Then Again The Novel

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In business, advertising and public relations represent the beginning of a successful merchandising campaign. For writers, it is no different. One of the best ways to gain recognition from an editor is by letting them know about your experience and qualifications. This can be done with a short blurb in your query letters, but an even more effective method, and one that immediately conveys an air of professionalism, is to have your own resume Web page. Most ISPs (Internet Service Providors) offer services that include some space on the Web where you can design your own Web page, and if you feel you have the talent to do so, that can be a good way to go. Of course, the best and most professional-looking Web sites are those designed by professional Web designers, but this can be expensive.

Having your own, independent Web address that you can mention to editors and potential clients to show that you are up with the times is a plus. You can also print your Web address on your correspondence, stationary, business cards, and other promotional materials. If you choose, you can include examples of your writing (published or unpublished) on your page, and/or links to spots on the Web where your writing appears.

In the rapidly changing cyberworld we now find ourselves dealing with, the resume Web page will soon become a necessity for writers of all levels. Whether you use a professional design and hosting company, or create one on your own, we definitely recommend that you at least consider employing this cutting-edge promotional tool.

A successful writing career begins with what can best be described as a direct-mail advertising campaign, targeted to editors.

Most businesses are not limited in the number of methods they use to inform prospective buyers of the existence, value and reliability of their products. Writers, however, are. There are only two mediums writers can use to advertise their wares and develop good public relations: delivery services such as the U.S. Postal Service and electronic communications devices such as telephones, fax machines, Web pages, and e-mail. Direct electronic communication (the use of e-mail), for new writers at least, is extremely limited, and private delivery services are expensive, restricting the new writer to an almost exclusive use of the U.S. Mail.

With such limitations, each piece of mail produced in the advertising campaign becomes enormously important. Your correspondence with editors represents you in three capacities: first, as a salesperson selling a product; second, as a PR person convincing the editor that your "business" is the one to go with on the project; and last, as a service representative, willing to make sure the product works as advertised.

In the following sections, we will discuss exactly how to design and execute an effective writer's advertising campaign, how to make that campaign produce a steady supply of article assignments, and how, if properly maintained, such a campaign can create long-lasting and profitable relations with your editors.

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Then Again The Novel

Demeanor and attitude are important when applying for a job. Your first impression on an editor is equally important. It must convey an air of experience, confidence and the ability to perform. In many ways, a query letter resembles an employment interview. The query defines the article you wish to write, tells how you intend to write it and lists your credits, or clips of your work. If you have no previous sales, don't worry; every writer whose byline you see in your favorite magazine at one time had none either.

The key to getting the job, with or without provable experience, is to present yourself as a professional right from the start. Every tiny detail can either add to or detract from an editor's feeling that she or he is dealing with a professional writer.

One of the first steps to take toward creating an aura of professionalism is to start thinking of yourself as a professional. Beginning right now, the answer to the question, "What do you do?" should change from, "I am a bus driver," or "I am a housewife," to, "I am a professional writer!"

Now professional writers are always at their desks, but beginning writers usually have a job to go to every day. Still, there are ways to present yourself as a professional without quitting your job. First, you can get an answering/voice-mail service or buy an answering machine, and include in your message something like, "If this concerns a manuscript or query, please state the title, so that I can have it at hand when I return your call." Second, if you have a spouse who is home during the day, have him or her give the same basic message. Finally, if it is permitted, and your work phone is not answered with a business name, you can subscribe to a "call forwarding" service, and the calls that come to your home will be automatically forwarded to your work phone.

Image is of primary importance. You probably cannot personally present yourself to editors, therefore, the image you present through your communications with them is the only thing you initially have going for you. Just as a doctor fresh out of medical school would never think of going to an interview with a prestigious hospital in cutoffs and a sweatshirt, so you must leave nothing to an editor's imagination when you present yourself to him/her. The slightest hint of sloppiness will be detrimental to your professional image.

The mechanics of query construction, personal correspondence, and manuscript preparation are all important, but the little things like neatness, clarity and a professional appearance are all equally important.

Writers must make professional presentations. You should never give an editor the impression that he or she is reading something that ten other editors are receiving at the same time. The single exception to this rule is when a magazine's market listing clearly states it accepts simultaneous submissions. Of course, today, computer printers can create an unlimited supply of "originals," impossible to identify as multiple printouts of the same file. Still, there are methods you can use to personalize each query, which we will discuss as we get further into the mechanics of writing.

Not one detail of your presentation is trivial, from using the right kind of paper, to positioning the stamps squarely on the envelope. Everything sends a signal to a prospective editor, and the sum total of those signals can be either professional or sloppy. Don't let anyone tell you that editors are blind to everything but words on paper. Even some editors may believe this, but human perception is acute, even when that perception is unconscious.

Good insights can be learned from looking at other professionals, particularly lawyers. Masters of image creation, attorneys and law firms use several methods of subtle, effective merchandising to convey status. Expensive furniture, huge desks, framed certificates on the walls, and imposing shelves of legal reference books are only a few of the details a successful attorney employs to create an aura of professionalism.

Like writers, attorneys communicate by mail with hundreds of people each year. They create a sense of professionalism at a distance through the use of impressive, personalized stationery. Consider the difference in your own reaction to a letter on plain white paper versus one on light gray textured stock, with the letterhead, "Dole, Bigley, Davis and Davis, Attorneys at Law." Such stationery promotes serious attention in the mind of a reader before the first line. It demands respect for the sender, even though you may not have met the person. It may even be that someone is impersonating an attorney (anyone can have stationery printed), but that thought never enters your mind as you stare at the elegantly understated, expensive stationery of a law firm. A writer's stationery must convey that same professionalism. This is especially important for the newcomer.

Printed personal stationery is expensive, and some writers' advisors suggest that it is not essential to a successful career. However, it adds an air of professionalism to your queries and to other communication, which, for a new writer, can be critical. If you have any artistic leanings at all, you can probably work up a simple design yourself. And with the computer programs now available, you might produce the finished copy yourself.

As for the design itself, keep it simple, but with a little twist, something that will make an editor remember you. We are not talking about a stock picture of a typewriter or a quill pen. These and other standard graphics have been overused. It could be something as simple as an unusual positioning of your name, or giving yourself a specialty such as, "Business Journalism," or "Science Writer."

Whatever stationery design you choose, it should be simple, not gaudy, and should have a touch of elegance. Choose a textured paper in a subdued color, preferably gray, off-white or beige. It is not at all necessary to use color but, handled with taste, they can sometimes add class. Most of all make sure the lettering you choose is clear and easy to read. Fancy scrolls and Old English may be appropriate for those certificates on the attorney's wall, but on a writer's stationery they look amateurish. If you can afford it, employ an artist or an ad agency to design your stationery for you.

Once you have established a relationship with an editor, it is fine to return to white paper for everything but cover letters and general correspondence. For these it is always best to use stationery in order to draw attention to their importance. Once that first impression is established, you will not be forgotten. And, although you should always use a high quality paper, this will be less expensive than using your stationery for everything.

Typing, punctuation, spelling and corrections are all important to the merchandising of your work. The typeface you use should be easy to read, something similar to a Times or Times Roman in 12 points, and you should never submit manuscripts containing smears or other printing errors.

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Barbara The Novel

Let's slip into the driver's seat for a moment, and take a look through the editor's eyes, out over that seething mass of unsolicited material known as "the slushpile."

Among a hundred other jobs I have to perform each week, the one I (as an editor) probably like least is wading through the garbage I collect at a result of accepting freelance submissions. The fastest way to get through this task is with a simple process of elimination.

First, without even opening them, I can discard the letters that come in small envelopes: too much unfolding, if they are not written on notepaper. If they are, I'm not interested anyway, because undersize sheets get lost in my standard 8 ½"X 11" files. Next, I can discard all those addressed to an editor who died over a year ago and those addressed to me but misspelling my name.

Ah, here are three that had postage due, one more in a bright red envelope, two that smell of perfume, and one that says, "You're gonna love this" on the outside. They can go. Mmmm, four written in pencil, one with an ink smudge, and two from the same guy, both addressed to an editor for another magazine. As the day wears on, others are discarded because their print is pale, they are written in longhand or typed in script. Several go right to the shredder because they are not accompanied by SASEs (Self-Addressed Stamped Envelopes).

All of this may seem arbitrary, and a lot of good story ideas surely get shuffled off to an assistant who stuffs a form letter into an envelope and sends it down the chute. But the fact is, the slushpile is a well that never runs dry, and even great story ideas will only bob to the surface when properly presented.

The way I (still the editor) look at it is this: If you do not care enough or know enough to make your first impression absolutely flawless, how can I assume you will write the article you propose? How do I know that your research and manuscripts will not be just as sloppy and unprofessional as your query?

Editors work with professionals every day. Though no two professional writers do things alike, and some of the more famous probably get away with murder, the overwhelming majority follow a simple set of rules out of long-bred habit. If, in the slushpile, an editor comes across a query or a manuscript that reflects a professional style, it is usually the exception, not the rule. If it happens to be yours, you are ten steps ahead of your sloppy, would-be peers.

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