Archive for August, 2016

THE QUERY LETTER

August 26, 2016

Yes, I know: you don’t want to market your writing. My answer is no one is going to market for you. No, that is not what agents are for—at least not at first.  Michael Phelps didn’t walk out of his room one morning and win a gold medal without practice.  It is the nature of every endeavor that practice is required to succeed.  So suck it up and write a query letter.

Dear Agent or Editor,

Attached is my first writing piece. Please sell it for me to someone like Simon and Schuster.

Sincerely,

Jane Writer

The above is Not a query letter.  It is a great way to get laughed off the planet, but it is not a query letter.

Your query is a sales letter.  It should include a pitch, information, and a brief thank you, in that order. When you are writing your query remember that the recipient reviews dozens of letters each week so yours needs to stand out. No, you may not include wild animals or snakes in order to be memorable.

Your first paragraph is your hook.  “If Janet Evanovich coauthored a book with Tom Clancy, you would have TechnoGirl to the Rescue.  TechnoGirl is a quiet computer hacker/programmer who finds herself in the middle of an international spy ring.”  That hook should at least get your query a careful read.

Your second paragraph is information. TechnoGirl…is a 100,000 word spy/thriller set in Silicon Valley.  I have written technical articles for blah, blah, blah and my technical short story received first prize in the You Are a Great Writer contest. (If you don’t have any credentials leave it out.  Don’t make it up; someone is likely to check.)

The third paragraph is your close. “The entire manuscript is available upon request.  I have enclosed the (1st chapter or first twenty pages) for your review.  Thank you for your time in reviewing this material.  I look forward to hearing from you.  Sincerely, Jane Writer.”

As a courtesy enclose a Stamped Self-Addressed Envelope for the reply and go on writing.  If the agent or editor takes simultaneous submissions, you can send another letter also.  Wait about three months before checking back on the query.  Don’t bug people about your submissions.

Next time I’ll discuss synopses and outlines.

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QUERY FIRST

August 18, 2016

Writing is great fun compared to marketing.  I realize no one likes to market their work.  Marketing and thus querying is a pain to end all pains.  Marketing requires doing research and really thinking about where your writing fits.

I can’t count the number of times authors have told me that if they send out a piece the editor will have to take it or they will build an issue or an imprint around the work.  Ah, dreamer!  That old adage about square pegs in round holes applies here.  I’m not raining on your parade: I’m just being honest. You are not (to use a modern saying) all that and a bag of chips.  So start your marketing research early.

Go to the bookstore.  Find magazines or books that are similar to what you are writing.  Write down the name of the publisher, the title, and the author of the piece.  If it is a book, check the dedication and acknowledgement pages for thank yous to specific editors or agents.  Write down those names also.  There’s no magic number here but I’d say twenty different selections is a good cross-section.  You may find the same names pop-up several times.  That’s great; put a star next to those.

Go to the used bookstore or the Internet and acquire at least five of the books that look like yours and interest you.  Remember you are NOT copying these books, you are comparing them yours.  Now read those books in your spare time.  I’ve had authors tell me they are afraid to do this because they are afraid they will end up copying the books.  Really! You have such a limited writing scope that you have to copy someone else?  What you are doing is in-depth marketing.  If you are different enough in writing presentation to this author but similar in style, then consider querying this editor.

Craft your query to highlight the authors.  Like “If Janet Evanovich collaborated with Tom Clancy, you’d have a story like TechnoGirl.”  This tells the editor you did your homework and your work might be worth considering.

Next time we will discuss crafting query letters, until then get busy on your marketing plan.

 

RIGHTS AND WRONGS

August 11, 2016

 

The basics of publication rights have been covered in the last two blogs.  As I’ve said before it isn’t definitive.  Whole law careers have been centered on copyrights and rights.  I’m not a fan but if you’re confused find a literary rights attorney.  That isn’t just a statement to cover my exterior posterior—it is a fact.  Most writers can give you some idea of what you can and can’t do, but simple questions can turn into monumental lawsuits.

Here are a few general statements which may help but aren’t drawn in black and white.

  1. It isn’t necessary to place the copyright sign on a manuscript. Every honorable editor, writing professional, and mailroom worker knows that your words are copyrighted.  Placing the symbol on the title page, or as I encountered every single page, makes you look like a rank amateur.  In many cases it insults the person receiving the material and in some cases may just make them down right angry.
  2. If you receive a book contract, read every single word. You should know exactly what it says and why it says that. Check with others about statements which seem ambiguous. Sometimes things have to be written that way or maybe the folks offering the contract are making it confusing on purpose.
  3. Decide where you want to draw your lines. Are you willing to sell the right to publish the material for the duration of the copyright? (That means forever!)  Are you willing to sell the right to publish the material for five or seven years, even if the publisher does nothing to promote it?  What are you willing to give up to get published?
  4. Remember that keeping one copy of your book on the Internet in electronic format constitutes “in publication” and in many cases means you won’t get your rights back. Your publisher can and will do exactly that.
  5. If you really want your rights returned—take a deep breath and be extremely, extremely nice. Your publisher may want to get rid of you as much as you want to get rid of them.  Waging war will not help your cause and I’ve seen a few cases where the publisher withheld the returning of rights because the writer made it an issue.

One last thought, over the years I’ve been asked about “fair use” issues.  Quoting others’ works gets sticky.  The key is you can’t use a significant amount of the work. Ten words isn’t a significant amount of a novel, but it is if you are talking a poetry piece.

Next time I’ll discuss queries and book proposals.

 

 

 

 

KNOW YOUR RIGHTS

August 5, 2016

You’ve heard the activists say that over and over and now I really mean it.  If you are a writer, you need to know the rights accompanying your piece.  We aren’t talking copyright here, we covered that last time, and we aren’t referring to books.  After you’ve written that book, you should want to draw attention to your subject matter and one of the best ways to do that is by writing an article or two about your subject.  With the article/articles written you have to enter the world of rights and that my friend is like entering the La Brea Tar Pits.

Rights encompass everything from Internet rights to Exclusive rights and everything between.  I’ll try to ski over the surface of this material, but I suggest you study this area carefully and know your stuff.  If you aren’t well informed you may end up having someone own your hard work for a pathetic amount of cash.

Remember this is not definitive; it is an overview.

When you sell your rights you are selling your words as they appear on the paper.

INTERNET RIGHTS-This is one I’d avoid because once something is on the Internet you’ve totally lost control.  Anyone who stumbles across your piece can download it and copy it to-as Buzz Lightyear says “Infinity and beyond.”

ALL RIGHTS (EXCLUSIVE) –I’d avoid this one too.  It means you don’t have any control over the piece any more.  The purchaser owns your piece, many times for mere pennies, forever.

ONE-TIME RIGHTS-This is the ideal.  You allow the purchaser to purchase your article for publication one time.  After publication the rights revert back to you and you can sell it again if you like.

SECOND RIGH TS-That means exactly what you think it means.  You can sell the article again and again to as many publications as will take it.  I’ve sold pieces for more with second rights than I did the first time so sometimes this works out very well.