#AskTheEditor | What is a #QueryLetter?

One of my favorite aspects of being an editor is conducting research and answering the questions new and established writers often have about the stories they’re writing. I’ve always thought I would be rather good as a reference librarian, if only because I so enjoy answering questions. To the point where I annoy the people who get trapped in the same room with me during any episode of Jeopardy!

For the last couple days (more like decades, really, I’ve known this woman since high school), my friend SuEllen (over at Sunshine Graphics on Facebook) has been exploring taking the plunge and publishing her writing. She’s been following my blog and my post yesterday about IngramSpark got her to point-blank and quite articulately ask me about query letters:

I know this is probably a long way off, but what the fuck is a query letter and would I really need one?

I have mad respect for folks who don’t waste time beating around the proverbial bushes.

My response was something along the lines of

A query letter tells a publisher who you are and about the manuscript you’ve sent or want to send. Put it this way, would you shake the hand of a potential employer?

Her response? (And this is just part of the reason why we’ve been friends since high school . . .)

I’m sure you probably want me to say, “Yes.” But all I really want to know is if he washed his hands first.

But her inquiry and curiosity about the idea and overall worth of a query letter got my brain working on building an advice column of sorts that could help any inquiring, newbie writers out there. So, for this first post I’ll define and link to examples of the perfect Query Letter.

According to Wikipedia, a query letter, “is a formal letter sent to magazine editors, literary agents and sometimes publishing houses or companies. Writers write query letters to propose writing ideas.”

Which is just slightly different from what I told SuEllen originally. I was thinking more along the lines of a cover letter, which is something one usually sends along with a writing submission in order to introduce themselves to the managing or department editor of the journal/anthology/magazine of their choice. However, the query letter can take the same format and tone.

Think of it as a professional introduction,  an opportunity to stand out from the rest of the people submitting stories or story ideas, and a platform for selling your writing idea–from essay to novel. I told SuEllen that I’ve seen stories get tossed without even being read because of an issue on the cover letter. Be sure to do your research and know who you’re sending the letter and manuscript to. Catch an editor on a bad day, and your story might not get read just for spelling the name wrong or having the wrong name in the greeting. Paying close attention to submission guidelines will prevent errors like that, especially when it comes to whom or which department you’re sending your query letter.

Writer’s Digest is always a solid go-to tool and outlet for any kind of writing advice from craft to business-end guidance. And, they won’t steer you wrong here, either. The following articles come from Brian A. Klems‘ “The Writer’s Dig“:

“How to Write the Perfect Query Letter” breaks down a successful query letter one paragraph at a time with an agent’s response to each, explaining the strengths and weaknesses of each–from the greeting to incorporating effective summaries of your work as selling points.

“The 10 Dos and Don’ts of Writing a Query Letter” for those authors among us who require something closer to a checklist. Klems offers six dos and four don’ts that will give your query letter a leg-up over the competition by being thoughtful and aware of the information you’re sending the agent or editor. He even includes a link to examples of successful query letters.

Did this answer help you? Have any other questions you’d like to ask this editor, use the Submissions page or my email to submit!


Copyediting | Fend Off #Freelancing Loneliness: Attend a #Conference

Source: Copyediting.com
Source: Copyediting.com

I maintain connection to the outside world with email alerts. Some I receive daily, others I get weekly. Either way, it’s instant information that I’m always looking for and I always benefit from–especially because it’s information I get to share with my peers that comes from my peers (though, in time and experience, really, my superiors). Which brings me to the point that freelancing–though wallowing in freedom and flexibility–can be quite lonesome. Though, I am living with my fiancee, that isn’t exactly the kind of lonesome I’m talking about.

It isn’t as though I have a water cooler in my kitchen that my editing cohort can surround to pretend enjoying small talk when all we really want to do is talk about our co-workers. You know? So, in an effort to make up for that, I try to follow other editors and writers on Facebook and Twitter. But, sometimes even that source of immediate socializing gratification just isn’t enough. In that case, I’ve begun looking into Editing conferences . . .

Enter stage right . . . the Copyediting newsletter I receive in my email weekly. The most recent one is expanding upon a New Year’s Resolution post on networking by the educational and entertaining Katherine O’Moore-Klopf. Likewise, Erin Brenner consistently provides thoughtful advice and tidbits of trivia that keep me informed and feeling timely. This post is no different.

Brenner presented three upcoming Editing conferences, domestic and international, that would be beneficial for any editor to attend–new or seasoned. Quoted directly from the post, here are the dates and information for each of those conferences:

American Copy Editors Society (ACES), March 26–28, Pittsburgh, PA. If you can attend only one conference this year, this is the one. It’s three full days of sessions and networking events. Several of your favorite Copyediting writers will be there, and Visual Thesaurus’s Ben Zimmer will give the keynote.

Editors’ Association of Canada (EAC), June 12–15, Toronto, Canada. Canada’s editing conference is officially going international. Keynotes will be given by Carol Fisher Saller of The Chicago Manual of Style and Katherine Barber of the Canadian Oxford Dictionary. Other speakers include Peter Sokolowski of Merriam-Webster and editor extraordinaire John McIntyre. You’ll also get to meet some of Copyediting’s writers. And, yes, Canadians really are as nice as you’ve heard they are.

Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP), September 5–7, York, England. Maybe you want to travel a little as well as network. Check out SfEP’s annual conference, which this year is being held in conjunction with the Society of Indexers conference. If you’re interested in indexing or need to network with indexers, or, heck, just want to make it to England, this is the conference for you.

Brenner noted there are other organizations that hold yearly conferences, even though they haven’t released any information regarding those conferences yet. I’ll provide the links here for proper bookmarking: American Society for Business Publication Editors, Communication Central, and Northwest Independent Editor’s Guild. [Update: On October 10, 2015, Northwest Independent Editor’s Guild will host Beyond the Red Pencil.] Be sure to check them regularly for updates!

So, if you’re freelancing like me and feeling kind of lonesome, maybe save up a couple bucks and check out a conference in your specialty. Anyone ever been to a professional conference before? Share your good and bad experiences below; as a conference first-timer, I’d love to hear them!

Pop | Lake Superior’s #BanishedWords of 2015

For the last 40 years, Lake Superior State University has kept up the tradition of banishing certain words from general usage due to mis- or overuse. Though I’m seeing some of these words for the first time on this list (I admit, I don’t watch a lot of TV news or TV, period.), there are others listed here that I’m all for giving the old heave-ho!

You can view the entire list at the link below, while I’m just going to nitpick the ones I’m glad were highlighted this year!

Lake Superior State University :: Banished Words List :: 2015

1) Bae

This little collection of three letters really caused a stir last year. While I also find it a ridiculous term of endearment, there are goofier ones and far sweeter ones to employ than one which may have a nasty international meaning.

2) Cra-Cra

Please, to whichever mythological figure is looking over the land of letters, let this six-letter (or eight-letter, depending on if you add the “y”) phrase just go the hell away. It is so annoying to hear (Progressive Insurance Box, I’m talking to you!), and to whomever started it? May your tongue fall out and rot.

MeliSwenk Google Search Results
MeliSwenk Google Search Results







3) Friend-raising

This is one of the words I’m experiencing for the first time on this list, and I’m pretty glad of that. I wouldn’t like hearing this too many times in one conversation, let alone actually partaking in the action. It sounds like it cheapens the connection of friendship by attaching a monetary expectation (or reward?). Hopefully, this suggestion won’t be taken lightly.

4) Enhanced Interrogation

Really? Did I wake up in a live-action version of 1984? Yes, this phrase needs to go. If you can’t call a spade a spade, maybe you shouldn’t use it.

5) Skill set

While I don’t have a specific gripe against this word (phrase?), I wouldn’t mind never using it again because I can never remember if it’s one word or two. Thanks to Lake Superior, I’ll never forget.

Now, I’m a staunch censorship dissenter. I don’t like bleeping words or calling words “bad” or anything like that. It’s all expression, but some words and phrases are simply annoying and are better left forgotten.

Which words did you want LSSU to banish for the new year?

Reviews | #RobertAickman: Or, Exploring Potential for #Strange Encounters

Robert Aickman - Wiki
Source: Wikipedia

I first learned about Robert Aickman (1914 – 1981) in the September 2014 edition (Issue 148) of Rue Morgue, and since then I have learned that this author had the respect of many in his cohort (from the same time and contemporary) but not nearly their level of visibility. He’s been virtually an unknown, so far;  but within months of what would have been his 100th birthday, Rue Morgue asked us, “But, what about Robert Aickman?” And the response is, “Boy, that man could write some strange stories.”

And that’s exactly what he called them (p.31, Rue Morgue, Sept. 14). It is almost as if he brings together the perfect blend of literary prose with elements of the strange, supernatural, and fantastic — it depicts a life set to explore the potential for strange interactions.

The stories I’ve managed to comb from my local library appeared in short story collections: The Oxford Book of Twentieth-Century Ghost StoriesI Shudder at Your Touch: 22 Tales of Sex & Horror, and Shudder Again: 22 Tales of Sex & Horror.

And, strange interactions are exactly what Aickman delivers in “Ringing the Changes”, “The Swords”, and “Ravissante”, respectively.

Source: Amazon.com
Source: Amazon.com

Michael Cox included “Ringing the Changes” in The Oxford Book, and it was a great place to start to really get a feel for Aickman’s perspective and tone. He uses details and genuine interaction to set the mood and bury our feet in “reality” only to allow the strangeness of Gerald and Phrynne’s unconventional honeymoon (due to their 20-year age difference and the low status of Gerald’s work position) to fly off the page. The changes they experience as a newly married couple are counterpointed against the major changes the bells bring to Holihaven every year. Never on the same day and never after the same amount of ringing, changes in life are unexpected and as Aickman points out, it’s all about how you face them.

Source: Amazon.com
Source: Amazon.com

In her first sex and horror anthology, Michele Slung included “The Swords” much to her own joy — and I wouldn’t blame her. Being able to talk up Aickman right now is plastering a perma-grin on my own face. Not to mention, if you watch British horror TV shows, you may already know about this short. Focusing on the path of decisions a young man makes toward his “first experience”, Aickman’s unnamed protagonist starts by admitting that it is “to beginners that strange things happen, and often, I think, to beginners only” (p. 132). It couldn’t have helped finding the young woman of your dreams at the unique sideshow of a fair that was “pretty and old-fashioned, but no one could say it cheered you up” (p.136). Mildly, it might not have been the best choice, but being young and inexperienced will do that for you. Additionally, this story could be used as an exploration of the delicate relations between men and women — how one is viewed by the other, what is “typically expected” on a date, and how each reacts to or anticipates the fallout of a traumatic experience.

Source: Amazon.com
Source: Amazon.com

Michele Slung brings back Aickman in her second anthology, Shudder Again. “Ravissante” (a loose French translation turned up ravishing or charming as the meaning) is structured in a frame and comes with comparisons to Henry James’ “The Romance of Certain Old Clothes” and “The Aspern Papers”, even a little bit of “The Turn of the Screw” with the calling at the end. However, since I’ve never read any of those (shock, horror, gasp!), I’m coming to this story completely clean, and when I think of frame stories I always think of Shelley’s Frankenstein — “In order to tell you this story, I’ve got to tell you that story.” So, Aickman begins with another unnamed protagonist who will take us to meet a struggling artist — controversial and only kind of sought after — and his oddly dressed and almost always silent wife. I think maybe she just doesn’t dig a party scene, but I digress. More than a couple years after the last party they share, the protagonist hears of the artist’s death and his listing the protagonist as co-executor of the will. That isn’t even the strangest part of the story; remember, there’s a frame in place. The protagonist takes a painting and the manuscripts his friend edited from the estate the wife anticipates destroying. But among them is a small discovery, a harried, surreal memory from the artist of a strange Madame A. and her desires in meeting an artist who appreciates her former husband’s work. In this case, I think Aickman was going for “Ravishing” as the title, more than charming.

After getting just a taste of what Aickman creates of fiction, I can’t wait to get my hands on more. According to Rue Morgue, an established and known publisher from the UK, Faber & Faber, are re-releasing Aickman’s collection, which includes a novel The Late Breakfasters and a novella, The Model. I can’t wait to get my hands on it!

Have any of you ever read Robert Aickman? Are you hearing about him for the first time? Do you know of other anthologies he has been included within? I’d love to hear about it!

#NaNoWriMo Day 24: Winning


I validated the part of my short story collection that is complete and returned a count of 53,689! Whoo!

And Vivi’s story is finished! Whoo!

This has been such a blast, and I hope that you are all doing well and sticking with it [they are basically the same thing!]. Writing a novel is no easy feat, and having this every year lets me stretch my writing fingers, while the other 11 months of the year I’m a very happy reader and editor!

I do plan to continue this collection to its conclusion, and I’ll post updates here whenever I do. I’m already setting up the next storyteller, and getting the ladies ready for one more story before turning in for the night. I also plan to post more advice pieces for the rest of the month, to keep all my fellow November Novelists motivated! 🙂

I wrote 5,699 words today, to end with a 2,237 average daily word count.

How are all of you doing so far?

Total Word Count, so far: 53,689/50,000

#NaNoWriMo Day 23: Working in the Home Stretch

NaNoWriMo Banner 11.1.14

I managed to write two of the four remaining scenes this morning. Plowing through it, and I’m aiming to be done with this story tomorrow morning. I really, really, really wanted to finish this story this morning, but since the morning is damn near over and I still have other things to do today I found a stopping point. Vivienne and Arabella’s story will be over tomorrow!

I wrote 4,881 words today, sending my average daily word count over 2,000. I passed the Day 28 word count by nearly 1,300 words, and I’m planning on continuing on after NaNo ends with this collection. It will probably be random with more time spent not writing than writing, because life. But I plan on keeping the updates coming if you’d like them.

How are all of you doing so far?

Total Word Count, so far: 47,990/50,000

#NaNoWriMo Day 22: Final Reveal

NaNoWriMo Banner 11.1.14

This is the point I’ve been working toward. The final reveal. Including the reveal, I have a maximum of four scenes left (including the wrap-up with the Midnight Ladies and the transition to the new storyteller). The next three scenes are going to go fast once I get started. The downhill approach has finally begun. Vivienne is in for a rude awakening, but does she still love Arabella after what she discovers? It sounds like it thus far, but we will see…

I wrote 1,181 words today, maintaining my 1,900+ average daily word count. I’m just around 200 words shy of the Day 26 word count, but I have a blog post I wanted to put up today. So, I’m going to do that, and maybe I’ll write more later if I can, but I’ve also got some house chores to do (monstrous laundry pile, I’m looking at you!). So, I’m content with what I’ve put out today, especially with the stopping place I’ve reached in the story.

How are all of you doing so far?

Total Word Count, so far: 43,109/50,000

#NaNoWriMo Day 21: Staying the Course

NaNoWriMo Banner 11.1.14

I am staying the course. Vivienne is summarizing now, and they’ve shared their third anniversary. Arabella asked her to move in, and Vivi just got some interesting news about her lady love. Vivienne’s mother gave her the tool that will save her life at the end of the five years. And there’s a closed door that needs to be opened soon. I’m really looking forward to the end of this story.

I wrote 3,176 words today, boosting my average daily word count to 1,996. I’ve put my word count beyond the Day 25 goal by nearly 300 words, and I’m hoping to finish Vivi’s story either tomorrow or Sunday. I’m sure you’re all getting tired of reading about how close I am to the end of this story…

How are all of you doing so far?

Total Word Count, so far: 41,928/50,000

#NaNoWriMo Day 20: The Art of Conversation

NaNoWriMo Banner 11.1.14

This story has gone on much longer than I ever could have imagined, and now that we’re getting close to the end; it almost feels like Vivi is stalling. Trying to cram in detail after detail, and all I can think about is the other girls’ stories. Maybe I should do some plotting or short writing spurts out of turn. When I get into writing this story, sometimes, it feels like it could go on for the length of a novel on its own. But when I get to a stopping point, the first thing I think is always, “Ah, almost done.”

It’s not that I don’t like Vivi and Arabella’s story–I sure do! I just want to make sure everyone else gets proper representation. There’s just instances where I have to draw things out, even though I could easily be like, “And then they had sex. Loved each other for five years, and Vivi’s mother tries to kill Arabella in order to institutionalize her daughter. The End.” But that’s not very interesting storytelling…

So, to bring in the title of this here blog post, Vivi and Arabella are finally discussing the intricacies of their relationship. Who Arabella really  is and what Vivi will really be doing for her. Though, Arabella is doing a good job at stringing Vivi along, using her desires against her. Vivi isn’t showing any fear in presenting her doubts and thoughts to Arabella. They are just having a nice conversation, and I think we’re learning a lot about each character for it.

Dialogue is probably one of the major things that writers struggle with. It’s something I hear complained about occasionally, and something that writers often complain about needing more practice with. However, I love dialogue because it’s the characters speaking for themselves. Why they say things or don’t, why they feel compelled to say things or not are all ways to get to know your characters. It gives you an open window into their minds, their desires. And if nothing else propels your story (and this story, in particular) the desires of your characters should.

I wrote 2,043 words today, keeping my daily average above 1900. I’ve put my word count beyond the Day 23 goal by 400 words, and I can’t believe I’m still only on the second story. Totally crazy!

How are all of you doing so far?

Total Word Count, so far: 38,752/50,000

Writer’s Digest | 3 Things Your #Novel’s Narrator Needs to Accomplish

NaNoWriMo Banner 11.1.14

John Mauk, writing for “The Writer’s Dig”, gives some great advice, letting us in on how our narrator can work for us. Imbuing him or her with the power of persuasion in order to convince the reader that he or she has all the information, and will provide it, goes a long way toward reassuring your reader that your story is “real.” And when the reader feels like they are a part of your story, they can fall in love with your story and your characters.

Read the full article below, and enjoy an excerpt on how the power of persuasion (the effort of rhetoric) has a major role in fiction, regardless of genre, regardless of age.

3 Things Your Novel’s Narrator Needs to Accomplish | WritersDigest.com.

So what particular elements convince us? How does a story compete with the real world and all of its lures: air, cell phones, family crises, food, and drink? For me, it all comes down to the narrator, to the storytelling voice. Narrators don’t simply say what happened. They create a reality, a world that readers believe, keep on believing, and want to keep believing. Whether first, second, or third-person, good narrators make fictive worlds real, which takes a lot of persuasive power—more than all the politicians in Congress. And while the list of persuasive elements is long, here are three small but crucial moves, things that narrators do when they most successfully convince us…