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Writing and Publishing

Tips for Query Letters, One Sheets, and Book Proposals

Early in my career, I thought a query and a proposal were two names for the same document. Boy, was I confused?

A query letter is a short communication to get an agent or publisher’s attention. If your query letter succeeds, they’ll ask for a book proposal. A proposal is a lengthy, detailed document that shares key elements of your book in organized sections. If they like your proposal, they’ll ask to see the full book (for fiction) or encourage you to move forward in writing the book (for nonfiction).

The Query Letter: There’s a lot of information online about writing a query letter. Unfortunately, there’s disagreement over what to do. It seems to be as much art as science. Despite differing opinions on the specific content and order, here are the pointers I’ve picked up and use:

  • Address it to a specific agent, following the agent’s guidelines and making sure they accept queries in your genre.
  • Open with a concise connection to the agent (sincere and non-embellished), followed by a great hook, sell your idea, and then sell yourself (including your platform). This should take four paragraphs. Making it longer makes it too long.
  • Keep it to one normal page (even though you will email it as text).
  • Don’t ask them to click a link or download an attachment. I understand most will skip your link and few will download an attachment unless they know you and requested that you attach a document.
  • Keep it professional. Avoid being cute, clever, or gimmicky.
  • Spell-check and proofread carefully.

Note that in the non-book world, some periodical and online publishers also want you to query them first. Others just want to see the finished work. If they ask for a query, the preceding discussion applies.

A-One Sheet: Something like a query letter is a one-sheet (sometimes called a one-pager). It’s a document that you might hand to an interested agent or publisher whom you meet at a writing conference. It contains much the same information as a query but can include more, as much as comfortably fits on one page. A one-sheet can also include relevant graphics and professional formatting, which you should avoid in a straight-text query letter.

A Book Proposal: Whether you have a fiction or nonfiction book, agents and publishers who like your query letter will expect you to send a book proposal next, even if the book is complete. There are many courses and books that teach how to draft a book proposal, so I won’t try to cram all this information into a brief overview. 

Do an online search, and you’ll receive more matches than you have time to read. Unfortunately, not everyone agrees with the expectations for a book proposal and some contradict each other. Focus on recommendations from successful agents and authors who have sold a lot of books to traditional publishers. You will benefit from their experience.

Here are the sections I include in my nonfiction book proposals: 

  • book title
  • synopsis
  • hook
  • target audience
  • table of contents
  • detailed outline
  • about the author
  • author platform
  • competitive titles
  • sample chapters

Though I’ve never done a fiction book proposal, the sections are about the same. The main difference is that, instead of including a chapter-by-chapter detailed outline, a fiction proposal needs a concise summary of the entire book, including any spoilers. Don’t hold back. Condense your book into a couple of pages. 

Search online for specific examples of nonfiction and fiction book proposals to further guide your work on your own proposal. 

Make the best proposal you can. Some agents and publishers will tell you what they expect in a book proposal. Follow their instructions exactly. 

If your proposal follows their format, it’s easier for them to evaluate. And if it doesn’t meet their expectations, it’s easier for them to reject, because they know you’re a person who won’t follow directions or doesn’t think the instructions apply. You will be a challenging writer to work with. No one wants that.

Learn more about writing and publishing in Peter’s new book: The Successful Author: Discover the Art of Writing and Business of PublishingGet your copy today.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is an author, blogger, and publisher with over 30 years of writing and publishing experience. Check out his book The Successful Author for insider tips and insights.

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Writing and Publishing

Common Submission Errors

Here are the three biggest mistakes people make when submitting content for publication. Avoid these common submission errors :

1. Not Following Submission Guidelines

The first submission error is not following directions.

Adhering to submission guidelines helps increase the chance of them publishing your work. Each deviation lessens the likelihood of success.

Common mistakes include missing deadlines (a huge no-no), submitting content not accepted by the publication, and having a piece that’s the wrong length. Too many writers ignore the directions for submissions.

2. Not Proofreading Their Work

The second submission mistake is not proofreading their submission.

Most editors will overlook an error or two, but when it’s clear that the author never even ran spellcheck, it’s obvious they haven’t bothered to send their best work, and they expect me to clean it up. Sometimes I don’t have the time, but it always irritates me,

3. Not Adhering to Writing Conventions

The third submission error is using non-standard formatting.

Some writers must think that creative formatting equals creative writing. It does not. They use odd fonts or switch fonts within the piece, various point sizes, multiple colors, and lots of bold, italics, underline, all three, and ALL CAPS.

All these things require work to clean up. Make it simple for editors by submitting a clean copy with no embellished formatting.

To have the best chance of success, avoid these common submission errors.

Learn more about writing and publishing in Peter’s new book: The Successful Author: Discover the Art of Writing and Business of PublishingGet your copy today.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is an author, blogger, and publisher with over 30 years of writing and publishing experience. Check out his book The Successful Author for insider tips and insights.

Categories
Writing and Publishing

Article Submission Tips

Here are the key article submission tips on submitting an article to a publication.

Know the Publication or Website

Read their past content. As you do, envision if your idea is a good fit. If not, don’t force it. Seek a different topic or a different outlet.

Look for Submission Guidelines

Find their submission guidelines on their website. If they don’t have them posted, they may not be open to receive unsolicited submissions. If you can’t find their guidelines online and still want to pursue publication with that periodical, go ahead and ask them, but you may not get a response.

Write the Best Possible Article You Can

You know the drill: write, re-write, edit, spellcheck, and proofread. You only get one chance with this article at this publication.

Follow Their Requirements with Care

Reread their submission guidelines and meet every requirement. Though most editors won’t disqualify you for making a tiny blunder, it could count against you, and too many will result in a rejection.

Be Patient

Some publications will acknowledge they received your submission. If they say they do and you haven’t heard back in a few weeks or so, ask—politely.

If they accept your piece, be patient. It can be a while for them to post it online and several months if it is in print.

Thank Them

Most writers skip this step. Don’t be one of them. Once your piece has run, thank them—even if some aspect of it wasn’t to your satisfaction. If you have an idea for another piece or are open to receive an assignment, this is the ideal time to mention it.

Follow these key article submission tips when submitting an article to a publication. Doing so will significantly increase your chances of success. And you can thank these pointers once your article is published.

Learn more about writing and publishing in Peter’s new book: The Successful Author: Discover the Art of Writing and Business of PublishingGet your copy today.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is an author, blogger, and publisher with over 30 years of writing and publishing experience. Check out his book The Successful Author for insider tips and insights.

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Writing and Publishing

Periodical Submission Tips

There are three key periodical submission tips to follow when sending content to online outlets and print media publishers.

I list them from least important to most important, but if you don’t get past the first one, you’ll never get to the second. And you must pass the second step to even have your writing considered.

1. Follow the Submission Guidelines

Guidelines are there for two reasons. First to allow the recipient (usually an editor) to work more effectively, and second for the writer to present their work in the most favorable light.

The guidelines are there for your benefit, to help you, not constrain you.

2. Make Sure Your Submissions Match What the Periodical Publishes

For example, my publications address niche industries. I want relevant industry nonfiction articles. Over the years I’ve had people submit short stories, poems, song lyrics, and even a recipe. It’s clear they never bothered to see what content I publish.

As a result, they wasted my time and theirs.

3. Submit Your Best Possible Work

Even though it will be edited—this happens to every piece, regardless of who wrote it—make it the best you can. Proofread it carefully, spellcheck it, and ensure it says what you want it to say. Frankly, if I have to work too hard to polish the submission, I’m likely to reject it and go on to the next one.

This may seem harsh, but it’s the reality for most time-pressured editors, agents, and publishers. Follow these three periodical submission tips to maximize your chance for acceptance.

Learn more about writing and publishing in Peter’s new book: The Successful Author: Discover the Art of Writing and Business of PublishingGet your copy today.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is an author, blogger, and publisher with over 30 years of writing and publishing experience. Check out his book The Successful Author for insider tips and insights.

Categories
Writing and Publishing

Submit Your Post and Article to Blogs

To submit your post to blogs, the first thing to do is see if your target blog runs guest posts. Many do not. They may state this on their site, or you may need to search their archives to find out.

Next, as with print, familiarize yourself with the blog. Look at the content they post, the length of the posts, and the writing tone. Try to match those characteristics.

They may post their submission guidelines, or you may need to email them and ask how to go about submitting a post. Follow their expectations exactly.

Then before you submit your post proofread it carefully. Then email it to them.

I wish you the best when you submit your posts and articles to blogs and websites.

Learn more about writing and publishing in Peter’s new book: The Successful Author: Discover the Art of Writing and Business of PublishingGet your copy today.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is an author, blogger, and publisher with over 30 years of writing and publishing experience. Check out his book The Successful Author for insider tips and insights.