Thomas Smith

Thomas Smith is an award winning writer, newspaper reporter, TV news producer, playwright and essayist. He writes supernatural suspense and is currently at work on another such book, much to his mother’s chagrin (“Why can’t you write a nice romance?”). In addition to writing he enjoys teaching classes for beginning writers at conferences and local writers’ groups. He has been a joke writer for Joan Rivers and his comedy material has been performed on The Tonight Show. Currently in his fifth decade of service, he is considerably younger than most people his age. Visit his website: Twitter: and Facebook:

How NOT To Get Published

The ABCs of Writing, Part 3

The 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 R.


Oh $@#& (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.

Outline. In 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.

Overview. 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 next time.

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.


Page proofs. 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.

Pitch. In 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.

Plagiarism. Another word for stealing. Don’t do it.

Plot. The 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.

Proposal. 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 elements include:
• Synopsis
• Table of Contents (nonfiction)
• Chapter-by-chapter outline (nonfiction)
• Comparison to other books in the market
• Marketing information/strategy
• Biographical information
•Sample chapters

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.”

Pseudonym. 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.


Query letter. 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


Reprint. 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).

Rejection letter 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.

Rights. When you sell a work, you are selling the publisher specific rights. Those include:
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.

Royalties 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.


Soemthing Stirs