CWCO 2009 Thursday: “If You Send an Editor a Query Letter”

cwco_topic3Today is one of my favorite days of CWCO 2009: Real, live editors from Catholic publishing houses all over the country are going to be chatting with aspiring (and, in some cases, previously published) writers. Some writers pay hundreds or even thousands of dollars (I kid you not) for this kind of networking opportunity … and here at CWCO they get it for FREE!!!  (Of course, if an actual CONTRACT results from these discussions, you might want to make a donation of $20 or more to the CWCO coffers and get your a nifty conference e-book!)

In honor of today, I thought I’d dig out this little chestnut to entertain the troops while their waiting nervously for their turn.

 

Have you ever wondered what happens to the hundreds of query letters and proposals you have generated over the course of your writing career? Does some editorial assistant use it to line the bottom of her ferret cage? Do they cast shovels full of unsoliciteds onto the fire at the annual editorial weenie roast?

 

If you’ve ever wondered about this–or are just a fan of the full-circle themes of Laura Numeroff–keep reading. This piece, based loosely on the experiences of some editors I know (many of whom have exceptional assistants), offers a glimpse into the real world of editors everywhere. Enjoy.

If You Send an Editor a Query Letter…
(With thanks to Laura Numeroff.)
(c) 2004 by Heidi Hess Saxton

If you send an editor a query letter, she’ll want an SASE to go with it.

When she sees the SASE, it might remind her that she’s almost out of stamps. She is also low on Diet Coke and Excedrin Migraine. So Ms. Editor loads up her 1993 Toyota Tercel with three large bags of cans–last week’s soda supply–to take to the Piggly Wiggly on her lunch break.

On her way to lunch, Ms. Editor will pass the Fed Ex man, who is carrying a stack of boxes for her: three manuscripts (two of them late) and 260 proposals her cute-but-clueless new assistant requested while Ms. E. was out of the office last week. This reminds her to compose an ad to find Fabio’s successor.

As she faxes ad copy, Ms. E’s eagle-sharp editorial eyes will fall on her day planner: Meeting today at 3:00 with the publisher to discuss next year’s fall lineup. Ms. E. digs production quotes and sales projections for her top six proposals (including your query, which she skimmed with enthusiasm as she guzzled her lunch) out of the mountain of paper in her inbox, getting a paper cut in the process.

The blood reminds her of the last editorial planning meeting, when some hapless editor (never mind who) suggested going to contract again with a talented but unknown writer, whose last book sold so poorly that the warehouse was using remainders as door stops. Ms. E. shudders and combs her pile of proposals for evidence of marketability, leaving frantic messages for you to e-mail her sales figures for your previous books and a copy of your speaking schedule for the following year. While Ms. E. is on the phone, one stressed-out graphics designer and three unhappy authors leave their own frantic messages, on a line to which no one but her mother is supposed to have the number.

Thoughts of her mother will remind Ms. Editor of a manuscript her mother’s hairdresser’s nephew sent for review “when she has a free moment.” Ms. E’s mother has been gently chiding her daughter about it for the past month. It doesn’t seem to matter that the house Ms. E. works for doesn’t publish science fiction, or that the young man couldn’t write his way out of a paper bag. Ms. E. must convince her boss to publish it, or the hairdresser will make Mom look like she’s backed into a weed-wacker for her fiftieth high school reunion. Ms. E. reaches for the Excedrin next to her office clock, and sees it is now 3:05.

Late for the meeting, Ms. E. carries your e-mail between her teeth, proposals in one hand and her Diet Coke in the other, and sprints for the conference room. Her ideas are met with unanimous enthusiasm. Giddy, Ms. E. proposes to give you a six-figure advance and a three-book deal. Someone asks Ms. E. if she’s been sniffing glue.

The glue remark reminds her of the stamp on your SASE, which you so obligingly supplied. Ms. E. uses it to give you good news and bad news: They want to publish your book. But she doesn’t work there anymore. If you want the contract, Ms. E. adds, please send a full proposal and three sample chapters to her colleague, who was smart enough to keep her mouth shut during the previous editorial meeting.

A little surprised, you go ahead and submit the requested material, putting the new editor’s name on the envelope. Four weeks later, you get a form letter from the new-and-even-more-clueless editorial assistant. “Sorry, but we don’t accept unsolicited proposals. Next time you send a SASE… Be sure to send a query letter with it.”

Heidi Hess Saxton is the editorial director of ChristianWord.com, a freelance writing and editing business. She has ten years experience as an in-house editor, most recently as senior editor of a medium-sized CBA publishing house. For permission to reprint, contact Heidi at hsaxton@christianword.com.

CWCO 2009: RIP, Michael Dubruiel

In memory of Michael Dubruiel, who passed away suddenly yesterday, I’ve posted this reflection over at Mommy Monsters. Please take a moment to join the CWCO community in prayer for the Dubruiel-Welborn family.

Amy shares her thoughts about the ordeal here.

Michael’s final — and sobering — column can be found on Amy’s blog here.

Eternal rest grant to him, O Lord,
and may your perpetual light shine upon him.
May his soul, and the souls of all the faithful departed
Rest in peace.

CWCO 2009 (Wee Cook) Wednesday: Marketing!

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***Today Matt Pinto (Ascension Press) is unable to be with us at 4:00 for his chat, but is planning to join us in August at the Live Catholic Writers’ Conference!  Have you registered yet?***

Wednesdays at EMN are typically “Wee Cook Wednesdays,” with a recipe designed to keep family happy and you on track. So … before you head on over to the CWCO conference today, why not throw something in the crock pot that will taste like you’ve been in the kitchen all day?!

Just head on over to my personal blog “Mommy Monsters Inc” and feast your eyes on three chicken recipes you can whip up in a jiff … “Deadline Chicken” is my personal favorite.  A couple of sweet potatoes, cans of corn and beans, chicken pieces (fresh or frozen), and a jar of salsa is all you need to make you go “Mmmm!”

Today CWCO is devoted to all things marketing related: From how to put together a proposal or query letter to how to promote your book once it hits the store shelves. And, since today is about marketing, I thought I’d take a moment to put in a plug for the “Extraordinary Moms Network,” an online resource I created for mothers facing extraordinary challenges — especially mothers of adoptive, foster, and special-needs families. I also have a special place in my heart for military moms and women in difficult marriages. Some of the most popular features include:

Miracle Mondays: Stories of moms who overcome tremendous challenges
Wee Cook Wednesdays:  Kid-friendly recipes for busy moms
Weekend Ponderings:  Reflections from Scripture for Extraordinary Moms

If you or someone you know would like to be on the EMN mailing list, just drop me a line at hsaxton@christianword.com. God bless you!

Okay, now let’s all head on over to the Catholic Writers’ Conference Online. If you haven’t already done so, be sure to make a donation and get a free copy of the conference e-book! (You can do this even if you aren’t registered for this year’s conference….) 

Enjoy!

CWCO 2009: Recommended Reading from Ami McConnell

samsonToday Ami McConnell led a spirited discussion about good fiction — and how we can affect positive change in our culture with faith-based stories. She mentioned this novel by Lisa Samson, “The Passion of Margaret-Mary,” as an example of fresh voices of faith — Catholic voices, natch — that is doing just that!

Why not pick up a copy today?

CWCO 2009 Tuesday: Fiction!

cwco_topic1Like many writers, I have a novel that is always floating around in the twilight of my daily ponderings, a sort of “Christy” meets “Out of Africa” based on my experiences the year I spent teaching at a mission school in Senegal, West Africa. (In my darker moments I contemplate writing in a character based on someone who has a knack for getting on my last nerve, and having that person die from some lingering, exotic disease.) But like many of my great ideas, the book has never seen the light of day.  Like many writers, I have lots of creative ideas … but lack the skills (most notably the discipline) to pull it off.

If this sounds like you, congratulations! Today’s conference is just what you need to give you that virtual kick-in-the-pants to get your most treasured ideas on to actual paper. Whether your interest is murder mysteries or historical fiction or short stories, there is something just for you!

In between chats, don’t forget to check out the ongoing workshops, where you can get a jump start by writing that pivotal scene … and getting instant feedback!

Break a finger!

CWCO 2009 Monday: Workshops and Mission Statements

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If you logged on today expecting to see the regular “Miracle Monday” feature, this might be a bit of a shock on your system … All this week, EMN will be featuring an overview of the Catholic Writers’ Conference Online, which is a joint effort of the the Catholic Writer’s Guild and the Extraordinary Moms Network.

Today’s sessions are dedicated to introducing the online workshops that are being held this week. These are run much like online college classes — the lessons are posted for you to work through and post your comments and/or homework. The leader checks in throughout the day to respond to any questions you might have. This year we are offering the following workshops:

“Creative Calisthenics” with Terri Main
“Description and Setting” with Kim Richards
“Dialogue” with Devon Ellington
“Everything by Writing” with Sue Lick
“Generating Ideas for Fiction” with Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff
“How to Sell Yourself” with VS Grenier
“Humor Writing” with Ron Berry
“Publisher-Quality Manuscripts” with Frank Creed
“Query Letters that Sell” with Melanie Rigney
“What Editors Want” with Lea Schizas
“Worldbuilding” with Karina Fabian
“Writing the Short Screenplay” with Kristen Johnson

Finally, if you are one of the lucky few who are able to pitch a book idea to one of the real, live editors who will be joining us on Thursday … I have a chat scheduled this morning to offer you a few pointers!  (If you missed it, the chats are available for viewing in the workshop forum section of the website until the end of the conference.)  Continue reading

Who’s Who in Catholic Publishing: CWCO Begins!

cwco_topicMonday morning at 9 am, the second annual Catholic Writers Conference Online kicks off with a little talk I’m giving about how to pitch a book idea to a publisher.

In preparation for this, I gathered information from the publishers who will be represented for the conference, to give attendees an idea of the distinctive “voices” of each house. This information was gathered from editors, publishing websites and the  CPA website

Why do publishing houses need mission statements? Here’s one excellent explanation from Michael Hyatt, President of Thomas Nelson Publishing. Someday when I grow up, I’d like to work for this guy. Bottom line: We need them to give us the “light at the end of the tunnel,” so we know how we fit in the great cosmos of the publishing world … and when we are accomplishing our corporate goals, individually and as a team.

Christian publishers distinguish themselves from other kinds of publishing in their desire to contribute meaningfully to the spiritual lives of others. Our brothers and sisters in Christ are our primary customers, service providers, and (not to put too fine a point on it) the reason we’re around in the first place. This year, an extraordinary number of editors and other writing professionals have stepped forward to donate their expertise. With your indulgence, I’d like to take a few minutes to recognize them here.

Ami McConnell (Thomas Nelson Publishing)
Arthur Powers
Andrew McNabb
Carolyn Howard-Johnson
Cynthia Cavnar (Servant/Saint Anthony Messenger Press)
Danielle Bean, (“Faith and Family” Magazine)
David Dziena (Our Sunday Visitor Parish Services)
Devon Ellington
Elena-Maria Vidal
Frank Creed
Heather King
Helen Gallagher
Brian Saint Paul, Margaret Cabaniss, and Christina Jopson (“InsideCatholic.Com” e-zine)
Jaquelyn (Jackie) Lindsey (Our Sunday Visitor, trade books division)
Jeff Gardener (Catholic Radio International)
Joann Alberts, Trinity Direct Marketing
Judith Costello
Karina Fabian (President, Catholic Writers’ Guild)
Kristen Johnson
Kyle Eller (“Northern Cross” newspaper)
Lea Schizas
Lisa Wheeler (Maximus Group)
Maria Rivera
Mark Brumley (Ignatius Press)
Mark Shea
Matt Pinto (Ascension Press)
Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff
Melanie Rigney
Michelle Buckman
Mike Manno
Miki Tracy
Patricia Punt
Paul Pennick (Twenty-Third Publications)
Sr. Maria Grace Dateno, Sr. Christina Wegendt, and Diane Lynch (Pauline Books and Media)
Pete Vere
Ron Berry
Sally Stuart (Christian Writers’ Market Guide)
Sue Brinkmann, OCSD (“Canticle” Magazine)
Sue Lick
Sylvia Dorham
Terri Main
Terry Whalin (Intermedia Publishing)
Tom Grace
VS Grenier
Vinita Wright (Loyola Press)

On behalf of co-chair Karina Fabian and myself, thank you for making this week possible, and for doing your part to cultivate the next crop of bestselling Catholic authors!