Kissing Zombies and Blowing Up the World: An Interview with Adam Selzer

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By Erin Bellavia (Billiard)

Adam Selzer, a Chicago-based author, musician, and ghost-hunter, has published nine books. His most recent young-adult (YA) novel, I Kissed a Zombie and I Liked It, has been praised by Kirkus, Publisher’s Weekly, and the School Library Journal, and the film rights have been optioned by Disney. On the deal, Selzer says, “I don’t know if they’ll actually make it, but it’s an honor just for them to think of me.”

The idea for I Kissed a Zombie came from a song Selzer wrote in 2000 called “I Thought She was a Goth.” His editor at Random House heard the song and suggested that he write a novel based on it.

His Smart Aleck’s Guide to American History, a history book for young adults, has been compared to Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert by Publisher’s Weekly and the School Library Journal. In addition to his YA novels and nonfiction books, Selzer has also published middle-grade novels. His latest, Andrew North Blows Up the World, was released last year.

His first novel, How to Get Suspended and Influence People, was nominated for a Cybils 2007 Young Adult Fiction award. In 2009, Selzer and the novel made national news when a parent tried to have it removed from a library in Idaho.

Toasted Cheese had the chance to talk to Selzer about his writing.

Toasted Cheese: When/how did you get started writing?

Adam Selzer: Kindergarten—as soon as I knew how to construct words out of letters, I got right to it.

TC: Who influenced you as a writer?

AS: Daniel Pinkwater* is probably my biggest influence. See, it’s like this: when you watch a Busby Berkeley musical scene in a movie, you think “now here is a guy who figured out that he could do things in movies that he could never do onstage.” With Pinkwater, I got the idea that you could do stuff in books that you could never manage in movies. And it helped me develop the sense that there’s a whole weird world lurking under the surface of everyday life, a lesson I badly needed to learn before I could become a decent writer.

TC: Every writer dreams of the day they can quit their day job. When (and how) did that day arrive for you?

AS: Well, I never really had one, unless you count eleven years of retail and restaurant gigs. I still don’t exactly make big bucks as a writer, but I found I was making better money than I did washing dishes or slinging coffee. I still pick up odd jobs—I worked as a copywriter for a miserable company downtown for a couple of months, and, I worked for the census this spring, which was a lot of fun. The threat of going back to retail work still looms large in my nightmares, though.

TC: Describe a typical “workday” for you. Where do you write? For how long?

AS: I have the coolest desk in the world. It is a go-go-gadget desk. It’s a rolltop that I customized to have secret compartments, locks, and all kinds of cool stuff. But for some reason, I absolutely can’t write at it. I almost never even try. But I’m the first one in at the coffee shop down the block most mornings—if I’m not in by 7:30, they expect me to bring a note explaining my tardiness. I usually write a few hours per day.

TC: You’ve published both fiction and nonfiction. Can you tell us about the processes involved in each?

AS: Other than the research, it’s pretty much the same process of organizing ideas and shuffling stuff around, really.

TC: What’s the hardest part of writing for you?

AS: Usually the middle part of a first draft. I can come up with concepts for books, and how to end them, without too much trouble, but figuring out how to get from point A to point B can be tricky—especially in a middle-grade book, where you can’t just let the narrator run his or her mouth off for a few pages here and there.

TC: What are you working on now?

AS: Revisions for the follow-up to Zombie, a book that takes place three years later in the same town, as well as making notes for another paranormal YA, a non-paranormal YA, and a couple of middle grade books and, hopefully, another Smart Aleck’s Guide. The key to keeping out of retail is to work a lot, I think, so I do! I’m also editing a documentary about a statue of a naked guy with angel wings riding a tricycle that was at my mall when I was a kid. I never realized there was anything unusual about it back then (man, did I need Daniel Pinkwater!) and a collection of essays on pop culture and life in Chicago.

TC: Like most writers, you have an active online presence (website, Facebook, Twitter, etc). How important is the social media aspect of marketing, and how does it work for you?

AS: It’s important because it’s an easy way to get attention, which I’m not ashamed to admit I love. I don’t know how well it works, exactly, but it sure doesn’t hurt. Having a Facebook fan page is a much better way to connect than an old-fashioned mailing list.

TC: What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

AS: Read. Read a lot. Read classics and figure out why they’re classics (and don’t just say it’s because some professor said so). Then read bad books and figure out what makes them bad.

I gave Adam five topics and asked him for a “list of five” on each. Here are his responses:

Five authors you admire:

  1. Daniel Pinkwater—I’ve based my life on his teachings, and travel to places he wrote about around Chicago regularly. Those that haven’t been torn down for condos or a Starbucks, anyway.
  2. Charles Dickens—especially the mid-to-late novels.
  3. Bill Bryson—my fellow Des Moines native.
  4. Harlan Ellison—I discovered him in 8th grade—there was a copy of Paingod and Other Delusions in this little bookshop that was also a tanning place in Urbandale, Iowa, and I just couldn’t pass up a book with a title like that.
  5. Gordon Korman—I wonder if he’d let me write a new Bugs Potter book?

Five books you’d bring with you to a deserted island:

  1. Tristram Shandy by Laurence Stern—a very long, post-modern 18th century novel that makes very little sense. It’d be good to have on a desert island because it would keep me busy for years.
  2. I Hated Hated Hated Hated this Movie by Roger Ebert—to remind me that there are worse things than being stranded on a desert island.
  3. Bleak House by Charles Dickens—pretty much the same reason as Tristram Shandy, only it has the added bonus of having a character who spontaneously combusts midway through the book.
  4. 5 Novels by Daniel Pinkwater—all in one volume, so it only count as one, not five. Ha!
  5. A blank one so I can write things down—plus, I could obsess for weeks over how to make ink using stuff on a desert island.

Five CDs you can’t live without:

  1. Bob Dylan, Bringing It All Back Home
  2. Tom Waits, Nighthawk at the Diner
  3. Bruce Springsteen, The Seeger Sessions
  4. Dave Carter and Tracy Grammer, Drum Hat Buddha
  5. Nirvana, Unplugged

Five favorite movies/TV shows:

  1. Almost Famous
  2. Night of the Hunter
  3. Star Wars
  4. The West Wing
  5. The Simpsons

Five things on your dresser or nightstand:

  1. a Han Solo in Carbonite action figure (which is really an inaction figure)
  2. a broken clock, soon to be replaced by a nifty Bakelite art deco model
  3. about fifty books
  4. a half-empty can of pepsi
  5. clip-on sunglasses

*Daniel Pinkwater is the author of The Snarkout Boys and the Avocado of Death. Coincidence? We think not. -The Snarkers

Final Poll Results

All in a Day’s Work: Should Writing be a Job?

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By Erin Nappe (Billiard)

In On Writing, Stephen King calls writing “just another job like laying pipe or driving long-haul trucks.”

Some writers balk at that statement. Writing? A job? But isn’t writing supposed to be about the joy of creation? Following your muse? I think the answer is yes. And no.

Most of us have a love/hate relationship with writing. We want to create, but it can be tough to find the time/energy/persistence to actually do it. And whether you write fiction or nonfiction, a little or a lot, it’s a matter of deciding where you want to go with your writing. There’s nothing wrong with treating writing as a hobby, but if your goal is to make money as a writer, it takes discipline.

We interviewed three authors—two established, and one working hard to get there—to get their take on writing as a job.

Background Image: Taema Dreiden/Flickr (CC-by-nc-sa)

Author John Scalzi has been a full-time writer since he left college, first writing for a newspaper, then as an in-house editor and writer for America Online. He’s been a freelance writer since 1998 and has published a dozen books. Two of those books, Old Man’s War and The Last Colony, have been nominated for the Hugo Award.

YA author Laurie Halse Anderson has been writing full-time since 2002. Her books, including Speak, Catalyst,and Twisted, have won numerous awards. Prior to being a full-time writer, she wrote early in the morning while working freelance jobs and other part-time jobs to make ends meet. “I made the transition the first time I got an advance that (with much penny-pinching) could support me for a year,” she says.

Seanan McGuire, a mid-level manager in a non-profit customer service center, is working toward becoming a full-time writer and recently signed with an agent. McGuire has been published, although “not, as yet, in my chosen genres (or that I’ll admit to).” She writes primarily horror and urban fantasy.

TC: Do you keep a regular writing schedule?

JS: Theoretically I write long-form work in the morning while my daughter is at school and short-form work after she comes home and wants attention. In reality, it all sort of mixes in together. I am trying to become more scheduled, however.

LHA: I write minimum of six hours (this can increase to 16 when the deadline pressure is turned up) a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.

SM: During the work-week, I write from seven to nine every day except for Thursday, when I have my weekly “girl’s night out.” On the weekends, I do two four-hour blocks, split between the two days. Sometimes more, if I have edits to process.

TC: How much time do you spend on the “business” of writing?

JS: I spend about an hour a day on it. It mostly consists of e-mailing my agent or editor or clients. Sometimes I have to travel for work, which of course takes up more time. but when I’m at home, and hour a day usually does it. It helps that my wife handles a lot of the financial end of things, because that’s what she’s good at and has training in.

LHA: At least 25 hours a week, often more. Correspondence with readers takes up the bulk of it. Preparing for travel to conferences (tons of email, plane and hotel reservations, correspondence with committee members, speech and presentation preparation) takes up a lot, too. I have cut way back on my travel, but still spend about 60 days a year on the road. Website updates, interviews, and research for new books also happen every week.

SM: Currently, about two to five hours per week are spent contacting agents, formatting submissions, and pursuing representation. It’s a small amount of time, but it’s a tiring one.

TC: Should would-be writers treat writing as a job?

JS: If people feel it’s best to pursue writing as a hobby or a part-time thing, who am I to try to convince them otherwise? Lots of very excellent writers held down other jobs or wrote primarily for recreation and enjoyment. Also, you know. Writing for a living is hard, and generally it doesn’t pay well.

LHA: A career in the arts is not for everyone. It’s more demanding and less financially rewarding than most people realize. If you love the work, you’ll get a lot out of committing yourself body and soul. But there is nothing wrong with making your writing into a piece of your life, instead of the whole thing.

SM: I find that writing is always work, if you want to get it right; it takes time, effort, dedication, and focus. I work harder at writing than I do at almost anything else, and I’d rather have the time I currently spend on other people’s projects to devote to my own.

TC: What advice would you offer to would-be writers?

JS: 1) Be aware of your audience. The vast majority of the time, when you’re writing professionally, you’re not writing for yourself, you’re writing for an audience—specifically (most of the time) an editor who is looking for writing of a certain nature or function, and in a more general sense to a larger readership that is looking for something specific… 2) You have time. So long as you don’t intentionally step out in front of a bus, chances are pretty good you’ll make it to 70 or 80 or some bone-deteriorated age like that. That being the case, what are you worried about? Enjoy yourself. Enjoy the process of writing. and 3) You’re a writer. Prepare to be broke.

LHA: Do it for the love, not the money. But if you decide to make it into your career, structure your life frugally, so the ups and downs of the unpredictable market won’t hurt as much.

SM: Learn to take critique, even when it’s hard. Learn to focus. Trust your story. Follow the market. Read. Write. Adapt. Also, you’re not as good as you think you are… but you could be, if you work hard enough to get there.

King’s On Writing has even more advice for any writer trying to make it. He says that all writers should have a private writing space, with the ability to shut out all distractions. He recommends sticking to a schedule, and setting concrete goals.

“The longer you keep to these basics, the easier the act of writing will become. Don’t wait for the muse,” says King. “Your job is to make sure the muse knows where you’re going to be every day from nine ’til noon or seven ’til three.”

And ultimately, figure out how you define success. Are you happy writing fanfiction to share with your friends, or do you aspire to the New York Times Bestseller List? Set goals that make sense for you, and stick to them.

Final Poll Results

Surviving NaNoWriMo

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By Erin Nappe (Billiard)

By now, most writers are at least familiar with Chris Baty’s brainchild; write a 50,000-word novel in one month, with the focus on getting the darn thing finished rather than worrying about how good it is. Back in 2004, I was a first-time participant in NaNoWriMo. I decided to dive right in, and I was not fully prepared for the task that lay before me. I started off with the best of intentions, but my intentions didn’t quite carry me far enough.

It took me three tries, but I finally earned the title of NaNoWriMo winner last year. I thought I’d share some of my own wisdom for completing the challenge.

Background Image: Ted Rheingold/Flickr (CC-by-nc)

It’s possible to be busy and still be a winner.

At this time last year, I was teaching four college classes and working as a substitute teacher. When the grading started to pile up, it was tempting to just give up, walk away, throw up my hands and say, “I can’t do it. I’m too busy.” But I didn’t. I made myself a schedule. I told myself I’d devote a certain number of hours each day, no matter what. I blogged and emailed less. I spent less time poking around the Internet. I did very little reading. And I survived! I even spent one weekend visiting a friend, and spent Thanksgiving with my family.

The laptop is your friend.

I don’t know that I would have gotten through it without my trusty iBook. I’m not saying it’s impossible to be a winner without one, but it sure made my life a lot easier. Since my life tends to be mobile, being able to take my novel with me wherever I went helped me reach my goal. Don’t have a laptop? Get yourself a flash drive, pronto!

Another possibility for portable writing is the AlphaSmart. It’s a portable word processor for about $219!

Announce your participation publicly.

If you want to succeed, it’s important to let people know what you’re doing. I posted my progress meter on my blog, and I found that facing the possibility of public shame was sometimes what I needed to keep myself going!

If you don’t have any place else to announce it (or even if you do), make sure you visit our NaNoWriMo forum and let everyone know you’re participating!

Get a writing buddy.

Or two. Or ten. The NaNoWriMo forums can be a great source of support. (Warning… the official forums are very slow right now!) If you find yourself overwhelmed there, you can always post on our forum. You’ll find that the encouragement of other people in the same situation will be invaluable.

Learn to love writing prompts.

There were countless times when I found myself stuck. I’d go online and search the calendar at TC, or look for prompts at other writing sites, and find something that would give me the spark I needed to get going again.

Roll with the changes.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t have a plan or an outline—many people can’t work without them! I’m just saying that you shouldn’t be so committed to anything that you refuse to change it. Because when you’re writing a novel in a month, well… things happen.

For example, I changed point-of-view characters well into my novel. The voice I started out with just wasn’t working for me, so I shifted to a different character and finished the novel in his head. I fretted about it for a while before convincing myself that it didn’t matter—I could go back and change things later. Don’t ever forget that—you can go back and change things later. I typed notes to myself within the text to change this, or fix that, or flesh this out. It’s not going anywhere, and no one ever has to see that first draft but you!

Don’t give up.

Try to keep up with your daily word count goals, but don’t be too hard on yourself if you don’t make it one day. Things happen. You can make it up. It might seem impossible, but I promise you, it’s not. I frequently found myself getting behind, but it’s amazing how much you can make up in a short time when you get on a roll.

Don’t forget food and water.

It sounds silly, but make sure that you’ve stocked up on food and drinks that you like, things you can enjoy while sitting in front of the computer. You’re not going to want to cook much, so try to find things that are easy to prepare. A loving spouse or partner who cooks is always a big help. 😉 I made sure to keep myself stocked up on tea and Dr. Pepper, because that’s what I like. Baker is partial to Vitamin Water. But whatever it is, keep it close!

Do follow the rules.

Particularly if you’re a first time participant, you should follow the guidelines set forth by NaNoWriMo. Start a fresh story instead of trying to rework, re-imagine, or reinvent something you’ve already started. You’ll have more enthusiasm for the project, and therefore more momentum.

Don’t panic.

Your muse smells fear. She doesn’t respond well to it. Keep your cool, and keep going.

Above all, keep reminding yourself that you can do it!

Here’s a quick guide to sites and other resources to help you get through November:


Sign-ups are underway now! Look for local groups, forums by genre, and more!


In particular, the writer’s tools are quite helpful. I used the word meter and posted it on my blog!

Writing Prompts

There are lots of writing prompts sites, but these are some of the ones I used: Creative Writing Prompts, Writer’s Digest prompts, Toasted Cheese calendar, Story Spinner online.

The Snowflake Method

Several of our editors swear by this method for designing their novel. Check it out!

No Plot? No Problem!

NaNoWriMo creator Chris Baty shares his secrets for a successful novel writing experience. I bought this book last year, and found the advice in it incredibly valuable

WriteBoard and Google Docs

More options for document portability. Both WriteBoard and Google Docs are free, secure sites where you can update your documents from any computer that has web access. Even better, you can share your documents with anyone you want!

Final Poll Results

Books for the Writer’s Toolbox: A Guide to Grammar and Style Manuals

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By Erin Nappe (Billiard)

As a teacher of freshman composition, I am intimately acquainted with the rules of grammar, style and usage, but sometimes even I find them difficult to explain to others. They’ve always been sort of second nature to me: I know when something is wrong, but I can’t always give the technical explanation as to why it’s wrong. And so I’ve become intimately acquainted with many guides to style and usage, because sometimes knowing where to look for the right answer is as useful as knowing the right answer.

Recently, my mom asked me if I knew of any good grammar books. She was looking for something to help her brush up on her skills and use as a reference guide. While browsing on Amazon, she decided to buy a copy of Eats, Shoots and Leaves, but quickly realized that it wasn’t what she was looking for.

That was when I decided to put together this guide to the grammar and style book. There’s something here for everyone, from the neophyte to the expert writer. It proves that no matter who we are, we can all benefit from adding a little style and polish to our writing from time to time.

Background Image: Library Girl/Flickr (CC-by-nc-sa)

Guides for the Beginner

The Elements of StyleThe Elements of Style, Strunk & White

This little book is a must-have for any writer, wannabe writer, or person who wants to improve his writing. It’s compact and concise, and it covers everything from basic grammar rules (place a comma before a conjunction introducing an independent clause) to commonly misused words and expressions.

A Pocket Style ManualA Pocket Style Manual, Diana Hacker

Diana Hacker is the queen of college writing and style manuals. I use her Rules for Writers in my writing classes to great success. The Pocket Style Manual includes basic guides to clarity, grammar and punctuation, a section on research, and MLA, APA and Chicago style guides. It’s small and portable, and a great all-purpose guide.

The Complete Idiot's Guide to Grammar and StyleThe Complete Idiot’s Guide to Grammar and Style, Laurie Rozakis

The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Grammar and Style, like others in the “idiot’s guide” series is a highly readable, step-by-step, comprehensive guide to writing. I expect that it would be a great guide for beginners, and anyone who needs to brush up on their basic skills.

The Everything Grammar and Style BookThe Everything Grammar and Style Book, Susan Thurman

The material covered is very similar to the Idiot’s Guide, but it also includes a look at various types of writing, writing outlines and first drafts, revising and rewriting, and the five-paragraph essay. This makes it slightly better suited for the student writer.

For the More Advanced Writer

On Writing WellOn Writing Well, William Zinsser

On Writing Well is considered a must-have for any professional writer. Zinsser covers the writing traps that even seasoned writers fall into; complicated, cluttered, ineffective writing. The book is specifically geared toward nonfiction writing, covering types of writing like the interview, business and sports writing, but the book’s basic principles are helpful for any type of writing.

Sin and SyntaxSin and Syntax, Constance Hale

Hale’s book covers the basics—parts of speech, phrases and clauses—but she delves further into more advanced ideas like voice and rhythm. Sin and Syntax is a great book for the writer who wants to punch up her prose with more lively, engaging writing.

Grammar and Style for Fun (No, Really!)

The Comma SutraThe Comma Sutra, Laurie Rozakis

Rozakis’s book is a fun and lighthearted approach to punctuation that can be enjoyed by the beginner and experienced writer alike. It includes brief exercises with answers, making it a great “brush-up” guide.

Eats, Shoots and LeavesEats, Shoots and Leaves, Lynne Truss

This widely popular book is a humorous look at common punctuation errors. In the author’s own words, it’s a book that “gives you permission to love punctuation. For those with kids, or those who are just kids at heart, I recommend checking out the illustrated children’s version.

Grammar Snobs are Great Big MeaniesGrammar Snobs are Great Big Meanies (A Guide to Language for Fun and Spite), June Casagrande

The author professes to help the reader take English back from the “grammar snobs” by making grammar rules more accessible and easier to understand for the average person. She covers complex gray areas like the hyphen and split infinitives in an entertaining way, making it a great reference for beginners and seasoned writers alike.

Spunk and BiteSpunk and Bite: A Writer’s Guide to Punchier, More Engaging Language and Style, Arthur Plotnik

Just like the title describes it, this book is a guide to livening up your writing, making it readable, and above all, publishable. Plotnik goes beyond the basics with section titles like Freshness, Texture, and Clarity. This is a great guidebook for the more experienced writer looking to make his writing more exciting.

Want more?

Buy the books featured in this article at TC’s Amazon Store.

Final Poll Results

Submit to Me! A quick guide to help you avoid annoying editors

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By Erin Nappe (Billiard)

In addition to my editing here at Toasted Cheese, I also recently took on a freelance editing job for an e-book publisher. As a result, I read many query letters, cover letters, and synopses (as well as stories and novels) from first-time writers.

When trying to get published, it’s best to be sure that you don’t do things that annoy, vex, or otherwise irritate the editors you’re hoping will publish your work. I surveyed my fellow editors for their favorite pet peeves, and we came up with these eight things you can do to make sure your story or novel doesn’t get tossed to the bottom of the slush pile:

Background Image: Richard Lemarchand/Flickr (CC-by-nc-sa)

  1. Make sure your submission follows the guidelines

The surest way to make sure your submission doesn’t get read is not to follow the submission guidelines. Most publications have their guidelines readily available, if not online, then in books such as the Writer’s Market. If you don’t want to buy your own copy, make a trip to the nearest bookstore or library and take notes. (Please note—guidelines on a publication’s website supercede information found in a print publication. They’re usually more up-to-date!) Submission guidelines are written for a reason; they’re not just arbitrary rules. We disqualify dozens of submissions each submission period for not adhering to our guidelines.

Read and follow guidelines carefully. And do be sure to actually read the publications to which you’re submitting. Many times, you will find stories and articles available online. If not, head back to that bookstore or library, or order sample copies of the publication.

  1. Adhere to deadlines

If you’re given a deadline, stick to it. Being late will not endear you to any editor. Here at TC, stories submitted to the e-zine after the submission period ends get bumped to the next submission period. We publish quarterly, which means you’ll be waiting a long time for a response. Know the deadlines and plan accordingly.

Other deadlines are a bigger deal. A late contest entry will be disqualified, for example. Missing deadlines for magazines or corporate jobs will likely cost you the job and damage your reputation.

If you’re working with an editor on a novel, missed deadlines will make your editor cranky. No one wants a cranky editor. If you say you’ll have a manuscript to your editor by a certain date, well, it only stands to reason that the manuscript actually reach your editor on or near that date! Quite simply, you need to maintain positive working relationships with the people who want to publish your writing.

  1. Take as much care with your cover letter/query/synopsis as you do with your story

Nothing turns an editor off more than a sloppy, poorly-written cover letter or synopsis. This is the surest way to make sure that your submission doesn’t get read.

Write carefully. Proofread. Edit. Proofread again. Have a friend/spouse/significant other proofread it for you. Don’t be careless with this step; often, it’s the first impression we’ll have of you. Make sure it’s a good one!

It’s also important to note that you shouldn’t skip this step. We want to know who you are, and we want to know why you think our publication is the very best place for your work.

  1. Keep it positive

Theryn Fleming (Beaver) says, “My #1 cover letter peeve is when people say something negative about themselves and/or the publication being submitted to.”

Most of the TC editors agree on this one. Statements such as, “If you don’t like it enough to respond, it won’t be the first time”, “I’ve never been published”, or “You probably won’t like this” tell us you don’t really have faith in your work. “If [the writer] doesn’t believe in her ability, why should I?” says Baker. “Let your story do the talking for you. Better a ho-hum cover with a great submission than a ‘losing already attitude’ and the same submission.”

In most cases, it is not at all necessary to say you haven’t been published before or that this submission is your first. If you don’t have any relevant publishing credits, simply leave this section out of your letter.

(For more, see The short, sweet guide to writing query letters by Baker)

  1. KISS your queries and cover letters

The best advice for queries and cover letters is to keep them simple, only providing the necessary information. You don’t need to tell us your age, occupation, hobbies, or shoe size. We don’t need to know where you went to college, where you grew up, or how long you’ve been writing.

And as for previous publications? We think it’s best to list a few of your most recent or relevant publications. Many editors find long lists of publications tedious and unnecessary.

  1. Write your query/cover letter naturally

I’ve seen a number of queries that follow submission guidelines point by point. I find this tedious and distracting. For example, the publisher I’m working for asks that the query letter include a “marketing hook.” I got this in one of my queries:

“Since I’ve never submitted to an e-publisher before, I’m not sure what you mean by marketing hook. I certainly understand what marketing is but would ask you to clarify that requirement.”

Statements like this will only mark you as an amateur, and a lazy one at that. If you’re not sure about something in the guidelines, do some research or ask for clarification. (P.S.—the place to ask for clarification is not in your query.)

  1. Make it personal

Generally, editors do like to be called by their names. Do a little bit of research to find out who you’re submitting to, instead of using the generic “To Whom it May Concern” or “Dear Editor”.

There is an exception, though. If the publication has an editorial board, like Toasted Cheese does, don’t address your cover letter to a single editor. This will just make you seem rude. “While you may have done your homework, you didn’t understand it,” adds Beaver.

And finally, please, please, please don’t send us a letter addressed to an editor at a different publication. Don’t send out letters that are obviously mass carbon-copies to dozens of editors. You will forever be branded as amateurish and unprofessional. While it’s fine to use the same basic template for your cover letter, be sure to personalize it for each publication.

  1. Show, don’t tell

I saved my own personal biggest pet peeve for last—authors who tell me in their cover letter or query how wonderful/funny/touching their story or novel is, as in this example:

“How they resolve these issues is at times funny and at others poignant.”

Also, please don’t tell us how much your mother/spouse/next-door-neighbor/dog loved your manuscript. While this may be true, it is entirely irrelevant.

Don’t tell me how good your story is. Show me. A good cover letter should give me enough information to make me want to read on and discover all the things you love about your manuscript.

Some final words of advice

We know how scary submitting your work can be. Don’t let yourself get rejected simply for making these easy-to-fix mistakes. Approach all submissions professionally, be yourself, and above all, make sure your writing sparkles!

Final Poll Results