Talking the Talk: Don't Give Them Meatballs when They Expect Cake Pops

Saturday, April 08, 2017
On April Fool’s Day, a friend posted photos of the prank she played on her kids. She took meatballs and decorated them to look like cake pops. Judging by their faces, those were some mighty unhappy children.

What does that have to do with publishing?  If you call it a cake pop, it needs to be a cake pop. Otherwise you’ll have a disappointed editor if you publish traditionally or buyer if you self-publish.  The key to all around happiness?  Use publishing terms the same way that everyone else does.

I recently realized just how important this can be when I was talking to a new writer.  She had cold called a publisher to discuss her project (now she knows better), and he asked for a proposal.  Since she called to “propose” her project, she was completely confused. After all, she didn’t know that a proposal was a formal sales tool including info on the manuscript, the market and her own biography.  If you didn’t know that either, see my post on how to write a proposal here.

Here are some of the other terms that you need to know. What is a cover letter vs a query letter? A cover letter accompanies a manuscript when you send in your work. Keep it to less than a page. A query letter queries/asks an editor or agent if they want to see your work. You have to go into a lot more detail about the manuscript in a query (content, format, research, etc.). Again, no more than a page.

Your query should include a pitch.  That’s two or three spiffy sentences that you use to pitch your manuscript to an editor or agent. If you meet with an agent at a conference, you should have a pitch ready to share verbally. You can’t tell all in just two or three sentences so go with what is most compelling.

When you query certain magazines, they want to see clips or published writing samples.  I keep PDF files to use as clips.

There are also a number of terms that have to do with how you get paid and who owns the rights to your work.  When I work for Red Line, because they are a packager, the work is “work for hire.” This means that I get paid a flat fee and the publisher owns the copyright. 

Many magazines request that you write on speculation, meaning that you get paid for the piece if the publisher accepts it.  There is no kill fee, which is a partial payment for a requested manuscript that the publisher declines.  Most often used in magazine writing but also some annuals.

These are just a few of the terms that can confuse newer writers but also publishers if a writer approaches them with a cake pop that turns out to be a meatball.

To find out more about Sue Bradford Edwards writing, visit her blog, One Writer's Journey.  Sue is also the instructor for Writing Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults. The next session begins April 10th. 


Margo Dill said...

My daughter would be so mad if I played that prank on her! Good post Sue

Sioux Roslawski said...

Sue--A cake pop versus a meatball? What a clever way to slide into this topic.

Sue Bradford Edwards said...

Thank you, Ladies! I felt so sorry for those poor kids!

Mary Horner said...

Thanks for the great post, and it's a good reminder that writing and publishing is an industry with its own lingo and requirements that you don't know until you know! You probably helped a lot of writers by clarifying.

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