Tag Archives: queries

FREE query letter contest

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Write On Online’s September Challenge: A Query Letter Contest!

Deadline is 9/30/2010; limit 1 page; 3 prizes; queries for short fiction, nonfiction and essays; Details about contest and how to submit are HERE:

http://writeononline.com/2010/09/01/september-challenge/

Author interview with…Wendy Burt-Thomas

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Hi all! I’m flying to NY for 8 days so I’m taking some liberties and running my own author interview. I’ll be back with new authors and writing contests around July 22.

Author interview with Wendy Burt-ThomasQueryBook copy

Wendy Burt-Thomas is a full-time freelance writer, editor and PR consultant. She works from her home office in Colorado Springs – usually in pajamas or sweatpants. Wendy has written three books, and her fourth book comes out in April 2010. Her first two books, written with Erin Kindberg, were, “Oh, Solo Mia! The Hip Chick’s Guide to Fun for One” (2001, McGraw-Hill) and “Work It, Girl! 101 Tips for the Hip Working Chick” (2003, McGraw-Hill).

  1. 1.    Tell us about your latest book.

“The Writer’s Digest Guide to Query Letters” is a how-to book about getting published. It includes information on writing a query letter for magazines, agents, novels and nonfiction books.

The book was a great fit for me because I’d been teaching “Breaking Into Freelance Writing” for about eight years. In the workshop, I covered a lot of what is in this book: writing query letters to get articles in magazines, to land an agent, or to get a book deal with a publisher. Since I’m a full-time freelance magazine writer and editor with two previous books, this was incredibly fun to write because it didn’t require tons of research. I was lucky enough to receive lots of great sample query letters from writers and authors that I use as “good” examples in the book. I wrote all the “bad” examples myself because I didn’t dare ask for contributions that I knew I’d be ripping apart!

In addition to the ins and outs of what makes a good query, the book covers things like why (or why not) to get an agent, where to find one and how to choose one; writing a synopsis or proposal; selling different rights to your work; other forms of correspondence; and what editors and agents look for in new writers.

It was really important to me that the book not be a dry, boring reference book, but rather an entertaining read (while still being chock full of information). I was thrilled that Writer’s Digest let me keep all the humor.

2. How did you get started as a writer?

I’ve also been a writer. My dad is a writer (12 books, probably thousands of other published pieces) and I gave him a short story for his birthday one year (I think I was 7) and he read it aloud in church. I was hooked! My first paid piece was a poem I wrote at age 16. My dad sent it to a magazine on my behalf (without telling me) and I got an acceptance and check in the mail. I thought, “Wow! People paid me for my words? This is cool.” Yes, writing CAN be about the money too!

3. What does a typical day look like for you?

Send my kids off to a nearby home daycare (soon to be preschool!) and then spend at least an hour going through emails. Then I’m either writing (articles, a book, greeting cards), editing or doing PR coaching on the phone. I try not to work after my kids get home, other than posting my latest author interview and writing contests on Facebook and Twitter every night. (Twitter.com/WendyBurt)

4. Describe your workspace.

I have a cream and wood L-shaped desk , bookshelf and two matching filing cabinets that I just love. My office is in a sort of loft area on the second floor of our house, but now that we built our sunroom, I look out onto a tile roof. It’s probably for the best so I don’t procrastinate by watching our neighbor. Besides, the view out the picture window behind me is of Pikes Peak!

I’m not a clean freak, but I’m a bit of an organizational freak. There is dust behind my computer, but everything is it’s a labeled file. I have four Macs and often have two going at once.

 

5. Favorite books (especially for writers)

“Lessons From a Lifetime of Writing” by David Morrell

“Bird by Bird” by Anne Lamott

“On Writing” by Stephen King

Two new books for writers:

• “Get Known Before the Book Deal” by Christina Katz  (http://www.getknownbeforethebookdeal.com/)

• “Writing the Life Poetic” (http://writingthelifepoetic.typepad.com/) by Sage Cohen

Also, my dad, “The Sinister Minister” is the author of 12 books. (www.BurtCreations.com)

6. Tell us 3 interesting/crazy things about you

– A horse bit off the last knuckle on my right middle finger when I was 5.

– I once owned a muffin business in Vermont called Little Miss Muffin.

– I went to the University of Aberdeen (in Scotland) my junior year of college.

7. Favorite quote

“Luck is when preparation meets opportunity.”

8. Best and worst part of being a writer

I love when I get to write humor and people email me to say that think I’m funny and that it made my book (like the query guide) fun to read, even though it’s an informational book. I’ve gotten more “fan mail” on this book than my first two combined and the emails make my day EVERY time.

I don’t like being at the mercy of my clients when it comes to deadlines because I have two little kids.

9. Advice for other writers

Seize every opportunity that comes along when you’re first starting off. Many of your regular writing gigs will be from repeat business and referrals.

10. Tell us a story about your writing experience.

I was on a flight to NY skimming my first book for errors and the woman next to me leaned over and said, “Is that any good?” I laughed and said, “It had better be. I wrote it.”

 

Where can people buy my book(s)?

You can buy my latest book, “The Writer’s Digest Guide to Query Letters” in most major bookstores (it’s usually right next to the Writers Market) or on Amazon.com.

Follow me on Twitter.com/WendyBurt or befriend me on Facebook or LinkedIn.

 

Writing a query letter? Read Victoria Mixon’s article on “Hooks from Hell”

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 Victoria Mixon’s take on “Hooks from Hell”

 

Agent or Current Resident

Literary Agency

NY

 

Dear Agent Dude,

 

What if purple aliens that looked just like you and my mother were the only people left after the nuclear holocaust, and they had to repopulate the planet? I wouldn’t tell this idea to anyone except you because I think you could really write a great book about it, and we could split the dough. I’d give you half, even though it’s my brilliant, guaranteed blockbuster idea. I’m super generous. Plus, I’m the next Ursula Leguine, only better-looking. And I’ll tell you how the story ends when you get to that part!! (hint: it’s on the last page!)

 

Don’t try to write back to me, because this is my boyfriend’s email account and he’d get jealous (HA HA). I’ll call you in half an hour, just so you know to pick up when you hear it’s me, and we can hammer out the details, like what you’re going to get me for the movie.

 

I’ll make some kind of cool noise like a purple alien would make.

 

Ringy-dingy! (just kiddin’!)

Aspiring Writer

 

 

 

Dear Aspiring Writer:

 

If you’re attempting to engage my professional attention, you’ve failed.

If you’re pulling my leg, you’re freaking me out. However, if you’re following the interview and discussion of fiction query letters by Wendy Burt-Thomas and myself, both here and at http://victoriamixon.com, please read on.

 

Sincerely,

Victoria Mixon

Fiction Editor

Generic Agent’s First Line of Defense

 

 

 

When Wendy and I first began talking about our interview on fiction query letters, based on her new book The Writer’s Digest Guide to Query Letters, we discovered we shared an unusual passion: making up bad examples. She made up all the examples of bad query letters in her book, and I made up the fiction samples I use to demonstrate editing for my website. I believe Wendy’s exact words were: “Isn’t it the best?”

 

You’d be amazed how much you can learn by practicing how to do something wrong.

 

For one thing, you have to learn what wrong is. And you have to really, truly understand why it’s wrong.

 

Why do you not address query letters generically?

Why do you not assume personal friendship with a professional you’ve never met?

Why do you not expect an agent to be so wowed by your idea that they’re willing to write your book for you?

Why do you not tout yourself as “the next. . .famous author” or your story as a “guaranteed blockbuster”?

Why do you have to make absolutely sure you spell all names correctly? Use impeccable grammar and punctuation? Use exclamation points incredibly sparingly?

Why do you not withhold the surprise ending of your story from an agent?

Why do you have to make yourself easily accessible?

Why do you not call agents up without an invitation, particularly half an hour after you sent your query?

Why do you not leap right into discussing big ticket items like movies?

Why do you not make weird noises on agents’ answering machines?

 

Let’s take these one at a time:

 

Why do you not address query letters generically?

 

Do you like getting junk mail? Stuff addressed to “Angelo Vito or Current Resident”? Do you get so much mail every day that you have to hire people just to sort out the pertinent letters from the recycling?

 

Agents don’t like junk mail any more than you do, and they do get far more mail than they can ever read in comfortable leisure–day in and day out, weeks without end. The very least you can do is let them know that you know there’s a human being on the other end of your query, someone whose time and brains and experience matter, someone with an identity, a life, and a name. Unless of course you don’t want them to like you. In which case you might as well save both of you the trouble and not write in the first place.

 

Why do you not assume personal friendship with a professional you’ve never met?

 

Agents are professionals. They like to get a little professional respect and courtesy. They don’t ask for a lot–not red carpets unrolling before their feet as they walk down the sidewalk, or their personal reserved table at Tavern on the Green, or genuflections from publisher’s acquisitions editors every time they come through the door (that’s only at the beginning of the month)–but some. Enough for complete strangers to address them as Ms. or Mr. in a business letter and treat them as though they were doing work for you just by reading your query, not dropping by your kitchen to borrow cooking utensils they never return.

 

Why do you not expect an agent to be so wowed by your idea that they’re willing to write your book for you?

 

Agents like to write their books about their own ideas better. They’re selfish that way. Just get used to it and move on.

 

Why do you not tout yourself as “the next. . .famous author” or your story as a “guaranteed blockbuster”?

 

Agents are not easily impressed, even by hyperbole. Even by yours. Announcing that you’re even better at your job than they are at theirs–that, in fact, you’re up there in the all-time top 1%–without any more authority than your mother and the guys down at the bar, is akin to throwing yourself across their desk and grabbing them by the lapels. They don’t like it. It feels a little invasive. It disturbs their vibe. It wrinkles their lapels. It also makes them thankful yet again that they installed that quick-ejector seat in their office, the one they call The Circular File.

 

Why do you have to make absolutely sure you spell all names correctly?

Can’t the agent tell whom you mean (especially if you’re talking about someone famous)? Why do you have to make absolutely sure you have impeccable grammar and punctuation and use exclamation points incredibly sparingly? (Don’t they have editors to fix that stuff?)

 

If you’re not a big enough kid to look up how to spell the names of the people you want to impress an agent with or how to use proper grammar and punctuation, you’re not a big enough kid to play on the agents’ playground. It’s that simple. They use all the exclamation points they like over on the little kids’ playground, though.

 

Why do you not withhold the surprise ending of your story from an agent?

 

Believe me, they’ve heard it all. They’re not going to be surprised by anything you thought up. Really. Even Woodward and Burnstein had to tell their editor that Deep Throat was talking about Richard Nixon. Pretending you’re the one writer in history with the greatest surprise ending ever lets an agent know you think more highly of your own ideas than you do of their professional ability to sell your book (if they just knew what the heck it was about). Again–if that’s true, you might as well save both of you the trouble.

 

Why do you have to make yourself easily accessible?

 

Agents get thousands of queries, most of them from writers just as hungry as you. If they have a choice between your brilliant book and another author’s equally-brilliant book, and they can only get ahold of one of you easily, which one would you like that to be?

 

Why do you not call agents up without an invitation, particularly half an hour after you sent your query?

 

They will not only refuse to take your call, they will staple your query letter to the board in their front office that serves the same purpose as the board full of bounced checks at your corner liquor store. This is invasiveness taken to an exponential level.

 

Why do you not leap right into discussing big ticket items like movies?

 

The agent, if they decide to represent you, will deal with that issue when the time comes. They know how to tell when it does–that’s what they do for a living. Now is not that time.

 

Why do you not make weird noises on agents’ answering machines?

 

Okay, that one I actually do. But only to agents I want to hate me.

 

Now I’m going to suggest something revolutionary, outside-the-box, inexplicable. Something fun! I’m going to suggest that you give yourself the chance to make up some of your own Hooks from Hell. Not because you would ever use them–we know you wouldn’t–but just to get the hang of it. Please feel free to put them in comments or send them to us! We’ll post our favorites as they come in.

 

Here are a few more for you, to prime the pump:

 

My mother told me I should write to you because she loves my story and thinks I should turn it into a novel. She thinks if you encourage me, I will.

 

I haven’t written this yet, but I know it would make a killer book, and maybe you could help me with the editing if I really needed some like for grammer and punctuation which, honestly I could care less about anyway.

 

I really want to get on Oprah. If you come up with an idea, I promise to try to write about it, and we could both make a million bucks. Just don’t go behind my back to get on Oprah before me, that’s all.

 

You’re probably an okay guy, and that’s why I’m writing to you. I saw a picture of an agent on a website once (can’t remember the guy’s name–hope he’s not you, ha ha!), and he looked like a real stud, and I figure all you agents probably look alike, so why not write? Rite? You’re probably not a big fat stupid ugly loser, like that LAST agent I wrote to.

 

Don’t you wish you were me?

 

If you don’t take my book, I’m going to kill myself. Or you. Whichever is closest.

 

Victoria Mixon is a professional writer and editor and has worked in fiction, nonfiction, technical documentation, and poetry for thirty years. She co-authored the nonfiction Children and the Internet: A Zen Guide for Parents and Educators, published by Prentice Hall in 1996, for which she was listed in the Who’s Who of American Women. She works, in her favorite field, as an editor for fiction authors and has edited such authors as Booksense 76 Selection Sasha Troyan (Angels in the Morning and The Forgotten Island) and 2008 Pulitzer-Prize nominee Lucia Orth (Baby Jesus Pawn Shop). Please feel free to read her interview with

Wendy Burt-Thomas at: http://victoriamixon.com.

FREE query letter contest in multiple categories!

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http://writeononline.com/

FREE to enter; June 22 deadline; winners in multiple categories (fiction, nonfiction, teleplay, screenplay) to be read by lit agents

Debra Eckerling is hosting the Write On! Online/The Write Environment Query Contest

Detailed interview on query letters!

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On Friday, May 8 Victoria Mixon will host her interview with me on her blog, http://VictoriaMixon.com 

The focus is mostly on fiction query letters, but feel free to stop by and ask questions on anything related to queries (magazines, nonfiction books, proposals, etc.)

Want to get get published? I’m doing a radio show tomorrow

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I’m doing a radio show tomorrow – talking about query letters (getting an agent, book deal, magazine credits): (5pm mt/4pm pst)

http://www.blogtalkradio.com/ThePublishingInsiders/2009/04/28/The-Publishing-Insiders

3 Reasons you’ll feel the pinch in your pocketbook if you don’t find the fun in queries

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Today I have a guest blog on Editor Unleashed. (Maria Schneider is the former editor of Writer’s Digest mag and now offers independent services to authors/writers) a

http://editorunleashed.com/

It’s titled, “Hate writing query letters? You’re not alone”

Welcome to “Ask Wendy” – your writing questions answered

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Like my “Ask Wendy” column for Writer’s on the Rise, I will be attempting to answer your writing questions here on my blog. Please watch for my third book, “The Writer’s Digest Guide to Query Letters” (landing articles, agents and book deals) – which comes out Dec. 2008.