Monthly Archives: May 2012

How To Write a Query Letter (May 29, 2012, from China)

Hello again. My apologies for the weird code that begins this category. I’m traveling and writing in China now, where blogs are mostly illegal.  Editing a blog is particularly horrible.  I think this is the best I can get it, … Continue reading

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The Accessible Himalaya

Hello from China.  

Travel-writing is very fulfilling and personal, because each writer notices different details, and noticing and writing about details is the foundation of travel-writing. A visual I’ve carried in my head for years is a cartoon character sitting in a boat too small for him.  His basic equipment is shaking and shuddering, sunhat falling down one side of his head, laptop wobbling on his knees, blazing sun beating down, but he’s blissfully typing away.

  • My particular slant:  being with the culture, learning from them, and writing about them.  For example, in the article attached, I wrote about part of the Indian Himalaya where I’d spent several thrilling months.  
  • You can’t count on selling your travel pieces to paying publications unless you build in a new point of view, a new way of looking at, say, Rishikesh or Bangalore or New Delhi.  A book I love, The Traveler, said that a trip will change you forever, but your neighbors won’t even know you’ve been gone.  In other words, have a story an armchair traveler will get caught by, and ‘getting ink’  — getting published by an international publication — is a real possibility.  If you have a new way of telling a tale, editors pay attention.  For example, I’d stored up plenty of exotic memories about Northern India, but had no real focus until I met a man who wanted to take that trip, too.  He was a vet whose zeal was possibly increased by his double-leg-amputations.  He went everywhere I’d been, following all the details I could give him.  
  • Hence, it’s pretty essential to memorize as much as you can, and/or to take notes just about constantly. Smells, sounds,sights, movements, colors. bits of dialogue, interesting expressions, customs, everything.  Your life becomes constant energetic research and curiosity. The best kind of notebook is an unobtrusive one, a reporter’s flip-top that fits into your pocket.  Make diagrams of interesting ceremonies and learn the names for them.   Ask participants (in the ceremony, in the neighborhood, and in credible books, to).  That’s another thing:  let your sincerity and respect shine in your face.  Don’t be afraid to be friendly and curious.  The indigenous people are happy to help you and to discuss the fine points of their civilization.
  • THEN when you get some time to write and browse the markets (publications/magazines/on-line magazines) you’ll remember what you saw, heard, smelled, etc. and a burst of inspiration comes a;pmg as you look at a list of publications and consider/guess about their individual slants.  ‘Oh sure~ I can write about that awesome ceremony I saw last week in New Delhi!  I took photos, I talked to people…’ 
  • Practical note:  the internet is one way to find lists of ‘markets,’ or places that buy freelance stories.  My tried and true method:  a hard copy (book) of Writers Market for that year.  (I got mine on-line from my library at home.)  Other writers like other formats.  I also use market lists from the Net.  Step 2:  write each publication asking for ‘submission guidelines/writers guidelines and editorial calendar.’  This is crucial.  Writing letters in which you ‘make a pitch’  (try to gain interest  in your article) is time-consuming, so if you send a one-page ‘query letter’ like this and the magazine’s gone out of business, you’ve wasted some valuable time.  That wasted time adds up, too.
  • To summarize the steps:  a.  Enjoy your trip, and write down interesting details in many situations. Start making diagrams of, say, the complicated mystical drawings in a Hindu wedding ceremony, or anything  you feel is important.  Take photos.  A small camera is nice, (but not everyone agrees with me there). Talk to everyone: experts, locals, and read!  b.  Back at your desk, look up some places who buy articles written by freelance writers/photographers.  c.  Write every possibility asking for guidelines, themes and editorial calendar.  d.  When you have that information, read copies of these magazines, etc. (often online).  e. Write a query letter — and that’s tomorrow’s post from Davis Writes.
  • Good night for now.  Thank you for dropping by.

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