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Most editors are inundated with queries, so take this first opportunity to set yourself apart from the rest. The type of query letter you write depends on the kind of editor you’re approaching. Are you looking for an independent editor to improve your work before you shop it around for publication? Or are you querying an editor at a publishing house or literary magazine? You’ll work with these types of editors differently, so you’ll want to tailor your letter accordingly.

But in any query, keep it short and sweet and to the point. Be upfront about your experience and your intentions, and don’t beat around the bush when making your official request, whatever that request might be. Just come out and say what you want plainly — most editors will appreciate it.

Describe the details of your project: title, genre, word count, etc. Either provide a short excerpt, or let the editor know you’re willing to send one if requested. An excerpt can help the editor get a sense of your writing style and editorial needs. If you’re working with an independent editor, describe the level of edit you believe is necessary, as this will help them estimate their workload.

If you’re selling a book-length manuscript to a publisher, imagine you’re a bookseller who only has a sentence or two to persuade a customer to buy it. As you do this, be careful to stay true to the core of the book. It can be tempting to exaggerate or to focus on a peripheral theme if it makes the book sound more appealing. If the editor reads your work and finds that it doesn’t fit your description, he or she may feel misled or frustrated after investing so much time. (If you find yourself only wanting to sell a book you didn’t write, you may need to sit back down at your desk and write that book instead.)

Distill your book down to a few key phrases and highlight why it will matter to readers. By doing this, you’ll provide the tools for the editor to turn around and sell it to the publisher, who can sell it to their distributor’s book reps, who can sell it to bookstores, who can sell it to readers, who can then persuade their bookclub/classroom/great-aunts and second cousins to buy it as well. The query letter is a good place to show you can make your editor’s job just a little bit easier.

Originally published with The Loft Literary Center.

Even while writing fiction, for which we’re afforded a certain creative license, it can be crucial to recount the past accurately. No matter where our writing lies on the fact/fabrication spectrum, there’s always a level of truth we’re trying to achieve.

If you depend on the memories of others, and have access to willing and honest participants, it might be useful to conduct interviews. Even if you doubt their memory/honesty, their misinformation can be informational. What does it say about the story, that someone who experienced it recounts it incorrectly? For your purposes, will it be helpful to interview one person at a time (guarantee their privacy) or in a large group (offer accountability)?

If it was a public event, you might gain insight by reading up on the media the event received. Though be careful, because the media doesn’t always get it right, and many sources can be biased. Consider the cultural context or the political climate surrounding the event, the reporter’s lot in life, the publication’s funding source, and so on and so on.

To uncover personal experiences, there are memory exercises you can try. I’m not suggesting the stereotypical exhuming of forgotten traumas. There’s debate around whether that’s even possible. What I’m suggesting is using gentle reminders that coax back memories you’re pretty certain you once possessed.

If you keep a journal or diary, check back to see what you wrote. Look back at photos you took at the time. Or, just start writing. The more you walk through what you do remember, the other details fall into place. Close your eyes and recount the story out loud, in present tense, describing as many details as you can. Try to explain the event to another person. If they ask you questions about the event, it might trigger a memory you didn’t realize you still had.

Your sense of smell can also pull details from the filing cabinet in the back of your brain. If there’s something you know you smelled during that time, try to clear your mind and find a way to smell that certain something (perfume, spices, grass clippings, pool chlorine, alcohol, burning asphalt, a smoking gun, you get the idea).

Be careful, though. It’s easy to fabricate memories, so remain skeptical of yourself. A false memory can be more harmful than no memory at all.

Originally published with The Loft Literary Center.

I wouldn’t suggest submitting your work to all the publishers and magazines. Not only is it likely impossible, it wouldn’t be a good use of your time and resources. When it comes to deciding where to submit your work, it pays to do your research.

If you’re like me, chances are you’re unable to buy all the literary magazines and books you want to read. However, you can learn quite a bit from scouring publishers’ websites. Take a look at their mission statements, their about pages, their author lists, but most importantly, read as much of their published work as you can and consider whether your work aligns with their aesthetic.

It’s possible that you’ve never considered fitting your writing into a particular category, but the more research you do and the more you identify with other writers, you’ll come to understand where you fit in the literary landscape. This is one of the most effective ways to narrow down your submissions.

Organizing your research in a document or spreadsheet can be helpful, too. There is a great deal of information to consider, and if you’re doing a huge amount of research, it will be difficult to keep all the details straight. It helps to record whether there’s a submission fee, whether you need to include return postage, the type/genre of the publication, whether it’s a print publication or online or both, whether it pays royalties to its authors, and so on. As you learn what’s important to you, you’ll slowly tailor your submission list to reflect your identity as a writer.

There may be publications you admire with authors whose creative bios seem about a mile longer than yours. Don’t be discouraged. Try to step back from yourself and observe your reaction from a distance. There’s a difference between being humbled and being intimidated into inaction. On the one hand, you may want to save your printing and postage costs if you don’t think your work is up to snuff, but on the other hand, what do you have to lose other than printing and postage costs? You may decide it’s worth it to include a few “long-shot” publications in your submission list. You don’t want to overextend yourself, but you also don’t want to sell yourself short. As with everything, find the balance that feels right to you.

Originally published with The Loft Literary Center.

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