March 2011

As writers, we often need to promote ourselves with a resume. Resumes may be helpful or even required when submitting a sample packet for work-for-hire projects, or maybe even as part of a regular magazine or book proposal submission. It’s always advantageous to have one on hand just in case you need to send it somewhere quickly. I actually recommend having 3-4 different versions of your resume ready to shoot off to a publisher, depending on the type of experience they are looking for.

Your resume will, obviously, look quite different whether you’re a beginning writer or an experienced writer. Either way, it shouldn’t look like other non-writing resumes you’ve possibly written before.

Following are some general tips to keep in mind when developing a writing resume:

1. It’s best to exclude all past non-writing background, unless your experience includes specific information relevant to the topic you’re writing about. Publishers are generally not interested in your work as a restaurant server or even your banking background. However, if you’re hoping to land an assignment writing about the banking industry, then by all means list your banking experience.

2. Functional resumes often work better for writers than chronological ones. In a functional resume, jobs are grouped by type, or function, as opposed to date, as with a chronological resume. The advantage is that you don’t have to account for every single year of work experience, and it’s easier for the reader to quickly see where the bulk of your experience lies. For instance, one functional group may be “Editing Experience.” Others may be “Fictional Work” or “Curriculum Developed.”

3. If you’re a beginning writer, be sure to include virtually every writing credit you have. Keep in mind that writing credits (or credentials) are different than writing experience. Credits implies publication–paid or unpaid–while experience could include writing in your journal. Go ahead and list credits such as writing for your church bulletin or a community newspaper. You can also include any writing you may’ve done as part of a corporate job, or even writing you do for your own or for someone else’s blog.

4. If you’re an advanced writer with several publishing credits to your name, you may need to be selective about which ones you include on your resume. This is where having multiples resumes comes in handy. You can tweak each one to a particular genre of writing or subject, depending on the publisher you’re sending it to, simply by eliminating or adding various writing credits. Be sure to highlight those that are most relevant by putting them toward the top of your resume and also mentioning them in your opening summary section and cover letter.

5. Aside from writing credits, discuss any jobs you’ve held that included the need for writing or editing skills, working against tight deadlines, or that required extensive self-discipline or time management skills. If these positions were not in the field of writing, be sure to make the connection as to how these skills have prepared you to work with an editor and produce a high-quality product on time.

Next week, we’ll be looking at the various components of a writing resume and how to effectively format your resume.

Today, we’re continuing Scoti Domeij’s post on How to Find an Agent. Scoti is a freelance writer,  workshop teacher, and leads writing critique groups as well as a successful writing group in Colorado Springs. She recently wrote her first book and acquired her first agent. Here’s her next points of advice for how to go about finding an agent for yourself:

7.      Read Publishers Weekly (PW). Available at the library, Publishers Weekly prints a weekly list of “Hot Deals.” Read this list to know which agent in your genre is selling manuscripts to which publishers. PW makes readers aware of new agencies and agents. It also announces which editors left publishers to start their own literary agency. By the time these agents’ listings are in the above listed books, their client lists will be full.

8.      Check out The Association of Authors Representatives (AAR). AAR, a not-for-profit membership organization, is active in all areas of the publishing, theater, motion picture and television industries and related fields. It lists literary agents, their blogs, websites and if their members accept queries via email or snail mail. The AAR’s equivalent in the UK is The Association of Author’s Agents. . If you write screenplays, obtain a list of approved agencies from the Writers Guild of America.

9.      Ask a published author for a referral. One writer pitched his book to a well-known author. Excited by the topic, the author recommended the beginning writer to his agent. Alas, the writer was truly a beginner. The agent passed, but provided great feedback on his writing.

10.      Make a list of agents to contact. After researching agents that represent your genre, charge no reading fees, accept queries, and want new clients, decide who to contact first. Before sending your query, head over to Preditors and Editors. Scroll halfway down the page and read “Some General Rules for Spotting a Scam Literary Agency.”

11.      Read Rachelle Gardner’s blog. Rachelle’s blog consistently makes the Writers Digest’s 101 Best Websites for Writer’s. She offers writers the inside scoop from an agent’s perspective on writing and publishing. Check out her articles and links.

12.      And how did I obtain my agent? I participated in a critique group for seven years. I wrote a book proposal that took months and months to write, critique, edit, and polish. Then I polished a query email and shot them off to two agents that I wanted to represent me. One asked to see the proposal. Three days after signing the contract, the other agent emailed and asked for my proposal based upon my query email to his info@literaryagent email.

It may take months or years to find an agent. In the meantime, hone your writing skills. Build up your writing credits. And never, ever give up.

I’d like to introduce you to Scoti Domeij.  Scoti has worked for several publishers over her career in various facets of editing. She is now a freelance writer,  workshop teacher, and leads writing critique groups as well as a successful writing group in Colorado Springs. She recently wrote her first book and acquired her first agent.

I asked Scoti to walk us through the process of researching and finding an agent when you don’t know where to start. The following is the first part of her advice for locating an agent.

I recall the first agent I knew. As the editor of Harvest House Publishers, I wondered, Why would an author give up 15% of their advance and royalties to an agent? Seemed crazy. Who would have guessed that agent was a man ahead of the times?

Fast forward to 2011. These days most authors need an agent to help their manuscript land on an editor’s desk at a publishing house. So how do you get an agent?

If you’re not a superstar, celebutante, Jesus, or famous for being famous, first you’ll need to hone your writing skills, write a quality book-length manuscript, join a critique group, edit, edit, edit, and then craft an irresistible query letter. And that may take years. Since you only have a minute or two to catch an agent’s interest, make sure your topic, writing voice and skills, book, book proposal, and query is up to par to send to an agent.

And the Next Steps?

1.      Research agents by genre. Don’t waste your time or the agent’s by contacting someone who does not specialize in your genre.

2.      Subscribe to the Guide for Literary Agent’s blog. This blog’s tagline says it all—where and how to find the right agents to represent your work. This blog lists agents looking for new clients.

3.      New may be for you. Look for an agent that’s new and needs clients. Or check out agents looking for new clients or that accept unsolicited queries.

4.      Attend a writing conference with top-quality agents. Make an appointment to professionally pitch yourself and your book. Better yet, attend a writing conference known for attracting beginning writers. If you’ve honed your craft, you’ll stand above the crowd.

5.      Read book forewords in your writing genre. Read the acknowledgments page. Authors thank their agents by name. Google the agent’s name and go to their website. Read their query submission guidelines, and then follow their directions to the T.

6. Head to the library. Read 2011 Guide To Literary Agents or Jeff Herman’s Guide to Book Publishers, Editors, and Literary Agents 2011, 21E: Who They Are! What They Want! How to Win Them Over. or Literary Market Place 2010: The Directory of the American Book Publishing Industry with Industry Yellow Pages.

Scoti has another 6 points to share, so please stop back next week to learn more about how to find an agent.

You’ve probably heard that before you endeavor to write a book, you should first try to write for magazines. To be sure, there are many advantages to writing for a magazine over a book. A big one for me is that a magazine readership is typically much larger than for a book, unless you are able to sell 100,000 copies of your book (which you might be). Still, some magazines have readerships of over 1 million!

And, it’s true that getting published in a magazine is easier than having a book (traditionally) published. But even magazines can be tough to break into. So what’s a new writer to do when it comes to trying to build a resume filled with magazine credits?

For one, don’t automatically approach the largest magazines you can think of (such as those with the 1 million+ readership I mentioned). Sports Illustrated, Cosmopolitan, and The New Yorker would not be good places to start! Grab a magazine market guide and look for those with readerships of 100,000 or less. There are quite a few out there who only reach 10-50,000 people. They are typically the ones most open to new writers.

From there, find magazines that have several departments open to freelancers. As you begin to research your market guide, you’ll find that some magazines are mostly staff written, meaning the odds of a beginner freelancer being published by them are very slim. Also look for magazines that deal with subjects that interest you. You’ll discover it’s easier to research topics you enjoy, and your passion will come through in your writing.

After you’ve selected which magazines to submit to, go to a library or online and read through at least 5-6 issues to get a really good feel for the tone of the magazine, the length of the articles, and what the structure and topics are of the various departments available to freelance writers.

If you’re a beginning writer, stay away from the feature articles at first. Look instead to see what the magazine uses in terms of fillers, reviews, and other shorter pieces. Fillers consist of things like anecdotes, crafts, recipes, various quotations, and activities or games (yes, even for non-children’s magazines!). Reviews may include books, movies, music, or any product specific to the magazine’s theme.

Fillers and reviews may not seem like much, but they provide an excellent way to break into a magazine and get your name known by its editors. Meeting word counts, submitting according to their guidelines, and paying attention to their magazine’s particular needs shows them you do your homework and you’re capable of delivering quality material. After your submission gets accepted, send in another with the phrase, “by the way, I have an idea for an article I’d like to run by you…” in your cover letter. If they’ve liked your work so far, it will give you an advantage over other writers they haven’t heard of yet.

If you choose to write an article, pay attention to the different departments that seem “friendly” to freelance writers. If you notice that the writers of the various departments are also assistant editors, then you’ll know that those are usually written by staff. In many cases, the most friendly areas for outside writers are the short personal essays, memoirs, or similar personal stories or anecdotes.  You may also try submitting how-to articles or list articles (Top 10 Ways to Save Money on Groceries), which magazines always buy.

As a new writer, your chances of getting published will decrease with interviews, round-up articles, and feature stories. Most often–although not always; there are always exceptions–these bigger paying articles are reserved for writers they’ve worked with in the past or who have already built up some  substantial magazine credits.

I’d love to hear from any of you about how you broke in to the magazine market or what approaches you’ve tried if you haven’t yet been successful.

I’d like to ask my readers to help me write this next post. I’ve been thinking about the tools, gadgets, and technology that help make our writing lives easier or somehow better, or will hopefully make us more successful. Whether it’s an old-school thesaurus or children’s word book that give you that perfect word right at your fingertips or something as high-tech as the new Vook that can enhance your presentation as an author.

What is it for you that you just can’t live without? What are you hoping to be able to make the most of to take your writing to new levels? Or, maybe…what would you like to see invented? (Aside from a clone of you who writes while you go to the beach!)

Your answers may be something directly related to you putting words on a page, something that helps you organize your time or your writing space, or something that helps you with the business side of writing. Anything that makes your writing life easier!

Please leave a comment and share your discoveries!