The Thirty Minute Blogger

Exploring Books and the Writer's Life, Faith and Works, Culture and Pop Culture, Space Science and Science Fiction, Technology and Nostalgia, Parenting and Childhood, Health: Physical and Emotional ... All Under the Iron Hands of the Clock and That 30 Minute Deadline

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Writing the Proposal Letter That Gets Noticed


This is an occasional series (meaning that I'll be writing something new whenever the spirit moves me ... i.e. occasionally) providing advice to writers new to the freelancing game. The following guidelines will help your article proposal get noticed by editors at the magazines and newsletters you are trying to reach.
For the past seventeen years, I've been writing books and articles based on those books for the antiques and collectibles market ... but not under the pen name you see here. I'll leave it to the sleuthing nature of freelancers to figure out the name I write under for a living. I also edit as part of my job, so I know both perspectives ... the writer eager to get work published and the harried editor looking for the right writer. But you aren't reading this to hear my qualifications, so let's get down to it.

The proposal letter, as the Writer's Market will tell you, needs to be short and sweet. You don't have a lot of space to catch an editor's eye as the editor doesn't have a lot of time to give to each proposal letter. The letter needs to be on a single page and is only three paragraphs long. This letter is written as a business letter in a business format. Place the editor's name, magazine or newsletter's name, and address at the top, followed by the date, and dear editor followed by the editor's name.

Here we need to stop and discuss a few basics. As a new freelancer looking to make a name for yourself, see that name in print, and get paid for your writing (yes you do want to get paid ... eventually ... the freelance business is not about writing for the love of writing alone), you are eager to plunge ahead but you need to slow down and do some basic research first. First, learn about the market you wish to write for. Shelve opinion pieces now ... everybody has an opinion and most people really don't care much about the opinions of a new freelancer as they really aren't useful in the grand scheme of things. Focus on articles that provide people with useful information concerning a field you know about or are passionate enough about to do considerable research. Research the magazines and newsletters that support the market you wish to write for. Look for publications that come out weekly and are small to start with. Save the big publications for when you have made a name for yourself. Right now you want small outfits that need to fill their columns weekly, accept freelancer's work provided it is high quality, and are always hungry for more. Monthly and semi-annual publications can afford to be far choosier.

Read several issues of the publication. This is easier now that some of these publications have online presences, but a trip to the local library or bookstore may still be in order.

Once you've identified the publications you wish to target, have verified that they do accept freelance writing (the book the Writer's Market is very useful in this regard), write to them and ask for a copy of their writer's guidelines. When those guidelines arrive, study them well and follow them to the letter. This is key. If you follow the guidelines provided, you make life easier for the busy editor you are trying to impress as you provide material that requires less work on the editor's part. This always works in your favor.

Okay, now you're ready to consider the proposal letter. There are no nicities to this letter aside from "Dear" and "Most sincerely." The editor is not your friend now and really isn't impressed by freelancers who ask after their health or open with some other timewasting pleasantry. The first paragraph describes what you have to offer. It should begin something like this, "Could I interest you in an article on" followed by the naming of a topic relevant to that publication (trying to sell an article on blogging to a farming magazine will get you nowhere, no matter how stellar your insights) and a working title for the article. Next, tell the editor the article will be so many words long and have so many images (the precise number requested in the writer's guidelines ... see I told you studying those would be useful). After that the first paragraph briefly outlines the article, providing the main topic, and various aspects that support the topic (i.e. an article on a pottery firm's wares would tell where the firm was/is located, provide a brief history of the most relevant information), discuss their wares, and provide examples of their maker's marks). So ends the first paragraph.

The second paragraph provides a working draft of the first paragraph of the actual article. This paragraph is critical. It does not have to be the actual first paragraph complete in all its details. No editor expects that. What it does have to be is the best writing you are capable of producing. The purpose of this paragraph is not so much to give the editor an idea of the opening and direction of the article as it is a sample of your writing to prove you are a professional. It needs to be spell checked, grammar checked, and polished. It needs to be short, sweet, and entirely to the point. Spend some serious time putting together this paragraph.
The third and final paragraph is not as critical, but the promise you provide in that paragraph is extremely important. Begin this paragraph with something like, "If you are interested in this article, I can have the finished copy on your desk in ...". Finish this sentence with a deadline you are absolutely certain you can meet. For me, with my schedule, I was able to promise an article within one month of an editor's approval of the topic based on the proposal letter. As you are new to the field, do not be afraid to set that deadline a good six months away if need be. I cannot stress enough the importance of meeting this deadline. Once an editor agrees to an article and a timeline, that editor has penciled the article in to a specific issue and needs to article to arrive on time to fill the space in the publication.

Finally, don't forget to add your name and contact information at the end of the third paragraph. Include both your address and email address. Provide an SASE (self addressed stamped envelope) for the editor's response, unless the writer's guidelines tell you otherwise.

Remember, in the end, this is not only about getting that first article published. This is about building a professional relationship with an editor. In time, when the two of you have learned to trust each other, that editor may come back to you for material you have not proposed, but material the editor is confident you can provide. When that happens, you will know you have arrived. Follow these guidelines, only submit a proposal for a particular article to one publication at a time, and keep track of what you have sent where. Good luck.


If you like what you read here, you can support this blog (don't let me go it alone here): You can order a copy of the children's book Michael and the New Baby directly from Old Line Publishing at: http://www.oldlinepublishing.com/bookstore-marketplace/children-s-books/michael-and-the-new-baby/ldren-s-books/michael-and-the-new-baby/





Thursday, April 23, 2009

Sloggin’ thru Blogging: Wanted: Digital “Brick Man”





This is an occasional series relating the adventures of a new blogger stumbling through the blogosphere in search of readers. These observations may or may not be useful to others new to this techno-Wonderland.
Stepping into the blogosphere for the first time is like following Alice down a high tech version of the storied rabbit hole. Google made setting up the blog itself a breeze. It couldn’t be easier or provide more helpful hints. Easy as falling down that rabbit hole. However, there’s this one little complication. It’s one thing to set up a blog; it’s another to get anyone to pay attention. With millions of bloggers all speaking at once, how do you get yourself noticed? Writing these early articles feels like standing in a big, empty room talking to myself. It feels unsettling, possibly unstable. This can’t be healthy for an extrovert like me! Sure, I’ve got the search engines working and I’m talking with people online when I can … but I can’t help feeling I need a little something more. I need a digital version of P.T. Barnum’s “Brick Man.” Back in 1860 or so, P.T. had the same problem with his brick and mortar “American Museum” (this is before the irrepressible showman’s circus days when he displayed “curiosities” like the Fiji Island Mermaid to anyone who’d pay to see them). He needed to get people to notice, spend a dime, and drop in. I’ll let him explain the “Brick Man” himself from his autobiography …
“I thoroughly understood the art of advertising … turning every possible circumstance to my account. As an illustration: one morning, a stout, hearty-looking man came into my ticket-office and begged some money. I asked him why he did not work and earn his living? He replied that he could get nothing to do, and that he would be glad of any job at a dollar a day. I handed him a quarter of a dollar, told him to go and get his breakfast and return, and I would employ him, at light labour, at a dollar and a half a day. When he returned, I gave him five common bricks.
" Now," said I, " go and lay a brick on the sidewalk, at the corner of Broadway and Ann Street; another close by the Museum; a third diagonally across the way, at the corner of Broadway and Vesey Street, by the Astor House; put down the fourth on the sidewalk, in front of St. Paul's church, opposite; then, with the fifth brick in hand, take up a rapid march from one point to the other, making the circuit, exchanging your brick at every point, and say nothing to anyone."
" What is the object of this," inquired the man.
" No matter," I replied; " all you need to know is that it brings you fifteen cents wages per hour. It is a bit of my fun, and to assist me properly you must seem to be as deaf as a post; wear a serious countenance; answer no questions; pay no attention to anyone; but attend faithfully to the work, and at the end of every hour, by St. Paul's clock, show this ticket at the Museum door; enter, walking solemnly through every hall in the building; pass out, and resume your work."
With the remark that it was "all one to him, so long as he could earn his living," the man placed his bricks, and began his round. Half an hour afterwards, at least five hundred people were watching his mysterious movements. He had assumed a military step and bearing, and, looking as sober as a judge, he made no response whatever to the constant inquiries as to the object of his singular conduct. At the end of the first hour, the sidewalks in the vicinity were packed with people, all anxious to solve the mystery. The man, as directed, then went into the Museum, devoting fifteen minutes to a solemn survey of the halls, and afterwards returning to his round. This was repeated every hour till sundown, and whenever the man went into the Museum a dozen or more persons would buy tickets and follow him, hoping to gratify their curiosity in regard to the purpose of his movements. This was continued for several days—the curious people who followed the man into the Museum considerably more than paying his wages—till, finally, the policeman, to whom I had imparted my object, complained that the obstruction of the sidewalk by crowds had become so serious that I must call in my "brick man." This trivial incident excited considerable talk and amusement; it advertised me; and it materially advanced my purpose of making a lively corner near the Museum.”
(The Life of Barnum, 85-86)

Thanks, P.T. Now, if anybody out there is reading this … and has a digital equivalent to the “Brick Man” … and is willing to share … write a comment! I’m still here in the big empty room talkin’ to myself.
Until then, “This way to the Egress.”

Monday, April 20, 2009

Michael and the New Baby Goes International


A friend on the West Coast reports a sighting of Michael and the New Baby overseas in Exeter, England! Thanks for letting us know.

The Gospel According to Dr. Seuss Book Review


The Gospel According to Dr. Seuss, by retired Methodist minister James W. Kemp, is a treasure trove of biblical reflections based on well-known and much-loved Dr. Seuss stories, ranging from the Butter Battle Book to On Beyond Zebra. Each of the twelve chapters begins with verses both biblical and “Seussical.” During the reflection, the two sources are interwoven in an engaging way to discuss a wide variety of concerns facing humanity today, ranging from issues of loyalty to seeking forgiveness and finding redemption. The text is simple and straightforward and the message is right on the money each time. This is a terrific source for ministers and seminarians seeking sermon illustrations, children’s sermon material, or Sunday school lessons. This 90 page book is also terrific reading for anyone seeking inspiration. At $10 from Judson Press, http://www.judsonpress.com/, this book is a real value.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Charles M. Schulz to the rescue!

It pays to be widely read as a parent. You just never know when you're going to need a pearl of wisdom from an unexpected source. Years back my wife Sherry and I were spending the worship service on nursery duty, allowing parents of little ones a chance to worship quietly while their children played. On this particular Sunday, we outnumbered our charge two to one. John was a toddler who had not yet started to speak much, but he understood what you had to say to him well enough. When he was dropped off, we watched his reaction with growing alarm. He was calm as his parents left; he was a veteran of this routine. Then he looked up at us, looked behind us, and looked all around the room ... and discovered he was ALONE. No other toddlers were there to play with. John looked back up at us, his eyes filling with tears and his lower lip trembling. It was at that moment that Sherry remembered a Peanuts cartoon she had seen years ago. It was one of those early strips where the Peanuts gang was younger and Linus was the youngest among them. Linus had walked into the family room to discover he had the place to himself. Unlike John, Linus was in heaven. He had a room full of toys all to himself. There were no big kids to take them away from him. Quickly Sherry said, "Look John, for the next hour, all these toys are yours to play with!" John's eyes widen, his lower lip stopped trembling, and he let out an appreciative "Oooooo!" After that we had a great hour.

Yes, it pays to read widely.

Our thanks to the late, great Charles M. Schulz, who saved the day with his wit and wisdom!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

SURVEY: What's the Strangest Children's Book You Remember?





What’s the strangest children’s book you read while you were growing up? When my brother and I were little and we were visiting our grandmother, we always made a bee line for one book, What Happened To George?.





This little gem was a Rand McNally Elf book. George was a good little pig. He was helpful around the Pig family house, helpful at school, helpful getting little old lady pigs across the street. But George had one problem. George ate too much. He snuck food in school, snuck down to the kitchen for midnight snacks. George was unstoppable. Then one day he came home and found his mother had baked donuts for the church bazaar. This was George’s undoing. With each donut George at he began to swell (what had Mother Pig put in those things?!). By 11 donuts he was huge. With the twelfth, the view switched to the outside of the house and a huge donut shaped cloud blew through the kitchen roof.






The story ends with George’s friends figuring George had turned into a blimp and flown away, George’s mother believed George had flown off to heaven, but wise old Grandpa pig (sitting on the front porch with a white Burl Ives goatee and a huge grin on his face) said, “He just plain burst!” End of story. Now what kind of story is that?!

So, what about you? What’s your strangest, most memorable, actually published children’s story? Go ahead, give us some details!

If you like what you read here, you can support this blog (don't let me go it alone here): You can order a copy of the children's book Michael and the New Baby directly from Old Line Publishing at: http://www.oldlinepublishingllc.com/index_files/OldLinePublishingChildrensMichaelandtheNewBabybyJSBrooks.htm 

What About the Bogeyman?

Michael and the New Baby uses some pretty fantastic and cranky characters to move the story along. Bob Keeshan, Captain Kangaroo (whom I watched as a kid and am now dating myself by admitting), states in his book Growing Up Happy that children live in a world of magic and that this world should be encouraged as it is one they will live in for only a short time. Of course, as all parents know, living in that magical world leads to trouble with monsters under the bed, sinister creatures in dark closets, and ghosts surely lurking between the bed and the light switch at 2AM when your child needs to get to the bathroom. All of this leads to young ones screaming in the night for parental assistance to drive off these terrible bogeymen ... and bogeywomen to be all-inclusive here. When my children were very small a psychologist I heard speaking on NPR agreed with the good Captain that children do indeed live in this magical world. She also stated there was nothing a parent could do to dissuade a child that magical creatures (benign and ominous) are real. No amount of logic will help; nor will repeated trips to the monster empty closet or sessions peering under a bed innocent of drooling fiends dissuade a kid of the certainty these evil beasts exist and are lively at night. But there is hope. She stated that what children will believe however is that you, the parent(s), do not permit such creatures in the house and that if they should ever even try to set one scaly toe or ectoplasmic finger inside that they will be in BIG TROUBLE! That children will believe, the psychologist insisted. I tried it ... skeptically ... and was astonished and delighted when IT WORKED! The assurance that my wife and I would give such fiends big trouble (what that big trouble was never was specified) was all the assurance it took for us to have peaceful nights (after the age of night terrors of course).
So tell me, what works for you? How do you keep away the “bogeyperson” at night?

Jesus Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed!

Wishing all of God's children everywhere a blessed Easter.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

One writer's new book experience

They say having a new book go out into the world is like sending your child off to school. You hope for the best ... but you worry a lot. Well, the other day, my daughter took Michael and the New Baby to middle school, making the metaphor literal after a fashion. She showed it to her friends and that was cool. They liked it. Then ... she showed it to her English teacher, who is pregnant with a second child (kind of the ideal market for the book actually). Her teacher borrowed the book to read. Now I felt like I had returned to the 7th grade and half expected this children's book to come back with a grade and corrections. The illustrator and I both found ourselves on edge. Now I know Stephen King is right in On Writing when he states there is no more insecure creature on the planet than a writer waiting to see how someone will respond to his or her book!

 In the end, we were both able to breathe again. The teacher enjoyed the book, had nice comments to make, and returned our copy without red marks. Phew!


If you like what you read here, you can support this blog (don't let me go it alone here): You can order a copy of the children's book Michael and the New Baby directly from Old Line Publishing at: http://www.oldlinepublishingllc.com/index_files/OldLinePublishingChildrensMichaelandtheNewBabybyJSBrooks.htm 

Thursday, April 2, 2009

So What's It All About?!

Michael and the New Baby addresses several issues children have when faced with the arrival of a new little brother or sister. Will there be enough love to go around? Do I have to share ... after all the baby already got my old baby toys? Are the fighting siblings on all those cartoon shows real? Does the TV always tell the truth? These are a few of the issues addressed in this book, all in an adventurous way and illustrated with wonderful, engaging cartoon illustrations.

The book blurb reads:

There's a new addition to the family and Michael is none too pleased. His transformation into Mr. Grumpy doesn't make things any easier. In fact, Michael has become so grumpy that the Stinky Roos decide he would make a great addition to their island where everyone is grumpy. Michael takes a dreamy journey to Stinky Roo Island where he begins to see things from a different perspective. This new outlook is all Michael needs to realize how wonderful his home is and perhaps even better with a new little sister in his life. This book is a wonderful tool for parents who may have children struggling to adapt to a new younger sibling.

Okay, now parents, just between us, I want to assure you the parents in this book are not depicted as dimwits as happens in children's books from time to time and I've put enough narrative and humor into the text to keep you from nodding off on the first read through. Hope you and your children like it ... and I hope it makes life just a little bit easier for everyone involved.