Back in the mid to late 1980s I was a security guard. The pay was lousy, but it gave me many hours in seclusion to write short stories and novels. However, I usually worked over 80 hours a week. No one can write that much. Well, at least not me. Thus I discovered the joys of my local libraries. Recently, I decided to look up an author who gave me great pleasure in those days. Most of his books are now out of print, I’ve learned, even the one that became a movie. I found that two of his were books available, so I ordered them. One I’d enjoyed before. The other was a straight thriller from the days before he created the “Appleton Porter” spy spoofs, re-released in 2001 in POD. I didn’t know this before it arrived at my home in China. Since I’m giving away THE plot spoiler, I won’t identify the author or title. A man who deeply loves his wife buys her a hotel outside London. She is very happy there, at first. This is a fine suspenseful read as she notes oddities and eventually appears to be losing her mind and such. Suicides, an eventual murder. Finally, her husband pays a doctor to kill her. The husband arranged all this, we learn at the end, because she was dying of a horrible and incurable illness. Rather than let her suffer the indignity, he tries to give her some final days filled with wonderful memories. He never realizes that he ended her days with a living hell. The writing was fine, aside from some stupid typos of the sort common in unedited POD titles. He’s obviously a sincere, hard-working, talented author. The plot was wholly consistent and everything “worked. ” So why is it a weak book? Because the plot I described is all there is. It’s a one-plot wonder. As an author, if you find yourself floundering, if you find your work-in-progress failing to make progress, ask yourself. Is it a one-plot wonder? Here are some best sellers I’ve read over the past thirty years. During the Cold War, a Soviet commander steals a top-secret submarine and tries to defect to the US with it. A good and idealistic young law graduate accepts a job too good to be true, only to eventually learn he’s working for the Mafia. An alcoholic ex-author and his family become caretakers at an old Maine hotel, alone during the winter, and he eventually goes nuts. A US President declares war on drug dealers, a “clear and present danger” to national security. A crippled author is kidnapped by the ultimate fan. I choose these titles because all were made into movies I’ve seen. None of my plot summaries are wrong. But with some of those novels, there are many more plots and subplots at work. These are the novels that didn’t always translate well to the big screen due to time constraints and/or loss of non-objective voice. I love a well-conceived “what if” scenario, and none of these books lack that. But more importantly, I love a novel that’s rich with the fabric of life. That’s where multiple plots come into play. Very rarely will a movie capture this as well as a novel can. A one-plot wonder is a boring read. It’s a boring write. It’s not realistic. And, it’s a hard sell. All your eggs are in one basket. If the editor isn’t enthralled with that sole plot, you aren’t published. If the reviewer isn’t enthralled with that sole plot, he pans you. If the potential reader isn’t enthralled with that sole plot, he doesn’t buy your book. Or if he does, maybe you don’t get any repeat business from him. You don’t get mine. Plus, we should be setting the bar a bit higher for ourselves anyway. We entertain, but we also enlighten and educate. Or at the very least, provide needed escape. But it’s hard to escape to a one-plot wonder. I keep taking coffee breaks between chapters. I single out no writing medium with this. All are guilty. Come on, Terminator 2 has more subplots than many successful books these days. And it’s not just “these days,” incidentally. The title I reviewed early in this article is from 1979. Published, successful, well-written, flat. Craftsmanship is fine. Craftsmanship is wonderful to behold. Craftsmanship is a necessity. But, it’s not enough. Do you want to build a horse barn that never leaks or do you want to build a two-story A-frame home that survives five hurricanes undamaged? My carpenter did the latter and I can’t do the former. But if I had the ability to build a leak-proof barn, I certainly wouldn’t limit myself to barns. I’d try to build houses. I’m not talking about weighty tomes. Times change, readers change, and most people don’t read them any more. What was once considered gripping is now considered boring. But one-plot wonders also bore readers. They read it, enjoy it moderately, then go look for something else to do. There’s little satisfaction at the end. Rarely the big “wow” that probably made you start writing in the first place. I’m talking about shooting for five stars instead of two or three. I’m talking about richness of story, raising the standard, writing your absolute best instead of settling for adequate. I risk oversimplification here, but I’m seeing far too many one-plot wonders. People are buying them, too. But it’s time for us, the authors, to quit writing them.
Peter Abrahams is the author of thirteen novels, including “The Tutor,” (Ballantine Books) “A Perfect Crime,” (Ballantine Books), “The Fan” (Fawcett Books), and most recently, “Their Wildest Dreams” (Ballantine Books). Known for his sharp wit and incredible gift for keeping readers on the edge of their seats, Abrahams has been entertaining readers for more than two decades–spinning multi-layered tales involving ordinary people who find themselves in horrific situations. Nominated for the Edgar Award, and known for his memorable, unique characters, colorful writing style, and non-stop suspense, Peter Abrahams seems to have it all–even the praise of horror author Stephen King. Here is what he had to tell Writer’s Break. THE INTERVIEWWB: What formal training did you have before becoming an author?Peter: I had little formal training. My mother–who wrote television drama–taught me a lot about writing when I was very young. For example–don’t use linking words between sentences (however, nevertheless, etc. ), but use linked ideas, mood, rhythm. WB: What’s a typical writing day like for you? Peter: Typical writing day–I drive my daughter to school, hit the gym, then breakfast and finally the office, where I work from about 10 to 5. Late in a book I sometimes do more after dinner. WB: How long does it typically take for you to complete a novel?Peter: The actual writing of a book takes me 5-6 months if everything is going well. I wouldn’t call myself fast, just steady. WB: What inspired you to write your latest novel, “Their Wildest Dreams”?Peter: I don’t know if inspired is the word. I’ve often got little ideas drifting around in my mind. In the case of “THEIR WILDEST DREAMS,” I was thinking a struggling woman and a Russian immigrant and a heist gone bad. Then, on Don Imus’s radio show, I heard Delbert McClinton singing a song called When Rita Leaves. Most of the story–Mackie, the southwest, the dude ranch, Buckaroo’s–came to me in the next five minutes. WB: How did you decide to become a full-time novelist? What were you doing before?Peter: The short answer is that I finally started doing what I was designed to do. The long answer isn’t that interesting. Earlier, I worked in radio. Before that, I was a spearfisherman in the Bahamas. WB: What would you say is the “best” and “worst” aspects to this job?Peter: The best is that hard-to-describe pleasure that comes with making something out of nothing. The worst? A toss-up between the business aspects and the solitary nature of the job. WB: Who are some of your favorite authors?Peter: Lots of dead favorites, and a few living ones, including Stephen King and Saul Bellow. WB: What can fans expect from you next?Peter: My next book, “OBLIVION,” comes out next year. It’s my first detective novel. I think I can safely say that the detective, Nick Petrov, faces challenges unlike any previous fictional detective. I’m also involved in another new thing for me–a young adult mystery series that I’m really excited about. WB: Do you do a lot of research for your books?Peter: Research–it depends what you mean. A lot of it just comes from living. But as for all the little facts, I do what I have to to get them right. I visit places I write about–some, like southern Arizona in “Their Wildest Dreams,” have a deep effect on me. WB: What would you like to do if you weren’t a novelist?Peter: If I wasn’t a novelist, I’d like to be a musician. WB: What advice would you give to aspiring writers?Peter: My advice to writers, at least those of the narrative kind: Don’t watch TV. There’s nothing for you there.
Too many sales letters are shaped into paper airplanes and flown into trash cans because freelancers write sales letters that sell their services. These freelancers have never listened to the quietly- whispered secret that says their sales letters should sell solutions, not services, to yield the best results. Solutions are jewels; they shimmer in sales pieces. Prospects will peruse your sales letter if they discover you have a solution (or solutions) to their existing or future problem or problems. To write a “solution-savvy” sales letter follow the copywriter’s adage: write “client-centered” copy. Zero in on the prospect, his business, his needs, his problems. Then pitch yourself as the freelancer who can fulfill his needs and solve his problems. Crown your claims with clients whom you’ve worked for and specific results you’ve achieved on solving similar problems. Here are four softly-whispered secrets to write a solution-savvy sales letter: тАв SECRET #1: FOCUS ON THE CLIENT’S NEED OR PROBLEM. As a freelancer writing for this client’s business and industry, you should know the type of needs and problems the client faces regularly or could face in the future. Zero in on a specific need or problem that is hurting the client’s profitability or productivity. (Note: prospects are more motivated to contact you if you pitch yourself as a freelancer who has a solution to a present problem, rather than a future or potential problem). тАв SECRET #2: FOCUS ON THE BENEFITS OF SOLVING THE PROBLEM OR MEETING THE NEED. Tell the prospect what he and his business can gain if his problem is solved. Usually, it means an increase in profitability or productivity. Maybe both. Also stress the possible consequences of not taking action now to solve this problem. тАв SECRET #3: WHAT IS THE SOLUTION?Here is where you present your solution. First, describe the service you are recommending. A press kit? Direct mail package? A series of ads? Tie it into the client’s needs. The client may have a new product to promote; he needs a low-cost marketing method that will produce lucrative results. Stress your uniqueness to undertake this task. Why you and not someone else? What qualifications do you brandish and what type of specific results have you achieved for similar businesses with the same type of problem? Offer secondary solutions that also may work to solve the client’s problem. These secondary solutions also may be alternatives that the client’s competition is using; if this is the case, point out their weaknesses and emphasize why your primary solution is better. тАв SECRET #4: THE “CLIENT-CENTERED” CONSUMMATION. The closing of your sales letter should show the client that the benefits predictably outweigh the costs. If the client is investing $6,000 for you to write a DM package, the client doesn’t just get a DM package; he receives exposure for his new product, generates new leads and sales, targets specific segments of his market, increases his company’s profit, etc. Secondly, recommend a call-for-action schedule. Tell the client when you’re available, how long the project will take, and when he can expect it by. Here’s a list of common solutions that clients often seek.
You’ve decided to write your very own Newsletter to promote your business, communicate with your customers, or just for FUN. You’ve read hundreds of newsletters. You’ve also noticed many of these newsletters lack original material. They are identical in format and/or article content!Don’t Fall Into That Easy Trap! The following tips will help the new newsletter writer/ publisher create a better newsletter. Know Who You Are Writing For. This sounds simple enough, you must know your readers. What are their demographics. Are they male, female, young, old, middle income, high income, getting by, just starting out, looking for business opportunities, looking for work at home jobs, stay at home moms, business women or men. Learn to select the articles that reflect your readers interest. Establish A Publishing Schedule. Professionals publish on a regular basis. Make that your goal!A regular publishing schedule will also assist you when you accept articles from writers. The contributors will have an idea when to submit articles. And this will also assist in scheduling your ads. You will know how to schedule ads, knowing what issue they will appear in, according to your publishing schedule. Stick To Your Plan Like Glue. If you plan your issues the 1’st of every month stick to it. Don’t publish erratically. You will lose readers or they may forget they subscribed to your newsletter because of your irregular publishing schedule. Proofread. Proofreading is very critical to the publishing process. Every publisher must proofread the newsletter before it is sent out. Take the time to correct any spelling or grammar errors. This will improve the quality of your publication. Run your spell check program and then go over the text with your own eyes looking for common errors the program may have ignored like substituting two for too, or their for they’re. Experiment With Style. Change your format. Add different types of articles. Ask readers to send in their questions or opinions. Have surveys. Trivia bits, breaking news, quotes, even your favorite jokes. The change in format will keep readers interested while improving your writing skills in various formats. ResearchResearch your articles online. Add interesting links to more relevant information. Links to another free resource, software, interesting downloads, are always welcomed. Invite New WritersWriting a newsletter is overwhelming to most new publishers. Seek help from writers online. Ask your readers or writers to contribute to the newsletter. Offer a resource box in your newsletter to all contributors as compensation. This will prompt queries from many writers. And of course you can easily download articles from many article directories online. Here are a few popular article directories:
allnetarticles. com Goarticles. com ideamarketers. com articlecentral. com certificate. net authorconnection. com
Follow the tips in this article to make your newsletter stand out above all the rest!. Visit SmallBizBits for your free newsletter template!
Good technical articles are challenging to write. They’re time-consuming, demanding to research and hard to organize. But they’re valuable weapons in the PR and marketing arsenal, and you need them. If you can outsource the article, great. That’s what writers like me are here for. But if you can’t or don’t want to — then read and apply the tips below to save time and energy on research and writing, and come out with a much better product. Get Ready1. Review your resources hard copy like books and articles, Web access, interview contact information. 2. Arrange for interviews if you need them, it always takes a while to track down the interviewees. Note: If you’re ghostwriting an article for a company, you may not have an interview past the initial meeting. 3. Make sure you know the following: a) the reader’s challenge, b) the key message relating to their challenge, and c) the type of reader you’re writing to. 4. Understand the main message the client want to communicate. Many technologies are similar, but your client will have a defined slant on their implementation. (If they don’t, they should this is your chance to offer them your strategic message building services. )5. Even “vendor-neutral” articles are written with a point of view either the writer’s or the company the writer is working for. This is only a problem if the article bias makes for a misleading article, or tells a whopping big lie. Outline6. Never skip this step, for your own or your readers’ sakes. Outlines speed up your writing, and readers will follow your argument much better. 7. Organize your research into three themes. Some thematic organizations are obvious for example, I wrote an article on three steps to optimizing your storage. In other articles, there may be several possibilities. There is probably no one right choice, so if two or three seem fine to you, just pick one and go with it. 8. Remember your junior high school/high school/college outline lessons? They apply. If you don’t remember your lessons, here’s a reminder: I. Introduction (Outline problem, introduce solution, state theme) II. Body A. 1st major point B. 2nd major point C. 3rd major point III. Conclusion (short case study/example, restate solution, concluding paragraph)9. Put your outline on paper and let it guide you as you go. It’s not iron-clad if a new organization presents itself while you’re writing you can change it but don’t do it too much or you’ll defeat the outline’s purpose. Writing the Rough Draft10. Here’s the key to writing your rough draft: Just Do It. Write without thinking about it. Paste in random chunks of text from your research. Write some more. Write in any bizarre, random order. All you want to do at this point is get down large masses of information onto paper. 11. Keep going until you’ve got 2-3 times the words you actually need, then you can stop. 12. Once you have your mass of information on paper, you can organize it into your outline. No big deal just cut and paste paragraphs under the points they best fit. 13. Now that you’ve slapped all of your rough text and research into your outline, guess what? The draft is done. Congratulate yourself and take a break. Subsequent Drafts14. Now it’s time to whip this rough mass into shape. Start by saving your rough draft under a different name. You’re going to be doing a lot of deletions in this stage, and you don’t want to accidentally delete something you meant to use. 15. Working with the new copy, start your edits. Paraphrase the notes you have from other sources — memos, product briefs, other articles, brochures. (Journalists do it all the time. It’s called “research. “)16. I’ll often download online research but mark it in a different color, so as not to commit the embarrassing not to mention illegal — mistake of repeating someone else’s writing. When I’ve learned what I need to from the research, I capture the facts in my own words and delete the original notes. 17. Borrow freely from your client’s Website and other materials. Don’t repeat the text that’s bad policy and bad writing but you’re not going to be accused of plagiarism. Laziness maybe, but not plagiarism. 18. Music can be helpful on writing assignments. Personally, I like Vivaldi for drafting and movie scores for revising. Quite the combo. (As I write this sentence, The Last of the Mohicans is playing. Baroque is better for the draft stage. )19. You might find that dictating works better for you at the rough draft stage. Probably not the old-fashioned kind, where the hard-bitten boss called in his trusty secretary to “Take a memo!” You’re more likely to use an application like Naturally Speaking. This type of application needs a lot of training beforehand the application, not you but can be very helpful for writers who try to critique themselves out the gate. Writing the Final Draft20. You’ve done the rough draft, 1st draft, and are into the 2nd draft. You’ve put everything in your own words and are observing your outline structure. The article is starting to sound less like something you’ll get blamed for, and more like something you might actually claim. 21. Edit for readability, grammar and style. 22. Use active voice in all your writing. “Active voice” is a sentence construction where the subject performs the verb action. Don’t go to sleep on me, this is important. Example: “The dog bit the boy. ” Quick, active, easy. Here’s an example of passive voice: “The boy was bitten by the dog. ” Yikes! 23. Technology writing is full of hideous passive voice construction. Here’s another example from a technology marketing document: “This successful vendor interoperability was demonstrated at the Summit in Chicago. ” Ack! Instead, write: “Vendor teams successfully demonstrated interoperability at the Summit in Chicago. ” See how easy that was? PLEASE use active voice. Everyone will be so much happier. 24. If you learn nothing else about business writing in all your born days, learn to write in active voice. Subject all of your sentences to this simple little exercise and you will improve your writing 100%. 25. Please don’t be boring, but don’t get too cute. I will stick in something funny every once in a while — mostly because I get a big kick out of myself — but don’t get too chummy. Final Draft26. You’re almost there you see light at the end of tunnel, and it isn’t a train. Now is the time to polish sentence structure and word choice, and punch up your paragraphs. 27. Polish your opening paragraphs. Add a snappy lead, define what you’re talking about and why it’s important, and list the three or so points you’re going to make. 28. Read through your article and make sure you’ve made those points. If you did an outline, the main points should already be subheads. (See why an outline is so great?) 29. Polish your conclusion. The conclusion doesn’t have to be undying prose, but do restate your points and conclusions. 30. Read through one more time for overall readability. 31. Run your spelling and grammar check. 32. Save and send but be careful to send the right file! I accidentally turned in my rough draft once instead of the completed final. Luckily this was with one of my oldest clients, so they contacted me and asked me for the real article. A new client would simply have assumed complete incompetence on my part. 33. And for the final tip: everything gets easier with practice. Good thing, too.
The first thing you must do is quit thinking like a writer and start thinking like a reader. That shouldn’t be a problem, because you are one. If you don’t enjoy reading, you can’t write something that someone else enjoys reading. So, when you read, how do you choose what to read? My wife can walk into a bookstore, look at the cover blurb of a book, conclude “I’ll like this,” and buy it. Then she’ll read it and be correct. Every time. I almost never do this. For me, it’s word of mouth. It’s book reviews. A good reviewer tells me enough to decide if I want to buy the book. I’ve rarely been led astray by a reviewer. I suspect that, if you look at your own reading habits, you’re like me. You find new authors to read through word of mouth. Once you find one you really like, you buy everything else he/she has written and snatch up every new one as it comes out. So there are your goals. Number one, write well enough to keep those readers coming back. Number two, get those reviewers to say “Hey, this author writes very well. ” Meaning, contact those reviewers. You want to be reviewed as much as possible. Walk into any bookstore, log onto any e-publisher site, or visit Amazon or Barnes & Noble. Guess what you’ll see? A whole lot of books. If one of them happens to be yours, how will people notice it? Your publisher will market your book, of course, but they market all their titles equally. What you want is for a potential reader to walk into that shop or log onto that site with your name and title already in his or her head. Your publisher will submit your book to reviewers. Reviews (even negative ones) will generate sales. Work with your publisher to ensure everyone is covered. Also make sure you don’t both send the same book to the same place because that’s just plain embarrassing. If you swing by freereads. topcities. com/bookreview. html you’ll find a list of book review and author interview sites. Mostly electronic but a good print selection as well. At this writing there are 111 of them. When your book hits the shelves, if not sooner, visit every dang one of them. Write to everybody and see what happens. It’ll take you about ten hours. Next, work the local media. Newspapers, radio, and signings at local bookstores. Once that’s generated enough interest — and again I assume your novel delivers the goods — you can take a shot at national coverage. My next suggestion involves writing contests. I don’t know about you, but I usually buy every book on the Booker Prize Short List. Likewise, the first ebook I ever read was an EPPIE winner. I don’t know how many people do the same, but certainly more than enough to justify the effort. Some contests even offer cash prizes. It stands to reason that some awards are more prestigious than` others. Winning “Bubba’s Book Award” probably won’t help sales. Entering contests is something that you should coordinate with your publisher. Some contests don’t allow author entries, and certainly you don’t both want to enter the same book. If there’s an entry fee, be realistic about your chances of winning, and consider how many sales you must generate to pay that entry fee. I keep a small but growing list of book contests at freereads. topcities. com/bookcontests. htmlI also believe that anyone selling anything should have, at the very least, a free website. As I started with ebooks, I consider it mandatory. As an author, of course I also write a newsletter. To read my article on the strategy involved in setting up your website, visit freereads.
Hands up if the title to this article made you think that you’d strayed into a fishing feature?
Perhaps you didn’t quite go that far, but hopefully you were puzzled or curious enough to wonder what on earth those three angling associated words have to do with writing. The answer of course is nothing at all if you are thinking of metal barbs, yards of tangled nylon and blobs of lead weights.
Think, however, of the good opening lines used to begin most successful short stories, novels and articles then the “hook” in our title takes on a whole new range of meanings and equates very well with the world of creative writing.
What most beginners fail to understand when they first begin writing, and this applies as much to articles as it does to short stories and novels, is that when they submit their work to an editor, competition judge or publisher there is only a brief moment to impress which is why a lot of attention needs to be paid to that first opening sentence.
Hooking your reader with a good beginning isn’t a guarantee to success, but it will serve to focus attention and make the judge, publisher or editor take more notice of the rest of the article, story etc. If nothing else, it presses an subconscious alert button in the reader’s mind that marks up the writer as a professional who knows his or her craft.
This in turn builds expectation and again focuses attention. As long as the rest of the piece lives up to its early promise, you can be sure that your effort will at the very least receive close inspection and hopefully much more!
So, just how do you come up with a good hook? It would be nice if I could say that there was some magic formula available but unfortunately I haven’t found it even if it does exist! Still there are several things that you can do to get things moving.
First of all don’t sit staring at your screen trying to think of a good opening line when you have a mind boiling with ideas struggling to spread themselves over the page! All this will do is make you tense up with frustration and dam your creativity.
Instead, start hitting the keys and slap those ideas across the screen! Once you have the basic outline down then you can start the editing process, including the opening sentence. If at this stage you are still stuck, try leaving the work for a few days, there’s a good chance you’ll come up with something when you’re mind is focused on something else and the first flush of enthusiasm has cleared from your brain.
Analogy, such as I’ve used to the fishing world, often provides a good hook. In the case of this article I used it in the title but hooks are used just as often or more so in the opening sentence. My actual opening “hook” made use of a question, which again is a very good way to start, as questions by their very nature demand a response from the reader, even if it is only to read to the end of the sentence!
I took this a step further by demanding physical action, “hands up”, which of course is a ridiculous thing to expect a reader to do when there is no way of knowing whether they have complied or not! It is this stupidity that hopefully grabs attention and carries on from where the title left off. PR writers are well aware of this process and often mis-spell words to create a similar effect .
Quotations and deliberate mis-quotations also make good hooks either from songs, proverbs or other literary works, but also try putting together unusual combinations of words.
For instance, you wouldn’t think that brussel sprouts could possibly have any effect on good or evil and I’m sure they haven’t! One of my son’s however has different ideas and his annual grumble during our recent Christmas meal gave me a marvellous opening line, or hook, for what will be a festive article taking a close look at this, in my opinion, much maligned vegetable!
What was it? Oh yes, when faced with a heap of those shiny green gems he muttered murderously, “If it wasn’t for brussel sprouts there’d be no evil in the world . . . ” now is that a hook or what?
Which brings me on to another point. Hooks, I’ve found seem to have a power in their own right and often serve as a catalyst to the story or article itself which is why you should be on the alert for when they occur.
The brussel sprout incident is a prime example. Writing in any shape or form was the furthest thing from my mind, but the startled looks and laughter from the rest of the family were enough to confirm what I’d immediately thought, here was a hook begging for exploitation and with a enough power of its own to begin generating several lines of thought.
Being aware of hooks and the power they have on the reader is something every writer has to get to grips with if they want to achieve success so it is a good idea to train yourself to both generate hooks and be on the alert for them by listening to what other people say.
Having a small notebook handy makes a lot of sense, but reading what other people have done before you will also pay dividends. Try this quiz of opening lines to famous novels. It’s not easy, but don’t worry about your score, the real benefit of the quiz is seeing what worked for the author.
The scent of slaughter, some believe, can linger in a place for years.
When Mr Bilbo Baggins of Bag End announced that he would shortly be celebrating his eleventy-first birthday . . .
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth . . .
Scarlett O’Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it when caught by her charm as the Tarleton twins were.
The stranger came early in February one wintry day, through a biting wind and a driving snow . . .
“The marvellous thing is that it’s painless,” he said. “That’s how you know when it starts. ”
Last night I dreamed of Mandalay . . .
A wide plain, where the broadening Floss hurries on between its green banks to the sea, and the loving tide rushing to meet it . . .
Mr Jones, of the Manor Farm, had locked the hen-house for the night, but was too drunk to remember to shut the pop-holes.
Well, what did you think? Some were definitely intriguing but others in my opinion left a lot to be desired which just goes to show that the proof of the pudding is in the eat. . . er reading so don’t fall into the trap of thinking that the beginning is the be all and end all!
Oh and before you ask, I haven’t forgotten the lines and sinkers either, call those plots and twist endings and to find out more sign up for the WriteLink Short Story Writing Workshop, it’s free! writebytes. co. uk
The Loop by Nicholas Evans
The Lord of the Rings by J R R Tolkein
Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
The Invisible Man by H G Wells
The Snows of Kilimanjaro by Ernest Hemingway
Rebecca by Daphne De Maurier
The Mill on the Floss by George Elliot
Animal Farm by George Orwell
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
The big question. Do you submit directly to the publishers, or do you find an agent who will do that for you? Based on anecdotal evidence I’ve heard, it can work either way. The bottom line is, if a publisher reads what he can sell, he’ll buy it. It doesn’t matter if it comes from an author or an agent. The trick is getting him to read it. That’s always your focus. Some people swear by agents because they’re the ones who will get you larger percentages and advances. I’ve decided I don’t care quite so much about that. In the case of a new author, I sincerely doubt that’ll happen anyway. I’d hate to lose my first sale because some greedy agent asked for too much money. Not that I believe that’ll happen either. There are also those who swear by agents because many publishers won’t look at an “unsolicited manuscript. ” That’s true enough. They ain’t got time. They’re using agents as a preliminary screening process. Someone recommended that once you’ve selected some potential publishers, phone each one and ask how they would like to be approached. Ask whom specifically you should address your work to. Then you can honestly call it a “solicited manuscript. ” (Always be honest in your correspondence. ) If this doesn’t work, because you can’t phone or the secretary refuses to cooperate and tells you things like “we only accept material from reputable literary agents,” then mail your query letter, bio, synopsis, and sample chapter(s). They can only say no, or they can say your query looks interesting and they want to see the rest of the manuscript. If you hook a publisher this way, odds are the publisher will like for you to have an agent. So this is when you call one, after you’ve hooked the publisher. The agent gets 15% for doing practically nothing, so he’ll take the job. The publisher will become more interested when your agent phones saying he’s (or she’s) looking after your interests in this matter. The most important step is to get your presentation looking as professional as humanly possible. No mistakes. None. Zero. Nada. The vast majority of rejections aren’t because the story is bad, but because the Acquisitions Editor concludes that it’ll be too much work to make it “ready to read. ” With new authors, publishers usually lose money. Advertising, print inventory. . . don’t ask them to invest a great deal of editing time as well. They won’t do it. It’s just that simple. The Selection Process The most important part of getting your error-free manuscript published is choosing the right market. The best way to do this is to read books that are aimed at the same target audience as your own. If you want to approach publishers directly, look at who published those books. Preferably one who publishes lots of books in that genre, not just one or two authors. Their marketing machine is already positioned to announce your manuscript to your target audience, and they want more books of the type that you write. They are your best bet. Some authors thank their editors. If you’re going straight to the publisher, note the editors’ names and use those, preferably after a phone call to ensure the editor still works there. If you can, just phone the publisher and tell whoever answers the phone something like “I’m writing a letter to so-and-so, and I want to be sure I’m spelling the name correctly. ” If you want to approach an agent first, look in the acknowledgements sections of those books. Some authors thank their agents. Look up those agents and start with them. Tell how you found them. This will impress them. You know they’ve got a track record in your genre. They know how to sell to publishers who are aimed at your target audience, so let them do it. allaboutliteraryagents. com/articlep1003. html offers some additional advice on selecting an agent. Whichever method you use, go in fully prepared. Meaning, work through all the steps below before you submit anything. Overview Your aim is to convince someone who not only does not know you, but does not want to know you, and has read too many bad books, that your book is different. For this you need a cover letter, bio, synopsis, and sample(s) chapter of such sublime wit, wisdom and genius that even the most jaded and cynical editor can take pleasure in it. Take your time. Don’t just whip up something in a day and send it out. You’re probably looking at a one or two year gap between acceptance and publication. So in the grand scheme of things, taking the time to make your presentation really shine won’t matter. EXCEPT, that it’ll ensure you get published in the first place. Every publisher has “writer guidelines. ” Get them. Read them. Follow them. They’re using the process of elimination to get out of reading these submissions. The first step in that process is, bump off everyone who can’t follow the guidelines. Don’t be one of them. Preparing Your Query Letter This will be the first impression that they get of you. Make it a good one! Edit that letter as hard as you would a manuscript, and make the damn thing perfect. Make it good writing. Sum up your book in such a way as to make the recipient of the letter say, “Wow, I want to read this book. ” The first page of your book, along with the jacket text, are what usually determines whether a browser buys your book or puts it back on the shelf. As you write your query letter, think of what you’d put on that book jacket, and work that concept into your letter. Never address your query letter To Whom It May Concern, Dear Editor, or any of that. Get a name. When you find the books that you really like, and are searching them for potential publishers, call those publishers. Ask who edited those books. If you want to approach the publisher directly, write to those editors. You can find advice on writing your query letters etc. at:
adlerbooks. com/ allaboutliteraryagents. com/article1002. html fearlessbooks. com/PublishingGuide. html suite101. com/welcome. cfm/writing_marketing_fiction wga. org/craft/queryletter. html writergazette. com/articles/article299. shtml
The “query letter clinic” in the 2001 WRITERS MARKET is well worth reading. If you’re not going to buy the book, go to the library and read that section of it. With a simple bit of good writing, and we all know you can do that since you’ve already written and polished your manuscript, you’ll make it past this first hurdle. The editor reads your letter, sees nothing in it to stop him from continuing, and has no choice. What would stop him? Typos. Grammar. Spelling. Boredom. Or anything that says “I write so much better than Stephen King that he’s not fit to hold my jock strap. Buy my book and we’ll both get rich. ” Writing Your Bio Don’t lie. That’s the first rule. The second rule is, don’t forget any writing credits. List everything relevant you’ve got. Publications in decent magazines or newspapers. Credits in TV, films, theaters. Any literary prize you’ve managed to get in adulthood. The fact that you’re a Professor of English or an editor on a sports journal. If you have no literary background, no education, or no respectable publications, but you spent fifteen years in solitary confinement in a Siberian Work Camp, that might indicate that you have a story to tell. But if you’re writing about cuddly koalas to entertain the under-five crowd, this piece of information may be more than anyone needs to know. You can list your credits either chronologically or from most impressive to least impressive. Just whichever puts you in the best light. You want to look like you’re already a successful author. You don’t want to sound arrogant, but you do want to sound confident. Keep it to a single page. You don’t want to waste anybody’s time. They don’t have enough. (Who does?) If your bio is so bare of details that it’s more of a liability than an asset, forget about it. Maybe your “bio” equals only a sentence or two, in which case you can work it into your query letter instead of a separate document. Your goal, remember, is to get that editor to read your synopsis or manuscript. To judge it on its own merits. If he reads your writing and rejects it, you gave it your best shot. Try a few more, and if they all reject it, then think about improving your writing. But you don’t want that editor to stop reading your submission before he gets to your writing. So, take the time to do the query letter and bio correctly. Writing Your Synopsis To quote one agent, “There is no such thing as a good synopsis. ” And how can there be? How do you sum up 50,000 or 100,000 words in a page or two? I’ll tell you how I do it. Very badly. Having said that, this is your first chance to show the publisher that you can write. Some publishers want a minimal amount of information on first contact (query letter, bio, synopsis). Others want to see the first chapter or two as well. Nobody wants to see the whole manuscript at first, except those who say so in their writers’ guidelines. If you include sample chapters, the chance of them being read depends largely on the quality of your query letter and synopsis. Keep your synopsis short, two pages maximum unless the writers’ guidelines say differently. Shorter is better. Pick out the theme and the strengths of your book and, in as clever a fashion as possible, relay these qualities in a brief chronology. The chronology is less important than the theme because, in truth, your only hope with a synopsis is that your theme or concept will strike a chord with the editor or agent reading it. If your story is funny, your synopsis should be funny. If it is a romantic story, then your synopsis should be a romantic synopsis. You are a writer, and here is where you can be creative. A lot of the great works of literature do not have easily defined stories, just fine writing and good characters. If you have no story, then you have to sell your idea. The synopsis must have fine, clear writing. Say how your book starts, how it ends, and what is the interest in the middle. This isn’t the time to employ cliffhangers. Your sample chapter should do the main talking, but your synopsis should offer up those clever memorable sound bites that will linger in the editor’s mind and convince him to read the sample chapter. Preparing Your Manuscript Did I mention that your manuscript must be flawless? I’ll mention it again. Your manuscript must be flawless. Especially be sure that the first chapters, the “hook” which you will submit, will be the type that grabs the reader and makes him/her/it wonder what happens next. Beyond that, some mechanics: If the publisher you’re submitting to lists all this information in its guidelines, you’re in luck. Do what they say and they’ll read the manuscript. Fail to do so and they’ll set it down unread, even if you’re the next John Grisham. Remember, they’re budgeting their time and trying to get out of reading this stuff. Once they read it, they’ll be fair. (If not, you don’t want them. ) If it’s good solid writing, you’re in. But until they get to the writing, they’re always expecting the worst. If you’d seen some of the crap that comes their way, you’d be just as pessimistic. But in the end they do love good writing or else they’d quit that job. If the guidelines don’t tell you how to prepare the manuscript, consider the information below as a “generic template. ” Otherwise, ignore my guidelines and use theirs. Fonts – UK publishers prefer Courier New 10pt, US publishers prefer Times New Roman 12pt. Both are trying to ease their eyestrain, so don’t be fancy. Paper sizes – This one’s easy. Letter (8 1/2″ by 11″) in the US, A4 in the rest of the world. (Hong Kong residents can find letter-size paper in Admiralty. City Office Supplies in Tower 1, Admiralty Center, sells it by the ream. Jumbo Grade on the first floor of Pacific Place sells packs of 50 or 100 sheets, I forget which. You can get to either store by taking train/bus/taxi/your car to Pacific Place. ) Binding – US publishers prefer none at all. UK publishers prefer that you punch two holes in the side and use simple brass fasteners to hold it all together – ugly but effective. Use one type of paper throughout your presentation, preferably plain white. (If you have personal stationery that’s not too funky, you can use that for the query letter. ) The title need not appear on the beginning of every chapter, but it’s a good idea to put it on each page, along with your name and the page number, in case the manuscript is separated or mislaid at the publisher’s. Double-spaced text, unjustified right margins, one-inch margins all around. Include a stamped, self-addressed envelope (or self addressed envelope with IRCs) of the appropriate size if you want your manuscript back. Package it so it’s easy to open but not all wrinkled and nasty when it arrives at your publisher’s office. No folded manuscripts hastily stuffed into a manila envelope. No envelopes that scatter hundreds of little brown paper shavings all over the desk. They’re opening far too many of these things, and anything that looks “amateur” gets bumped unread. Publisher List freereads. topcities. com/publisherdirectories. html contains the websites of almost 100 publishers. I recommend visiting this after you’ve gone through the selection process, either from books you read or from a book such as WRITERS MARKET. Agent List When you select an agent, forget about who’s closest to you. Think about who’s closest to the publishers you’re targeting. Those agents are more likely to know which publishers want which types of manuscripts, and they’re also the ones who can lunch with the publisher instead of handling everything by mail or email or telephone. Here’s some advice from the Agent Research and Evaluation website. They define an agent as: “. . . someone who makes a living selling real books to real publishers. No one representing himself as an agent should also claim to be a book doctor, an editor-for-hire, a book ‘consultant’ of any kind. They shouldn’t charge any type of ‘upfront’ reading fee, marketing fee, evaluation fee or any other fee apart from a commission on work sold. “With the possible exception of certain MINIMAL office expenses, legitimate agents NEVER handle [the expenses connected with submitting manuscripts] as an upfront cost. Only as a billable expense after being shown to have been incurred. “Remember, real agents live off the commissions they make from selling their clients’ projects. Scammers live off up-front fees for unnecessary, inadequate, or non-existent services. ” This is excellent advice. Anyone can call himself an agent, get himself listed somewhere, and tell every author who sends him a manuscript “This is excellent. Send me some money and I’ll sell it. ” Then he can pocket the author’s money and do absolutely nothing. Agents work for a percentage of your sales. It’s usually 10%-20%. An agent’s source of income must be the books he sells. If the author pays him before he closes a sale, where is his incentive to close the sale? Insist that your agent send you copies of all rejection letters. A great agent should offer this without you asking, and those rejection letters shouldn’t all be undated “Dear author” or “Dear agent” letters that don’t mention you or your agent or your manuscript by name. Your agent should also involve you in the selection process without you asking, even if that just means telling you “I’m sending to this, that, and the other place. ” Don’t let him/her send your gothic romance to a children’s publisher, etc. If your agent is sending your stuff to the right places and it’s still getting rejected, you’ve done all you can do, except write better. freereads. topcities. com/literaryagentlist. html contains my list of resources for finding an agent in the US or the UK. If you’ve been reading my other advice, you’re already talking to other authors. If you know one who’s made it into print, especially one who writes in your genre, ask which agent (and which publisher and editor) he or she used. Warnings Once you have narrowed down your list of prospects, visit the following sites to learn about the latest scams and such:Bewares Board absolutewrite. com/forum/index. htmlEditor Report geocities.
Have you ever written a letter to a friend? Ever written an outline for any project you were about to start? What about a shopping list? If you have, and I imagine most have, you can then write focused, brief, content articles for your online home business. Why write? Well, of course you can spend lots of money to drive traffic to your site with absolutely no guarantee that you will obtain a single sale. Moreover, most of the traffic, although targeted, may leave your site and forget it ever existed. Writing puts you personally, your site, and your products/services within the same framework as a well-honed opt-in list of subscribers. People remember you, learn to trust you, eventually purchase from you, and most importantly return to purchase again and again, as long as you continue to offer what they need. “So how can I simplify what seems to be the arduous task of writing”, you ask?Try this:(1) Take out pen and paper and go someplace quiet where you can trigger the creative side of your brain. (Yes, I said pen and paper. Don’t sit in front of the computer for this exercise. ) (2) Sit back and think for a moment about your online home business. What do you offer? What have you learned so far about building traffic? Have you noticed any patterns for certain promotion methods that work? What about anything that can be considered well needed advice to others just starting out? (3) Now write down the first thoughts that come to your mind. Don’t edit. Your not at that stage yet. Just write the ideas, and do this for several minutes, or until you have at least a single page filled up. (4) Done? Good. Now go back to the top of the list. Slowly go through and hone the ideas. Anything that pops out as particularly intriguing or immediately brings up related ideas mark off for the next step. These are the ones to develop further. (5) Now take out a sheet of paper for several of the ideas marked off and write the idea at the top of the paper. (You can use your computer now, but I tend to think better with pen in hand. ) (6) O. k. Ready? At the beginning I asked if you ever have written a letter to a friend? Remember? Keep this in the back of your mind always. Write like you speak. I promise you that for short content articles to develop your online home business, this is the tone that works. If people need a textbook they will buy one. (7) First make a list, sort of a shopping list of related things to cover. Try not to get carried away. Remember – short content articles. (8) Now fill in the details as if you were explaining it to a friend. That’s it. All there is to it. I think you will be surprised how easy it is once you write a few. Personally, I keep a notebook handy at all times just for ideas that I later cultivate into short articles. When I learn something new that I believe will be of benefit to others I make a note. The power in this technique resides in the fact that you are not a robot and neither are your prospects. When you write, and take it from the perspective of friends sharing information, you step onto a personal level. Now who wouldn’t pick up on that. Eventually, with continually writing and publishing your articles in newsgroups, e-zines, and other web site, your credibility builds, your persona builds, and your traffic and sales will build. You absolutely cannot loose with this cost effective traffic generating strategy.
Editorial guidelines, also known as writer’s guidelines, are the rules set forth by publishers for contributing authors. In order to have your article taken seriously you must review the guidelines prior to submission. It is also recommended that you review previous editions of the publication to get a better feel for the types of articles favored by the editor(s).
Outlined below are the typical issues covered in editorial guidelines along with their definitions and any additional information you should know.
Length of article: The minimum and maximum word count of articles considered for publication. Online articles are usually expected to be 750 to 1,000 words while off-line publications will often accept a longer article.
Topics: The subjects of articles accepted by the publication. Never submit an off topic article as this is very annoying and may result in further submissions from you being banned.
Illustrations/Photographs: Some publications require/accept illustrations or photographs and will usually specify the size and format required for acceptance.
Editorial style: Consistency and accuracy governs the use of a style selected by the editorial department of a publication. Many publications require the use of the Associated Press Stylebook which covers spelling, capitalization, grammar, punctuation and usage.
Author Photograph: Some publications require or accept a photograph of the author usually included with the submission of the article. Guidelines will often cover the size and format of photographs.
Byline length: Also known as an author biography or resource box. Some publications have certain requirements for length, characters per line and what or how much contact information can be included.
Payment: Your byline is often the only payment you will receive for your article. However, some publications (particularly those in print) pay for articles by the word or per article.
Rights: Governs whether or not the publication will accept original or reprinted articles, how long they plan to use the material and whether the article can be used elsewhere at the same time.
Query requirement: A query is a letter written to the editor that proposes an article topic and asks permission to submit. Some publications require that you query the editor (by e-mail, fax or mail) prior to forwarding your article.
Submission methods: Methods of submissions may include via fax, e-mail or hard copy sent by courier or standard mail.
Editorial calendar: It is not unusual for a publication to establish an editorial calendar for each year far in advance. The calendar will cover topics, themes, article types and required submission dates broken down by publication dates.
Format accepted: Each publication will accept articles in certain formats such as Word, WordPerfect, text or Adobe Acrobat.
Audience: Demographics such as number of subscribers, gender, educational level, age and income level.
Notification: When you will be contacted about your submission. Many publishers choose to contact only if an article is chosen for publication.
Acknowledgements: In some cases you will be required to sign (either electronically or on paper) an acknowledgement that you have read the guidelines.
It is very important to understand and follow the editorial guidelines of your target publications in order to maximize your chances of publication. Not all publications will include all of the above items in their editorial guidelines. Contact the editor if any of this information is not disclosed and you need it to refine your submission.