This month learn how to write the perfect pitch with Simon Whaley, improve your characters with our Ten Top Tips, get motivated by the successes of other students and find something useful in Useful Websites.
Hello again and welcome to the June issue.
THE WRITERS BUREAU
“What does writing mean to me? Writing is my world, my lifeline, my saving grace. I scribble away my thoughts, often on a daily basis, and these ideas and observations sometimes transform themselves into a poem or a story or a short piece of prose. This diversity and passion for writing led me to the Writers Bureau.
“Since I joined The Writers Bureau, a magic chain of successful events has unfolded in front of my eyes, and I just couldn’t believe that it’s all happening to me. My tutor advised me that one of the articles I had produced was suitable for publication. Of course I took immediate advantage of it and sent it in to the magazine. The following week I went into WH Smiths and bought a copy of the magazine – to my delight my article appeared. I just couldn’t believe my eyes. It’s me, and I’m from Poland, English is my second language! It made me very happy indeed.
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By Simon Whaley
Do you spend time researching information for your articles, then writing and submitting them, only to have them rejected? Annoying isn’t it? It’s such a waste of time. What if you could sell the idea to your target publication first, before investing all that time and effort? Well, the good news is, you can.
A pitch, or query letter, is a sales technique that many professional writers use to sell an idea to an editor first before they write up the full article. That way, if the editor says ‘No’, the writer hasn’t wasted their time writing anything more than a query letter. And remember, there are many reasons why an editor can say ‘No’, such as:
He’s just accepted an article on a similar topic,
He’s about to redesign the publication to appeal to a new market, and new readership,
He’s looking for a more unusual angle.
None of these reasons would be apparent to any prospective writer undertaking a market analysis of the publication. Also, psychologically, it isn’t quite as demoralising having an editor reject an idea, as it is the whole article. But don’t think that because you’re sending a short letter or email, that you don’t need to work hard at your pitch. You do. In fact, you need to work really hard. This pitch is your one and only opportunity to express your idea - and how you will tackle it to appeal to the editor’s readers. Sell the idea correctly and the editor should come back to you with a “yes, I’d like to see this.”
So how do you write the perfect pitch?
Be professional. Use the editor’s name, just as you would for a submission letter. Show them that you’ve looked at a copy of the magazine and done a bit of research.
Be succinct. This is not the place to waffle on about how much you enjoy reading the magazine, how you’ve been a dedicated subscriber for umpteen years, or how you would like to have the editor’s babies!
Grab the editor’s attention. Hit him with some startling facts!
Be clear. Explain what your idea is and how you will tackle it. Don’t hold anything back thinking the editor will steal your idea. He won’t. It’s surprising how many writers come up with similar ideas. Believe me, you will not be the only writer to come up with an article idea about how to survive during a recession.
Tell the editor why you are the best person to write this particular idea. What makes you the expert on this subject? Are you qualified in it? Have you secured an exclusive interview? Have you experienced a life-changing event and want to show others how to do the same?
Remember, editors are busy people, so treat them with respect. Be business-like and professional.
Here’s an example of a query letter I sent to Holiday Cottages magazine.
Dear David Kernek
FEATURE PROPOSALS – HOLIDAY COTTAGES MAGAZINE
Would you be interested in the following two feature ideas for Holiday Cottages magazine?
Much Wenlock – The Olympic Connection. Did you know, if it wasn’t for the Shropshire market town of Much Wenlock, the Beijing Olympics wouldn’t be happening? One of its 19th Century residents (Dr William Penny-Brookes) formed the Wenlock Games and then went on to campaign for the reinstatement of the ancient Greek Olympic Games movement. This 1200-word article will take readers on a tour of Much Wenlock which they can follow, highlighting the links with Wenlock’s own Games and Dr Penny-Brookes. Much Wenlock is local to me and I’ve also interviewed the secretary of the Wenlock Olympian Society.
Hay on Wye – Read All About It. This tiny village on the English / Welsh border is now the second-hand book capital of the world. As a result of resident Richard Booth (self- declared King of Hay – a 1977 April Fool stunt), there are now second-hand bookshop towns like Hay, all over the world. This 1500-word article will explore the town to show that there is a book here for everyone, making it an ideal holiday destination at any time of year – bookshops are open throughout the year, and not just during the main tourist season! There’s also plenty to do for those who aren’t interested in books - you can canoe on the River Wye or go hill walking to the summit of Hay Bluff. Come visit the town twinned with Timbuktu! As a local, I’m a regular visitor to Hay on Wye and have written about the town for other publications.
For both feature ideas I would be happy to supply my own 300dpi digital images (capable of production up to A3 size). I have written travel pieces for numerous publications including Hotel, In Britain, Heritage, FlyBe Uncovered, and The Lady.
Thank you for your time. I look forward to hearing from you and enclose a SAE for your use.
This query letter worked – the editor liked both ideas and ended up buying both articles. But look at what I’ve done. Firstly, I addressed him by name. My opening sentence immediately asks, ‘would you be interested in...?’ As soon as the editor has read this, he knows why I am writing to him.
Both of my ideas hit the editor with some intriguing facts. Just like the reader, you must grab the editor’s interest. I bet you didn’t know about Much Wenlock’s Olympic connection, or that the founder of the Hay on Wye book town declared himself King of Hay in 1977. After these facts, I tell the editor how I will develop the idea further for his readers. (Readers of this publication like to get to know a new area, which is why I show them how to explore the places.)
And because I told him that I was local to these places, the editor knows I’m better placed to write about these towns than a staff writer would be.
This could work just as well as an email, but make sure you take just as much time constructing what you want to say before you hit that ‘send’ button. Remember, you only get once chance to make a good first impression, and they’re the ones that intrigue editors enough to reply with, “sounds interesting, let me see it.”
The perfect pitch is not a waste of time. It’s time well spent. It’s also time that can be rewarded with publication.
Simon Whaley is a tutor for the Writers Bureau and a freelance writer and author. He has judged competitions on behalf of literary festivals, local writers’ groups, and the National Association of Writers’ Groups. Simon’s short stories have appeared in People’s Friend, Take a Break, Ireland’s Own, Yours and also That’s Life Fast Fiction in Australia. His ninth book, the Bluffer’s Guide to Hiking, was published at the end of March 2009.
Ten Top Tips for creative characterisation
Long after readers have forgotten many other features of your book or short story, it will be your characters who will live on in their minds. And the stronger, the more colourful and the more striking your characters are, the more memorable they’ll be.
So, here are some tips for ensuring that your characters are unforgettable:
1. It should be your aim to create individuals who leap off the page, exuding energy and creating dramatic impact. They must be more exciting and more attention grabbing than the ordinary people we meet in our normal workaday existence.
2. But they must still be believable! Even if you create characters as exotic as Mary Poppins, Count Dracula or Hannibal Lector, you must draw them so vividly and give them so much presence and personality that they come alive. By doing this your readers will be prepared to suspend their disbelief and be ready to believe that in the fictional world you have created these people could easily exist.
3. In order to do this give every character an individual personality, quirks, mannerisms and a clearly understood motivation. Make them three-dimensional and equip them with a full range of emotions and responses.
4. Make sure you know your characters intimately – why not create a ‘character profile’ (see Useful Websites) for each of your major characters listing their background, appearance, hobbies, habits, strengths, weaknesses and much, much more?
5. But don’t give this information to your readers in a big ‘dollop’. It will slow down your narrative. Instead, feed in descriptions in small drips and let your characters show the reader what they are like, rather than you, the author, telling them. Alternatively, show how your protagonist looks through the eyes of one of the other characters.
6. Make sure you choose good names. You can suggest a great deal about a person’s age and background by the name you give them. It’s important that you select a name that accurately reflects the personality and background of the person you are creating. As a rule, aim for short, sharp, powerful names for strong characters and longer, more fussy names for weaker characters. And remember, names can tie your characters to a particular age group. If a female is called Doris or Edith she will probably be elderly; if she’s called Chelsea or Brittany she will probably be in her early twenties.
7. Always ensure that your characters are as different from one another as possible so that readers won’t get them mixed up. Give each a distinctive way of looking, talking and acting. Give each a unique personality and background.
8. Never try to introduce too many characters at the same time – this will only end up confusing your readers. Give each character time to become established in the story before introducing the next.
9. It’s a useful plotting device if the hero and his main enemy have a close connection – former friends, ex-lovers or members of the same family. It makes the antagonism between them all the more sad. But if you are casting the ‘baddie’ as someone the hero may once have loved or admired, then he or she has to have some good points too. After all, most people have some redeeming features, so don’t always make the antagonist a monster or a villain. It’s not necessary.
10. Avoid stereotypes at all costs! The bumbling vicar, the blonde bimbo, the beer-swilling rugby player – they’re great for a quick, cheap laugh but they aren’t realistic or believable. I make no apology for repeating earlier advice: inhabit your stories with memorable people – fully-rounded, surprising and intriguing individuals.
This site has a wonderfully detailed character profile sheet you could adapt and use to help you create and develop your own characters.
I love this site – it’s a digital self-publishing platform for people who want to publish multiple format e-books and, believe it or not, it’s free. It’s also a book store with loads of books already available to buy. You can sell your work on the site and allow potential buyers to view a sample of your work before they buy. You will receive 85% of your sales revenue, free viral marketing advice and complete control over the publishing, price and sale of your work – you can even have the customer set the price they would wish to pay for the book – just fabulous!
Summer is a time of sun. And sun means it’s actually nice to go to festivals, fetes and shows. So, get your camera, notebook and pencil, or Dictaphone if you’re a techie, and head off to partake and then review them for your local newspapers. If you’re not familiar with your local newspapers have a look to see what’s available on this site. It contains links to the papers’ own websites as well as detailed readership information, publication details and generally useful market research information to get you started.
And if you want somewhere to start looking up festivals you could do no better than this website. It contains hundreds of festivals from all over the world and has a searchable database. It also has links to official festival websites, articles, photos and even video so you can check it out before you go. You could even submit your work to them for publication on the site – just make sure that your article differs from the one you send to the local paper!
Could you write an article about ...
World Aids Day
|2nd Dec. 1942
||The first nuclear chain reaction is produced by Italian physicist Enrico Fermi at the University of Chicago, Illinois.
|3rd Dec. 1926||Agatha Christie, famous for writing mysteries, goes missing then turns up in a hotel in Harrogate under an assumed name with no knowledge of how she got there.
|4th Dec. 1829||The practice of Indian widows throwing themselves onto the funeral pyre of their husbands known as Suttee is abolished by the British Governor of Bengal, Lord Bentinck.
|5th Dec. 1852||One of the greatest mysteries known to man is set in motion when the Mary Celeste is found adrift and deserted in the Atlantic Ocean.
||Fukoka International Open-Marathon Championship is held in Japan.
|8th Dec 1980||John Lennon, of The Beatles fame, is murdered outside his New York
apartment by a crazed fan.
||Human Rights Day.
|11th Dec. 1282
||Llywelyn ap Grufford, the last prince of independent Wales, is killed in battle against Edward I.
|12th Dec. 1821||French writer Gustav Flaubert, best known for ‘Madame Bovary’, is born in Rouen, Normandy.
|13th Dec. 1642
||New Zealand is sighted for the first time by a European - Dutch navigator Able Tasman.
|14th Dec. 1918
||Countess Constance Markievicz becomes the first woman to be elected to the British parliament but does not take up her seat.
|15th Dec. 1944
||Glenn Miller, the famous American band leader, dies when his small plane goes missing over the channel on it’s way to Paris.
|17th Dec. 1967
||Harold Vault, the Australian Prime Minister, mysteriously disappears whilst swimming of Cheviot Beach in Victoria.
|18th Dec. 1892||The Nutcracker, a ballet by Tchaikovsy, is debuted in St Petersburg.
|20th Dec. 1955
||The new capital of Wales is named as Cardiff.
|21st Dec. 1913
||The first ever crossword, devised by Liverpudlian Arthur Wynne, is printed in ‘The New York World’.
||Emperors Birthday – Japan.
25th Dec. 1991
The USSR ceases to exist when Mikhail Gorbechev resigns as president.
|27th Dec. 1945
||A year after the Bretton Woods Conference agrees on the plan the World Bank is finally opened.
|28th Dec. 1065
||Westminster Abbey is consecrated.
|29th Dec. 1721
||Paris is the birth place of Marquise de Pompadour - the influential mistress of Louis XV.
||Rizal Day – Philippines
To finish of this month here’s a little poem I thought appropriate after sitting amongst a swarm in my garden at the weekend:
These tiny loiterers on the barley's beard,
And happy units of a numerous herd
Of playfellows, the laughing Summer brings,
Mocking the sunshine on their glittering wings,
How merrily they creep, and run, and fly!
No kin they bear to labour's drudgery,
Smoothing the velvet of the pale hedge-rose;
And where they fly for dinner no one knows -
The dew-drops feed them not - they love the shine
Of noon, whose suns may bring them golden wine
All day they're playing in their Sunday dress -
When night reposes, for they can do no less;
Then, to the heath-bell's purple hood they fly,
And like to princes in their slumbers lie,
Secure from rain, and dropping dews, and all,
In silken beds and roomy painted hall.
So merrily they spend their summer-day,
Now in the corn-fields, now in the new-mown hay.
One almost fancies that such happy things,
With coloured hoods and richly burnished wings,
Are fairy folk, in splendid masquerade
Disguised, as if of mortal folk afraid,
Keeping their joyous pranks a mystery still,
Lest glaring day should do their secrets ill.
Next month I am going to spoil you with expert advice from not one, but two published writers! Our tutors Lorraine Mace and Sue Wilkes advise on magazine research for those living overseas in ‘Easy Magazine Research’ and how to promote your work using a blog in ‘It never sleeps’, Ten Top Tips will highlight how to find new ideas for yourself, plus more useful websites and inspiration.
And now it’s time to relax for five minutes, after taking in all this lovely information. So, here’s a little word play game – don’t be fooled by the easy early stages it gets quite hard quite quickly! http://www.miniclip.com/games/word-vine/en/
Don’t forget to let us know what you think of the new website!
And finally, if you found something of use to you in this issue please pass the word on to all your writer friends – and even those who don’t! You never know, you might inspire them to take it up. They can sign up here.
See you next month.
P.S. Don’t forget the Poetry and Short Story Writing Competition 2009 is closing at the end of June.
If there are any of our overseas readers who would like me to promote literary events in their country, please let me know and I will do my best to mention them.
As usual, if you've any suggestions or would like to comment on anything you have read then please contact me at: email@example.com
THE WRITERS BUREAU, SEVENDALE HOUSE, 7 DALE STREET,
MANCHESTER, M1 1JB, ENGLAND.
“I’m currently working on my fourth book, have been paid for my writing by at least 15 different magazines, and now earn half my income from writing – all thanks to The Writers Bureau’s course."
Sarah Plater - Writers Bureau Writer of the Year 2017