Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Terms of the Writing Trade

Terms of the Writing Trade
Presented to the NJCWG by Louise Bergmann DuMont 4/24/06

Query Letter
A query letter offers your story or article idea to an editor/publisher. When they accept your query you receive an assignment. The more experience you have writing, the more likely you will write query letters rather than cover letters (see below). Query letters allow you to pitch an idea without actually writing the article. This means you don't write something until you know you've sold it. Most query letters use a standard three or four paragraph format and are limited to one page.

Cover Letter
A cover letter accompanies a completed manuscript. It is a single page with your contact information and a short paragraph that describes the piece you are submitting and/or your credits. Both query and cover letters are your "first impression." They are at least, if not more important than the manuscript itself.

Clips are copies of published articles, stories and other manuscripts. Some (not all) editors want to see clips. Clips are samples of your writing style and let editors know which publications already accepted your work. It is always best to send a photocopy of the actual printed articled. If the copy (due to glossy paper or faulty equipment) is of inferior quality, you can send the photocopy along with a clean computer generated copy of the EXACT article that was printed. This means that you do NOT 'fix' your writing after it was published.
If you haven't been published yet and an editor requests clips send him or her a ‘writing sample’ instead. Make sure it is your best work and that the writing is related in some way to the type of publication they work for.

Simultaneous Submissions
The term ‘simultaneous submission’ refers to one manuscript sent to different markets during the same time period. Check a publication's guidelines carefully. Many markets do not accept simultaneously sumbited manuscripts.

Multiple Submissions
"Multiple submissions" refers to several different manuscripts that are sent to the same publisher in one envelope. Some editors allow you to send mutiple short works, like poems. Do follow the publication’s guidelines since very few editors will accept multiple submissions of items other than poetry or fillers.

Multiple Queries
Multiple queries refers to pitching one good idea to many different publishers during the same time period. This is always acceptable. BUT, you should never keep one publisher hanging on while you wait to hear if an other publisher will pay you more money. The rule is - first come, first serve.

Lead Time
Small to mid-sized agazines typically work three to six months in advance. Larger publications need up to eighteen months. Lead time is how far ahead editors will consider queries and submissions. When you are lying on the beach you should be writing your Keeping Christ in Christmas article. When the frost first hits the pumpkin, you pitch Spring in Spring Cleaning piece.

Editorial Calendar (AKA - Theme List)
Publishers often plan an annual calendar of topics or themes. Familiarizing yourself with a publications editorial calendar means knowing in advance what the editors want and when. Writing to accomodate the specific needs of an editor is often the difference between a sale and a rejection. You can obtain a publication’s theme list by looking up their address in Sally’s Stuart's Market Guide (CBA) or The Market Guide (ABA). Follow the publishers instrucitons - sending the approriately sized SASE (self-addressed stamped envelope) with postage in the amount they indicate. If you are requesting the material via postal mail it is very important that you follow the publishers specific instrucitons. If you check the publishers website you may be able to get their writers guidelines and theme list without paying for the postage.

In the United Sates of America your work is copyrighted as soon as you put the words into a readable format. It does not matter if you scribble it on the back of a napkin, type it on a typewriter, or process it using a computer. If you have serious concerns about someone attempting to appropriate your work, you can put a copy (never the original) of your manuscript into an envelope and mail it to yourself. Once it arrives back home, do NOT open the envelope. The postmark will legally date the material as long as the envelope remains sealed.

As long as you own the copyright, feel free to sell your work again as a reprint. Markets will pay less for reprints, but recycling your material can bring in substantial profits over the long haul.

Payment on Acceptance
Read the guidelines carefully! Payment on acceptance means you get paid when your work is accepted, no matter when (or if) the magazine publishs it.

Payment on Publication
Payment on publication means you will not get paid until your work is published. This could be months (or even a year) later.

Working On Spec
Spec is short for 'speculation'. Many magazines want to see the finished article before they decide whether to publish it. At times, writing on spec may be the only way to break into a new market, but there is certainly a down side. You can spend a great deal of time writing an article, revising it upon their request, and then find out that the editors decided to use someone else’s piece. Weigh the pros and cons. For new writers, this can be very tough. Experienced writers, can often negotiate a later publishing date.

In the course of your research and article preparation, you may incur expenses like travel, long distance calls, cell phone calls, or taking an interview subject out to lunch. You must get approval for necessary expenses BEFORE you write the article. Most publications do not pay expenses for new writers. For experienced writers who work regularly with a publication expenses may be paid for assigned work. Remeber, reasonable requests are often accommodated, but if you are unprofessional or pad a bill, other editors will hear about it.

Kill fees
A kill fee is sometimes paid if your article was accepted for publication but for some reason the editor must drop or "kill" the article before it goes to press. Many of the large markets pay a 10 to 50 percent kill fee. This reimburses a writer for their time and work. When an article is "killed" the author is free to publish it elsewhere.

Knowing the different kinds of ‘rights’ offered by publishers is very important. I could mean more sales (through reprints) or a greater reimbursement for the savvy freelancer.

- All Rights - When you give up all rights you no longer own that piece of writing. You cannot publish your work before or after this sale, you can not put it on your website and you can’t send it to your mother without permission from the publisher. NEVER give up all rights unless you are being paid substantially for your efforts.

- First Serial Rights - This usually refers to rights in one country. For example: First North American Rights (FNAR).

- Electronic Rights - Used when a market publishes your work on its Web site. Within this you will also find first electronic rights, electronic rights for an exclusive period, or electronic archive rights (to post your work indefinitely).

- Anthology Rights - Used when your work is included in an anthology--a collection of similar stories, essays or articles compiled in a book. For this you are often paid a one-time fee along with some copies of the book. Be sure to read your contract to find out if you may reprint the story elsewhere (after a specified period of time) or if the anthology has purchased the exclusive right to your story.

- One-time Rights - The publisher has the right to publish your work one time. After that you can resell the piece as a reprint.

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