The Art of the Query Letter

So, you want to get published and you’ve been sending what feels like–or may even really be–hundreds of queries to publishing houses (big and small), editors, and agents and no one’s biting the line you keep throwing into the water.  Have you ever considered that it may be your query letter that is putting your manuscript straight into the slush pile? If your manuscript is ready and you’re presenting something that is at least somewhat unique into the literary world, it could be your query letter.

Even small publishers go through hundreds of submissions a month. You’re lucky if you even get a response back. And it’s not because publishing houses are filled to the brim with jerks with no common courtesy, it’s just that everyone is busy. Some editors hold full-time jobs or swing other side projects just to keep afloat. Think it’s a financial struggle being a writer? Well, guess what a lot of writers do as a side hustle–they edit at publishing houses. We’re trying to put bread on the table just like everyone else. Sure there are those few hotshots that work in publishing and never have to monitor their bank accounts but they don’t represent the majority. Publishing houses are also committed to giving the authors that they’ve signed on as much attention as they can. Working with a publisher is a joint-effort of success between an author and publishing house.

Okay, so how do you get your query letter through the cracks so that an acquisitions officer becomes interested in taking a look at your manuscript? Sure, I’ll tell you the secret. Are you ready? You may want to sit down because I’m about to blow your mind. The secret is: keep it short and to the point, for the love of God! Of course it’s not that easy, but seriously, keep it focused.

  1. Address the editor/individual by name. This shows that you’ve actually taken the time to read the submissions guidelines and put some effort into looking through the website. “Dear acquisitions editor” just sounds like a control, copy, paste job that you’re sending to everyone. You already look like you’re just another writer looking for a quick way to get in and don’t really care about what you’re doing. The last thing you want is to give the impression that you’re just like everyone else in the slush pile.
  2. Open with a one-sentence blurb about what your book is about. There’s really no need for these overly polite introductions because the editor already knows what you want—you’re selling and pitching a manuscript. I’ve seen query letters with the first paragraph going on and on about everything but what the manuscript is about. This opening sentence is supposed to peak the editor’s interest so they want to read more and learn more about you.
  3. Immediately follow your one-sentence blurb with more details about your book in a short paragraph. Please don’t add pages of excerpts. If the editor wants to see your work they’ll go through your manuscript.
  4. The next paragraph should be about you.  What else have you written? What makes your book special? Why is it going to be successful? What’s your background? What makes you, as an individual, special? What are your strengths as a writer? What are your weaknesses as a writer? This is where you plug in any more information you want known. At this point in the letter, the editor is interested in knowing who’s behind the manuscript so share what you think could close the deal.
  5. End it and offer that you’ll follow up but understand that the review process could take weeks to up to a year. 
  6. Under your signature, put all your contact information there so that the editor isn’t digging for it through the text later. Include, “Author of, the title of your book“, followed by your phone number, email, and link to your website. If you mail your letter, the envelope will probably get lost. If you e-mail the letter as an attachment, it’s likely that the attachment will be printed and the original e-mail will eventually drown in hundreds of other e-mails. Just guarantee your contact information is there when needed. Even if you think they have it, give it to them again.
  7. Revise and proofread your letter. Also, edit the letter so that it fits on a single page.

 

Best of luck,

E

Proofreader vs. Editor

The basics:

  • A proofreader will examine while an editor will make direct and deliberate changes to your text.
  • A proofreader will make marks because something is wrong with the punctuations used, grammar, and typos were found. An editor will do that and also make marks because the text can be written/communicated better. 
  • A proofreader won’t tell you that your manuscript is lacking or your writing hasn’t matured enough to be presented to an audience. An editor will attempt to develop your manuscript if they feel it flatly sucks. 

• Who do you need?

  • Are you confident that your manuscript is structurally sound and that people are ready to read it? 
  • Are you an experienced  writer who gets their work critiqued?
  • Do you just want someone to review your work?

You need a proofreader. 

Main idea:

a proofreader’s job is to perfect bodies of work that are already well-written to enhance its delivery.

  • Do you think your manuscript is ready for publication but are having doubts about somethings? 
  • Have you gotten bad feedback about your work that you hadn’t expected?
  • Is your writing not getting the attention from readers you had hoped for? 

You need an editor. 

Main idea: an editor’s job is to make your manuscript something people want to read. Their main job is to elevate writing.

• Price Differences

Proofreading costs less and in most cases, a lot less. This is mostly because an editor is offering more than just the technical stuff. They’re giving up their good ideas for you to use and to take credit for. They’re also giving you their technical and industry experience on what works and what sells.

Main idea: proofreading costs less.

• Project Time Differences

proofreading a standard 200 page book can take 2-3 weeks on average. This depends on what agreements are made and the proofreader of course. Editing can take anywhere from a month to even 9 months, depending. 

Main idea: proofreading takes weeks and editing takes months.

Happy writing!

-E

Photo via Visualhunt

Dear English Major

Recently,  I was asked what advice I could provide for prospective graduating English majors. If you pick up a brochure from a university in Connecticut, you may see that I am the first name listed there. Though I wanted to be helpful, this subject always brings up mixed feelings for me. This subject brings on a certain sadness in me and not because there is a certain sadness about the subject itself, but because I know what it means to pick this particular major out of many. I hit the after-graduation wall, too, and I know I’m not alone. It was tough and it’s still tough.

It wasn’t event until a month ago,  on a trip to Asia when I found out that my cousin has decided to major in English as well, that I was prompted to write something truly honest about it. Though I know that every degree holds their own strengths, weaknesses, and stereotypes, this message is for my fellow English majors.

Dear prospective English major graduate,

Foremost, I want to congratulate you on finding the direction you want to take your life and career because knowing what the heck you want to do with your life is half the battle. If you really don’t know what you want to do after college, don’t be afraid to go back to the drawing board and reevaluate your motives for getting your degree. If you’re looking for easy money, save yourself the time and abort your plans to major in English–quick, fast, and in a hurry! Do not pass go, do not collect $200. Get out now before you have to face the storm that’s coming: your education wasn’t free and collectors are coming. Worse, you’ve given up years of your life; you can make more money but you can’t make more time. You have other options besides college: join the work force, take a vacation, enter the military, run off with the Peace Corps, but if you don’t love English by now and have no goal-oriented plans on how to productively use it after graduation, don’t bother. 

Many people won’t consider taking the risk or challenge of majoring in English simply because it has no obvious career direction–except for teaching. Understandable. The sooner you get your head out of that book and learn early that a degree is only as valuable as the person holding it and the economy it will serve, the better you’ll be.  You cannot ride to glory on your hopes, list of books you love, or the manuscripts you plan on working on. In college you will be injected with an unrealistic enthusiasm by your peers and professors that could get you hurt. A college degree will not save someone who is  unwilling to put in hard work or take humble positions starting out. It also won’t magically provide you with the amazing job that you’re hoping for if the company hiring for it doesn’t exist or you can’t convince them that you have the experience to compliment your degree.  Who knows, maybe you’re that anomaly who ends up making $100k a year on a fresh bachelors, but for now, just consider what I have to say.  

On your journey toward graduation you will be accused of not being as important as a math or science major. Others will even chastise you for deciding to major in English so it’s imperative that during your freshman year–or as soon as possible– you a have a comeback for when the volleys of negativity come launching toward your head. If you don’t, the stigma that you and your major are worthless will continue to exist. Unfortunately, telling everyone to screw or mind their own business won’t be good enough as these criticisms will most likely come from friends and family first. Having a plan for your degree that you can verbalize to others doesn’t just clarify which goals you need to set, it also keeps your friends and family from just assuming you’re going to be a writer or an English teacher. Let’s face it, sure some will end up as English teachers but many English grads will land positions that being an English major indirectly prepared them for. Skills in research, grant writing, analytical thinking, creativity, and effective communication make English majors great candidates for non-profit work, advertising, management, communications, social media, or even a degree in law. Have a plan that’s broken down by accomplishable goals and time frames!

Here’s something I wish someone had told me before graduation: You don’t have to wait until after graduation to start writing your novel, tutoring, proofreading, editing, or freelancing for money. The sooner you start, the sooner you’ll be ready to find a job that pays in your field after graduation. In fact, I can almost guarantee that there’s a math major on your campus right now who hates editing! Find him or her and make your money! And don’t take your analytical and grammar classes lightly because this will be a source of extra income later on. In the real world, they may even prove more useful than your literary courses. Learning to edit, proofread, communicate with words, and think critically will also be how you can add value to any business and industry. They may not care about a feminist reading of Grendel’s mother but they will care how you can better their means of communication to the outside world. Let go of the Netflix binges and build your resume before graduation even if that means having to volunteer your free time. It sucks. We all want to be fairly compensated but it’s better to say that you contributed your time to something meaningful than not after graduation. Plus, you’ll learn things and network. 

On the subject of adding value to the work force, minor in something that is useful. As I’ve told my college buddies time and time again, don’t minor in creative writing. In the end, you can always prove that you can write well but after graduation it’ll be harder to prove that you have other skills outside of the realm of English. If you’re a “good” and “smart” student you’ll have published work from your university’s publications and hold excellent writing samples to show to your prospective employers. People can turn their noses up at the school newspaper if they want to, but it’ll never be easier to get work published. If you’re a really smart English major, you’ll minor in something like science so you can get paid well to write and edit for science journals. Minor in computer arts so that you can make beautiful websites, marketing material, and advertisements for people. Minoring also gives you the ability to talk about something that isn’t literature. You can be an English major and be as technical or creative as you want to be. Here’s the reality: not everyone loves Jane Austin or Proust, or whoever you have up your literary sleeve. You need to find a way to connect with people outside of your major and bring value to others or finding a job after graduation will be difficult. 

Remember, whatever you decide to do with your degree is all up to you.  

Best of luck,

E

 

 

What’s in a Name: How to Pick the Perfect Name for Your Characters

To quote Shakespeare:

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.”

Boy, was he wrong! The idea was sentimental though. Today, we all know that names are extremely important because they’re how we associate and identify people. We even build our assumptions around names–assumptions we’ve socially molded into stereotypes that seem to stick around like old gum on new furniture.

When we see names on paper–on a resume, a test, or the cover of a book–they bring these assumptions, racial perceptions, and personality traits with them. Or, maybe not. Maybe it’s all just madness spewing from overly superstitious mouths that believe a name decides one’s destiny.

Is Harriet really an “old lady name“, like Dorothy or Maude?  Or did the researchers at MIT have it right? They conducted a study suggesting that white sounding names on resumes resulted in 50% more callbacks than those with more ethnic–specifically black or African American–connotations.

To read the university study, you can access the formal essay titled, “Are Emily and Greg More Employable than Lakisha and Jamal? A Field Experiment on Labor Market Discrimination” here.  You can also access it through the Social Science Research Network website.

Regardless of how important or unimportant you believe names are, it’s an important part of your character’s journey. It’s the name your readers will call them by and the name they will use to identify your character. It’s the name that will be used to market your story to others. Memorable sometimes does mean different. Harry Potter is a household name together, but not apart, and we all know who Katniss is at the slightest drop of the name.

Here are my favorite name generating sites to help:

Random Name Generator

Be a Better Writer Creative Name Generator

Seventh Sanctum: an excellent site for the out of the ordinary name.  This one is my personal favorite.

 Visit The Baby Name Genie if you’re looking for a great name to match a last name.

Happy writing!

-E

The Business of the Business Card

Not much has changed with how useful business cards can be. At this rate, they’ll probably always be relevant. Let me explain. Business cards have been around since the 17th century! Back then, members of polite society were expected to carry these pocket-sized introductory cards to announce their arrival. You’d show up to someone’s door and place your card in a silver platter and a doorman or servant would take it up to the owner of the house.

Business cards play a part in how you network with other people. For the modern person it serves as a way to provide a newly met friend, work associate, colleague, or possible employer with a lasting impression of your encounter together. Most importantly the card leaves  them with multiple ways to get and keep in touch.

Its very design should be used to communicate something about who you are. Design your card to communicate to an audience and keep in mind what impression it will give long after the encounter. It could be months before you hear from them.

Basic Card Trading Etiquette

  1.  When receiving a card it’s polite to look at it. Don’t just shove it in your pocket.
  2. Have translated business cards in the language of the country that you’re in if you’re traveling.
  3. Make appropriate eye contact during the hand off and avoid handing off your card in a handshake.
  4. If you can help it, don’t give out cards that have been previously written on or are in poor condition.
  5. It’s common to make business cards for your book titles but, this can relate some information about you that you don’t exactly want being easily known.
    • First, it reveals that you’re new to the game. Experienced authors will have a web address on a personal business card where you can find a list of the books they have written. I’ve found that they won’t bother making exclusive cards for each book.
    • Second, it doesn’t help to build a personal connection with you as an author, it just helps others remember your project. If that’s what you want, then great. If you’re networking and looking to build a following or relationship, then this isn’t great. If you want to make business cards for your book then that’s up to you, just don’t forget to include all of the other information people need to get in touch!

This is a follow-up (after two years) to an article I published with Elite Millennial Magazine on how to use business cards to network. You can read the original article by accessing this link here: The Business of the Business Card.

The image attached to this post is the business/networking card I’m currently using, with some of my personal information taken out.

-E

Goodreads

Did you know that Goodreads conducts fun reading challenges every year? This year over a million people have chosen to take the challenge with an average of almost 50 books per participant. It’s not too late to join the race though 2016 is quickly coming and going. I joined super late but I’m going to trudge along anyway. Join the challenge on Goodreads here.

Good things about Goodreads:

  • This site makes reading a community event. You can add and link to friends to see what they’re reading or what they thought of books. You can make recommendations and even join the site as an author to promote your own work. You can also find other book lovers if you’re  a lone wolf.
  • Goodreads stimulates literacy and book reading in a world being swallowed up by technology.

Greater things about Goodreads:

  • This site lets you record all of the books you have ever read! This is great for people who mind dump what they have read after a few years. There’s no shame in that either!
  • This site is great for book browsing. It also allows you to quickly and easily save books that you’re interested in but don’t have time to read at the moment.

Check out what I’m currently reading by scrolling to the bottom of this site! Feel free to add me to your friends list!

Happy reading!

-E

 

Photo via VisualHunt