The Blog of John Hewitt

What a freelancer should know before querying a magazine

Know the magazine’s submissions / writer’s guidelines

The easiest way to find out what a magazine wants is to let them tell you. Many magazines post their writer’s guidelines on their web site. If you can’t find them online, contact one of the editors and ask for them to email or snail mail you the guidelines. A directory such as Writer’s Market can be helpful for your initial search, but don’t rely on them for all of your information. Any number of things can change between the publication of those listings and the day you decide to send your query. Not only do writer’ guidelines tend to address content issues, but they can also tell you what format the publication prefers their submissions in. One magazine may want you to email them, another might want you to send a paper copy and a third may want you to upload a Microsoft Word file. You won’t know if you don’t do the research.

Know who the magazine’s editors are

Knowing the right person to send your query to is one of the little details that can make a big difference when you are trying to make a sale. If you query the wrong person, any of a number of bad things can happen. The person who receives it might dismiss your query and throw it away because it isn’t what they are looking for. The person who receives it may know who should get it and plan to give it to them, but never get around to doing so. If your query does finally get to the right person, they may hold the fact that it was addressed to the wrong person against you. Always take the time to find out who the right recipient for your query is. Check the magazine’s masthead for the latest information and don’t be afraid to call or email to confirm your choice.

Know the magazine’s editorial calendar

In addition to guidelines, many magazines have an editorial calendar that covers such things as publication lead times, deadlines for holiday or seasonal items and upcoming special editions or subject focuses. Some magazines dedicate issues to a single topic. Knowing what a magazine is looking for and when they are looking for it can give you a serious advantage over the competition. When you request submission guidelines, be sure to request the calendar as well.

Know the magazine, front to back

Don’t assume you know what a magazine wants just because you have read their writer’s guidelines. The proper way to research a magazine is to read it. Get your hands on a copy of the magazine (the more copies the better). Check the magazine’s website if they have one. You don’t have to read every word of every article, but take the time to get familiar with the different sections and the general writing style. Be sure that what you are proposing fits in well with the publication’s approach to content and style.

Know how to write a query letter

Your query letter needs to demonstrate both the quality of your idea and the quality of your writing. Additionally, it should demonstrate that you know how to follow the magazine’s submission guidelines. Many editors receive dozens of queries each month. For major publishers, the number of queries can climb into the hundreds. This may seem intimidating, but the number of queries that are actually well-written and well thought out is quite small. Most queries are terrible. They are badly written, inappropriate or fail to follow the magazine’s guidelines. It is easy to rise above the crowd if you know what you are doing and you are willing to make a genuine effort to create quality query.

Surprise! More Writing Articles

New Years Eve Snow in Tucson

New Years Eve Snow in Tucson

Howdy to my massive fan base. After my last missive, it would be odd if you suddenly started seeing a bunch of posts about writing again, wouldn’t it? It would? Ok.

The explanation is that there are still a bunch of old articles that didn’t get back up on the site after it got hacked a while back. I had completely forgotten about them, but ran across them yesterday. So, a bunch of “new” articles are about to come down the pike. Long time readers may have read them before, but nonetheless, I thought it would be a good idea to get them back out there. Why? Because Content!

On the topic of the fiction I plan to release, it is coming too. I am setting up a sub-site for my first release, and going over the story with my writing partner Leigh, who is thrilled whenever she gets mentioned, so I am mentioning her. The story, Model Home, is a dark comedy about paranoia, corporate intrigue, bad sex and home ownership. I am busy chopping it into bite-sized chunks (and rewriting what was essentially a first draft). Hoping for a launch date of February 1st.

 

Starting the revision process again

The process of editing a novel is a continual one. If you’ve been following the path I laid out here, you have done the following:

  • Read through the first draft
  • Performed a light edit
  • Created a chronology
  • Edited as you read
  • Created an information guide
  • Created a new roadmap for revision
  • Added and revised scenes
  • Edited with an eye towards continuity
  • Had someone read and review your novel

At this point, based on the reviewer’s feedback and your own feelings about your novel’s progress, you will probably want to repeat some or all of these steps. For example, based on the critique given to you by your reader you can now reread your novel (step one). You can evaluate the novel in light of the feedback you were given. I recommend reading the whole novel first though, before acting on their feedback. You may find that you like things the way they are.

Once you have reread the novel, you can go through the process in order, or skip to the parts that you think apply to your second draft. You won’t, for example, want to create a new information guide from scratch but you may want to update that guide as you read through what you have. You may not feel you need to go through several steps before adding or revising a scene, and that is fine. After one person has critiqued your work, you may feel as if you are ready to face a workshop or writer’s group and get more perspectives. The process is up to you. These articles are only guideposts.

Good luck revising your novels! If anyone makes it to the point at which they are ready to submit their novel to publishers, let me know. If enough of you get there, I’ll start writing about the submissions process.

Finding someone to read your novel’s draft

After you have finished editing and polishing the draft of your novel, you are going to want to get some initial feedback. This is for a number of reasons:

  • A fresh perspective can often catch errors and problems that you can no longer see after looking at your novel for so long.
  • It helps to you to identify what another readers pick up on in your novel. Quite often, they will identify conflicts or themes that you may not have intended, or miss ones that you did intend.
  • The publication process is filled with criticism and revision. You need to get used to having other people judge your work.

I recommend finding one person to read through your novel first. This is because groups (such as writing workshops) can be a little overwhelming, so you might want to get some of the kinks worked out of your draft before you take on a larger audience. There are several things you should consider when choosing the first person to read your novel.

  • Do you respect the person’s opinion when it comes to fiction?
  • Do you believe that the person will give you an honest assessment of your novel?
  • Does that person have the time and the patience to serve as your first critic?
  • Can you accept criticism from that person without taking it personally?

Once you find a person to critique your novel for you, it is a good idea to give them some guidance regarding the type if feedback you are seeking. You don’t just want them to tell you whether they liked it or didn’t like it. You’ll want some feedback that you can apply to the editing and revision process. There are plenty of questions that you can ask, and in many cases it will depend on what you have written and what you wanted to accomplish. That said, here are some basic questions that you may want to consider.

  • What do you believe the major themes of the novel are?
  • Did anything occur that pulled you out of the narrative or seemed unrealistic?
  • Did you identify with any particular characters and if so, why?
  • Did the ending feel logical or earned?
  • Are there any points at which you became confused about what was happening?
  • Were there any points at which you became bored and wanted more to happen?
  • Did any part of the novel make you particularly happy, sad or angry?

As I said, your questions may vary. These are just a few samples to get you started. Also, it is your choice whether or not to give them your questions before or after they read the novel. I would lean towards giving the questions to the person beforehand, so they know what is expected of them. Giving them the questions first, however, will influence the way that they read your novel. They will have specific issues in mind that may cause them to look harder for things that they (and future readers) would otherwise not notice or be concerned about.

Editing your novel with an eye toward continuity

Just as you needed to edit your first draft, you will need to edit your novel again after you have added and revised scenes. In most ways, your editing will be similar to earlier efforts, but at this point you are looking to make your draft as polished as possible. You will be showing it to someone else soon, and you will want them to see your best effort.

You will want to do the following:

  • Save a copy of the draft before you start editing. You should keep a copy of your draft after every major step, just in case you need to go back and review your changes.
  • Work your way through the novel checking for obvious errors such as spelling, grammar, and typos.
  • Keep your information guide handy and make sure that your novel uses terms and other details consistently. Don’t hesitate to add new details to the information guide.
  • Read your work aloud to ensure that it reads smoothly. If you can’t easily say your sentence, chances are there’s something wrong it.
  • Take notes as you read. If there are additional scenes to be added or altered, you can do so and then return to the overall editing process.
  • Don’t be afraid to try new things such as moving a scene to an earlier or later point.

As you make these edits, however, try to be very conscious of continuity.

  • Revise your chronology to reflect any new, altered, deleted or moved scenes.
  • Check the details to make sure that information is learned or actions are taken when they should be. For example, If character A and character C have a fight one page 58, you may need to explain why they are getting along perfectly on page 86.
  • Make sure that the novel’s tone and writing style remain consistent.
  • Beyond just the details. Read with an eye toward how the novel flows from scene to scene. Are there changes that seem abrupt or confusing? Not every transition needs to be smooth and obvious, but if there is an abrupt change, be prepared for the reader to be disoriented. Readers will often try to fill in the blanks when there is an significant gap, and their assumptions may not be the same as yours.
  • Now that your novel is nearly finished, you can really concentrate on your opening scenes to make sure they are as good as they can be. At this point, you may find that your are providing far too much information in the beginning or starting before the action has really begun. Remember, you will want your first page to shine. It sets up everything that is to come.

Next time we will cover letting other people read and review your work.