Literary Terms Defined: The Uncommon and Common

bookGIVEAWAY: I am very excited to again give away a free book to a random commenter. The winner can choose either CREATE YOUR WRITER PLATFORM or the 2013 GUIDE TO LITERARY AGENTS. Commenters must live in the US/Canada; comment within one week to win. Good luck!

UPDATE: Kim won. Thanks for all who participated.

Working for Writer’s Digest Books, I come across a lot of literary terms — both the common and uncommon. Because it’s healthy for writers of all levels to be familiar with terms they may come across in articles, conversations and contracts, here are some literary terms defined for your enjoyment.

Boiler plate contract (also know as a “standard contract”) – (n.) This term usually refers to an agreed starting contract between a literary agent and publisher. If Agent X sells a book to Putnam, for example, their next deal with Putnam will likely have the same royalty rates and subright splits as the first deal.

Denouement – (n.) French for an untying. The denouement of a novel or story follows the climax; it represents the unraveling pf the complexities of a plot, and the clarifying of the story’s details and misunderstandings.

Galley – (n.) A bound version of just the text of the book (or article, if writing for magazines). There is little to no illustration and the cover is a solid color with release data printed on the cover. Used for the same purposes as ARCs (advanced reader copies).

Kill fee – (n.) A fee paid to a writer who has worked on an assignment that, for some reason, is not published. For example, you’re contracted to write an article for a magazine and you turn it in. The article itself is satisfactory. But then the editor calls you and says they are changing the focus of the upcoming issue and they can’t use your article as part of the package anymore. They have no more need for it, so they pay you a kill fee (a percentage of the original promised price — usually 25–50%) and all rights to the article revert back to you.  Your best bet is to try and sell it elsewhere.

Logline – (n.) A one-line summary of your story.  For example: “A treasure hunter searches for a fabled artifact in the Himalayas.”

Narrative nonfiction – Nonfiction that uses the devices of fiction.  You’re telling a true story, but using things such as character development, dialogue and cliffhangers. Think about it like the movie Apollo 13. The whole story is true, but it’s told in a dramatic fashion, like a fictional story would be. Oft-cited examples of narrative nonfiction include The Perfect Storm, Seabiscuit, In Cold Blood and The Right Stuff.

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About Chuck Sambuchino

Chuck Sambuchino is a freelance editor of query letters, synopses, book proposals, and manuscripts. As an editor for Writer's Digest Books, he edits the GUIDE TO LITERARY AGENTS and the CHILDREN'S WRITER'S & ILLUSTRATOR'S MARKET. His Guide to Literary Agents Blog is one of the largest blogs in publishing. His own books include the bestselling humor book, HOW TO SURVIVE A GARDEN GNOME ATTACK, which was optioned by Sony Pictures, as well as the writing guide, CREATE YOUR WRITER PLATFORM. Connect with Chuck on Twitter or at his website.

8 Tips For Writing and Selling Articles to Magazines, Websites, and More

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I’m a big proponent of article writing. I think nothing bad can come from writers trying to sell content to magazines, newspapers and websites. Think about it. Selling articles ups your credentials and credibility; it gives you something awesome to talk about in the Bio section of your query letters; it generates nice paychecks; it puts you in touch with media members who can help you later; it builds your writer platform and visibility, and more.

If you want to make more money writing and expand your writing horizons, think about penning short nonfiction pieces for outlets seeking good work. It’s a simple way to do some good for your writing career. Here are 8 tips to help you get started concerning how to write for magazines.

1. Seek out the publication’s writers’ guidelines. All publications have guidelines, which, simply put, are an explanation of how writers should contact the publication in consideration of writing for them. Writers’ guidelines usually address three key things: 1) what kind of pieces the publication is looking for (including length, tone, and subject matter), 2) how to submit your work for consideration (details on formatting and whether they accept e-mail or snail mail submissions), and 3) when and how they will respond to your request.

2. You do not have to write full articles before you sell them. Selling a nonfiction article is exactly like selling a nonfiction book—you sell the item based on the concept and a “business plan” for it. Here’s how it works: You compose a one-page query letter (typically submitted via e-mail) that details what the article/column will be about, as well as your credentials as an article writer. From that point, the publication, if interested, will contract you to write the article—and only at that point will you write it. writing an article when no one has agreed to buy it is called writing on speculation (“on spec”). You can do this if you feel you need to, but you risk losing time on a project that may never see a financial return. [Read more…]

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About Chuck Sambuchino

Chuck Sambuchino is a freelance editor of query letters, synopses, book proposals, and manuscripts. As an editor for Writer's Digest Books, he edits the GUIDE TO LITERARY AGENTS and the CHILDREN'S WRITER'S & ILLUSTRATOR'S MARKET. His Guide to Literary Agents Blog is one of the largest blogs in publishing. His own books include the bestselling humor book, HOW TO SURVIVE A GARDEN GNOME ATTACK, which was optioned by Sony Pictures, as well as the writing guide, CREATE YOUR WRITER PLATFORM. Connect with Chuck on Twitter or at his website.

What to Write in the “Bio” Section Of Your Query Letter

Screen Shot 2013-05-26 at 11.49.53 PMGIVEAWAY: I am very excited to again give away a free book to a random commenter. The winner can choose either CREATE YOUR WRITER PLATFORM or the 2013 GUIDE TO LITERARY AGENTS. Commenters must live in the US/Canada; comment within one week to win. Good luck! (Update: jenniferkirkeby won.)

In my opinion, a good query letter is broken down into three parts – the quick intro, the pitch, and the bio.  Strangely enough, the third section (the bio) often generates the most questions and uncertainty with writers. In fact, when I speak at writers’ conferences on the topic of how write a query letter, there are typically a ton of questions about this small paragraph. So with that in mind, I have tried to cobble together some notes on what to include and what not to include in a query letter at the end when you’re talking about yourself and your writing.

FICTION VS. NONFICTION

Before you read on, you need to realize that the bio section of a query letter is a completely different beast for fiction vs. nonfiction. If you’re writing nonfiction, the bio section is typically long, and of the utmost importance. This is where you list out all your credentials as well as the greatest hits of your writer platform. The importance of a nonfiction bio cannot be overstated. It has to be fat and awesome. Fiction bios, however, can be big or small or even not there at all. Most of the questions and notes I address below are discussing the murky waters of fiction query bios.

YES: INCLUDE THESE ELEMENTS IN YOUR BIO

  • Mention prior traditionally published books. This is the top bio credit you could have — past traditionally published books. Always mention the title, year and publisher. Beyond that, you could quickly mention an award your previous book won, or some praise it received.
  • List any published short stories. If you got paid for them or they ended up in a respected journal, that is always a great thing to mention. It immediately proves you’ve got fiction writing cred.
  • Discuss self-published books that sold well. If you had past self-published books that sold well, feel free to quickly discuss them. Such discussion will show you already have a small (or big!) audience and know how to market. Concerning what number of sales is impressive, I would say you should sell at least 7,500 e-books before an agent will be impressed. Truthfully, the number thrown around at a recent conference was 20,000, but I believe that’s pretty high. (Note that your target number of book sales must represent true sales — not books downloaded when you gave them away for free as part of some kind of promotion.)
  • Tell if you’ve penned articles for money. Feel free to skip titles and just list publications. For example: “I’ve written articles for several magazines and newspapers, including the Cincinnati Enquirer and Louisville Magazine.” Brevity is appreciated here. The agent can inquire if they want more info. [Read more…]
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About Chuck Sambuchino

Chuck Sambuchino is a freelance editor of query letters, synopses, book proposals, and manuscripts. As an editor for Writer's Digest Books, he edits the GUIDE TO LITERARY AGENTS and the CHILDREN'S WRITER'S & ILLUSTRATOR'S MARKET. His Guide to Literary Agents Blog is one of the largest blogs in publishing. His own books include the bestselling humor book, HOW TO SURVIVE A GARDEN GNOME ATTACK, which was optioned by Sony Pictures, as well as the writing guide, CREATE YOUR WRITER PLATFORM. Connect with Chuck on Twitter or at his website.

What NOT to Do When Beginning Your Novel: Advice from Literary Agents

photo by kirstyhall

GIVEAWAY: I am very excited to again give away a free book to a random commenter. The winner can choose either CREATE YOUR WRITER PLATFORM or the 2013 GUIDE TO LITERARY AGENTS. Commenters must live in the US/Canada; comment within one week to win. Good luck! (Update: Anita Hayes won.)

In a previous Writer Unboxed column, I discussed the value of starting your story strong and how an “inside-out” approach to narrative action can help your case. But just as important as knowing what to do when beginning your novel is knowing what not to do.

No one reads more prospective novel beginnings than literary agents. They’re the ones on the front lines — sifting through inboxes and slush piles. And they’re the ones who can tell us which Chapter 1 approaches are overused and cliche, as well as which techniques just plain don’t work. Below find a smattering of feedback from experienced literary agents on what they hate to see the first pages of a writer’s submission. Avoid these problems and tighten your submission!

FALSE BEGINNINGS

“I don’t like it when the main character dies at the end of Chapter 1. Why did I just spend all this time with this character? I feel cheated.”
Cricket Freeman, The August Agency

“I dislike opening scenes that you think are real, then the protagonist wakes up. It makes me feel cheated.”
Laurie McLean, Foreword Literary

IN SCIENCE FICTION

“A sci-fi novel that spends the first two pages describing the strange landscape.”
Chip MacGregor, MacGregor Literary

PROLOGUES

“I’m not a fan of prologues, preferring to find myself in the midst of a moving plot on page 1 rather than being kept outside of it, or eased into it.”
Michelle Andelman, Regal Literary

“Most agents hate prologues. Just make the first chapter relevant and well written.”
Andrea Brown, Andrea Brown Literary Agency

“Prologues are usually a lazy way to give back-story chunks to the reader and can be handled with more finesse throughout the story. Damn the prologue, full speed ahead!”
Laurie McLean, Foreword Literary

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About Chuck Sambuchino

Chuck Sambuchino is a freelance editor of query letters, synopses, book proposals, and manuscripts. As an editor for Writer's Digest Books, he edits the GUIDE TO LITERARY AGENTS and the CHILDREN'S WRITER'S & ILLUSTRATOR'S MARKET. His Guide to Literary Agents Blog is one of the largest blogs in publishing. His own books include the bestselling humor book, HOW TO SURVIVE A GARDEN GNOME ATTACK, which was optioned by Sony Pictures, as well as the writing guide, CREATE YOUR WRITER PLATFORM. Connect with Chuck on Twitter or at his website.

How to Write a Screenplay: 7 Starting Tips for Adapting Your Own Novel

photo by esotericsean

GIVEAWAY: I am very excited to again give away a copy of my newest book, CREATE YOUR WRITER PLATFORM. It’s a book all about how to build your visibility, brand, network and discoverability so you can better market yourself and your books. I’m giving away 1 copy to a random commenter based in the U.S. or Canada; comment within one week to win. Good luck! (Update: Louis won.)

Plenty of times, writers come up with an idea for a novel that could translate visually to film. The good news is that if you want to see your manuscript converted into a screenplay, there are two different routes that would make an adaptation possible.

Most books that get released by a major publisher or are repped by an established agency get passed to an agent who tries to drum up interest in film/TV rights for a project. This makes total sense. A writer creates a good story, so the obvious goal is to sell it through every means possible — be that print books, e-books, foreign rights translations, serial excerpts, audio books, and, yes, movies/TV. If your new book-to-film agent (usually brought onboard by your book agent) can generate adaptation interest from producers, your work gets bought/optioned by Hollywood, and you’re off and running. This exact thing happened to my humor book, How to Survive a Garden Gnome Attack. Sony optioned the book and hired a screenwriter to adapt the work.

But what if you want to see your work adapted into a screenplay, but are either indie-publishing it or the work hasn’t sold yet? The obvious option is to —

ADAPT IT YOURSELF: 7 IMPORTANT TIPS FOR BEGINNERS

You can always just take matters into your own hands and compose the script yourself on spec. But the truth is that writing a screenplay is a completely different monster than tackling a novel or memoir. If your finished product doesn’t fit the usual mold of what a screenplay should look like, then a producer or agent won’t even consider it, and your time was wasted. So with that in mind, I wanted to lay out several simple-yet-important tips on how to write a script for any persons considering adapting their own book into a screenplay. Keeping in mind there is still much more to learn beyond this post, here are 7 basic pieces of advice to get you started if the concept of scriptwriting is new to you.

1. Watch your length.

Just as books have typical word count ranges, screenplays have length requirements, too — and the recommended length for a beginner’s screenplay is 90-109 pages. Since each page represents one minute of screentime, that sets up your movie to be 90-109 minutes. Most writers go wrong in this arena by trending long.

2. Screenplays thrive on minimalism.

Always be thinking about how to cut, cut, cut. Screenplays rely on brevity. When characters have to say something, the best value you can provide is getting your point across in as few words of dialogue as possible. When you have to describe a scene or explain that a helicopter explodes, the quicker you can properly convey such information, the better you are. Give us information and dialogue in short, quick bursts. A lot of your novel will end up on the cutting room floor throughout the adaptation — and that’s OK. Plenty of a novel/memoir content does not translate well visually to the screen, so cutting out sections or characters or subplots actually will improve your final script. (If you’re not good at killing your darlings, perhaps screenwriting is not the best arena for you.)

[Read more…]

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About Chuck Sambuchino

Chuck Sambuchino is a freelance editor of query letters, synopses, book proposals, and manuscripts. As an editor for Writer's Digest Books, he edits the GUIDE TO LITERARY AGENTS and the CHILDREN'S WRITER'S & ILLUSTRATOR'S MARKET. His Guide to Literary Agents Blog is one of the largest blogs in publishing. His own books include the bestselling humor book, HOW TO SURVIVE A GARDEN GNOME ATTACK, which was optioned by Sony Pictures, as well as the writing guide, CREATE YOUR WRITER PLATFORM. Connect with Chuck on Twitter or at his website.