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Successful Cover Letters

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I've had students ask to see sample cover letters for magazine submissions, so thought I'd share several of mine here.

Here's one I wrote for an article that appeared in the magazine KidTime in October 2006. (I've redacted some personal information.)


date

Editor name
KidTime
Street address
City, state and zip

Ms. Lastname,

"What is it? An overgrown chestnut? A porcupine egg? A beaver ball? No, although the last two are nicknames for it. What you're seeing is a larch needle ball." That's my opening for an article on the naturally occurring phenomena of larch needle balls. The article might be appropriate for your November theme of "Harvest Time."

My information comes from an interview and larch ball hunting trip with an experienced collector. In addition, I've corresponded with Montana Forest Service and Glacier National Park personnel, Montana scientists, and Seeley-Swan Valley residents. As far as I've been able to ascertain, nothing is in print about this unusual subject except an article I wrote focusing on the collector for Real People ("That's Incredi-ball" January/February '97).

I've also had articles published in Highlights for Children, Cricket, Child Life, and others.

Besides the article I've enclosed eight color transparencies along with descriptions. Of course, I've included a self-addressed stamped envelope for your convenience.

Sincerely,


Obviously, that was a postal mail submission. Here's an email submission of a short story that sold.


Attn: Conny

Kiah's mom has just announced they are moving away. Anger bursts out of Kiah like lava spouting out of a volcano. She says she'll stay and just live with friends. But when Kiah thinks about her friends, none of them seem a good fit. But it isn't until she figures out the real reason they are moving that Kiah decides to make the best of it and makes up with her mother.

This short story "No Way" is especially appropriate for the older age range of your audience. The length is 1433 words and I can offer you first rights. I've pasted in the story below.

My writing credits include over 160 magazine short stories and articles for children and adults. I've been published in such magazines as Highlights for Children, Cricket, Jack and Jill, and many others. My recent book projects include three picture books for Unibooks (Korea) and seven e-readers for Compass Media.

Sincerely,


So what do these letters have in common? A brief description of the article or story and my writing credits. I'd usually say the title and word count as well, but see that I didn't even do so with the article. If you don't have writing credits, you leave that out. You'll see in one case I addressed the theme the magazine had for a specific issue, and in the other I mentioned the story would fit the "older range" of their audience.

It's pretty simple. Some samples you'll see tell even less about the story. But the basics I usually include are:

• Specific editor's name (or title specified in the magazine's writer's guidelines)
• Magazine name and address for postal mail
• A teaser for the story or article
• What you are submitting - e.g. article or short story
• Title and word count
• If appropriate, why you chose the magazine
• Rights available, if appropriate
• Any applicable background info - e.g. what gives you authority to write the piece and/or writing credits
• For postal mail, SASE for reply or return of manuscript

Letters are single spaced with a blank line between paragraphs. My physical letters have my name and contact information in a footer. It can also follow your name below the signature. And, of course, you want your letter to be free of any errors in spelling, grammar, punctuation, etc.


Do It Myself!

Remember the "do it myself!" toddler stage?wagon-988818_1920.jpg No, she doesn't want help getting dressed. He doesn't want to be pulled in the wagon; he wants to pull it. Ditto, stroller and pushing it. No, she doesn't want to hold your hand. And, yes, he'd rather feed himself despite the mess.

If a child never expresses that desire to learn, to do, to be independent, we'd be worried.

So what happens to us in adulthood? Why do we want our hands held? Why don't we want to do it ourselves?

I was reminded of this recently. I was washing my hands in the restroom at a writer's conference when a gal came in and said something like this, "Why didn't they indicate that she only does picture books? I'm a YA writer and that session was a total waste." When she noticed my faculty name badge, she got embarrassed and left abruptly.

What I wanted to say to her was, "Why didn't you do your homework? The conference website listed faculty bios. The online schedule and the schedule in our conference packets listed who was speaking when on what topic. Didn't you read all that?" I'll admit as faculty, I hadn't paid much attention to the other speakers beforehand. But that day I'd listened and had learned the editor had "a focus on early childhood-from board books to picture books and beginning readers." (Quote from her bio.) The YA writer could have chosen one of the other three breakouts instead of choosing to waste her time.

As an instructor of adults who want to write for children, I see adults who want hand-holding or special treatment. They don't follow the directions for an assignment and when challenged give excuses about how busy they are. Sometimes when we ask a student to redo a lesson, we hear comments such as, "I just want to graduate the course." I want to say, but don't, "So, why did you take the course? To learn to write for children? Or to get a meaningless certificate." If we graduate students without making them do the work, then our teaching, and the course is useless. Hmm, it takes a toddler a lot longer to dress herself than if a parent does it, but she ends up with satisfaction that she did it herself. And the more she practices, the better she gets. I often wonder where the pride in a job well done has gone missing for many adults.

I've also organized a lot of conferences and other events for children's writers and illustrators. Just like there can be deadlines on submitting to editors or agents, we'll have deadlines for early bird discounts, submitting homework or manuscripts, etc. We know everyone is busy, so we send out reminders of those deadlines. But inevitably a number of people miss deadlines and get upset at the organizers, who are volunteers. Keeping track of deadlines is part of the attendees' job--their homework.

Over and over at conferences one will hear attendees asking an editor or agent what type of manuscript they want to see. Often with a laugh the answer is "a well-written manuscript." Yes, the person will usually go on to say what genres appeal the most, etc. But in some ways, what attendees are asking is, "What's the magic to get published?" There isn't any. Just like there's no magic in a baby learning to walk. He tries and fails and tries again. But one day he succeeds and oh, the joy.

Seeing our writing improve because we worked hard can be satisfying. Knowing we did our best to be prepared means we don't have those "if only I'd..." regrets. Doing our homework can help us have intelligent conversations with faculty members. Which reminds me. I have a conference coming up, I'd better get off and do my homework!


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How do I get started writing for magazines?

1. First, read a variety of children's magazines and determine which magazine(s) appeal to you and which age groups attracts you most.

2. Decide what you are drawn to most: fiction, articles, poetry, activities.

3. Read and analyze lots of those pieces--look at more than one issue of your chosen magazine(s).

4. Check out market books and get guidelines and, if available, theme lists/editorial calendars for the chosen magazine(s). Some guidelines are available on-line. Others you may need to write for, enclosing an SASE.

5. Write your piece in a similar tone as the pieces in the magazine. Make sure it fits the word length, etc. in the guidelines. When it's the best you can make it, submit it. (Don't start with the hard to get into magazines such as Highlights for Children and Cricket--get some publishing experience first.)

6. Move on to writing another manuscript.

Some people call articles stories, while others only refer to fiction as stories. How do I know what's what?

I personally differentiate these two by nonfiction (article or essay) or fiction (story), and of course, each of those categories can be broken down more. That said, I will at times call a piece a "true story" versus an article. That usually happens in response to a magazine looking for "true stories about..." Sometimes these are also called true experiences.

When submitting a manuscript, I usually indicate "article" or "nonfiction" for those true stories and "fiction based on a true story" or "fiction" on those I've made up.

Should I always send a cover letter with my submission?

I don't. The reasons I do are:

1. The magazine requests manuscripts with a cover letter.

2. I have more information I want them to know (e.g. why I wrote the piece, or my submission fits a theme, etc.).

3. It might be pertinent for them to know my other writing experience and I don't think a full résumé is needed.

What do I say in a cover letter?

1. Grab the reader with something exciting - this may be a direct quote from the manuscript, or a catchy line or something about the theme of your piece.

2. Give a brief summary of your story, essay, article.

3. Tell title, genre, word count and rights you are offering. If reprint rights*, tell where and when it has appeared.

4. Mention anything special you are including: color slides, digital photos, sidebars, related websites, etc.

5. Include your writing credits: either "I'm enclosing my résumé" or a list of some magazines you've been published in. Don't apologize for not having credits. Don't say you're a first time writer.

6. Bring up other issues that might be important. For example, if a story or article is set in a particular town and you lived there, tell the editor so. If you have experience in a particular job, craft, or hobby, and it relates to your piece, say so.

7. If sending a manuscript by snail mail, mention you've included a self-addressed stamped envelope. You may want to include an SASE for their reply instead of for the return of the manuscript. I found I was reprinting manuscripts all the time anyway, and can save postage by sending a smaller SASE. Some publishers are now only replying with acceptances, which in that case you can state something like, "I understand you only reply if interested. You may discard this copy of the manuscript." This information is usually available through their guidelines.

Note: If sending a manuscript electronically, make sure you follow the directions of "pasted the manuscript into body of the email" or "attachment" as the guidelines say.

8. Close.

Overall, remember to be brief, professional and to the point.

Is writing for children's magazines for everyone?

Of course not. But it might be for you!


*Want to know more about magazine rights? Read this post.


(image courtesy of pixabay.com and canva.com

Poor Man's Copyright, a Myth

image courtesy of jdurham on morguefile.com
file801246654450.jpgA number of years ago at a writer's meeting the issue of "poor man's copyright" was raised as a means to protect your works. Basically the idea is to put your work in an envelope, seal it, mail it and the postmark will "prove" when you wrote it protecting your copyright.

Recently, I heard chatter about this on a listserve, so I updated my research on this topic and am sharing it here.

One of the biggest flaws of this idea is that the postmark and seal prove something.


  • What is to prevent someone from mailing an UNsealed envelope to themselves? It has a postmark. But since it is unsealed, material can be placed in it at any time--2 months later, 2 years later, 10 years later, then sealed.

  • Sealed envelopes can be steamed open (and probably opened by many other methods that I don't know), the material replaced with something else, then resealed.

Read what the copyright office itself has to say:

"When is my work protected?
"Your work is under copyright protection the moment it is created and fixed in a tangible form that it is perceptible either directly or with the aid of a machine or device."

The Frequently Asked Questions page is very helpful resource. This page has "Copyright Registration of Books, Manuscripts, and Speeches."

A book recommended by the Author's Guild is The Writer's Legal Guide by Tad Crawford & Kay Murray. It is in its fourth printing.

Here are some articles on this topic:

"Poor Man's Copyright" by Peter Clarke

"Poor Man's Copyright" by ©opyright Authority.com

"How To Copyright a Book" at Go-Publish-Yourself.com begins with this sentence: "Before learning how to copyright a book, you need to learn how not to copyright book."

Want to know more?

Some authors may want to consider an intellectual property rights lawyer. I found some information on copyrights here at intellectual-property.lawyers.com. Here's an interesting post with a Literary Agent Attorney FAQ from Literary-Agents.com.

And here's a column on copyright written by Linda Kattwinkel, who is an intellectual property rights lawyer.

So now you know--poor man's copyright, only a myth.

Considering Self-Publishing?

Pommes_à_cidre.jpgI've know authors who have done it well and many others who have not. You've heard that a bad apple can spoil a whole barrel--often in the self-publishing realm it's the opposite. Finding the one good apple may be difficult.

The first impression for a self-published book is the cover. If the cover is not professional, it won't matter about the rest of the book. There's a snarky site called LOUSY BOOK COVERS that has a tag line that says "Just because you CAN design your own cover doesn't mean you SHOULD." The site shows what it claims--embarrassingly poor covers.

In the traditional publishing world, Art Directors often go through multiple cover designs for one book before everyone involved (including the marketing department) is happy. I suggest that authors self-publishing get honest opinions on their covers from booksellers, librarians, other authors, illustrators, etc.

When I open a book and see a typo, a misspelling or grammar error on the first page, it makes me doubt the overall quality of the book. Traditional publishers use copy editors as well as editors who work on content. If you want to self-publish, or the new term "indie publish," please consider finding someone who can copy edit your book.

The biggest deal is content. I've found stories/books with these kinds of flaws:

Not Being Realistic
• It couldn't happen like that
• It doesn't make sense
• Where did that skill/ability/tool come from?

Main Character Not In Charge
• She is swayed by the winds of circumstances
• He doesn't make any decisions

Problematic Word Choices
• Overuse of adverbs
• Week adjectives
• Weedy words
• Misplaced modifying clauses
• Passive verbs

Overwriting
• Intricate details of clothing probably don't add much, unless it relates to the plot in a specific way
• Taking forever to get to the point of a scene
• Burying action with description
• Overdone dialogue tags/attributions
• Too many characters

And none of those issues deal with the overall storyline. Traditional editors and freelance editors help with both. If you're self-publishing, you'll probably want to hire a freelance editor.

The other thing I see is people who write books but don't really understand the market. It could be a children's book that either talks down to kids or covers information that children aren't interested. One self-published writer told a friend of mine that she didn't see why a children's book had to be "all about the kids." Um, because that's who your audience is?

Here's an article called "Self-publishing a book: 25 things you need to know" by David Carnoy.

So, say you write a great book, get it edited by a professional editor, get it copy edited, have a great cover, now what? Marketing!

It's not easy. Several sources I saw listed an average of 100-150 books per year in sales for indie authors. Here's one link.

Getting reviews is difficult. The Horn Book editor, Roger Sutton, wrote an article on why: "An open letter to the self-published author feeling dissed." Now he's opened a contest called "A challenge to self-publishers." Deadline is December 15, 2014 and it is only open to printed books.

Self-published authors can pay for a review at Kirkus--that's not paying for a positive review, but paying for the chance to BE reviewed.

Getting into bookstores can be difficult. Here are some helpful articles:
"Getting your self-published book on the shelf (i.e. Bookstore Dating 101)"
"How to get your Self-Published Books into Bookstores"
"How To Sell Your Self-Published Book in Bookstores"

Selling books at conferences may not be allowed by the hosting organization. For SCBWI, a book must have earned PAL status.

Awards can help sales! Did you know there are specific awards administered by the Independent Book Publishers Association for indie published books? Go here to read about the IBPA Benjamin Franklin Awards. SCBWI has a Spark Award that recognizes excellence in a children's book published through a non-traditional publishing route. James Minter posted an article called "Writing: 50 Book Awards Open to Self-publishers"

I'll end with a link to this article by someone who has done it: "Chris Eboch on Self-Publishing and Middle Grade Novels: Should You or Shouldn't You?"



As often is the case, the above image is courtesy of morguefile.com.

Successful Cover Letters

Do It Myself!

Poor Man's Copyright, a Myth

Considering Self-Publishing?

BACK UP!

Are Listserves a Service or a Waste of Time?

How To Start Querying an Agent

Going Back to School

Dragged to the Podium

Double Identity - Pen Names

Before You Sign: Contract Resources

How'd You Get That Gig?