ABCs of Writing, Part 3
For the last two months we’ve been making our way through the alphabet.
Guess what we’re doing this month? Yep. More alphabet fun. So without
further ado, this issue is brought to you by the letters O, P, Q, and
$@#& (insert your favorite word or phrase).
A well-known and time-honored phrase uttered by writers (pros and
beginners) when they realize the query/proposal winging its way to its
destination (1) was sent to the wrong editor, (2) is loaded with
errors, (3) did not follow the company’s guidelines, and (4) is not
their best effort.
the case of a proposal, an outline is a chapter-by-chapter outline
(sometimes called a chapter-by-chapter synopsis) in which you tell in
one paragraph what the chapter will cover. Some writers also outline
their books (articles, plays, etc.) before they write the project. Some
use a standard heading/subheading outline, while others develop methods
of their own.
This is the part of a book proposal where you show the big picture and
put your book in context. If an agent or editor isn’t hooked right off
the bat and he/she doesn’t read past the overview, well, better luck
On spec (speculation).
The simple definition is
writing anything without the promise of payment. Sometimes magazines
will ask a beginning writer to write an article on spec, and while such
an arrangement can lead to publication, writers should be careful about
writing on spec. A lot of time is put into a project with no guarantees
(though if the piece isn’t published, you can certainly submit it to
someone else). It is not unusual for people trying to break into TV and
movie writing to write a spec script.
Also called galley proofs or galleys, this is the preliminary version
of a publication intended for review by authors, editors, and
proofreaders. Page proofs can also be used for promotional purposes.
baseball it is the act of throwing the ball across home plate. In
writing, the concept is not much different. For writers a pitch is the
act of presenting your writing project to an acquisitions editor or
agent. The all-important first two or three sentences that summarize
your writing project will either create interest or have them looking
at their watches.
Another word for stealing. Don’t do it.
thing many books suffer from a lack of. The plot is the sequence of
events that lead up to the main event in a book, short story, etc. A
plot can also be the writer’s plan of action for a play, novel, poem,
short story, etc., in the beginning of a writing project. It’s also
where they bury dead people, but that’s another matter.
Generally refers to a book proposal, which is a vital selling tool for
any writer who intends to write a fiction or nonfiction book. Common
• Table of Contents (nonfiction)
• Chapter-by-chapter outline (nonfiction)
• Comparison to other books in the market
• Marketing information/strategy
• Biographical information
Jessica Faust, agent and owner
of BookEnds Literary Agency, said in her January 5, 2009, blog post
that “. . . writing the proposal is all about marketing and positioning
and sometimes not so much about the book.”
A pen name, which writers use for many reasons, including privacy, the
freedom to write in different genres, the ability to disguise their
gender, a way to distance themselves from some or all of their works.
Also called a query. A query letter is your initial sales tool. It is a
brief letter (preferable one page) that introduces
you and your writing project to a specific agent or editor. A query
contains three parts:
• The hook
• The briefsynopsis
•Your publishing credits
Republishing material. A good freelancer learns to make money selling
previously published articles, stories, etc., unless he/she sold all
rights to the work (see Rights).
A letter from an editor indicating that the publisher will not be
purchasing the author’s submitted work. Writing is a business and
sometimes a particular publication or publishing house does not need
the project the writer is offering. How do you handle these letters? Put
on your big girl panties and your big boy drawers and get over it.
It is not (despite wails to the contrary) the end
of the world. It’s just business. The same piece an editor rejects
today may be the exact piece he or she needs in six months. Rejections
are never personal unless the letter begins, “Dear No-Talent
Booger-Picking Moron.” In this case, it’s personal and you will not
make a sale to them today or any other day. Otherwise, it just means
the publisher can’t use that particular piece at that particular time.
When you sell a work, you are selling the publisher specific rights.
• First Rights (the same as First Serial Rights or
First North American Serial Rights). The publisher has bought the right
to publish your material for the first time only.
• All Rights. Also known as exclusive rights, which
means the publisher can publish your material at any time in whatever
form it wants.
• Reprint Rights. This
gives the publisher permission to reprint a work. Reprints are great
because you are essentially paid based on your ability to sign your
name on the contract.
Writers are generally paid a royalty based on their book sales. Royalty
calculations can be complicated and are based on many factors.
Essentially, an author is paid a percentage of each book sold. If an
author receives an advance (money paid to the author in
advance of any actual book sales), no royalties are paid
until the book sells enough copies to offset the amount of the advance.
Also: Prince William, Duke of
Cambridge, and Kate Middleton, Duchess of Cambridge, are royalties, but
if you’re not their biographers, it probably doesn’t matter here.
Next issue, we finish the
alphabet. Okay, some of you probably think I have pretty well finished
it already, but we’re going to slog through to the bitter end anyway.
And please know, I always appreciate the company.