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Posts tagged ‘Book reviews’

Query Letter Mistakes

Cheesy lead. Don’t be cute. Skip the rhetorical questions. The “What if you were stuck on a sailboat in a hurricane with a mysterious killer” teasers get old fast. Better to lead with the facts; otherwise your reader may feel as if you’re trying to manipulate him or her to create more sensation than pure fact warrants.

Addressing the Editor. Do Not begin the query with “Hey…” It is disrespectful and may stop an editor on the spot! It reeks of unprofessionalism and childishness.

Bobbled blurbs. The biggest problems we see with blurbs are 1) too many characters and secondary characters when only the main character should be the emotional hook, 2) a description that’s more thematic than plot-driven (i.e., this book is about peace and love), 3) the author attempts to tell the whole story, including the ending, when he or she should use the blurb as a teaser instead.

Appearance. The letter looks bad, smells, is printed on cheap paper or photocopied, etc. We also receive e-queries that are poorly formatted (all caps, colored and silly fonts, goofy pictures in the signature line) or that lose their formatting once they are sent. TIP: Do yourself a favor and test your e-query to make sure it keeps its formatting by sending it to a bunch of your family members and friends to see what it looks like in their inboxes. Then you can send it to agents.

Mentioning prior manuscripts (and/or certain self-published books). If you’ve written three unpublished book manuscripts in the past, best not to mention them. Otherwise the agent in question may be intimidated by your prior projects, thinking, “If I take on his/her current project, the writer will probably pester me to represent all those previous books that, for whatever reason, didn’t sell.” The same goes for self-published manuscripts, which agents will look at the same way as unpublished manuscripts UNLESS you have significant accolades for your self-published book.

The multiple personality bio. Often writers will inadvertently begin their bios in first person, but wind up in third. Be on the lookout for pronouns gone wild! Also, some bios will begin in present tense, but then end in past. And, as always, it helps to have a strong bio.

Groveling. It may seem like it makes sense to acknowledge your own humility by pointing out a lack of experience, but resist this urge. Confidence wins hearts.

TMI. While it’s always good to convey your own unique personality in your bio, be careful not to include too much information. If your novel is about sailors, it may help to include your background in the Coast Guard. Be personable and interesting, but do so with care.

Listing publishing credits that aren’t really publishing credits. Be careful that the publishing credentials you’re listing are not part of poetry contest scams or anthology scams. Including bad credits suggests you don’t know the market (and therefore don’t know good writing).

Copyright. Industry standard is to not include the copyright symbol on your work.

Cover art. If you include cover art, you show a) that you don’t know how the industry works (since writers get almost no say over their covers), and b) that you might just be the kind of high-maintenance writer who wants complete control.

If you flatter, mean it. Agents can often see straight through the “I greatly admire your agency” bit; they know a generic form letter compliment when they see one. If you’re going to take the approach of flattery, be specific in your praise.

Some common phrases that authors should NEVER use in query letters:
This is the first book I’ve ever written! If this is true, you don’t need to say it; better to position yourself as a person who knows the biz (which means you must be a person who knows it!).

I’ve been writing since I was five. Writers who feel compelled to explain that “I’ve been writing since I was X years old” or that “It is my greatest wish to get published” inadvertently declare to editors, “I am a newbie.” It’s presumed that you’ve been writing since you were X years old and now want to get a book published. That’s what every writer wants.

This would make a great movie. Almost everyone thinks his or her book could be a great movie. You want your query letter to ask your agent to do one thing and one thing only: represent and sell your BOOK—not a screenplay, not a series of action figures, not your foreign rights. Let the publisher in question decide if your book is screen worthy or not.

This book will appeal to readers of all genres. Editors want to work with writers who understand that each genre appeals to a very specific demographic. When you say, “This appeals to everyone,” an agent will read, “This appeals to no one in particular.”

My friends/parents/teachers like my writing. We often read how new writers get a favorable response to their writing from close ones. But unless your mom or dad is a renowned literary critic, leave off any amateur praise.

Oprah will love this book. If the story is solid and the writing is strong, there’s no reason an author should feel obligated to proclaim that a book is the next Harry Potter. Don’t promise what you have no control over. Your work should speak for itself.

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Consider writing for The Path, a literary magazine…

The Path
The Path to Publication Group publishes the literary publication – The Path. You are invited to submit short stories, essays, novellas, book reviews and poems for inclusion in the semi-annual issues.
The theme for this issue is “A Can of Worms”. Please consult our website for the most current information: http://www.pathtopublication.net and http://www.thepathmagazine.com. Past contributors will receive a call for submissions by e-mail, automatically.
1) Short stories and essays – over 2500 words
2) Poetry – 1 page

Please polish your manuscripts to the best of your ability and, of course, have someone else edit your work before sending to Path to Publication. Do not format your work: no page numbers, no headers or footers, no footnotes, no paragraph indentations (skip a line for paragraph spacing). Manuscripts must be submitted in Microsoft Word or RTF form. Font: Times New Roman – size 12. All submissions must be submitted electronically, as e-mail attachments, to: mjnickum@thepathmagazine.com.

Deadline for submission: October 31, 2015

All rights are retained by the author, and there will be no compensation for accepted work at this time*.

*Because we are staffed by volunteers, we can only compensate our writers in exposure to our audience. Our columnists enjoy great publicity for their own blogs, books, websites, and projects. Many find great reward in doing something good for the world of literature and literacy. You may also purchase add space to further promote your work.

Writing Book Reviews

I’ve written book reviews and used book reviews in my profession as a Public Services Librarian for over 25 years. Many of us use book reviews when deciding to purchase a book for ourselves or someone else. There are various publications that include book reviews, including local newspapers, magazines, and dedicated publications, such as Library Journal and the Kirkus Review. We must recognize the difference between reviews and flyers or catalogs. Flyers and catalogs sent by publishers and distribution houses, such as Book-of-the-Month Club, are not reviews. They are “informational” snippets designed to sell you the book. They won’t tell you if the plot doesn’t move or the characters are flat.

Many newspapers and other review media buy book reviews. Have you ever thought of writing book reviews for fun and “profit?” Fun is probable, “profit” is relative. But those who buy reviews often pay per word, just as most columns. In fact you could be the sole contributor to a column for book reviews. The outlet, whether newspaper or magazine, will decide the broad subject area of the books to be reviewed. You may get to choose the books or the editor may choose which books will be covered. If you are proposing a book review column, you may wish to begin by proposing a column regarding books about the outdoors. Then, if the outlet says their readers are most interested in hunting and fishing, you can suggest several titles of new books that would fit this column. Be prepared to provide details of your background in education and experience or provide writing samples, showing you are knowledgeable about this field.
When you’ve secured a column in the local Sunday newspaper to review the newest books on hunting and fishing you need to be able to find the books to review. You might begin your search in bookstores to find publishers’ names. Don’t wait for books to arrive in the bookstore before deciding which books to review, however. Most commonly you’ll review the book based on the Advanced Reader’s Copy (ARC). ARCs are proof copies or pre-publication copies produced by the publisher as a last check before final printing. These can only be obtained from the publisher and may not be sold or distributed by the recipient. To obtain these copies, write directly to the publisher. Choose publishers based on books that you know or have seen in the bookstore. Write to them describing your column, how often your column will be published, the circulation of the paper or magazine and a little of your background. Most publishers will be more than willing to supply you with ARCs and they will be free of charge. Most likely, they will add your name to their mailing list for future books in the same field. Yes, you saw this coming, you’ll have the column and free books to add to your collection as well!
Now, what exactly is a book review and how is it constructed? Book reviews are just that; they tell the reader a little about the author, what the book is about, how useful it will be and who will find it interesting. Book reviews are often short, sometimes 200-300 words, but reviews in your column, depending on how many books will be covered in each column and the limits imposed by the editor, could be as long as 500-600 words.

A book review should focus on the book’s purpose, content, and authority. A critical book review is not a book report or a summary. It is a reaction paper in which strengths and weaknesses of the material are analyzed. It should include a statement of what the author has tried to do, evaluate how well, in your opinion, the author has succeeded, and present evidence to support this evaluation. There is no right way to write a book review. Book reviews are highly personal and reflect the opinions of the reviewer.
My formula for a book review is:
1. List the specifics of the publication, including title, author, publisher, place of publication, price, and other details as required by your publication.
2. Identify the author of the book and his/her accomplishments in two or three sentences.
3. Discuss the contents of the book while analyzing its strengths and weaknesses.
4. Provide an overall evaluation and recommendation as to its use and users.

Begin by reading some good book reviews if you haven’t been paying attention to them before now. The New York Times Book Review section is considered the “gold standard.” Many magazines contain a book review or two when the editors become aware of a title that fits the focus of the magazine. Newspapers are harder to pinpoint. Some, especially, smaller town, local papers carry only reviews of books by local authors. Some carry none at all. Larger city papers usually have a book review section in the Sunday paper. Many of those reviews are syndicated but the paper may take some local reviews as well.
Book reviewing sounds easy and the writing seems to be not too burdensome. However, to do a good job, you must read the entire book, which can be time consuming. You may need to check some of the facts with a specialist, much as you’d verify facts in any other piece of writing. The more reading you have done in the field for which you plan to review, the better equipped you’ll be to provide meaningful reviews.

Good luck and most of all, have fun!

Published in: Outdoors Unlimited, January 2010

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