The Writer's Mailbag #1
The Questions Are Pouring In
Well, maybe not pouring, but there is a fine, steady trickle of them, so why not cover as many as possible in one article?
The Writer’s Mailbag is a new series that will appear from time to time. I am working from the assumption that if one person asks a question, then there are others wondering the same thing, so hopefully this series will help quite a few of you out there.
This is randomness at its finest. There is no central theme other than all of the questions pertain to writing. If you don’t see the answers you need, and you have other questions, then feel free to ask them in the comment section of this article, or you can ask me on my website at www.williamdhollandauthor.com. I promise to get to them in the order they are written and as quickly as possible.
Shall we begin with the Writer’s Mailbag?
SHOULD A WRITER QUERY AN AGENT OR PUBLISHER BEFORE THE BOOK IS FINISHED?
How’s that for definitive?
Agents are busy people. They do not have time to waste on the promise of something great. They want to see that something. Let me take this a step further: not only do they want to see a finished manuscript, but they also want to see an edited manuscript that is ready for print.
I’M NOT HEARING BACK FROM AGENTS WHEN I QUERY THEM. WHAT SHOULD I DO?
Maybe you just need to be patient.
Most agents will respond to your query within three weeks if they are interested in it.
Some will not respond at all if they are not interested. That may seem rude to you, and I believe it to be so, but that is the reality of this business.
If you send out ten query letters, and you don’t hear back from half of them, it is time for you to update that query letter and make it more appealing.
I CAN’T FIND ANY GOOD PAYING WRITING GIGS ONLINE. WHAT AM I DOING WRONG?
I can tell you what my dad would say if he were alive…..work harder!
Seriously, there are good-paying writing gigs out there. You just have to be creative enough, and dogged enough in your approach, to find them. If all you are doing is going after content mill gigs then no, you will not find good-paying gigs. Content mills make the content mill money; not the writer. Bypass the middleman, tell the content mills to take a hike, and go out and find your own gigs. That way you get paid the big money and the content mill gets nothing.
Do you need a writing coach?
- Hire Me | William Holland
Let's work together to improve your skills. I was a classroom teacher for eighteen years, and I guarantee we can raise your skill level.
WHAT CAN I DO TO IMPROVE MY VIEWS ON ARTICLES?
How much time do you have for an answer?
Of course you can promote yourself on the social media, but I believe the number one thing you should do is become a real person to your audience. Let people know who you are. Reach out and connect with people on a very personal basis.
I have said this so many times before: you are the business and your writing is the product. Promote your business….you….by being a person that others would like to meet and become friends with.
WHEN IS THE BEST TIME TO QUERY A MAGAZINE EDITOR FOR A CHRISTMAS ARTICLE?
Some magazines work on a year schedule. In other words, if you are writing a Christmas article, the best time to pitch it is right after the New Year starts.
For article writing, think at least six months in advance. If you are an online writer, remember that it takes a good six months for an article to circulate online. If you are a magazine writer, then pitch at least six months in advance and better would be a year.
HOW CAN I TELL IF I AM A GOOD WRITER OR WASTING MY TIME?
Well don’t ask your relatives because they have to tell you that you are good.
You can hire a writing coach. You can find them online, and they can be quite helpful because their opinion is objective, and their goal is to make you a better writer.
You can join writing groups online, or sign up for a writing course at your local community college.
The key here is to obtain the opinion of someone who is not emotionally involved with you. Objectivity is the holy grail that you are after. Your friends will not want to hurt your feelings. Your family has to love you. You need someone who does not think you walk on water.
HOW CAN I IMPROVE MY WRITING?
Work, and then work hard!
Read, and then read hard!
Write, and then write hard!
The Holy Trinity for writers.
Oh, you wanted more?
Writers improve by writing. Writers improve by reading good writing. Writers improve by taking courses, hiring writing coaches, trying to emulate the greats, and generally working their tails off.
There are no shortcuts to improving your writing, and I like the fact that I have to work hard to be a good writer. That means it is something special that not everyone can do and yes, that makes me happy.
EBOOK OR TRADITIONAL PUBLISHING?
What are your goals? Answer that and then you can answer the question above.
If you are low on funds, publish an ebook.
If you don’t care about sales, publish an ebook.
If this is just a personal challenge that you met, publish an ebook.
If you want to tear your hair out and feel inadequate, try traditional publishing. LOL
Publish an ebook and query agents and publishers at the same time. Yes, it is legal and yes, many people do it.
MY SCENES LACK PUNCH…WHAT SHOULD I DO TO IMPROVE THEM?
Learn from the masters. Seriously! Read James Lee Burke and be prepared for awe.
Read Steinbeck and be prepared to feel inadequate.
How did they paint a scene? They wrote to the five senses. We all have them. Readers and writers share those senses, and it is that commonality that writers should be concerned with when writing scenes.
What do you smell when you walk into that scene? What do you see? Hear? Feel? Do you taste anything? If your readers can answer those questions after reading your scenes, then you don’t need any more of my help.
Would you like to see more Mailbag articles?
SHOULD I USE WORDS THAT REPRESENT SOUNDS?
Like “bzzzz” for a bee flying by, or “bam” for a gunshot….
Words like bzzz and bam are weak tools for weak writers. You have hundreds of thousands of words to use; why would you go for weak?
Describe what that buzzing sounds like using similes or metaphors. Your readers will thank you for it.
HOW DO I FIND TIME TO WRITE?
You don’t find time to write. You make time to write. If writing is a passion for you, then schedule time to do it.
Listen, I know you are busy. You have a job, and kids, and responsibilities, but the notion that there is no time to write is silly. Get up an hour early and write. Watch one less television show. Shut off your cell phone for an hour, lock yourself away in a room and allow no one in, and write. Schedule time for writing just like you do for anything else that is important.
MORE AGENT QUESTIONS FROM SHA
“Bill, for agents who accept new authors, what experience do you relay to them? Is it advisable to mention HP and other sites where the author has a byline? How about blogs? And what does the new author do if none of this experience relates to the genre of the novel?”
Great questions, Sha! I hate to burst any bubbles, but HubPages does not impress agents. Sad but true. Agents want to know you have an online presence so yes, mention your blog. As far as mentioning HP, I would simply say “I have written x number of articles” rather than name HP specifically….and don’t worry about your experience not relating to the genre of your novel. Agents want to know that you have skill. Good writing is good writing is good writing, and you can take that to the bank.
“Thanks for sharing these great tips. I have a copy of the 2013 Writers Market. Do you suggest we buy a new one each year? And do you think it necessary or a good idea to have a paid membership through Writers Market?”
Thanks for the questions, Melissa. Agents and publishers come and go. It is a fluid business, and information that was good yesterday may not be good two months from now….so….yes, I would buy a new Writer’s Market each year.
As for a paid membership through Writer’s Market, I’m too cheap, but I can see the advantages to it.
More Next Week
I hope that was helpful for you. I aim to please.
Writers belong to a very select community. As member of that community, we should share what we know so others can learn from it. That is what I’m trying to do…share…and hopefully you, in turn, will share with others.
That’s what friends do.
2014 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)
“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”