Here’s Good Query-Writing Help

If you hate writing query letters, or if you have questions about submitting a query, you might want to pay a visit to The Urban Muse, Susan Johnston’s site. Her post, “10 Tips on Querying Magazines and Websites,” offers practical help you can use to your advantage. I wrote about the site back in April when Susan also had posted some good query-writing tips. You can read about that here.

This time, I especially liked Susan’s on-target advice about what to do if you don’t yet have writing clips:

Play up your expertise relating to your topic. If you don’t have any writing clips yet, don’t mention it in your query. You can find other ways to play up your background without admitting that you’re a newbie. For instance, ‘as a former nurse, I am well versed in healthcare issues such as ….’ Or, ‘Sibling rivalry is a topic that I’m intimately familiar with thanks to my three children.”

She also has good suggestions about follow-ups and using an eye-catching subject line. In fact, all the tips in Susan’s article are helpful. I find her posts well worth reading — they give me a different way of looking at some writing practices — and that’s a good thing. (Her post yesterday, “When Pubs Don’t Pay,” is a good example).

Although I’m years beyond being a newbie, I often learn a lesson or two by reading The Urban Muse. You might want to make it a regular stop, too. In addition to The Urban Muse, Susan publishes The Urban Museletter, which also features tips on writing.

© 2008 Laverne Daley

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Digital Media and Print Magazines: The Future

The December issue of Writer’s Digest is now out and in it is an intriguing article about the roles digital media and print magazines will play in the future. “The Future Now” debates whether print magazines will survive, or even thrive, in the next century.

The two viewpoints are presented by Bob Sacks, who runs Precision Media Group, a private consulting firm (he’s also a columnist and lecturer who regularly speaks about the media and marketing industries), and Samir Husni, Ph.D., chair of the journalism department at the University of Mississippi and author of the annual Guide to New Magazines, Launch Your Own Magazine and Selling Content.

In his segment, “It’s a Digital World Now,” Sacks notes that while we are not headed toward a totally paperless society, we live in a digital world now and it’s not going to go away. “The speed and efficiency of the future is here right now, and it’s accelerating at an unprecedented and perhaps even uncomfortable rate.”

In Dr. Husni’s segment, “The Death of Print Magazines and Other Fairy Tales,” he argues that the magazine media are alive and kicking, citing last year’s launches of 715 new magazines. That’s an average of nearly two new magazines coming into existence each day.

As a freelance magazine journalist, I try to keep up with every bit of potential market information I can find, both digital and print. One way is to make regular visit to Dr. Husni’s website at mrmagazine.com and his blog, mrmagazine.wordpress.com.

For digital information, Bob Sacks publishes a daily enewsletter, “Heard on the Web: Media Intelligence.” His website is at bosacks.com.

I appreciate both their viewpoints, and I especially liked Dr. Husni’s positive outlook about the future of magazines. I enjoy reading magazines and I like writing for them.  And while I apapreciate the speed, scope and convenience of digital media,  I hope that magazines will be around for many, many years.

© 2008 Laverne Daley

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Ten Most Irritating Phrases

Researchers at Oxford University in the U.K. have compiled and released a list of the ten most irritating phrases in use today and I must say I agree with most of their findings, although I’d rank some a bit differently. “Fairly unique” ranked second on the Oxford list and I’d rather see it recognized as the most irritating phrase of all. It’s number 1 on my list. Considering that unique means “one of a kind,” it’s hard to see how anyone can link unique with “fairly,” or with “very,” “most” or any other comparative word.

Researchers compiled the list using a database called the Oxford University Corpus, which comprises books, papers, magazines, broadcast, the internet and other sources. The database alerts researchers to new words and phrases and tells them which are disappearing and which are being misused.

Here are the ten offending phrases as compiled at Oxford:

1. At the end of the day
2. Fairly unique
3. I personally
4. At this moment in time
5. With all due respect
6. Absolutely
7. It’s a nightmare
8. Shouldn’t of
9. 24/7
10. It’s not rocket science

It’s not often that one encounters “shouldn’t of” on this side of the Atlantic, but others, like 24/7, seem to pop up everywhere, every day. And I’ve never understood why anyone would write “at this moment in time” when the word “now” is available to use. It’s much shorter and is understood by everyone. It’s also more precise.

That said, those at Oxford who compiled the list are due our thanks for coming up with ten phrases we can omit from our writing and in so doing eliminate the “irritating” factor and aid in achieving more precision in our work. Hat’s off to those researchers!

© 2008 Laverne Daley

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One Way to Beat Writer’s Block

“A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word on paper.” – E.B. White

An editor I know once told me that there is no such thing as writer’s block. “Just sit down at the computer and start putting words on the screen,” he said. His view of the subject was, I think, that if you just start writing something, anything, in time you’ll come up with the right words you need for the article you intend to write.

It’s a little bit like teaching a teenager to drive. I know something about this subject, having spent a fair number of hair-raising hours teaching our five children how to drive.

After each child’s sixteenth birthday, the driving lessons happened — no matter if dinner needed to be cooked, a deadline loomed, or a migraine was beginning to make my head ache. Not ideal conditions, but a 16-year-old without a driver’s license is a powerful motivator.

The lessons took place on vacant streets of our fairgrounds or at a nearby mall on holidays when stores were closed and parking lots deserted. The teens were instructed to start the engine, step on the accelerator and get going. They soon learned the mechanics of driving and parking, laws to be observed and rules of the road, and in time each one graduated to city streets. With stick-to-ittiveness, they, and I, survived the process.

I liken those experiences to starting each new writing assignment. Sometimes I have trouble coming up with the lead I need, but I know that if I just turn on the computer and step on the gas, so to speak, in time I’ll have a lead I can work with and eventually I’ll write the article I’ve promised an editor. Stick-to-ittiveness is the key. (Isn’t stick-to-ittiveness a great word!)

Here’s another quotation about writer’s block, this one by Roy Blount, Jr., author of Crackers, One Fell Soup and other books.

“I think writer’s block is simply the dread that you are going to write something horrible. But as a writer, I believe that if you sit down at the keys long enough, sooner or later something will come out.”

I think he and E.B. White both had it right.

© 2008 Laverne Daley

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