The importance of writers starting right cannot be over-emphasized. First impressions are lasting. Sloppy, ill-prepared queries and proposals are comparable to showing up for a job interview with uncombed hair and spinach on our teeth. Believing that if work is good enough, editors will overlook submission flaws—typos, misspellings, etc.—strikes a death blow to getting published unless we have relatives in publishing, and probably not then. An unprofessional query or book proposal
- silently shouts we are not serious about writing.
- shows lack of respect for editors/agents.
- brands us as beginners who need to learn and abide by the rules.
Once a manuscript is as polished as we can make it, the temptation to dash off a query or proposal to the publisher of our choice is irresistible, but not to be seriously considered. Some of the most important work remains to be done.
1. If you haven’t already researched the market, do so. I make a list of places open to unsolicited submissions that are publishing stories, articles, or books similar to mine. I resubmit (hopefully, the next day) if my material doesn’t fit the first publisher’s needs. A back-up plan also helps to lessen the pain of rejection, and having to figure out where to submit next.
2. Run spell and grammar check–but don’t expect them to catch all the glitches. They cannot differentiate between words that sound alike but have different spellings and meanings. Example: mantel refers to a shelf above a fireplace, while a mantle is a cloak or covering.
3. It is foolish to rely on what we think we know. Or what is considered “common knowledge.” We often hear people say, “Money is the root of all evil.” The quotation is, “The love of money is the roof of all evil.” Or, “Pride goes before a fall,” instead of “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” Very different meanings. Double-check facts. ✔✔ What “everyone knows,” is often wrong.
4. It is sad, but true, that catching every problem in our own work is next to impossible. New eyes and a fresh perspective make the difference between good and excellent writing. I strongly advise learning how to Track Change, then finding a fellow author (trading manuscripts is good) or someone with excellent editing skills to check the final draft.
It is well worth the time it takes to learn the process. Send manuscript as an attachment to a friend. He or she will click to put it into editable format, suggest changes and corrections, and return the edited copy.
Review, accept, or reject changes
- Click or tap at the beginning of the document.
- On the Review tab, go to Tracking.
- Select Accept or Reject. As we accept or reject changes, Word will move to the next change.
- Repeat until you’ve reviewed all of the changes in your document
Some publishers still ask for hard copies. Most require email queries, proposals, and manuscripts. Some want queries or proposals in the body of the email; others ask for them as attachments, or both. Magazines sometimes have us type query, article, or story in a special box on their website. The Chicken Soup for the Soul series uses this method.
Spacing can be double or single, depending on a company’s guidelines. Paragraph indentations may be .5 or .3. Times New Roman 12 may be the font of choice. No “hard returns” (pressing “Enter” or “Return” key at the end of sentences). On-line guidelines spell out who wants what, where, and how.
Quality Queries: The Moment of Truth
It can take as long to write a good query letter as to complete a short manuscript. I favor writing “idea” queries. Basically, a “This is what I have–are you interested–thank you for considering” message. Gift book example to Cynthia Hickey, Editor/Publisher, Winged Publications
“Don’t stare at closed doors. Search for open windows.”
The most brilliant sunshine often follows the darkest storms. Courageous persons seek new paths, when the old ones are blocked. Their lives offer hope in this troubled world. The need for role models has never been higher. Heroes are where you find them: in the Bible; in history; next door; in good books and today’s newspapers; on television, or social media.
My co-author, Julie Reece-DeMarco, and I have compiled a gift book titled: Doorways and Windowsills, Sunlight after Storms, designed for readers of many ages. May we submit this approximately 8,000-word collection?
Thank you for considering. We appreciate your response.
Note: We received an immediate, “Please submit,” then a quick acceptance.
True experience query to a Christian magazine.
Auburn, Washington. 11:30 P.M., July 4, 2018
An unusually dry June had parched the lawns. Huge trees in our neighborhood were tinder dry. I prayed for safety from fire danger while illegal fireworks boomed and lit up the sky.
The doorbell rang as I was getting ready for bed. “It’s a good thing you are still up,” my neighbor, Kristine, said. “There’s a fire in your yard.”
If God had not sent help when I didn’t know I needed it, the whole neighborhood could have gone up in flames. Help from friends who were normally in bed by 9:00 p.m. Friends whose last name is Angel.
Perhaps you and your readers may enjoy “Midnight Madness.” I appreciate your consideration and look forward to your response.
Note: Another quick acceptance.
Stranger than fiction
If I hadn’t personally heard this story from editors at conferences, I wouldn’t have believed it. Several reported receiving queries that said, “God told me to write this. Not one word is to be changed.”
God may have told the author to write it, but the odds are next to nothing that He told the editor to publish it.
Do not come on like Superman or Superwoman. Don’t tell an editor how much your family, friends, neighbor kids, or your writers’ critique group like your work. Simply offer what you have. Author/publisher Penny Lent says, “Be polite. Be persistent [submit until work sells or you run out of places, then wait until they get new editors or their advertised needs change]. Be patient.”
In other words, preparing your queries, book proposals, and manuscripts the “write way” is the only path to making them pay off.
The Last Word
I taught creative writing for many years at our local college and Senior Center. When students groaned and said, “I have enough rejection slips to paper my walls,” I laughed and told them, “I’m a professional author and I have enough to insulate my house!” Hyperbole, of course, but rejection slips are part of the writing business and should be viewed as such.
Happy writing and marketing,
6 thoughts on “Starting off on the Write Foot”
Everyone from beginners to seasoned writers will benefit from your practical advice. I’m sure editors, agents, and publishers will thank you. Me, too!
I appreciate your comments. It is a joy to pass on what I had to learn the hard way.. GRIN.
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Good advice, Colleen.
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Thanks! Recalling what I used to teach. GRIN.
Thanks Colleen. Your knowledge and expertise are timeless.
I appreciate your comment, Patti. 😊