Tips & Ideas

Tips, Ideas and Other Great Stuff!

One of the major benefits of any writers group is the wealth of information and ideas you can get from other writers.  That’s what this page on our website will be all about.  To be really effective, it will be important that all of us participate, so please give us your input.  Please send your tips, ideas, comments and other good stuff to:  president@policewriter.com.

Topics:  

The Many Paths to Publication

By Marilyn Meredith  (http://fictionforyou.com)       Marilyn Olsen (Marilyn.Olsen@comcast.net)       Billie Johnson (www.oaktreebooks.com)

As became obvious at the PSWA’s 2008 national conference held in Las Vegas April 24-27, 2008, many writers are still confused by the ever-changing face of book publishing.  In the past, a writer – particularly a first-time writer – had basically two choices:  sell a book to a so-called “traditional” publisher or self-publish the book either through a vanity press or by hiring a graphic artist to format the book and paying a printer to print it.
Today they are many other options.

Major publishers
Being published by a major publishing house in New York is often a first time author’s goal.  Unfortunately, there are now only five major New York publishing houses and the majority are owned by foreign companies.  Instead of seeking wonderful writing, the bottom line for most of them is how much money will be made if a book is published.

Not surprisingly, many major publishing houses are celebrity-driven.  They believe they have data that suggests books by and about celebrities make lots of money.  Another complaint about major publishers is “ageism.”  If there is any budget left after the celebrities, they will next look for authors young enough to “build a name” across a number of titles.

Thus, the decision about whether or not to publish a particular book is no longer made by an editor based solely on literary merit, but by sales representatives, buyers from bookstores and the publishers’ financial managers.

Another downside to being published by a major publisher is that you must be represented by an agent well known to the publishing company to even get your manuscript read.  Even more discouraging is the fact that the most reputable agents themselves receive thousands of queries from writers every year, so the odds that an agent will even consider representing you are small.  Thus, it may take years and many letters to many agents before someone will consider your work.

If you do plan to use an agent, be sure you select this person with care.  Basically anyone can claim to be an agent.  Always ask a prospective agent to provide you with a list of the authors they represent.  You should contact several of them and ask them what their experience with this agent has been.  Additionally, no reputable agent will ask you for an upfront fee.  Agents get paid when they successfully “sell” your book to a publisher.  They will then usually charge you around 15% of the deal they make for you.

Once an agent does agree to represent you, the agent must “sell” your manuscript to a junior editor.  This junior editor will then evaluate your manuscript in comparison to hundreds of others.  The junior editor will then “sell” your manuscript to a senior editor who will, in turn, evaluate your manuscript among hundreds of “finalists.”  Senior editors meet together periodically and decide among themselves which among the dozens of manuscripts that have made the final cut they will then recommend for publication.  At some point a catalog is created featuring these proposed books.  The catalogs are sent to buyers from bookstores, other major purchasers of books (like Costco, Sam’s Club and other large chain stores that sell books) passed out at trade shows and sent to distributors.  These buyers will indicate to publishers which books they will likely order.  The proposed books are also evaluated by the marketing departments of publishing houses who will give their input on what they think they can sell and what sort of marketing effort will be required for each book.  The finance executives of publishing houses also weigh in on what they think publishing and marketing the book will cost.  In addition, the publisher will evaluate your manuscript based on factors such as whether or not they are already marketing a similar book or whether a similar book has not sold well in a previous year.

It should also be noted that once you sell a book to a major publisher, it essentially becomes their property.  The publisher will certainly have your book edited for errors, but your contract with them may also allow them to make substantial changes in the book in order to make it more marketable.

Even if your book survives all these hurdles, at a minimum it will be two years until your book is published.  How do you get paid for your book?  A major publisher will generally offer a writer an advance, which is simply a fee that is earned back through your book sales.  Royalties will only be paid on sales above and beyond what the publisher advanced to you.

In the past, major publishers had large budgets for marketing their books.  However, now even the most prestigious publishing houses are putting more and more of the responsibility for marketing on the author.  Only the biggest names get book tours, fancy display racks in bookstores and appearances on Ophra.  Even major bookstores that formerly had PR people on staff to stage book signings, don’t any more.  If you want a book signing, generally you have to arrange it yourself.  Publishers will often arrange for you to do radio interviews or help you arrange for a TV interview if you get yourself to the city where the TV station is.

It is also important to understand that the book business is currently a consignment business.  The publisher ships the books to a distributor who ships the books to a bookstore.  No one is paid until the customer buys the book from the bookstore.  When the book is paid for by the customer, the bookstore pays the distributor and the distributor pays the publisher who pays the writer.  This process can take months.  At any time the bookstore may also ship unsold books back to the distributor and the distributor will ship the books back to the publisher.  The publisher may choose to hold on to the books hoping for future sales, or “remainder” the books (selling them at a loss to discounters with the hope of recovering some of the costs of printing). Authors do not get paid for books that are remaindered.  Some books may even be sold in bulk to processing plants to be recycled.  Obviously, the writer receives nothing for books that are sold as trash.

Small independent publishers

Many small independent publishers (some of which are “regional” presses) operate much the same as a major New York publisher but with far fewer steps between receiving a book and deciding whether or not to publish it.  Small independent publishers may be more willing to look at un-agented manuscripts.  Most of these publishers do not give advances, but do pay royalties.  A good independent publisher will not charge the author any sort of fee for publishing books.  However, the way the author eventually gets paid is the same as a major publisher.

Another advantage to a small publisher is that many of them specialize in publishing certain kinds of books such as mysteries, cookbooks, poetry and so on.  This can be an advantage for you in that by specializing, the publisher is knowledgeable about the subject of your book and can advise you on ways you can best market it.

Like major publishers, small independent publishers accept your manuscript by e-mail or on a CD and take care of all the formatting, printing, registrations and often even design your cover.  Some small publishers allow the author some say in cover design and even interior design.  Editorial changes are more likely to be negotiated.

Small presses may do some basic marketing for you, but the majority of marketing will be your responsibility.

Self publishing

Self publishing is always an option – and it’s even easier to do today than it ever was.  There are many companies who offer self-publishing services.  Among the most famous are Author House and iUniverse (which was just purchased by Author House).  Both are headquartered in Bloomington, Indiana.  Publish America, located in Frederick, Maryland is another such publisher.  These companies provide a variety of services.  There is usually a “basic” fee that involves taking your manuscript sent electronically or on a CD and formatting it for printing in one of a limited number of sizes and/or shapes of books the company can produce.  Sometimes, the basic fee also includes designing a cover for you.  You may or may not have a say in what the cover looks like.

The basic fee usually does include providing an ISBN, a registration with the Library of Congress, a listing in Books in Print and a listing on the company’s website and catalog.  In come cases, the basic fee includes sending out some press releases to media outlets and/or distributors.  Usually, the basic fee does not include editing.  Your manuscript will be printed exactly as you send it to them, errors and all.

Generally, these companies offer additional services at additional cost.  These services may include editing, upgraded covers, marketing materials such as postcards, book marks and marketing packets, additional public relations services and so on.

All of these companies print the books and sell them to you.  In some cases, they will require that you purchase a minimum number (and may give you a discount for books in that amount).  Other companies may be willing to sell you very few copies at a time.

There are companies that offer to arrange for Self Publishing companies to print your book.  For this service, they will mark up the cost of printing.  Generally you can easily deal with these self publishers yourself.  Most have easy-to-access websites and many will assign an actual human representative to work with you.

A concern about self publishing companies is that very often they have no connection to a wholesaler or distributor like Ingram or Baker and Taylor.  If you are doing a memoir intended primarily for family and friends, or if you are doing a book to sell “in the back of the room” at your speaking engagements, this is fine.  But if you want your pals to be able to go into a local bookstore and ask for your book, you need to be in at least one of the large wholesaler/distributor data bases.

Print on Demand

Print on Demand (POD) is not publishing.  Print on Demand is one kind of digital printing.  Digital printing is less expensive than offset for many, but not all projects.  Digital printers do not need “plates” and you don’t have to submit cover art on color-separated transparencies, which saves costs with the cover designer as well.

Probably there are lots of other advantages to digital printing over offset.  Not all digital printers are POD services, although some will do very short runs like 100-500.  They still sell the printing on a volume discount basis.  In other words, the cost each of a 100-book run will be more than the cost of each book of a 1,000 book run, just like offset printing.

Most POD printers will print one book if that’s what you want, and their basis price is that one-book price, regardless of quantity.  Some POD printers have begun offering volume discounts, but you can’t assume this.  You have to ask.

With POD printing, essentially, after being formatted, your book is computerized and printed, along with hundreds of other books, in whatever quantity you ordered.  Another important factor here is that once your files for the cover and the interior are “set up,” at the POD printer, you can order again without incurring an additional set up charge.  Usually there is no time requirement for re-ordering.  The files just sit there, waiting patiently for the next order.  A short-run digital printer MAY offer a price break to reprint from the same files, but not necessarily.  Again, you have to ask.

Lightning Source (a division of the distributor Ingram Book Group), BookSurge (owned by Amazon.com) and Replica Books (owned by the wholesaler Baker & Taylor) are examples of well known print on demand companies.

While the cost per unit of books printed by POD is generally higher than those printed by an offset press which prints thousands of copies, POD offers several advantages to self-published authors.  The author doesn’t have to invest in a large quantity of books that may sit around for years unsold, there is no need to have a large storage space for books that can be damaged in the process, and the author can order books as needed, thus paying for new books after existing books are sold.

If you’re interested in preserving the environment, this type of publishing is a way of saving paper as only the number of books needed at a particular time are printed.  Interestingly, now even some of the major New York publishers are using this technology to print their trade paperbacks.

Electronic Publishing

Electronic publishing is yet another way of being published.  Most, though not all, electronic publishers publish trade paperbacks as well.  Even the New York publishers have begun selling electronic versions of their books, especially now that Amazon.com has introduced its new e-book reader, the Kindle.  There are many other e-readers on the market as well.  Fictionwise (www.fictionwise.com) is the major distributor of e-books.

Summary

There are several publishing options open to authors of books.  In general, the more you depend on someone else to provide publishing services for you, the more you will pay for your books and the less control you will have over what the final product will look like.  More control over the final product will demand more of your time and effort.  And, no matter how you choose to publish your book, be prepared for the fact that it will be up to you to market it.

The best thing for an author to do is to make a plan.  Decide on your market and think about ways to reach that market.  These conclusions will help a lot in determining the best route to take and help minimize frustrations and disappointment.

Fortunately, many PSWA members are very knowledgeable about the plusses and minuses of book publishing and can serve as an excellent resource for you as you decide which option is best for your book project.

As a member of PSWA, you will have access to our list serve, offering you the opportunity to network with these experts.  You will also have the opportunity to have a professional editor review your manuscript, enter your work in our writing competition (allowing you to identify yourself as an Award Winning Author on your book cover), and attend our annual conference which provides the chance to learn a lot more about all of this.  Click on the other pages of this website for details.

Thinking about using an On-demand publisher?

Many of you have contacted PSWA about how to find a good on-demand publisher.  As many of you already know, this is a complicated subject, with a large number of publishers offering a wide variety of services at a wide variety of prices.  We recently came across three websites that might prove useful to you.  The first seems to us to provide a good overview of the print-on-demand business, including all the things you might want to think about before you sign on the dotted line with any on-demand printer.

The second site bills itself as “An Incomplete Guide to Print on Demand Publishers.”  We suspect (but don’t know for sure) the site may be related to the On-demand publisher Virtual Bookworm since that company is rated as the best deal but nevertheless, it does give what might be a useful guide to who some of the publishers are and what they offer in comparison to other companies.

The third site is a personal blog by someone named Adam Barr who gives an instructive narrative on his experience in publishing his book, Proudly Serving My Corporate Masters.  Certainly it is one person’s opinion, but we found it interesting.

At this point we’d like to add our disclaimer.  We in no way endorse any of these sites – indeed we have no connection with any of them other than to suggest you might gain some insight from them.  Like all decisions that involve contracts, we strongly suggest that you consult your attorney before you sign on with any company to be sure you understand exactly what you’re getting into.

Also, we can’t resist taking this opportunity to put in a plug for our conference.  We have several speakers who will address this topic and plenty of opportunity to network with other authors who’ve used on-demand publishing services.  We’ll also have a representative from an on-demand publishing company as one of our speakers, so you’ll have yet another chance to see just what this business is all about.

Finally, if you have had any experience (good or not so good) with an on-demand publisher, please let us know so we can pass that information on to our members.

Marketing Ideas

In answer to our request for ideas about blogs, Laura James, who has a website called “Internet Promotion for Crime Writers offers these tips.  Thanks again, Laura.

Blogging for Luddites

In 1812, Ned Lud and several other English weavers objected so vehemently to the automated machines that threatened their way of life that they entered the factories and smashed the contraptions to bits as a statement against modernization.

Anyone who owns a computer has an idea how Ned Lud felt.

But if you’re a writer pursuing or enjoying publication, you may have more than the usual mixed feelings about computers.  You’ve heard time and again that you must have a presence on the Internet to market yourself and your work, even if it takes away from your research and writing.  Even if you don’t have much time or money, don’t speak “html,” and lack the patience or interest in web development software, you can still jump on this wagon.  A cheap, professional-looking Internet marketing tool is clicks away, and it’s easy.  I promise.

The first thing you have to do is decide whether you want to have a website or blog.  The difference:  a website tends to be time-consuming up front and (if professionally done) very expensive.  It also tends to be more static.  Once it’s created, you can declare it finished, except perhaps for occasional updates about, say, your newest release or publicity event.  A website can range from a simple statement that “I’m here, and I’m a writer,” like one by my friend Jeri Westerson, (http://home.earthlink.net/~westerson/) which features some samples of her writing.  At the other end of the spectrum are slick, very expensive sites by established authors with a lot of advance money burning holes in their pants.  One of the best websites I have seen by a true crime writer is Mark Horner’s website devoted to the murder of Girly Chew Hossencofft (http://www.markhorner.com/Hoss/) though it’s very graphics-intense and takes forever to load; don’t do that.

On the other hand, a weblog or blog is an ongoing project, typically a series of brief essays containing lots of links, updated nearly every day.  If you have tons of time but little money, a blog may be the way to go.  Step one is to choose a blogging service: find a website and start clicking.  One of the most popular providers is www.typepad.com, which is made for Luddites –extremely to use, with a modest range of features.  Some other good providers are www.livejournal.com, wwwlcyberwurx.com/blog.html, and www.salon.com/blogs.  When choosing a provider and setting up your site, remember that people visit a blog based on its content, not on how pretty it is.

The next question is, what are you going to write on this blog?  Decide this before you choose a name for it.  You can’t blog about your writing.  Even the most self-absorbed writer will run out of things to say after a few entries.  If you’re going to blog, you have to find a topic that reflects your interests, the themes or subjects that you write about – and it has to be something you won’t get sick of discussing in a few weeks.  It also has to be something that someone else would want to read.  Some examples:  If you write crime stories set in Dallas, Texas, consider writing a Dallas or Texas-themed crime blog.  If you write about a specific type of crime, consider a niche blog on that subject.  A blog on a current headline case – i.e. the Michael Jackson trial – is also a good, albeit temporary subject for a blog.  If you write crime fiction, consider a blog that discusses your subgenre with book reviews and news.

Do a pre-emption check to see if your subject is already taken by another blogger.  The premier blogs in the true crime genre are written by current crime news buff and Internet research expert Steve Huff (http://www.planethuff.com/darkside), and, forgive the hubris, yours truly, historical true crime buff Laura James (http://www.laurajames.typepad.com) Another blog is devoted to white collar crime, (http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/whitecollarcrime_blog/) and another is devoted to discussion of, among other things, Columbine-type school violence (http://www.thetrenchcoat.com).  Some more general blogs that touch on true crime are (http://www.johnsville.blogspot.com) and (http://crime-spree.blogspot.com/).

And, believe it or not, this list is pretty much it when it comes to true crime blogs.  There’s plenty of room on the Internet for more true crime bloggers, and a lot of websurfers are looking for these types of sites.  So get busy and start blogging.  Share your stories.  We’re waiting to hear them.

Approaching a Local Bookstore

Your local bookstores can be a good place to market your books but they will be more likely to carry your book if you approach them on a businesslike basis. Some bookstores may still have a public relations or promotions person in place.  Many have eliminated that position.  If so, you’ll need to talk to the acquisitions manager.  In any event, make an appointment to talk to this person.  Don’t just drop in.  These days a bookstore will also be much more likely to carry your book if you can show them a marketing plan.  This is the best way to show them you’re serious about the business of marketing a book.  This plan should include:

1.  Speaking engagements you have planned to local clubs, libraries and organizations

2.  Media appearances with local TV or radio stations you have scheduled

3.  A list of who you would invite to a book signing at the store and a draft of invitations or flyers you would use to invite the guests to your signing.  (Some bookstores may still organize a book signing for you.  Most won’t).

4.  An up-to-date biography that highlights your expertise in the field in which you are writing.  (Hint:  Start the bio with the information that will have the most relevance to your book, not where you went to grade school – unless, of course, your book is about your grade school.)

5.  A current photo

6.  Any marketing materials you already have such as postcards, a marketing kit or bookmarks.

7.  Directions to your website or blog.

Websites

Many authors are finding that having a website is an indispensable marketing tool.  The cost of creating a website, like any other professional service, may range from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars depending on how many features you put on your site.  However fancy or plain the site is, however, most authors agree that the most important factors to consider are visibility and timeliness.  With literally millions of websites out there, it is important that you find ways for people to find your site.  One way is to link your site with as many other sites as possible.  Obviously, you should include your URL on all of your printed materials and your book cover.

What other ways have our members found to increase visibility of their websites?

Give us your thoughts.

Additionally, since the idea is to keep people coming back to your site, it is vital that it contain new information on a regular basis.

What ways have our members found to keep people coming back to their websites?  We’d love to hear from you on this subject.

How do you get a website?  As mentioned previously, you can spend from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars to get a professional to host, design and maintain your website.  If you’d like to try to do a site yourself, Bill Pfleging who writes a technology column for the Woodstock (NY) Times, suggests you check out a site called www.freewebsiteproviders.com.  Among the hundreds, perhaps thousands of choices listed there, Pfleging recommends Tripod.com.  We have no opinion on whether or not this is the best site.  Do any of you know a better one?  Have any of you had experience setting up your own website?  If so, has it helped you as a writer?

Blogs

Many authors also have also had great success getting the word out about their books and articles by using blogs.  The cover story of the May 2, 2005 issue of Business Week is all about this subject.  You might want to check it out.  Also, are any of you successful bloggers?  If so, would you be willing to share your tips on how to do this?

Interesting Facts and Figures

  1. According to a recent poll reported by iUniverse, 83% of Americans say they want to write a book.
  2. Five conglomerates control about 80% of traditional publishing.
  3. In 2003, just 22, 914 books were published by the big publishers.
  4. A book that sells 10,000 copies is considered by the big publishers to be a success.
  5. The “sales cycle” of a book published by a traditional publisher is approximately 90 days.  The two weeks after a book is published are considered the most important.  If a book doesn’t sell in 90 days, the publisher will move on to other books.
  6. In 1980, there were approximately 12,000 small presses.  Today there are approximately 56,000.

Got any factoids like this you’d like to share?

New Stuff

Really small presses

By now, most of us are familiar with the idea of on-demand publishing.  Now, inventor Victor Celorio has created a process by which he can transform basically any manuscript into a nicely bound book in just a few minutes using a machine that’s about the size of a desk.  Called the Instabook Digital Bookstore and Self-Publishing Center, his patented product has been used in Mexico, Italy and Canada.  For the first time in the US, one has been installed at Books By Bookends in Ridgewood, New Jersey.  Cost?  $150 for the first 10 books, less for a larger quantity.

Know about any new stuff that might interest your fellow writers?  Contact us and we’ll post it on the site.   

Publishing Tips

Covers

            The old adage that you can’t tell a book by its cover may be true but the experts will tell you that you CAN SELL a book by its cover.  Before you publish your book, go to the local bookstore or library and look at all the other books like yours.  Which covers really stand out from the rest?  Why?  With that knowledge in hand, find a good graphic artist to design your cover.  If you’re working on a tight budget, local colleges are often a good place to find talented graphic artists who are not only affordable but will jump at the chance to have a book cover to add to their resume.

Blurbs

The back cover of your book can also be a very important marketing tool.  If you don’t think so, spend an hour or so at your local bookstore and see how many people pick up a book and immediately turn it over to see what’s on the back.  What they see there may very well affect their decision to buy.  How do you get good blurbs?  One sure way to is join the Public Safety Writers Association.  Many of our experienced and best selling authors may well be willing to write the all-important blurb for you.

Order Form

Fern Reiss, lecturer and author of The Publishing Game series of books including Publishing a Book in 30 Days, suggests that you always include an order form in the back of your book.  The form should include as many ways to contact you as possible (phone, fax, e-mail, website) in addition to exact costs including handling and postage.  If your book is part of a series, you should also be sure to include the opportunity to buy your other books.

Have any other publishing ideas you’d be willing to share?  Contact us!   

Writing Tips

Tips for Writing a Novel

by Marilyn Meredith

www.fictionforyou.com.

**To outline or not to outline is up to you.  Some people like to write out the entire plot of their story, chapter by chapter.  Others just jot down a few notes and go from there.  You do need to know where your story is headed, what the them is and you must have a beginning, middle and end.

**Finding out who your main characters are and something about each one is vital before you begin.  Where is your story going to unfold?  What settings are you going to use?  Will they be real or fictional?

**The first draft is getting all these ideas out of your head and down on paper.  Don’t worry about editing it at that point.  Some like to end in the middle of a sentence or a scene, sot that it’s easy to start when you begin again.

**How long should a chapter be?  As long as you want it.  One scene can be a chapter.  A chapter can be 20 pages or one.  There are no rules about this.

**Once you’ve got it down, print it out.  You can’t revise the manuscript on the screen.

**Read it out loud.  Read the story as if you were reading to a friend.  Mark sentence structure problems, grammar errors.  Circle the typos that the spell checker didn’t pick up.  Read the dialog as if you were the characters.  Does it sound natural?  Make sure your characters aren’t telling each other things they already know.

**Delete unnecessary adverbs, adjectives and other unnecessary words.  Instead of adverbs, use the most descriptive verb possible.  Instead of adverbs, describe the action.  Instead of saying a person does something angrily, show them clenching their fists, glowering, teeth clenched, face scarlet.

**Get rid of meaningless qualifiers like “well, just, but, very, etc.

**Make sure your dialogue is meaningful.  It should move the plot along or reveal something about the character.

**What is the purpose of each scene?  Did it more the story along?  Did it reveal some new information?  Never have a scene with a bunch of folks sitting around talking about nothing.

**When the characters are talking are they talking heads or do they do something and do we see them through your POV character’s eyes?  Have you let the reader know where the conversation or the action is taking place?

**Did you use the five senses?

**Was the pacing good?

**Have you varied sentence structure?

**Revise until you make it shine.

**Open your scene with something happening to immediately pull the reader in.  Close with a hook or leave something hanging so they’ll want to turn the page.  Make your readers curious, shock and surprise them.

**Make sure you’ve tied up all your loose ends.

The Twelve Worst Opening Lines for a Query Letter

by Marilyn Olsen

Based on my 15 years as the editor of Indiana’s Finest, a quarterly magazine about the Indiana State Police, I developed the following list of don’ts for contacting editors with a story or a story idea.  While these may seem outrageous, believe it or not, they’re based on actual queries that were received either by me or one of my colleagues in the media.

  1. I’ve never read your magazine, but I have a great idea for a story.
  2. This story I’m sending you is so good it’s already been published in three other magazines.
  3. I’ve never written a magazine article before, but…..
  4. I got an A on this term paper and I think it would make a great magazine article.
  5. I’ve seen some of the stories you’ve run and believe me, this is much better than most of them.
  6. To whom it may concern….
  7. My son (daughter, wife) wrote this poem….
  8. Even though your magazine is mostly about law enforcement, I’m sending you this article on…(race cars, gardening, nuclear physics)
  9. This article about our new product would really help boost our sales.
  10. My mother (brother, wife) bet me you wouldn’t publish this article
  11. Attached is my 10-page resume.
  12. Here’s all the information about our company (organization, event).  We’d like you to turn it into a story for your magazine.

Advertising Packets aren’t Just for Advertisers

In addition to reading at least the past five or six copies of a publication you think you might want to contact, one of the best ways to find out what a magazine wants is to request the information packet the publication sends its advertisers.  These packets are a wealth of information.  They should contain:

  1. A paragraph or two about the publication’s mission and perspective
  2. Information about the ownership of the publication
  3. Editorial emphasis
  4. The magazine’s circulation
  5. The magazine’s format
  6. What regular columns and features exist
  7. Demographic information on the magazine’s target readership
  8. The ratio of advertising to editorial content
  9. Whether or not the publication produces special feature sections
  10. Advertising rates (This should tell you something about how upscale the readership is.)
  11. Deadlines

Questions to Ask an Editor

Before you pitch a story to a publication, you should find out the following information from the editor:

  1. How stories are assigned.  Does the editor use only staff writers or will free lance articles be accepted.  If the editor says that he or she only uses staff writers, you might want to submit some of your stuff anyway.  An editor may bet up against a deadline without enough copy and use you after all.
  2. How stories are chosen.  In some scholarly, trade or organization publications, articles are reviewed by an editorial committee of some kind instead of the editor.  It’s good to know things like this.
  3. When stories are assigned.  This tells you not only how much lead time you have, but whether or not this publication is interested in breaking or timely stories.  (Needless to say, you should ALWAYS get your story to the publication comfortably ahead of the deadline!)
  4. How long the editor wants the stories to be.  Virtually all publications lay out the ads first.  (After all, that’s how the bills – including your pay – get paid).  Thus, the editor will know fairly accurately how long a story will fit in the space reserved for it.  You should always come within ten words of the assigned length.
  5. If the editor wants you to include sidebars and/or graphics of some kind.  Even the most carefully planned publications often end up with some excess space from time to time and your editor will always appreciate a nice sidebar to fill that space.
  6. Whether or not the editor wants photos.  Some publications (e.g. daily newspapers) traditionally assign a staff photographer to do photos.  Most magazines and trade journals expect you to supply them.
  7. What format the publication prefers for photos.  These days, almost every publication will want a digital photo.  Exceptions might be historical photos that the publication’s graphic designer can scan in.
  8. How the editor prefers to have the story submitted.  Most will now want them to be e-mailed to the publication.  Almost nobody wants a hard copy since they’ll just have to have someone key it in.
  9. What sort of documentation the editor wants with the story.  Many editors (particularly newspaper editors) will want to check your sources, particularly if you are a new writer with the publication.  Most will want you to include the names and contact information for anyone you quote in the article and the sources of any technical information.  Never, however, put footnotes in an article unless the editor specifically asks for it.  (Some scholarly publications will.)
  10. Who writes the headlines and cutlines for photos.  Generally, newspaper editors write headlines for stories.  Some magazine editors do.  In any event, it never hurts to suggest a headline.  ALWAYS write cutlines for your photos.
  11. If the editor wants any biographical information about you.  Some publications include a short blurb at the end of the article about the author.  Unless it’s a scholarly publication, the key word here is SHORT.  Never send your entire resume for this purpose. Generally three sentences is plenty.

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