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Monday, January 19, 2009

Credentials in Query Letters For Novels An Example From Real Life

Here is an example from my own query letter, written for one of my old Asian chick lit novels when I was still unpublished. This was originally published on Suite101.

An Example From Real Life

Here is a bio paragraph from a real query letter from an author who was unpublished at the time.

The credential or bio section of a query letter is important because it lists why the writer is qualified to write the novel being proposed in the query. It also shows the agent or editor the writer’s experience in the publishing industry and in the writing craft.

The best way to learn is by example, so here is an example bio paragraphs from a real query letter from the author, who was unpublished at the time she sent this query. There are also comments about each section of the bio paragraph at the end of the example.

Example One

Here is an example from a query letter this author submitted when still unpublished. The novel was an Asian American chick lit novel.

This novel explores the fast pace and urban lifestyle of the Silicon Valley professional, as well as the northern California Asian culture I have been immersed in for the past fourteen years. I belong to several writers' groups and critique groups including American Christian Romance Writers and Christian Writers' Group. My short stories have won various Writing.com contests, and I am also an editor for RubyZine, a Christian ezine for teenaged girls. I have been published in Write To Inspire newsletter, WordPraize multicultural e-zine, and Universal Personality e-zine. I have a feature article that will appear in the fall edition of Nikkei Heritage journal, published by the National Japanese American Historical Society, and a short story appearing next year in Arabella Magazine.

Breakdown Explanations of the Credential Paragraph

“the northern California Asian culture I have been immersed in for the past fourteen years”: this is telling why the author’s living situation helps qualify her to write this novel.

“American Christian Romance Writers and Christian Writers' Group”: both online writing communities. ACFW costs $50 a year, CWG was free, so you can see that online writing communities can be inexpensive.

“Writing.com contests”: a free writing community. The author entered many stories in a variety of user-hosted contests, and won a couple.

“an editor for RubyZine, a Christian ezine for teenaged girls”: an online blog started by a friend of the author. She had a monthly column which gave her the title of “editor”.

“Write To Inspire newsletter” and “Universal Personality e-zine: for each ezine, the author persisted and submitted a large number of article topics and stories. The editors finally liked one and published it. Payment was very small, but the publishing credit was worth much more.

“WordPraize multicultural e-zine”: the author wrote for free.

“Nikkei Heritage journal, published by the National Japanese American Historical Society”: this credit shows the author’s writing in a field related to the novel. The author wrote for free for this one.

“Arabella Magazine”: this publication folded soon after the query letter was sent, but it didn’t matter because it was a legitimate writing credit.

Gain Credentials

Hopefully this example will help you brainstorm ideas for how you can attain writing credentials for your own query letter.

Look at online writing communities like free forum boards and free communities like Writing.com.

Explore ezines that don’t pay for articles, but which would give a legitimate writing credit.

Be persistent in submitting a variety of different article ideas or short stories to ezines, journals, and websites—one article idea or short story is sure to stick.

Look for local writing opportunities in local newsletters, church newsletters, and local journals. They often don’t pay, but the writing credit is valuable.

9 comments:

  1. I've always been frustrated by the credentials issue, and I wish I could say the article helps or offers something new for me to try. Not all types of novels lend themselve to expertise or writing credentials.

    Writing credentials first. When I started writing, I saw advice everywhere that I should build up a credits list of short stories. The only way I could do that was to write outside my genre because magazines didn't exist (there are at least two genres where this is particularly an issue). But if I wrote outside the genre, then I couldn't use the credit.

    Expertise: Not all books lend themselves to having an expertise. What about a fantasy where the world is completely made up? I've seen query letters where the only qualification the writer could come up with was that he read fantasy.

    Or how about where having the knowledge actually won't help in the expertise department because it isn't enough compared to the standard. I co-write a thriller set during the Civil War. Co-writer lived in the area and had general knowledge, and we did research for specific things. He thought we could build credentials by writing articles on the Civil War--at least until we saw the Civil War magazines. We'd done research, but it didn't count as an expertise.

    My current one, an urban fantasy, at least plays into this better with the hook. I can do something in the bio with it. But my next one probably another one I'm going to have trouble building the bio paragraph with. Everything about it is going to be fictional; even the research is proving to be nearly impossible.

    It works for some books, but not for all of them.

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  2. Garridon,
    I understand your frustration, but you have more than you realize.

    But if I wrote outside the genre, then I couldn't use the credit.

    Yes, you can use the credit. Anything published is usable. "I have had short stories published in X, Y, and Z magazines." It doesn't matter if those magazines are SFF and your story is a thriller--they're still publishing credits.

    "I write a Verse of the Week column for my church newspaper." This is still a publishing credit even if your story is a fantasy novel--it tells the editor that you've worked with other editors, you can meet deadlines, and you can write according to a word count.

    Expertise: You don't have to be a PhD to have expertise. I'm not an engineer, but I did research for my characters' careers in Silicon Valley. I'm not a video game developer, but I did research and interviews for my heroine's career in video game development in Single Sashimi.

    What you can do is to list your research experience in your query letter. For example, Randy Ingermanson and John Olson are not astronauts, but in their query letter, they talked about the research and interviews they did for their novel Oxygen.

    While Randy is a physicist and John is a biochemist, both of their careers really have nothing to do with space flight (Randy is a theoretical particle physicist--Big Bang, not space flight--while John's biochemistry experience would only apply to a colonization attempt on Mars, not spaceflight).

    However, in their query letter, they wrote: "We have both spent months researching NASA, the Mars Semi-Direct plan, and the complex web of issues behind a manned Mars mission -- including its profound implications on current evolutionary theory."

    They listed the specific things they were researching--NASA, the Mars Semi-Direct plan, the complex issues behind a manned Mars mission--to show that they knew what they were writing about, even if neither of them were astronauts.

    Here's another example. A writer I know is writing an epic Science Fiction novel that is mostly about a universal war, but it also circles around a trait passed down through generations that enables superhuman abilities connected with special minerals. The fantasy isn't entirely about genetics, but she did extensive research into genetics to see what trait or protein or genetic marker would theoretically be passed down.

    In her query letter, she could state, "I have done extensive research and interviews with Dr. Ima Genius, geneticist at the University of Mars, and other biologist researchers to craft a family history and a plausible genetic affinity with the earth minerals in my story, creating a sense of realism and possibility to the novel."

    Listing the interviewee by name and what they specifically talked about (a plausible genetic affinity with the earth minerals) gives her credibility in her query letter.

    If your story is about a fictional monster, you can still list any research you did into creating that monster--maybe any special traits it possesses or a special place it lives.

    If your story is about a fictional world, you can list any research you did into how you developed the political, agricultural, ethnic, and social systems.

    Basically, I'm saying to think outside the box and to delve into the specifics of your story to list what research you had to do, and then list it as specifically as you can without being tedious (for example, don't list all the books and articles you read but list people you talked to or whose work you researched: "I researched the work of Dr. Ima Genius, anthropologist at the University of San Jose, when developing the society of the pre-historic culture in the book.").

    Camy

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  3. This blog blows me away with the great tips and wealth of information. I've had it bookmarked for about three months and I'm continually stunned at the content.
    Thank you very much!
    Jill Kemerer

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  4. Thanks, Jill! I'm glad it's been helpful.
    Camy

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  5. [i]Yes, you can use the credit. Anything published is usable. "I have had short stories published in X, Y, and Z magazines." It doesn't matter if those magazines are SFF and your story is a thriller--they're still publishing credits.[/i]

    Let me clarify my experience. When most people start writing, they tend to gravitate towards a couple of genres or topics.

    I didn't. I couldn't figure out what I wanted to write, so I wandered all over the place. So much so that I can't even pick three credits that are remotely similar unless they're in the same magazine.

    Even when I submitted a query the first time, my gut instinct was to question including credits. Yes, they said I was published. Yes, they said I had worked with an editor. But what they also said was that I couldn't figure out what to write, and maybe that said I was a risk to the agent.

    Because this is a topic of concern to me, I have been following various discussions on it. What I've gathered is that credits should relate to what you're submitting; if not, then it's better off leaving them out (i.e., saying you published a technical paper on the cons of aspirin probably is going to get the wrong kind of reaction if you're pitching a romance novel to an agent). I've also seen discussions on what contests to include as credits (winning Writer's Digest vs. winning Acme Writing Contest) and whether the online magazines should count or not. Scam publications like National Library of Poetry shouldn't be used as credits, but I've seen them turn up in queries for critique.

    I do think the Internet has made the area of what is published very fuzzy and that's created some problems. It may be worth discussing on what is a publication credit.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Garridon, let me put it this way--if you don't have 20 credits to choose from (you typically put only about 5 credits in a query letter, you can put more in the bio section of a proposal), then your column for the church newsletter is as valid to put in a query letter as your short story in Women's World magazine.

    As I mentioned before, a publishing credit tells the editor that you've worked with other editors, you can meet deadlines, and you can write according to a word count.

    Even if your credits are in different genres, it still accomplishes what it's supposed to: it tells the editor that you've worked with other editors, you can meet deadlines, and you can write according to a word count.

    Editors are human, and they realize acquiring writing credits when you're a fiction writer is a lot harder than acquiring writing credits when you're a non fiction writer. They're used to fiction writers acquiring credits anywhere and everywhere.

    Now, if you have 20 different credits you can list, then it would make sense to choose credits closer to the genre you're writing in.

    But if you don't have 20 credits, then 5 you do have are fine to put in a query letter. At the very least, it tells the editor you're actively trying to get more publishing experience, but the experience you were able to get wasn't in the genre of your novel.

    You're right in that you should avoid including scam credits. It just makes you look unprofessional.

    You're also right in that if you have technical articles as your publishing credit but you're writing fiction, those technical credits will not hold as much weight as a short story credit. However, listing a technical article credit still tells the editor that you've worked with other editors, you can meet deadlines, and you can write according to a word count.

    And if all you have are unrelated technical articles or stories in ezines and websites in genres completely unrelated to your story, then you should try to find more credits within your genre.

    The problem with that is that sometimes there aren't many ezines or websites that publish stories in your genre.

    But what you can do is participate in smaller writing contests. Many small contests don't specify a genre or have broad genre categories. You can enter stories in your genre and if you final or win, that's a writing credit--plus you won with a story within your novel's genre.

    I won a few short story contests on Writing.com, and while it's not as prestigious as Writer's Digest, it was still a writing credit I was able to list on my earlier query letters, before I acquired other credits with more prestige. At the time, I was writing action romance, and there was no magazine, ezine, or website I could submit to for writing credits because most wanted either action stories or romance stories, not a combo of both. So the Writing.com contests helped me to acquire writing credits. Later, I won in the Suspense category of the American Christian Fiction Writers Noble Theme contest, which was a more prestigious credit and replaced the Writing.com contest wins in my query letter.

    In my first article about credentials in query letters, I mention that in the credential section of the query letter, you don't have to list only articles and stories published. You can also list writing organizations you belong to. And in the article as well as in my earlier comment, I mention that you can also include your research for your novel.

    So while I understand your frustration with your writing credits, you don't have to list them if you don't want to. You can list other things like organizations or research experience. I've seen several query letters where the author doesn't have many (if any) writing credits, but they list writing organizations and research experience, and that's perfectly acceptable in a query letter.

    Bottom line: If you can choose from among several writing credits, then you're right--choose writing credits closer to your genre or more pertaining to your novel.

    But if you don't have many writing credits or any credits that relate to your novel or your genre, then listing unrelated credits is still fine, as long as you avoid the scam credits.

    Camy

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  7. It is so helpful to see a real example of a query letter. Thanks for sharing, Camy!

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  8. You're welcome, Megan! You can also see other query letters (entire ones) on the Seekerville blog at this post. You can also see a query letter broken down into parts with examples at this Seekerville blog post.

    Camy

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  9. This is great, Camy, thanks! I've been trying to brainstorm ideas on what I can do to bulk up my platform, and this really helps.

    I'm also really enjoying your discussion with Garridon- his frustrations are widespread among us pre-pubbed authors, I'm sure! I appreciate his willingness to share those frustrations, and your willingness to help him- and therefore the rest of us- work through those complications!

    Thanks again!

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