"Marketing Tips for Writing Article and Book Proposals, Plus Publicity"

with Valerie Harms

Thursday, August 23, 2001

Moderator is Kristi Holl, author of 24 books, 150+ articles, and the web editor for this site.

Valerie is Valerie Harms, author of 8 books on a variety of topics (biography, psychology, women) for both adults and children.

Names color coded in blue are visitors who asked questions.

Interviews occur on Thursday nights: 9-11 p.m. Atlantic/Canada, 8-10 p.m. Eastern, 7-9 Central, 6-8 Mountain, and 5-7 Pacific

Moderator: Good evening, everyone! We're here tonight with Valerie Harms who will be talking to us about marketing with queries and proposals, and how to use various media resources to promote our work once it's published. I'm Kristi Holl, your moderator this evening and the web editor for this site. We have a lot we hope to cover tonight, so let's get started! Welcome, Valerie!

Valerie: Thank you.

Moderator: Valerie, to start with, could you give us an overview of your writing so we know the types you've published?

Valerie: I have published 8 books and numerous articles in a variety of genres that interest me. My topics have included love, nature almanac, bios of Elvis Presley and Anais Nin, two children's books, psychology, women, writing. See my website at

Moderator: Let's talk about queries first, Valerie. To begin, what's the overall structure of a query letter? Is it really necessary (or possible) to keep an article query to one page with everything you have to include?

Valerie: Structure is very important. There should be a lead paragraph that announces the gist of the idea. The second paragraph should tell what your approach is. The third paragraph should say why the idea is timely, for example if it relates to a holiday or sport event. The fourth paragraph should present your qualifications for writing the article. And it is important to do the query in one page. You need to think of a very busy editor who can tell very quickly whether the content and style and coverage suit the publication.

JaciRae: What do you mean by your "approach"?

Valerie: The approach includes length and organization. You can say first you will do this, then you will do that, and finally this.

Moderator: What specifically goes into a query for a nonfiction article?

Valerie: Aside from what I have said, you should do enough research to be able to write a good lead. See what else has been written on the subject and make your angle different. Be sure to analyze the magazine's audience, advertisers, tone, and departments so you can target your query appropriately.

June: Is a different angle just a different point of view?

Valerie: Yes, or a different take. As you can imagine, 9 million articles have been written about travel. Your idea would have to offer something new and different.

Moderator: Any tips on writing a great hook?

Valerie: I suggest writing a scene that relates to your subject so you can show the style and engage the interest of the editor in the drama.

Tigger: What do you mean by a "scene" that shows the style?

Valerie: A scene would be a dramatic moment that highlights the theme of your piece. For instance, a woman was going to write about diabetes and she started with a scene about staring at an ice cream sundae on the menu, which she used to love as a child but could no longer have.

Moderator: What if you don't have publishing credits to report? How can you make yourself look qualified?

Valerie: Your very final paragraph about your qualifications can just not mention anything or if you have had letters to newspapers published, just say you've been published in various places. Don't spell out further.

Moderator: Valerie, what are clips? Some queries ask you to include clips.

Valerie: Clips are published samples of your writing. After you've signed off in your query letter, put "enclosures" at the bottom. There, write SASE and clips if you have them. If you don't have anything pertinent to your subject, don't send any. Let the idea speak for itself.

Moderator: What is a resume? Some queries ask you to include a resume. What goes in one?

Valerie: I have never been asked for a resume but I include a general list of my publications and also my regular resume, which has all about where I've worked, professional associations, media appearances, both relevant and not.

Tigger: When sending a resume for writing, do you include your schooling/degrees like in a resume for a regular job?

Valerie: Yes, I do.

Moderator: When it's been several months with no answer to your query, what should you do?

Valerie: You should call up and explain what you had sent. Don't be discouraged if you hear that it can't be found. Offer to resend but ask for a quick response.

sue: I have read in magazines that it can take up to 9 months for a return/response; is this normal?

Valerie: NO! Don't let more than a couple of months go by.

Moderator: Let's talk about book proposals now, Valerie. Again, can you give us an overall structure of a book proposal first?

Valerie: A book proposal is longer, for one thing. First, do about a 2 page overview of the book, including the targeted audience and why it is important now. Then do a page on special marketing ideas: list-serves, organizations, courses, creative ways to get the book out. After the marketing page, do a page on two or three other similar books and show how yours is different. If you look at, they often do a lot of marketing showing similar books. Then give a table of contents, followed by an expanded table of contents with a couple of sentences describing what goes into each. Then give your biography (short). After that you need to supply 2-3 sample chapters.

Moderator: How long are most book proposals altogether then?

Valerie: You can see they are pretty long - all the preliminary material plus about 50 pages of the book itself.

Moderator: What are the main differences between fiction and nonfiction book proposals?

Valerie: The main difference is that editors want to see half of a novel rather than just 2-3 chapters. Novels are harder to summarize than nonfiction books. Too much depends on development, so editors want to see as much as possible. If you send half, then you can send a synopsis of the rest.

Moderator: What is a synopsis? Is it the same as a summary of your plot, or an outline?

Valerie: The one-page synopsis would be a summary of the plot's main dramatic points, not an outline. The editor is looking for a good story.

Moderator: How much research should you do before writing a proposal for a nonfiction book?

Valerie: You need to do as much as will enable you to write a winning proposal and especially a good lead. The proposal is so important!!! This is the item that will sell your book so it has to be good. Also, remember once you have done all the work, the proposal is a blueprint for you to follow when you do write the book. You will have done all that research.

JaciRae: Do you query first and ask if they will look at a proposal, then send your proposal after they say "yes"?

Valerie: No. Just send the proposal.

Moderator: Do you send the proposals to the editors? Or must they go through an agent?

Valerie: If you don't have an agent, then send to the editor. By the way, not the editor in chief but one of the other editors. Agents do not handle articles or stories, only book proposals. I want to give you a very interesting email address for someone who has done a lot of work developing a good site on agents who are looking for new writers. His email is and the web site is

Moderator: How long does it take to hear back on a proposal?

Valerie: It may take a couple of months, after which call or write your editor. Never hesitate to follow up, follow up.

Moderator: What are some "signs" of a winning book proposal?

Valerie: Enthusiastic, lively writing. A new look at an old topic.

Moderator: What are some common mistakes people tend to make with proposals?

Valerie: Often people will say "I have written" or "want to write" this piece instead of saying "I propose..." You should expect the editor will be involved in the shaping process. I know someone who submitted an idea on a topic and the editor wrote that they couldn't use that idea but would he be interested in writing for another department. Another thing I don't like so much is asking the editor a question in the lead. It is better to write a more dramatic lead. Some people tend to say at the end "I really hope this can be published in your magazine." Don't beg. Just be businesslike. Other things editors don't like are those who don't follow the guidelines for the publication, misspellings of the editor's name, mentioning that you are taking a writing course, saying "I have no experience" and ESPECIALLY sending an idea that does not relate to the magazine. A winning proposal relates to the needs of the publication. You can adapt your idea to magazines of different audiences and lengths.

Nora Sloan: What is considered a good length for a book?

Valerie: For toddlers, up to 500 words, for preschoolers 750, 8-12 year olds up to 20,000 words, adults 60,000 words or more.

sue: How much can or will an editor change on a proposal?

Valerie: An editor will discuss with you what they might like different, leaving it up to you whether to accept their ideas or not.

Moderator: You've promoted your work on the Internet, TV, radio and in newspapers. Which is the easiest and most readily accessible to the new writer?

Valerie: The Internet these days is a wonderful new medium and writers can certainly take advantage of it for little money. You can get listed in online bookstores, find e-zines, join chat rooms such as this, post notices on bulletin boards, find numerous web sites listing topics.

Moderator: Can you give us some "nuts and bolts" suggestions about publicizing on the Internet in the ways you just mentioned?

Valerie: Let me start with a web site. You can create your own even if you have no book to sell. On this web site you can put info about yourself, a picture, an article you've written, an extract from another article relating to it. You can offer something for free or hold a contest, anything to attract people. A lot of people these days are starting a newsletter relating to their interests. You can print your web address on t-shirts, stationery, and even mention it on your phone answering message. There are places such as that offer direct mail services and will send your releases to online sites. At you can find specific marketing articles on reaching The Oprah Show and National Public Radio.

JaciRae: Doesn't your publisher take care of getting your books into online bookstores?

Valerie: Yes. I am suggesting additional publicity. Every author must do as much as they can though. You can get your friends to write reviews for you for

Moderator: Do you know of any additional helpful web sites our visitors could go to for more information?

Valerie: Yes. Susan Harrow's site about "selling yourself without losing your soul" is one of my favorites. It is Marcia Yudkin has a terrific weekly newsletter. Her site is A number of people have written books on publicizing on the web and elsewhere. One person's site is

Moderator: Excellent web sites! I'll want to check them out myself! How can authors best use a personal web site for promotion?

Valerie: Let me mention secrets to making a very appealing web site. Make your site fun for your particular audience. Make it load fast. The average person spends 15 seconds at a site. You have to grab them quickly. Make your site simple to navigate. Steal ideas from sites you like. Provide an order form for your book, if you have one. Have a question and answer section. For any of you who have browsed many sites, you know they are a place where creativity can bloom. You can have a discussion group. By the way, Yahoo can help you build a site. Other places provide them too.

Moderator: How do you get someone interested in interviewing you for radio or TV?

Valerie: You need to send a carefully crafted press release. It should show that you are an expert on something or that you have something to say about an issue in the news. You also need to show that you know what the program wants. Your pitch letter underscores why listeners need to act now.

Moderator: Must you go to the TV or radio station for the interview?

Valerie: No. Many radio interviews are on the phone. Television crews may go to the relevant site for local color.

Moderator: What specific suggestions do you have for our viewers for getting publicity on TV or radio?

Valerie: Try to find a controversial angle. Relate to an event. For instance, I wrote a book on Elvis Presley. Recently it was the anniversary of his death. I used that as an excuse to generate a new round of publicity. You can even create an "event" around your book. Earth Day is an event that many people relate to. Donate a copy of your book to the library and publicize it. Do a lot of networking.

JaciRae: How do you find out the shows on TV or radio that would be interested in your work? Just look in TV Guide or what? (Sorry if this is a dumb question.)

Valerie: No, this is a great question. In the library you will find Literary Market Place and comparable reference books on the media. Go through them for the places that specialize in your area of interest.

Moderator: Can you submit material (profiles, news releases, interviews) to newspapers, or must you wait for them to call for an interview?

Valerie: By all means, be proactive. Writing letters to the editor sections is a way of letting people know about your work. Write, don't call, producers. Remember, they are very busy. In your pitch letter, write up some questions they could ask you. That helps them save time!

Moderator: What goes in a press release?

Valerie: A press release contains the who, what, why, when, where information. You can then have more paragraphs of descending importance. Remember, your release may be cut after the second paragraph so make it succinct.

Sarah: Should you have photos to send of yourself or your book with the press release?

Valerie: Good, I am glad you mentioned that. Yes, either one helps a lot.

Moderator: What tips can you give us for preparing for an interview? (Both TV and radio)

Valerie: Have some "sound bites" so that you will get in what you want to say, regardless of what is asked. Remember, you are always on the record. The interviewer is not a therapist or necessarily sympathetic. Don't ask to review the questions but you can ask to verify your quotes. Have the interviewer read back what you said, so you can correct anything. Be sure to tape or videotape your program so that you can use it to attract other producers. Give the interviewer the correct spelling of your name. Don't be rude or negative about others. Here are some more basic tips: don't chew gum or candy, and don't stare at the camera. Don't memorize your material, don't interrupt the interviewer, don't wear distracting jewelry. Present your information in short bullet form. Drink water. Don't shuffle papers. Be ready early and talk to the host of the show. Provide extra information, if asked. But don't speak at length. For radio interviews be sure no dog or phone could interrupt. Always speak clearly. To prevent mumbling, one tip is to practice beforehand while holding your tongue.

Moderator: Great practical tips!!! What can you do to be less nervous for interviews so you don't sound like a bumbling idiot?

Valerie: You can take calm, deep breaths. Professional speakers advocate doing such exercises as the pelvic roll (rolling your pelvis around in a circle). Bending over and swinging your arms helps release tension. Singing relaxes your voice. Also, you can focus on feeling very grounded by centering your feet on the earth.

JACKJ949: How long does the average interview last?

Valerie: It could be 3 minutes to 15 on average. Some are longer.

Moderator: Valerie, was there anything else you'd like to add about publicity in general?

Valerie: Yes. Press releases can go to local newspapers as well as monthlies. Ads in newsletters are cheap. A very good book and web resource can be found by contacting Marilyn and Tom Ross. Their book is Jump Start Your Book Sales. It is also possible to hire a publicist, but they can be expensive. I'd like to tell you the example of what Terry McMillan did to promote her first novel. Because it was a first novel, she knew the publisher's marketing plan would be very small so she took on the job herself. Over a 6 month period she sent out 4000 letters to the cost of $700. She sent a bunch to other authors, whose addresses she found in the Poets and Writers/Authors directory. Because sales reps are so important in selling a book to bookstores, she wrote every rep who would be carrying her book. She wrote 1000 bookstores across the country, most in the state where she lived. She sent to professional organizations and colleges, places that sponsored readings. In her letter she first told the name of the novel, the publisher, and ordering info. The second paragraph said why she was writing them (that she was afraid she wouldn't get enough media attention or distribution) and wanted their help in finding an audience. Her third paragraph contained her own synopsis of her book, and then she ended with a paragraph with her biography. She also thanked them for their interest. Her personal effort contributed greatly to her success. Many people wrote to thank her for her letter. She created good will. The result of her efforts was that the day before her publication date the first printing had sold out. She did 7 television shows and 6 radio shows and was interviewed in about 14 newspapers. The book was reviewed widely. Other writers have made similar efforts.

Moderator: Very impressive story! Valerie, thank you so much for coming tonight and giving us your insights and sharing your experiences. Marketing can be so confusing and daunting, and so can promoting our work. Thanks for shedding light and giving us concrete steps we can take in these areas!

Valerie: A lot depends on how much you are willing to give it, but marketing is key.

Moderator: How true! Do come back in two weeks when Helen Chappell will be talking about "Tricks of Self-Editing and Revising." Helen is the author of 39 books of fiction and nonfiction, is a columnist, and has written for many magazines. In these days when editors no longer have the time to hold authors' hands and personally guide them through multiple revisions, it's essential that writers be able to revise and edit their own work before an editor first sees it. Come back in two weeks and learn some of these tricks from a pro! And now, good night, everyone!

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