Friday, October 22, 2010

How Not To Write A Query Letter by Smoky Trudeau

Check out the various writing blogs and magazines like Writers Digest and you’ll find plenty of advice on how to write a query letter. What you won’t find is advice on how not to write one.

And, sometimes, knowing how not to do something is as important as knowing how to do it. Here are a few tips on how not to present your work to a publisher.

1. Don’t compare your book to other books.

My second novel, The Cabin, involves time travel. So do Diana Gabaldon’s fabulous Outlander books. Her books have made her practically a household name; her books have sold millions of copies. Now, I believe The Cabin is every bit as good as the Outlander books. But to say that in a query letter would have been arrogant and presumptuous. It is not for the author to compare her books to best sellers. That’s the job of literary critics.

2. Don’t tell the publisher your book is guaranteed to be a best seller.

You don’t know this. You cannot guarantee this. Once again, to write such a thing in a query is arrogant and presumptuous, and will get your query tossed faster than a burning Frisbee. Along the same lines, don’t tell the publisher they’ll regret it if they don’t publish your book. That sounds like a thinly veiled threat. Again, you’ve doomed any chance you had of the publisher even reading the next sentence of your query.

3. Don’t assume a publisher’s submission guidelines don’t apply to you.

They do. Not reading and following a publisher’s submission guidelines to the letter shows the publisher you cannot follow directions, and if you can’t follow simple directions, how is the publisher to know if you can follow an editor’s directions? Don’t send your science fiction novel to a publisher who publishes only romance. Don’t send your literary novel to a publisher who publishes only inspirational non-fiction. Don’t send an entire manuscript if the publisher asks for only a chapter. I cannot stress this enough: follow the submission guidelines to the letter.

4. Don’t admit you’re clueless.

I have seen query letters where the authors admit they’ve never published so much as a Facebook comment. Never, ever admit you are clueless! If you’ve written a good book, if you’ve had it professionally edited, let the book talk for you. If it is good, it doesn’t matter if you’ve never published before. If it isn’t any good, well, it still doesn’t matter.

Be professional. Be courteous. Be humble. Follow the guidelines. Writing a good query letter is really as simple as that.

Smoky Trudeau is the author of two novels, Redeeming Grace and The Cabin, and two nonfiction books especially for writers: Front-Word, Back-Word, Insight Out: Lessons on Writing the Novel Lurking Inside You From Start to Finish; and Left Brained, Write Brained: 366 Writing Prompts and Exercises to Free Your Creative Spirit, Awaken Your Muse, And Challenge Your Skills Every Day of the Year, all from Vanilla Heart Publishing. She has published short stories and poetry in literary journals such as CALYX and online e-zines such as Smashed Ink, and was a 2003 Pushcart Prize nominee.

An ardent outdoorswoman with a deep reverence for nature, Smoky’s newly released book, Observations of an Earth Mage, is a collection of prose, poetry, and photography celebrating the fragile beauty of our planet. She is currently writing her third novel.

Finally succumbing to her bohemian spirit and need to live near the mountains and the ocean, Smoky moved to Southern California in 2008, where she lives with her husband and daughter in a ramshackle cottage in the woods overlooking the San Gabriel Valley and the San Gabriel Mountains beyond. When she isn’t writing, she spends her time hiking in the mountains, camping in the Sierras, splashing in tidepools, and fighting the urge to speak in haiku.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Acckk!! Where's That List? By Chelle Cordero

Organization, or rather the extreme lack of it, is the bane of my existence. As a self-employed – and too broke to hire assistants – writer, I have to keep track of my different projects, deadlines, invoices, bills and other “I gotta do it(s)”. Organization has NEVER been my forte. I am tempted to say I thrive on chaos, but that only seems to expand the piles of papers and JUNK. sigh…

Yet to survive as a writer, or at least manage to hang on to the dream, I have to keep track of what I am doing and when it needs to be done. Sometimes it seems a bit overwhelming, but I’ve learned a few tricks.

To-do lists – very important. Not only does the list serve as a reminder of those things to be done, it also helps keep you on track. I’m sure you’ve heard the joke of the person who started out looking to address a letter, but they needed their glasses – while looking for their glasses they came across something else they meant to do, and so on until the day was over and they sat down exhausted at the table to find they never addressed or mailed the letter. I hate to admit this, but that really should be my biography, truly, that’s me.

I keep getting distracted by things I come across during my pursuit to accomplish just one thing. My to-do list helps me snap back to what I am supposed to be doing and helps me keep my focus. Besides, I leave plenty of room on the bottom of the list to write in all the things I came across to distract me so I will eventually get those done as well. And I don’t try to finish the list every day although it is nice when I’ve accomplished the bulk of it; I just copy the balance to the next day’s list.

Calendars can help keep you afloat. I carry one in my pocketbook and keep a full size one on my desk – these are regular old fashioned write on it yourself calendars. I also maintain a webmail calendar that I can set up to send me periodic email or text-to-phone reminders. Occasionally I do have to sit and coordinate each calendar to make sure I have the same info (ie: deadline dates and appointments) on each. Having a calendar at hand is a great way to make sure I am not double-booking myself or missing important dates. I also include social obligations and religious holidays since those can affect my availability. Some of my friends use the electronic calendar feature of their phones, that can work, but I prefer something I can easily look at and scribble on at will.

I keep a “project book” next to my desk. There are various methods you can use here – keep your lists individually, by date, by client (for multiple assignments) or just assign a sheet or two for each month and list an upcoming deadline appropriately. If I scheduled a blog visit, have a deadline, am hosting a blog stop, have an appointment or anything that will alter my time commitments, I list it here. This is in addition to my little note on my calendar(s). I check things off and even make a few notations about the job and or results so I can refer to it the next time I have a similar task.

When you are feeling overwhelmed with too many things to do, the stress builds and causes distractions and headaches. I work at home so my distractions may include family or neighbors, social phone calls or housework you just know has to be done. Caller ID and answering machines should be used to the fullest extent when you don’t need to be interrupted – I’ve gone so far as to turn off the ringer when I am really feeling frazzled.

As for interruptions from family, close a door or even hang a sign if there is no door saying “I am at work” and demand compliance. Plan a timed schedule for any must-do’s that you simply fee you can’t ignore and don’t devote more time than allowed. Finally, if you are really overwhelmed and stressed and reacting badly (as in you can’t seem to accomplish anything), take a break – yep, walk away from your desk and work and relax for at least fifteen minutes.

I hope you’ll find some of these helpful tips useful. For me, I am getting back to work – WHAT WAS I DOING when I thought to write this little ditty?

Chelle Cordero is a multi-published author with Vanilla Heart Publishing and a full-time freelance writer with local and national newspapers and magazines. She resides in New York’s Hudson Valley with her husband, family and three spoiled pussycats. In addition to her books and articles, Chelle pens a weekly writing course available by subscription at Amazon Kindle Blogs and volunteers with her local ambulance corps as an EMT. Her website is