Blog Tour: Wendy Burt


Today we have a Q & A with Wendy Burt-Thomas. She is a full-time freelance writer, editor and copywriter with more than 1,000 published pieces. Her third book, “The Writer’s Digest Guide to Query Letters” hit stores in January 2009.

 

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“Query Queen,” Wendy Burt-Thomas, will be stopping by Writers Inspired today to answer your writing and publishing related questions.  Post a comment today which is relevant to the topic for a chance to win your copy of The Writer’s Digest Guide to Query Letters.  (US postal addresses only, please.)

To learn more about Wendy or her three books, visit www.GuideToQueryLetters.com. If you have a writing-related question, you can also post it on http://AskWendy.wordpress.com.

1. Q: Can you tell us about your book?  querybook-copy

The book was a great fit for me because I’d been teaching “Breaking Into Freelance Writing” for about eight years. In the workshop, I covered a lot of what is in this book: writing query letters to get articles in magazines, to land an agent, or to get a book deal with a publisher. Since I’m a full-time freelance magazine writer and editor with two previous books, this was incredibly fun to write because it didn’t require tons of research. I was lucky enough to receive lots of great sample query letters from writers and authors that I use as “good” examples in the book. I wrote all the “bad” examples myself because I didn’t dare ask for contributions that I knew I’d be ripping apart!

In addition to the ins and outs of what makes a good query, the book covers things like why (or why not) to get an agent, where to find one and how to choose one; writing a synopsis or proposal; selling different rights to your work; other forms of correspondence; and what editors and agents look for in new writers.

It was really important to me that the book not be a dry, boring reference book, but rather an entertaining read (while still being chock full of information). I was thrilled that Writer’s Digest let me keep all the humor.

2. Q: Why are query letters so important?

Breaking into the publishing world is hard enough right now. Unless you have a serious “in” of some kind, you really need a great query letter to impress an agent or acquisitions editor. Essentially, your query letter is your first impression. If they like your idea (and voice and writing style and background), they’ll either request a proposal, sample chapters, or the entire manuscript. If they don’t like your query letter, you’ve got to pitch it to another agency/publisher. Unlike a manuscript, which can be edited or reworked if an editor thinks it has promise, you only get one shot with your query. Make it count!

I see a lot of authors who spend months (or years) finishing their book, only to rush through the process of crafting a good, solid query letter. What a waste! If agents/editors turn you down based on a bad query letter, you’ve blown your chance of getting them to read your manuscript. It could be the next bestseller, but they’ll never see it. My advice is to put as much effort into your query as you did your book. If it’s not fabulous, don’t send it until it is.

3. Q: You’re also a magazine editor. What is your biggest gripe regarding queries?

Queries that show that the writer obviously hasn’t read our publication. I’ll admit that I did this when I was a new writer too – submitted blindly to any publication whose name sounded even remotely related to my topic. One of the examples I use was when I submitted a parenting article to a magazine for senior citizens. Oops! A well-written query pitching an article that’s not a match for the magazine isn’t going to get you any further than a poorly written query.

4. Q: There’s an entire chapter in the book about agents. Do you think all new writers should get agents?

Probably 99% of new writers should get an agent. There are lots of reasons, but my top three are: 1) Many of the larger publishing houses won’t even look at unagented submissions now; 2) Agents can negotiate better rights and more money on your behalf; 3) Agents know the industry trends, changes and staff better than you ever could.

5. Q: You’ve been a mentor, coach or editor for many writers. What do you think is the most common reason that good writers don’t get published?

Poor marketing skills. I see so many writers that are either too afraid, too uniformed, or frankly, too lazy, to market their work. They think their job is done when the write “the end” but writing is only half of the process. I’ve always told people who took my class that there are tons of great writers in the world who will never get published. I’d rather be a good writer who eats lobster than a great writer who eats hot dogs. I make a living as a writer because I spend as much time marketing as I do writing.

6. Q: What are some of the biggest misconceptions that writers have about getting a book deal?

That they’ll be rich overnight, that they don’t need to promote their book once it’s published, that publishing houses will send them on world book tours, that people will recognize them at the airport. Still, you can make great money as an author if you’re prepared to put in the effort. If it wasn’t possible, there wouldn’t be so many full-time writers.

7. Q: What must-read books do you recommend to new writers?

Christina Katz (author of “Writer Mama”) has a new book out called “Get Known Before the Book Deal” – which is fabulous. Also, Stephen King’s “On Writing” and David Morrell’s “Lessons from a Lifetime of Writing.” Anything by Anne Lamott or my Dad, Steve Burt.

8. Q: What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned as a full-time writer?

Seize every opportunity – especially when you first start writing. I remember telling someone about a really high-paying writing gig I got and he said, “Wow. You have the best luck!” I thought, “Luck has nothing to do with it! I’ve worked hard to get where I am.” Later that week I read this great quote: “Luck is when preparation meets opportunity.” It’s absolutely true. And writing queries is only about luck in this sense. If you’re prepared with a good query and/or manuscript, when the opportunity comes along you’ll be successful.

9. What did you enjoy most about writing this book?

Writing the “bad” query letters. I’ve read – and written! – so many horrible ones over the years that it was a little too easy to craft them. But misery loves company and we ALL love to read really bad query letters, right?

10. Q: What do you want readers to learn from your book?

I want them to understand that while writing a good query letter is important, it doesn’t have to be overwhelming. You can break it down into parts, learn from any first-round rejections, and read other good queries to help understand what works. I also want them to remember that writing is fun. Sometimes new writers get so caught up in the procedures that they lose their original voice in a query. Don’t bury your style under formalities and to-the-letter formatting.

———–

Wendy’s credentials include more than 1,000 published articles, essays, short stories, greeting cards, reviews, columns and poems. She is a full-time freelance writer, editor, copywriter and PR consultant. Wendy taught “Breaking Into Freelance Writing” for eight years and her three books include:

* Oh, Solo Mia! The Hip Chick’s Guide to Fun for One (McGraw-Hill)

* Work It, Girl! 101 Tips for the Hip Working Chick (McGraw-Hill)

* The Writer’s Digest Guide to Query Letters (January 2009, Writer’s Digest Books)

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12 Comments

Filed under Author Interviews, books, contests, Get Published, Give Aways, Non Fiction, Queries, writing inspiration

12 responses to “Blog Tour: Wendy Burt

  1. What great advice – I need to remember not to bury my style in a query letter and not to forget that I’m writing because it’s fun. I think what is hardest about a query letter for me is that it’s where the rubber hits the road and I’m truly putting my writing out there. Wendy, what do you suggest for how to really let your voice come through in a query letter? I find that I always get “official” and it doesn’t sound as much like me as I wish it would. At the same time, I don’t want to come across as too casual.

  2. Wendy’s reply:

    Regarding sending clips, I would advise you to never send any kind of attachments. This often directs your email right to the spam folder – often never to be seen again. (Many spam filters are set high for attachments due to all the viruses that are circulating.) I suggest the following:
    1. Include links to articles published around the Web
    2. Include a link to your Web site or blog where you have writing samples and/or (ideally)published clips
    3. Copy and paste your clip into the body of the email below your query. Just be sure to indicate “see below” in your query or they may not scroll past your signature line.

    #1 is a good choice if you’re directing them to actual publications (as opposed to places like Helium.com that are more of a warehouse to store articles).

  3. I have three pieces of advice on this question:

    1) match the voice/style of your query as closely as possible to your book/article

    2) open your query (for a book) like you’re writing the book flap

    3) open your query with a blurb straight from your book/article

    You can see an example of #3 in a sample query in my book. Go to page 13 of my book (on Amazon): http://www.amazon.com/gp/reader/1582975663/ref=sib_dp_ptu#

  4. Elise D.

    Wow, great information; thanks Wendy. I’ve read your posts on Writer Mama and always find them SO helpful. I have a non-fiction book proposal out to many agents and found that crafting that, as you said, took way more time and research than I would have thought. I checked out countless books from the library, bought a few others and researched on the internet, too. So many options and things to emphasize in a non-fiction query! I appreciate any and all tips and help you provide.
    Thanks for a great interview! (You too, Mary Jo!)

  5. Thanks for your reply – earlier today I put your book in my Amazon wishlist. I love the sample you directed us to here. Thanks for the great interview and follow-up!

  6. I’m so glad that there is another book out there on the how-tos of writing a query! Especially one that is encouraging to newer writers, like me.

    I have a question which may not have a good answer…how in the world do people manage to crank out multiple queries in a short amount of time? In my (albeit limited) experience, they seem to take a long time to craft…as much as the article itself might take. Yet I hear or read about people submitting query after query. What are your thoughts on this? Am I taking TOO long?

    Thanks for the information, and Mary Jo, thanks for hosting this great interview!

  7. Joanna

    I have to echo Stephanie’s question — I often find myself bogged down in the research for query. How do people churn these out quickly? Or do they?

    My other question has to do with the industry these days. I have been emailing with another writer who has also worked as an editor for years and she mentioned just how tough it is to break in to a new magazine. Is ignorance bliss here? How realistic is it to think I can break in with a new editor (assuming a sparkling query, of course)?

  8. Stephanie,
    I’ve found that only about 3/5 of the query will change. Basically, you’re doing a copy and paste and then changing the first two or three paragraphs. I think these people are cranking them out because they’ve created a staple piece (with info about them, theire published pieces, their platform/background, signature tag, etc.) and it remove a lot of the fear by thinking you only have to come up with a fun and interesting hook paragraph (or two). Does that make sense?

    • Wendy, That’s a great concept. Templates are a writer’s best friend. I’ve tried that and found it much less daunting to send queries out when I’m working with a “form letter” so to speak. Now, I just need to select my markets!

  9. Joanna,
    I don’t think it’s that hard to break into a new magazine – as long as you write well and can pitch an idea that’s a really good fit. Yes, ignorance is bliss. I pitched to everyone from the New Yorker to Family Circle when I was a newbie. I got a lot of rejections but I also got a lot of acceptances. I wouldn’t have 1,000+ published pieces if I worried about the “shoulds” and “shouldn’ts”. Go for it! (Just read the guidelines first.)

    • Wendy, I agree with this idea too. I’ve had much luck when I send a quick query off to an editor of a smaller market when the idea hits, without too much “hemming and hawing.” This works for me I think because a) I can’t talk myself out of it and b) the tone of the letter is more conversational and less “desparate” – if that’s the right word.

      Thanks so much for coming back and answering these questions this morning!

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