Thank you to Sheila McIntyre Good for these excellent and concise tips, perfect for writers whether beginners or veterans.
Cover letters – don’t we dread writing them? When so many magazines have an automated submission process, what is the purpose?
Why do a Cover Letter?
It’s a way to introduce yourself to the editor, and where I come from, an introduction is a polite thing to do.
It tells the editor the basics about your submission – title, word count, and is a good opportunity to indicate your familiarity with the magazine.
Things Not to do:
- Don’t screw with the guidelines. Read and follow them to the tee. Taking a gamble won’t win you any points but a straight up rejection.
- If you’ve developed a template, make sure you’ve updated the date, editor, magazine, story, and word count. Don’t be careless. It’s not only bad form but bad manners to call someone by another’s name.
- Don’t get long-winded. Editors are busy people. One to two paragraphs works fine. Remember this is a cover letter, not a query.
- Don’t address the letter, “To Whom it may concern.” It signals the editor that you’re unfamiliar with their magazine.
- Don’t wax sentimental about your personal life. It’s a distraction, pegs you as an amateur, and will likely land your submission on the slush pile.
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From time to time I hear about one-day writers’ workshops and mini-conferences given in local libraries, churches, and bookstores. I try to go to at least one a year. Even if I think I already know everything that’s going to be discussed, it’s rare that I don’t learn something new.
The Saturday before my hip surgery, Changing Hands Bookstore, an independent bookstore in Phoenix, offered a conference for YA writers. The presenters were local authors (and some are also professional writing instructors) Stephanie Elliot, Abigail Johnson, Bill Konigsburg, Tom Leveen, and Amy Trueblood. I’d met most of these lovely people before and knew how knowledgeable and talented they are.
Some things I never knew that I learned at the conference:
- On YouTube, there are BookTube channels where people talk about books they’ve read. There are also AuthorTube channels where authors talk about their books, their writing processes, and their publication journeys. Am I the only person who’s been writing for decades who didn’t know that?
- Comicons offer writers’ workshops. I thought Comicon was an opportunity for comics fans to dress up and nerd out on comic artifacts and superhero actors. Apparently, it’s so much more than that. Who knew?
Content ideas for author newsletters:
- Writing tips
- What I’m reading right now, or lists of favorite books or authors
- Musical inspiration for stories, or writing playlists
- Short stories using book characters
- Warning: if your newsletters are nothing but sales pitches, readers will unsubscribe or delete them without reading
Things I knew, but appreciated being reminded:
- Write a quotable first line. (Don’t worry about this on your first draft, or you’ll never get started. Even the second or third draft is too early—a lot can change. But when you’re getting ready to query, look back at the first sentence. Can you do better?)
- On the very first page, what’s unique about your story must be apparent. (For example, if your main character is a flea who lives on General George Washington’s horse, that needs to be revealed on page one. The parenthetical notes on the previous hint apply to this one, too.)
- Is the story happening to the character, or is the character making the story?
- Add external conflict to make your story a page-turner.
- All dialogue should have a purpose.
- If you’ve made up a world with unusual names, a pronunciation guide is a helpful resource for your readers. So is a glossary of terms which might be unfamiliar.
- Description should flow from the character’s point of view.
- To help your reader connect to the scene, use your emotional memory. When did I feel as my character feels now?
- If you’re a pantser (or even if you’re a plotter), write a 10-page story synopsis before you start. It may change, but for some reason, it’s easier to write a story from a synopsis than to write a synopsis from a story…
- Get to know your local librarians. Many consider regular patrons’ requests when buying books for the library. Many also give priority to local authors. You can call libraries and ask if they have your book. You can also donate copies to the library.
Do you attend small, local writers’ conferences? What’s a good one you’ve been to? Share your experience in the comments below.
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