Some writing advice is timeless; some needs to be adjusted over time.
An example: At one time, a written query, complete with SASE (self-addressed, stamped envelope) was the only acceptable way to approach an editor with an article idea. Now many editors want queries only by email.
Whether you’re submitting by regular mail or email, however, you need to present yourself ( and your work) in the best way possible. Editors and agents expect you’ll do a bit of horn-tooting in your queries, but Lisa Collier Cool advises you not to do it too loudly. Best foot forward, but don’t overdo it.
I’ve written before about Lisa Collier Cool and her book, “How to Write Irresistible Query Letters.” It’s chock-full of timeless advice about selling yourself to an editor or agent, including this: don’t create a negative impression. Because editors want to buy from writers who believe in their own work, she says you should avoid even the slightest expression of doubt.
She even lists these five Terms of Indecision to avoid:
This book (or article) would …. (the use of the conditional tense subtly suggests a lack of confidence in your work). Instead, always say: The book (or article) will… (this implies that you consider its publication a certainty).
I’ll welcome your editorial input. Bad because it sounds as though you’ll need editing. Surprising as it may seem, today’s book and magazine editors prefer to do as little editing as possible…. This is equally true in the magazine business, where the fqst-paced schedule of putting out a monthly or weekly publication leaves minimal time for editing.
I know there are a lot of other books/articles on the topic…. Why offer an editor a ready-made reason for rejection? Rephrase as “My book differs from others in the field because …. ” or “My article will be the first to explain….”
I’m an unpublished author…. Work on creating a strong bio emphasizing your other qualifications–don’t draw attention to your lack of publishing credits.
I’ve written six other books/articles, but this is the first one I consider worthy of publication…. The suggestion that you have a hoard of unpublished works that you consider to be of interior quality strikes terror into an editor’s heart as she envisions your query being followed by a deluge of unpromising material. Avoid referring to other works you’ve written unless they are either published or presented in your query as candidates for publication.
Lisa’s advice is right on target.
I’ve had my copy of “How to Write Irresistible Query Letters” for more than 20 years and refer to it often. It’s chock full of advice that really is timeless. The book is available at Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, and other booksellers, if you’d like to take a look.
© 2008 Laverne Daley
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Have you seen the 2009 Writer’s Yearbook yet? I picked up a copy last week and as expected, the issue is chock full of goodies for freelancers.
When I first see the Yearbook on the newsstand every December, it’s like meeting an old friend with whom I’ve shared lots of good times. I’ve been reading the publication as long as I’ve been freelancing and it has been almost as helpful to me as some of my freelance pals have been.
For me, some highlights of the 2009 issue (in addition to the usual 100 Best Magazines & Book Markets for Writers) are:
1. “Six Rules for Freelancing Success” by Jenny Rough (jennyrough.com/talk), who has written for The Washington Post, Self, Mothering and Whole Life Times.
2. “What Agents Hate,” in which literary agents vent about Chapter 1 turnoffs.
3. “The Syndication Blues” — Lisa Abeyta discusses the odds of landing a nationally syndicated column.
4. Sharlene Martin’s eye-opening article on “Query Madness,” with actual examples of real life queries writers used in approaching agents. After reading this article, you’ll know what not to do.
5. I was drawn to “Publish Your First Book After 50,” not because I’m trying to publish a book (although I hit the 50 mark many moons ago), but for future reference and the good practical advice Scott Hoffman includes in his article.
I was also eager to read the annual list of “101 Best Websites for Writers” because it’s always great fun. I zeroed in on five sites with links of interest to freelancers. I’ve written about these five on this blog before. They are great resources for freelancers:
This year, Writer’s Yearbook received more than 2,100 nominations for sites to be included in the 101 Best Websites of 2008. The publication is now accepting nominations for next year’s list.
If any of you find “Words into Print” valuable and would care to nominate this site for 2009, I’m be most pleased to be nominated. Just send an email with your comment and nomination to firstname.lastname@example.org with “101 Websites” as the subject. The deadline is January 1, 2009.
© 2008 Laverne Daley
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Over in Britain, Collins English Dictionary has chosen to include the word “Meh” in its new dictionary to be published next year in celebration of the publisher’s 30th anniversary.
According to TimesOnline, “Meh” beat out several other words, including Jargonaut (a fan of jargon), frenemy (an enemy disguised as a friend) and huggles (a combination of hugs and snuggles) to capture a place in the Collins Dictionary.
“Meh” started out in the US and Canada as an interjection signifying mediocrity or indifference and has evolved, via the internet and an episode of The Simpsons TV show, into a common adjective meaning boring, apathetic or unimpressive in British English. Compilers of the dictionary said the word spread through the Intenet and is now entering British spoken English.
It seems that in the Simpsons episode, Homer was trying to get the kids away from the TV by suggesting a day trip and both kids just replied “meh” and kept watching TV. When he asks again, Lisa says, “We said MEH! — MEH, meh!”
Living as I do in the US and never having been a fan of The Simpsons, I’d not heard the word nor seen it before today. Just looking at the letters, “Meh” seems to me to be more a sound than a real word.
Sources say “Meh” can be used as an interjection to suggest indifference or boredom, or as an adjective to say something is mediocre or that a person is unimpressed.
On blogs in the US and Britain, an amazing number of people seem to have welcomed the word into their vocabulary and many are quite vocal in their defense of “Meh.” There have been some detractors. On a site called izreloaded.blogspot.com, someone named Yan said:
The dictionary will say that meh can be used as an interjection to suggest indifference or boredom – or as an adjective to say something is mediocre or a person is unimpressed.
Hmmm. I’m so umimpressed with MEH as an English word.”
Commenting on “Meh” on Topix.com, a blogger named Filabaster in Las Vegas said this:
That’s a completely ridiculous addition! Just like all of those blokes who put Harry Potter words in the dictionary! I hate these people! You stupid Americans! Britain is better than you at everything.”
And also commenting on Izreloaded.blogspot.com, another bloger who calls himself Sir Thomas had this to say about “Meh”:
I fear for the future of the English language.”
Now a question: Do you think “Meh” will appear in the next Webster’s Dictionary?
© 2008 Laverne Daley
An enterprising freelance writer that I know is a good example of how to survive, and even thrive, in tough economic times. When the large company that she worked for downsized, my friend negotiated with the company to continue doing her job on a contract basis.
It was a win/win situation. The former employer continued to benefit from the services of a highly skilled writer without having to pay for vacations and health care or for training, office space, utilities, and other overhead costs. My friend used those points to negotiate a contract that provided very good compensation that covered her former salary and benefits, and more.
I used some of those same points successfully when discussing freelance jobs with prospective clients (although they weren’t former employers) during the economic downturn of the 1980s. I’m sure my friend could offer her former employer additional cost-saving reasons to contract for her services during their negotiations.
Several talking points come to mind (especially useful when negotiating with former employers):
- 1. Employers reap the benefits of working with highly motivated individuals (most freelancers are extremely motivated or they wouldn’t become freelancers in the first place).
- 2. As freelancers, they don’t have to attend time-wasting meetings not directly associated with their jobs.
- 3. They already know the company structure, its goals, its corporate culture, and its politics and they know how to work within that environment.
- 4. They know the company clients and the clients are used to working with them–in fact, clients may not even need to know that freelancer are no longer company employees.
- 5. With fewer distractions, freelancers in home offices can be more productive than some office employees. No time-wasting chats while visiting the cubicles of other workers; no showers and office parties during work hours.
- 6. Freelancers don’t require overtime pay because they are not limited to a 9 to 5 schedule to get the job done. They can work after hours, holidays and weekends if they prefer.
Other freelancers, I am sure, can come up with additional selling points to promote their services. My freelancing friend knew exactly how to use those points to turn hard times to her advantage. Savvy employers like her former bosses knew that it makes sound business sense to hire experienced freelancers to help them through economic downtimes.
© 2008 Laverne Daley