked up.

So what’s the answer? Easy. Send a query letter containing the following information:

      • knowledge of the magazine’s themes and content and an idea that would suit the readership;
      • a sample of writing
      • a writer bio, outlining credentials and past publications, if any; and
      • the writer’s qualifications for being able to write the proposed article.

The sample of writing referred to in the above list ideally should be the first two lines of the article; the opening sentence (the grab line) and the first sentence of the second paragraph. This demonstrates the ability to write and write well.

Some writers might feel terrified of submitting a query without having written the article. What if the idea is accepted? Can I deliver the goods on time? But the general consensus amongst the group was that sometimes writers need that little push to fire them up.

Expect Rejection

One thing that comes up time and time again in the writing world is to expect rejection. It’s normal in this industry. The important thing is to keep on going; keep writing those query letters, researching markets, coming up with new ideas. The more a writer’s name is seen by editors, the better the chance of finally getting something accepted.

One interesting school of thought amongst writers who submit to magazines in particular, is to go outside the magazine’s themes and styles. For example, some writers have struck gold when submitting a fiction piece to a non-fiction magazine, but still following their main theme. Obviously there is some leeway here with magazine editors. If something takes their eye and it brings another angle to the magazine, they’ll snap it up.

So what’s the bottom line? Keep on trying, think laterally, and enjoy the writing experience.”

[found on http://janetshaw.com/blog/writing-articles-for-newspapers-and-magazines-tips-and-tricks]