June 26th, 2004 Chat with Shelia Gregorie
Create Your Byline
[Moe] Hello and welcome! Tonight we’ll be talking to Sheila Wray Gregoire. We’ll be using protocol, so please type “?” to ask a question, “!” to make a comment, and “GA” for go ahead to signify you’re done speaking. WE WILL CALL ON YOU IN TURN.
[Moe] Feel free to use emoticons (the codes will pop up in another screen if you click on the ? in the lower left corner) but please leave text colour for our Author and myself.
[Sheila] Hello all. I’m excited about tonight, and hope that I can help answer some questions.
[Jacqueline] Sheila Wray Gregoire, author of To Love, Honor and Vacuum, has published numerous magazine articles and writes a syndicated parenting column. She and her husband homeschool their two girls, and when she’s not writing, she can be found in the garden.
[Jacqueline] Creating your byline: If you want to learn how to break in to print, here’s how! Learn what a query letter is, how to craft one, and who to approach.
[Jacqueline] Please give Sheila a warm welcome and get ready to learn!
[Jacqueline] Welcome, Sheila!
[Candy] ! WELCOME !
[BettyD] thanks for being here, Sheila
[Moe] Yeahhh Sheila….
[JulieUmph] Welcome Sheila
[Sheila] This is fun! It will be a learning experience for me, too.
[Beth] hand clapping sounds
[silverlily] Welcome Sheila
[Moe] Just a reminder: We’re using protocol so please type “?” to ask a question, “!” to make a comment, and “GA” for go ahead to signify you’re done speaking. WE WILL CALL ON YOU IN TURN
[Jacqueline] Sheila, is there a perfect query letter?
[Sheila] No. But there are definitely perfectly awful query letters. And editors can spot them in two seconds flat and send them to the trash heap. So the question is: how do you catch an editor’s eye and hold it? And that’s what a query is supposed to do.
[Sheila] I’d like to start with some basic definitions in case some people don’t know. A query letter is basically your pitch to get permission to send an article and/or book proposal to an editor. Hardly any editors will look at them without first seeing a query, so it’s important to know how to write one.
[Sheila] A query, at its most basic, says “Would you like to see an article (or book) on this subject”, and then shows the editor why you’re the best one to handle it. It’s a way of selling yourself as much as your idea.
[Jacqueline] ga, Betty
[BettyD] Do you hold firmly to the “write what you know” school of thought, or constantly learn new things so you can write about them too?
[Sheila] Both. I think writing what you know is the easiest way to break in, because you already are an expert and you can be passionate about a subject. But you should always be researching and learning to spot new ideas. Eventually you run out of all your good ones!
[Sheila] At the same time, writing what you know can be a little dangerous, because you start with you as the focal point. It’s better to choose a magazine that you like, and figure out what kind of articles/stories they like. What kind of readers do they attract? What do those readers need to know?
[Sheila] Once you zero in on the readers, you can more easily figure out an angle you know something about, but that appeals to the editors because you’ve already taken them into consideration.
[BettyD] good advice
[Sheila] It’s the same with books, though it’s more tricky. You can’t sell your book as “this is the greatest thing on earth”. You need to show the editors “This is what people are looking for.” Start with the people, not you, and editors will notice.
[Sheila] For many of us, writing is part of our souls. It just flows out of us. But for editors and publishers, it’s about what will sell. We come at it completely differently, and when you’re approaching an editor, you have to come at it from their point of view. And that’s hard.
[Sheila] So show them why people care about this particular topic. Like, if you’re writing a story about grief, tell them in your query that 1 in 5 women miscarry, that most women will be widows at some point, that at any given time, many of us are dealing with loss and will seek out this information.
[Sheila] Boy, I’m getting depressing. Should have used a different example.
[silverlily] lol……it gets your point across
[Sheila] In queries, editors love statistics. How many people in the demographic group they appeal to (depending on the magazine or target audience) deal with this? If you can find a statistic and open your query with it, you’re ahead of hte game.
[Sheila] I’ll post a few sample query letters up on my site tomorrow, if you’d like. You’ll be able to find them by following the links at http://www.SheilaWrayGregoire.com. But they won’t be there tonight!
[Sheila] I divide a query letter into four parts:
[Jacqueline] Thanks, Sheila!
[Sheila] First, a statistic or anecdote to catch the editor’s attention (I never start with “I love your magazine and read it faithfully. I’m writing because…”). I start right in with the anecdote/etc.
[Sheila] Second, I introduce the topic of the article and tell why it is vitally important to their readers that they read an article/book on this subject.
[Sheila] Third, I tell how the article will be structured: its length, 3 or 4 points I plan to cover, any experts who will be interviewed, and any supplementary material that will be provided (sidebars (does anybody need a definition), photographs, charts, etc.)
[Sheila] Fourth, I tell who I am and what my qualifications are to write this. Even if you don’t have printed publications, you can talk about your life experience that ties in with the article/book topic.
[Sheila] And that’s it. The hardest part is numbers 1 and 2. If you can catch the editor’s attention at first, and then show them why their readers would care, the rest is easy.
[Sheila] You need query letters for articles, books, and even stories now. The only exception might be newspaper writing if something is very timely. For that, you’re permitted to fax or phone.
[Sheila] The good part about the query is the time it saves you. You don’t have to actually write the article/book until somebody says they want to see it. So you could send out queries on ten different topics to ten different magazines, and keep yourself busy that way.
[BettyD] assuming I have ten different ideas
[Sheila] Chances are, not everyone will say yes, and if they do, they won’t say yes all at once (it can take up to four or five months to hear back sometimes). So you have plenty of time to write when you do hear something positive!
[Sheila] Let’s say you don’t have ten ideas. Let’s say that you only have one, an idea about how to save money. You can slant it to ten different publications.
[Sheila] You can write to a teen magazine about how to make and save money, to a woman’s magazine about how to save on grocery bills, to a family magazine on how to save for college, and to a mature living magazine on how to save on basic household expenditures.
[Sheila] Then, once you sell your article (and you will if you learn to write good queries!), you can sell it again to another publication as a reprint. That’s the really fun part. It’s like free money.
[BettyD] I like that!
[Sheila] The funny thing is, you need a query now for almost everything. Very few publications accept “unsolicited manuscripts” (meaning no query). Even magazines that don’t pay! So query-writing is an important skill.
[Sheila] One of the big problems we can get into is to try to query on an article that’s too broad. Say you’re writing for a parenting magazine, and you propose “How to Discipline Your kids
[Sheila] That’s too much. Try instead, “How to keep your toddler from having a tantrum at the checkout line”. That’s more manageable, and could provide a “new” angle for an editor.
[Sheila] Then, once you’ve narrowed your topic, choose only 3 or 4 points to develop. Don’t try to list all the things you have to do, because you can’t do it justice. Hone in on 3 or 4 things, mention these in your query, and you’ll look more professional than if you give a huge list of —
[Sheila] all the suggestions you’re going to make. Does anybody have any questions because I’m typing a lot .
[Jacqueline] Candy has a question.
[Candy] I need help with a byline….I can never seem to get one to sound the way I want it to. Any ideas?
[Sheila] Do you mean a bio? That’s a hard one, because I always want mine to be way longer than they give you room for.
[Candy] Yes….I can’t seem to think of enough… LOL
[Sheila] Usually they like it if you can be humorous and tie in to the article in question (Candy is the mother of a toddler who has now learned that chocolate bars are not automatic when she shops at Loblaw’s).
[Candy] What about for a novel?
[Sheila] But as a writer, that’s not what you want, because you want something that will advertise you. I try to include my website and the title of my book or the types of articles I usually write in my bio, and try to keep it as short as possible to make it more likely they’ll print the whole thing.
[Candy] ok…Sounds good! Thanks!
[Sheila] For a novel you usually have more leeway because you’ll be given a bit on the back cover. Again, you want two questions: how can I make this interesting (so it will get read), but how can this further my career?
[Candy] And that’s where I get stuck! LOL
[Sheila] So don’t just be funny, but put in the sort of thing you want to be known as. “Candy can be found writing children’s books and learning about kids, as she visits local schools, talks to the blind and makes the lame to walk” sort of thing.
[Candy] I see….Gives me something to think about. Thanks bunches!
[Sheila] For instance, I want to be known as somebody who writes and speaks on parenting and marriage topics, because I’m trying to get speaking engagements across the country. So I always include that in my bio “Sheila speaks at women’s events throughout Ontario”
[Moe] <candy-bios don’t need to be long. the bio for the book i’m reading now is four short sentences.>
[Sheila] Anybody else?
[Moe] Silverlily is next.
[silverlily] what would you advise against in a query
[Candy] ! Thanks Moe
[Jacqueline] ga, Silverlily
[Sheila] The big thing not to do is to “suck up”. Don’t talk about why you love the magazine, how you’ve read it since you were 8 1/2, or how you really liked last month’s articles. Editors don’t care.
[Sheila] Get right to the point. What is your topic, why is it important to their readers (not to you), and how are you going to be original with it?
[Sheila] The other big no no, as I said before, is to try something too broad. Magazines have to have articles that seem “new”. Look at the cover of Cosmo, and almost every month they’ll tell you about a great new discovery about a new sexual technique LOL. Like there is such a thing after all the time
[Sheila] But the point remains: new sells. And it’s easier to be new if you hone your topic onto something manageable.
[Sheila] Finally, study the magazine. What sorts of articles do they publish? Don’t propose your personal musings on something if they don’t publish opinion pieces. But there are whole magazines devoted to opinion pieces, so just look for the right fit.
[Jacqueline] Sheila, would you mind if we took a moment to give away your doorprize?
[Sheila] No, that would be great.
[Jacqueline] Sheila Wray Gregoire is offering an autograph copy of her book To love, Honor and Vacuum as a doorprize.
[Jacqueline] I love that title!
[Moe] Is your book, available right now, Sheila?
[Sheila] I have it in my possession, but it won’t be in bookstores until about the middle to end of July.
[Jacqueline] And I know who the lucky winner is
[Sheila] If anyone wants a copy, though, they can order it from me for $10 US or $16 CA.
[Jacqueline] drum roll, ;leaseeeee
[Glenda] crash of the cymbals
[Moe] sorry that’s the best I could do.
[Jacqueline] Congratulations Beth!!!
[Moe] Yeah beth.
[Beth] I had a feeling…
[ElaineHopp] rump pum pum pum
[BettyD] yay Beth!!
[Glenda] congrats to Beth
[Beth] NEVER win anything!!!
[JulieUmph] Yeah beth lucky girl!
[silverlily] Congradulations Beth
[Candy] Good deal Beth….!
[Moe] Please email Sheila with your address
[Beth] thanks very much!
[Beth] will do
[Candy] Always a bridesmaid…never a bride. heheheh!
[Moe] Sheila could you provide your email, please
[Beth] saved the web site addy to check out query samples later
[Beth] can email from there, right?
[Moe] Be sure to visit Sheila’s website
[Beth] got it, thanks!
[Candy] Already have it bookmarked!
[Candy] Thank you very much Sheila for your insight….I have learned a lot!
[silverlily] THank you for your time with us Sheila
[Jacqueline] Sheila, this was a very informative chat! Thank you so much.
[ElaineHopp] thank you Sheila! What great information!
[JulieUmph] Well goodnight every one I really hope I make it back missed a few weeks but I so love learning from those who know.
[Sheila] Good night.