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Archive for the ‘Writing cover and query letters’ Category

ALL ABOUT PLATFORM BUILDING V2

This month’s ALL ABOUT PLATFORM BUILDING guest blogger is author, librarian, and children’s writing community friend, Heather Ayris Burnell. Thank you, Heather, for sharing your story with us.

The Push and Pull of Platform

by Heather Ayris Burnell

PUSH PULL

“You need a platform.” Those words can make a writer freeze. If they make you even a bit nervous, relax and take a deep breath. Honestly, what you need first is a good manuscript. Excellent even. But, when the time comes that you’re ready to start sending your work out on submission, having some sort of platform is a good idea.

It’s Okay to Start Small – You may feel pushed to have a huge platform but the truth is, it’s best to start with something manageable. You’ll be learning and growing along the way. Way back when I first started considering submitting manuscripts, the thought of anyone even knowing that I was a writer terrified me. With the nudging of my critique partners I managed to get myself online. Despite my natural instinct to pull back, I created a blog under the guise that it would help the writers in my critique group get to know me better. And guess what? It worked. Having some support at the beginning really pushed me to give platform a try. There are so many great writer’s communities you’re sure to find support if you need it. Having a blog not only gave me practice in putting myself “out there”, it gave me a place to be found if someone was interested in finding out about me. It made me Google-able!

Push Yourself Out of Your Comfort Zone. You don’t have to create your platform all at once. Little by little is just fine. After I got the hang of blogging, and didn’t feel like I was going to die of embarrassment every time I put something online, I decided to push myself. If I could do a blog I could do Facebook, right? The truth that I’ve found is that although things may feel uncomfortable, scary, and confusing at first, the more you do something the more comfortable you get with it. I now have two blogs, blab away on Twitter way too often, and moderate a group of over 1,000 people on Facebook. The thing I never would have guessed back when I was pushing myself just to start a blog? I love doing it.

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Pull back if you need to. Don’t make yourself do things you don’t enjoy. Of course, feeling things out and giving different platform tools a try might take you out of your comfort zone but that’s the only real way you’re going to learn what you like doing. If you give something an honest try and really don’t like it, it’s okay to give it up. There are plenty of other platforms.

Give Yourself a Good Chance. Consider how you like to interact with others. What might you enjoy talking about or showing your readers? Maybe you simply want to have the chance to take part in conversations. These factors can help you choose the platform pieces that may work best for you. There are many different avenues you can try:

Social Media – Picking one or two you like and being good at them is better than trying to be on them all and doing a spotty job. Me? I use Twitter and Facebook a lot. I’ve tried Pinterest and Instagram but they just don’t seem to be my thing.

Forums – Chat boards where you can share information give you an opportunity to interact with a multitude of different writers. The SCBWI Blueboards and Absolute Write are two popular writer’s forums. There are many Facebook groups as well that are basically used as forums such as Alayne’s Sub Six, Kidlit411, and Sub It Club.

SubItClub Badge (175x88)kidlit 411Join Sub Six and Submit Six Picture Book Manuscripts in 2013

Newsletters and Online Newspapers – These might work well for you if you enjoy the gathering and sharing of information. Just do your best to define your angle. Sure it may evolve over time but having a good idea will make it easier for you to figure out what information to share and help you define and build an audience.

Video – Formats like YouTube make it possible for everyone to share themselves via video. It can be a fun way to get yourself out there.

Offline Life – Are you a librarian? (I am!) A teacher? Work at a bookstore? Knowing people in any part of the book business is a big plus. If you enjoy doing presentations, teaching, doing readings, and interacting with others who love books; participate in the plethora of ways there are to share literature and build the community of book lovers you know.

What Should You Choose?  You don’t want to have yourself pulled in too many directions!

A website or blog will give you a place to be found. It’s a good idea to have a page where an agent or editor can look you up and learn basic information about you if they are interested. Every writer sending their work out on submission should at the very least have a static bio page that includes contact information. I have a bio page on my blog.

You can interact on many platforms. Twitter is an especially helpful place for writers to be. So many agents, editors, and writers tweet. If you hop on Twitter and tweet as well, it’s a good way for you to get to know others and for others to get to know you.

If you choose to do something such as a newsletter, online newspaper or video, using social media channels such as Twitter can be an effective way to let others know about what you have. Some social media can be supplemental to your main platform. Just be sure to not be all promo all the time.

If you are more comfortable participating in a forum, that’s great too. Many forums offer the opportunity to put your information in your signature. Be sure to take advantage of this and link it to your online bio page. You have one of those, right?

Make it real. Creating and maintaining a platform takes time and energy. You want the time you spend on it to be enjoyable. You want your platform to be something you like. You want it to fit you!

Monster List Logo 2 by Dana Carey

Logo by Dana Carey

After I started my personal blog to push myself into the online world, I was able to push myself even more and talk about things I really like to talk about. I now give picture book writing advice and curate the Monster List of Picture Book Agents to pull readers in.

Because I pushed myself, I learned that I love to talk to writers and was dying to talk to others about submissions. So, I went on to start Sub It Club as a place for writers and illustrators to talk about submitting their work. Of course, managing Sub It Club’s forums and pages, blog, and Twitter feed in addition to my personal social media and offline work does take time. It’s a good thing I love doing it. And voila! I have a platform that has grown organically over time, one that I am comfortable with and enjoy immensely. If I didn’t love talking about submissions and picture books I think that might be a different story.

There are lots of ways to build a platform. There is no one size fits all formula. There will be push and pull but as long as you stick with it, you’ll figure out what works for you. Be brave. Be unique. Be you. And have fun!

Heather Ayris Burnell

ABOUT HEATHER

Heather Ayris Burnell loves writing query letters and she loves helping others with them, that’s why she created Sub It Club where they talk about all things subbing and share cover BedtimeMonsterand query letter critiques in their private Facebook group. She also does query and picture book critiques, as well as private consulting with writers to help them figure out the ins and outs of publishing, submitting in particular. She is the author of BEDTIME MONSTER published by Raven Tree Press and is represented by Sean McCarthy Literary Agency.

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sub six series 2

The ALL ABOUT SUBMISSIONS series is winding down. Only two more posts before we move on. The final guest bloggers will be Emma Walton Hamilton and Julie Hedlund. They will be joining together to talk about submissions. Beginning in the fall, a team of platform building, awe inspiring, social media mavens will share their knowledge and tips in a Platform Building series as guest bloggers. I will be sharing their names next month. Also in the fall, I will be adding more testimonials and some new advanced plans to my critique service, so keep an eye out for announcements.

Today, author and creator of Sub It Club, Heather Ayris Burnell, shares her tips on writing query and cover letters. A big thank you to Heather for her words of wisdom and for taking the time to write this post.

 

SubItClub Badge (175x88)

 

CREATE A GREAT INTRODUCTION: QUERY AND COVER LETTERS

By Heather Ayris Burnell

 

Query and cover letters—lots of writers dread them, but I say embrace those words! Your letter is your chance to talk about the manuscript you’ve worked so hard on. It’s time to think like a sales team and feature your work, and yourself, in the best light possible. Nope, no bragging is necessary, or even advisable.

Don’t stress out! Remember, query and cover letters are business letters. Your one-page letter is an introduction to your manuscript and you. Whether you’re sending in an unsolicited submission, submitting after a conference, or following up on a request, you’re going to need one. Make your letter easy to read and to the point. Agents and editors don’t have time to wade through a bunch of fluff to get to what they need to know.

Let’s get down to business!

COVER LETTER OR QUERY LETTER, WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE?

These two letters can be very similar, but at the most basic:

A QUERY LETTER asks if you can send the work for consideration. It hooks the reader in a clear, concise manner, ideally making the reader want to request the manuscript.

The COVER LETTER is sent with the manuscript. It teases, making the reader want to move on and read those manuscript pages.

THE BASIC PARTS

HOOK – Sell your story in one short paragraph. (My hook is usually 1-3 sentences long.)

SUMMARY – Give your genre and word count. Expound on your story if needed. This is a great place to show what makes your manuscript unique.

BIO – This is about you. Publication credits, memberships to writing organizations, or work in an area that has to do with books can be great things to put in your bio. Unique experience or qualifications that have to do with the subject of your manuscript can be of interest as well.

If you don’t have anything, it’s okay! Don’t force it. Saying your kids love the story or simply talking about yourself in general isn’t likely to help sell you as a writer. A bio is not a 100% requirement in your letter. If you wow someone with your hook, it won’t matter much what your bio says.

I have read of agents who like to see all sorts of things in bios from the fact that you belong to a critique group to clueing them in on your online presence. But, there are definitely preferences on this. It is always a must to research whomever you are querying! Often times, you’ll discover partialities. If not, go with your gut.

Just be sure to keep your bio short and to the point!

PERSONALIZATION – Why did you choose to send this particular letter about this particular manuscript to this particular person? From something you learned via Twitter that made you choose to submit to comparable books you found while doing research, personalization can be tough, but it can go a long way and shows you are dedicated and educated in your craft.

Again, don’t force it. Personalization is not a 100% requirement. A factitious reason for submitting your work is worse than none at all.

CLOSING – Thank the person reading the letter for their time. Tell them what’s enclosed (cover letter) or ask if you can send the manuscript (query letter).

THE FORMAT

Letters should be one page or less, usually consisting of 3-4 paragraphs, the shorter and more concise the better, of course.

What is the #1 most important thing that the person you’re sending your letter to should read? That is what you want at the top, first paragraph.

If you have a connection from a conference or contest, a manuscript request, or just a really great reason for asking for your work to be considered, putting it front and center can grab the reader’s attention and keep them reading on.

Just have a regular reason for submitting, such as thinking your book might fit their style? Starting off with your hook right from the beginning is a great way to go.

Either way, get to the point. You have seconds to grab a busy agent or editor’s attention with your letter.

DO:

Show not tell. Just like in your manuscript. Create a visual for the reader.

Keep your letter to one page.

Learn the correct format for both paper and email queries.

Address your letter to an actual person. There is a rare .001% of the time, usually at publishing houses, where you cannot find a name of any actual person or are even told to sub to “The Editors”. It’s okay to do this if you absolutely have to.

Have someone else look over your letter. The person you’re submitting to won’t know your story. You want it to be clear to someone who doesn’t know it like you do. Getting your letter critiqued will help you make a strong presentation.

Proofread your query more than once before sending. Reading out loud helps catch mistakes.

Submit to more than one agent or publisher at a time (unless an exclusive is specified in the guidelines). Hearing back on submissions can take a very long time. Keep moving forward!

DON’T:

Write your query as your character.

Worry about the type of paper you use for mailed submissions. Clean, white printer paper is fine. If you want to spend more on high quality paper that’s fine too, just don’t use colored or patterned paper. It’s your letter you want them to take note of!

Resend your query because of a tiny mistake you didn’t catch before you sent it.

Waffle. Know your story. Your genre. For example, don’t offer to change your picture book to a chapter book. If changes are wanted, they will be asked for.

Put sticky notes, photos, or any other sort of extra to “personalize” your query. Everything the reader needs to know to make a decision should be in your letter.

REMEMBER

Creating your letter takes time. Most likely more time than you feel it should! Personalizing each submission takes time. Don’t rush it. You only have one chance to submit your work to someone; you want to make the best presentation possible.

Studying letters that worked is helpful when creating a great query or cover. There are many variations, but one thing stays true, the letter serves to sell the story. Check out the Query Letters That Worked at Sub It Club for some examples of letters that sold manuscripts.

You’ve worked hard to create the best manuscript you can. You need to work just as hard on your query letter. You can do it, you are a writer!

Heather Ayris BurnellABOUT HEATHER

Heather Ayris Burnell loves writing query letters and she loves helping others with them, that’s why she created Sub It Club where they talk about all things subbing and share cover and query letter critiques in their private Facebook group. She also does query and picture book critiques, as well as private consulting with writers to help them figure out the ins and outs of publishing, submitting in particular. She is the author of BEDTIME MONSTER published by Raven Tree Press and is represented by Sean McCarthy Literary Agency.

BedtimeMonster

You can find Heather on her blog,  where she curates the Monster List of Picture Book Agents, on Twitter @heatherayris, and on Facebook.

BONUS LINKS FROM ALAYNE

Note: These days,  many people use the term “query letter” for both a “true” query letter and a cover letter. As Heather pointed out, technically, there is a difference. Make sure when you read the following posts that you are researching the one you really need for your submission.

Heather’s blog post on Picture Book  Manuscript Formatting

Harold Underdown Query Letters That Worked and Cover Letters and Query Letters

Writing Picture Books for Children Writing a Cover Letter and Sample Cover Letter

Rob Sanders Hovering Over Cover Letters

Query Shark Revising Query Letters so the Actually Work

Kathleen Temean Successful Query Letters and Writing Examples

Children’s Atheneum Query Letter Woes or Writing an Honest Query Letter

Carol Brendler (Emu’s Debuts) The Only Way to Write a Query Letter

Writer Unboxed, Chuck Sambuchino, Query Letter FAQs

Jessica Schmeider Query Workshop part 2 of 5 –  Find Links to the whole query workshop here

KIDLIT411.com Submissions: Agents and Editors

 

 

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