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Archive for March, 2009

At some point, every writer has to submit a short paragraph about themselves along with their query letter, article, or short story. It’s a good idea to prepare several of different lengths and content as the preferred style varies with the type of material you are submitting.

For a query letter, write in first person. Keep it short, preferably under 50 words, and relevant to the specific work you are pitching. Mention any previously published work, education, or experience only if it is related to what you are querying. (Unrelated education or experience may be useful when a longer bio is needed, such as for a pamphlet or book jacket.) If you have relevant writing credits, list the best three; select the most prestigious, and of those choose the most recent.

If you don’t have credits related to what you are querying, mention something specifically connected to the article, story, or book that you are pitching. For example, you might tell what gave you the idea for it, or how you became interested in that subject. Stick to the point; generalities about being a life-long dream, loving children, etc. don’t really explain why you are the best person to write whatever it is that you are trying to sell.

For bios that accompany an article, write in third person, and make it interesting. Usually editors will list the approximate number of words to include for the bio, but if they don’t, keep it under 25 words. This is really for your readers, so mention something fun or memorable. It’s not possible to list all your credits, but you might list your website, where all the additional information about you should be available.

Here are a few sites with additional suggestions for writing your author’s bio:

http://www.ehow.com/how_4785122_write-short-author-bio.html

http://editorialanonymous.blogspot.com/2009/03/autobiographical-portion-of-our-program.html

http://lyonsliterary.blogspot.com/2007/09/your-biography.html

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EDIT 7/6/11: Agent Rachelle Gardner has a helpful post on this topic on her blog today.

 

Edited to add: To see an example of an author bio for an article, see the post dated April 4, 2009, Tax Deadline Approaches. Note that the bio is written in third person, contains credentials, and also includes a bit of personal info that gives the reader a sense of who the author is. It also provides a link to the author’s own website, giving readers a way to learn more about him.

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I’m in the middle of reading a book I received as a free download: 70 Solutions to Common Writing Mistakes, by Bob Mayer. I highly recommend this book based on what I’ve read so far. It’s easy to read, yet makes excellent, thought-provoking  points. Here are two of the things he says that stuck in my head:

Try to make something new from

proven strategies and techniques.

Put your own unique spin and stamp

on things that have worked.

 

Only give the reader

information when she absolutely

needs it to understand

character and story—and not before.

I’ve had this download for a while but couldn’t figure out how to open it. In case someone else is as technologically challenged as I am, it doesn’t open in Word 2007. I had to right-click my mouse on the icon in the downloaded file, and tell it to open with Adobe Reader 8. It came in two files, but didn’t take much time or effort to download.  I don’t know how long they’ll be giving it away, so take advantage while you can:

http://www.fwmedia.com/article/freebookdownloads/

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Plugs for Friends

A of couple people I’ve come to know and admire through my membership on writer’s forums have posted interviews on their blogs that I want to help publicize.

Jon Strother did an interview Wednesday, March 25, with Linda Simoni-Wastila, who is an up-and-coming author of literary novels, particularly focused on mental health issues. You can read it here: http://www.jmstrother.com/tiki-view_blog.php?blogId=1

Stephen Book started a new blog focused on crime fiction, and he’s interviewed a real-life detective, John Towler, to get his blog off to a great start.  John also writes crime stories, horror, and science fiction.  You can read his interview here: http://powderburnsandbullets.blogspot.com/

 

These are both blogs worth your time, and interviews I enjoyed reading. Check them out. :)

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A lot of blog posts talk about query letters, but I’ve not seen many on cover letters. A cover letter should be submitted with a short story, contest entry, poem, or requested material. It briefly gives your contact information, an overview of what is attached, and a paragraph about your credentials or relevant personal data.

Although some sites say it isn’t necessary, I’ve always added a cover letter, even when submitting electronically, because it gives my submissions a more professional appearance. It’s a business letter, and serves as an introduction to the piece I’m submitting. Although the article or story needs to sell itself, it shouldn’t have to explain itself.  

Once when I sent an article as an attachment, which was the requested method but wrong format (they couldn’t open my Word 2007 docx attachment), the cover letter enticed the editor to ask me to resubmit the article within the body of an email. It would have been easy for her to delete my original email on the assumption that I didn’t know what I was doing. However, since I mentioned my topic, the edition of the magazine I was targeting, and my writing credits in the cover letter, the editor gave me a second chance. She ended up buying the article.

Write a cover letter like you would a normal business letter: single spaced, block format, with double spacing between paragraphs. Include a polite closing sentence, and state what is enclosed—short story name, SASE, etc.

Here are a couple of helpful sites that go into a bit more detail on when to use a cover letter, and what to include:

http://www.writing-world.com/basics/floyd.shtml

 

http://www.writing-world.com/basics/cover.shtml

 

 

 

 

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Shoutouts

There are many good blogs out there that get overlooked, so occasionally I’m going to do a Shoutout highlighting one that I enjoy reading and believe will appeal to my readers. If there is a blog you think deserves a special mention, let me know and I will consider it for a future Shoutout.

 

 

To start this series of posts, I’m giving a well-deserved Shoutout to Lynn Price at Behler Publications.  She is the editorial director there, and one of the nicest editors an aspiring writer could hope to work with. She maintains a blog that is full of helpful tips about writing, publishing, and promoting both nonfiction and fiction.

Though a small press, Behler Publications produces excellent books. I purchased one, a nonfiction book called Mommy, I’m Still in Here, and was pleased with the quality of the writing and editing. Their focus is on nonfiction, but they also consider fiction that is “socially relevant.” (You’re on your own figuring out what socially relevant means.) The blog has a complete list of the type of work Behler Publications considers, as well as advice on writing queries.

Even if you don’t have a project to submit, or yours isn’t in the category they publish, I think you’ll enjoy reading Lynn’s blog. She’s entertaining as well as helpful; just watch out for her beagle.

(A word of caution to my Inspirational Writer friends: the Behler blog does contain language some people may find offensive.)

Behler Publications Blog, located at: http://behlerblog.wordpress.com/

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Quotations for Writers

We are cups, constantly and quietly being filled. The trick is, knowing how to tip ourselves over and let the beautiful stuff out. — Ray Bradbury

I always write a good first line, but I have trouble in writing the others. — Molière

The hardest challenge is to be yourself in a world where everyone is trying to make you be somebody else. — E. E. Cummings

Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia. — E.L. Doctorow

I would enjoy experiencing the hollowness of success at first- hand. — Mason Cooley

 

These are not books, lumps of lifeless paper, but minds alive on the shelves. — Gilbert Highet

 

His style is chaos illumined by flashes of lightning. As a writer he has mastered everything except language. -– Oscar Wilde

Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing. – Ben Franklin

What we want is a story that starts with an earthquake and builds to a climax. — Samuel Goldwyn

Even if you’re on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there. — Will Rogers

 

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Even though it has nothing to do with writing, I wanted to announce that today is the first day of Spring, and also my 27th wedding anniversary.

March 20, 1982

March 20, 1982

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The way we move, breathe, speak, or look can say a lot about what we are thinking or feeling. Understanding how to interpret the messages being sent through body language can help us make our characters more believable, and also prepare us for those author tours and speaking engagements writers get so nervous thinking about. Learning to project the image we want can make us appear more confident, and affect the way others perceive us.

There are individual and cultural differences to consider, but many aspects of body language seem universal. Understanding what it means can lead to more effective communication, and better writing.

Body Language explained:

http://changingminds.org/techniques/body/body_language.htm  This site has about 70 pages of info on reading body language. Excellent source.

http://www.bodylanguage.netfirms.com/new_page_1.htm Quick overview of common body language meanings.

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Although using passive voice is not a grammatical error, it is discouraged by most editors. My previous sentence is an example of passive voice.

Passive voice refers to a sentence where the person or thing doing the action is not mentioned in the usual spot for the subject, which is in front of the verb. Instead, it follows the verb, leaving the object of the sentence in the subject’s normal place. You can easily identify a passive sentence by its use of a form of the verb “to be,” followed by a past participle. Often the person or thing doing the action will also appear in a phrase that starts with “by.”   

To re-write my first sentence in active voice, I simply need to switch the word order: Although using passive voice is not a grammatical error, most editors discourage it.

Passive voice can effectively emphasize the object of a sentence, and scientific writing may use it to stress the objectivity of the report. It also is useful when the actual subject isn’t known, or wants to be distanced from whatever happened. For example, a politician might prefer saying “The war has started” rather than “We started the war.” The emphasis is placed on the object (war) in that example instead of on the real subject (We).

Additional information on passive voice is available at:

http://www.unc.edu/depts/wcweb/handouts/passivevoice.html

http://owl.english.purdue.edu/handouts/grammar/g_actpass.html

http://projects.uwc.utexas.edu/handouts/?q=node/24

http://nathanbransford.blogspot.com/2008/01/passive-voice-is-found-in-your-query.html

http://web.cn.edu/kwheeler/documents/Passive_Voice_Guide.pdf

 

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Creative Nonfiction

Creative nonfiction, also called narrative nonfiction, literary nonfiction, or new journalism, is often thought of as a new type of writing, but it’s been around for centuries. Basically it means presenting facts using literary techniques such as plot, dialogue, setting, narration, and introspection so the subject comes alive for the reader. Facts are researched and are presented in a narrative style that brings the reader into the events using the same techniques we’d use for fiction writing. It’s more informal and personal than traditional nonfiction.

Many of the articles in magazines use this style of writing to entice readers into learning about subjects that might be boring if presented as straight facts. It’s also used for interviews, memoirs, biographies, autobiographies, travel and nature articles, and essays. Mastering this technique isn’t easy, but is worth the effort.

There are more in-depth explanations of this topic at:

http://www.class.uidaho.edu/druker/nonfic.html

http://www.creativenonfiction.org/thejournal/whatiscnf.htm

http://www.poynter.org/column.asp?id=52&aid=30407

http://writingnonfiction.suite101.com/article.cfm/how_to_write_for_nonfiction_genres

 

Edit: I’ve written a related post on Creative Writing, dated April 13, 2009

Edit March 24, 2010:  My post today gives an example of the difference between nonfiction and creative nonfiction.

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