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March's Focus and Prompt: Goals and Query Letters

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Mar. 6th, 2008 | 01:16 pm
posted by: benaforn in writers_almanac

Hey guys!

In February I focused on dialog, and found that I'm rather fond of having a specific topic to center the writing exercises around. March's focuses are going to be goal-setting and writing query letters.

Goal Setting

I can quote at least a dozen authors who have sworn in writing (or in my presence) that having a writing goal is necessary if you really want to finish anything. I'm not certain that this is always true, just in the same way that I despise writing 'rules', but I can't deny either that NaNoWriMo was probably the most productive time that I've ever spent writing-wise. The only important thing to remember when setting goals is that you're setting a goal for yourself, hence 'will be published in six months' is not really feasible unless you're doing self-publishing. Writing so many words per day/week/month is a good goal. Sending off so many query letters to editors per month is a good goal. Making so many papers bleed with a thick red marker per [enter time period here] is a good goal.

I'll stop before that gets too redundant.

The first half of March's challenge will be to write up the name of the project you're working on, its current status (whether it's just an idea still buzzing around your head, something you've been writing and scrapping over time, a finished novel...) and the goal that you're setting for yourself.

After the month, we'll go back and do follow-up posts and announce what you've managed to get done. If this catches on I'd like this to become a monthly routine.

Query Letters

The purpose of a query letter is to catch the attention of an editor, agent, or publisher, sometimes with a writing proposal of something you haven't even started and sometimes with a finished product. They range from newspaper articles to short stories for magazines, comics, fiction and non-fiction books. And even if you don't intend to publish your current project, or don't have a project worth writing about, practicing these are still surprisingly useful.

Query letters generally include the following:
  • Heading (your name, address, phone number, email, then the heading of the person you're writing to). When addressing someone it's useful to do some research and address them specifically.
  • Introduction. Are you writing a book? Fiction or non-fiction? Is it already complete? What do you want to get out of this letter?
  • Hook and synopsis. This is where you give a summary of what your book is about. You have at most one or two paragraphs to convince the editor/agent/publisher that they should take a look at what you've made.
  • Information about yourself. This is a brief mini-resume for you to list your literary accomplishments.
  • Formal closing paragraph, thanking whoever you're writing to for their time.

A letter like this should only take up one typed page, and should follow the industry standards. Sample query letters can be found all over the internet. Here's a few useful links.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Query_letter – The Wikipedia entry for query letters.

Guides and samples:

If that's not enough, or doesn't cover your specific genre, go do a few searches on google. Different flavors are everywhere.

Then comes the hard part: fitting your novel/short story/project into a paragraph that actually gets the point across and doesn't sound completely stupid. Spend literally days trying to do this. Take your time, and try to decide what the most important events are.

And when you're finished with the query letter, post it.

Good luck!


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Comments {2}


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from: hai_kah_uhk
date: Mar. 6th, 2008 10:28 pm (UTC)

Tough one! But I'm going to do it. After reading this, I've suddenly realized why writing exercises and silly character development games don't do it for me anymore.

I'm at the serious stage now. The stage I've resisted for years. It's finally time to roll up my sleeves and act like a professional.

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from: benaforn
date: Mar. 6th, 2008 11:57 pm (UTC)

Yes!! I was hoping that this might be a good exercise-- I'd really like to start a system where the serious writers feel accountable to someone for getting their writing goals met. Failing to do so for last month myself made me remember why I managed it on NaNo. It's because then everyone else could see my word count score, and it made me competitive.

We have a lot of readers and watchers on this list. I'm hoping that this way we can keep track of some of the projects this way, so that perhaps we can understand what everyone else is really working on and perhaps be more of a community instead of a question-and-answer board.

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