Q: My daughter is a teacher, and she told me I should write about my travels to places such as Yellowstone National Park, Death Valley, and the Grand Canyon. She suggested writing of the wonders of this country for children. I need a book to help me put down all the information in the right format and wording. Could you recommend one?
A: Learning to write well is a long process and may take many books and plenty of practice, but I can recommend a few books. Before you start, though, be sure your manuscript is in correct format for submission to a publisher. For that information, you do not need a book. Simply go to my website and download Report #104 – Standard Manuscript Format, at http://www.zebraeditor.com/free_reports.shtml.
As for books to read on writing, it is more important to write first, in your own voice, the same way you would tell the information if you were talking. Get your first draft written as best you can with the knowledge you already have. After you have written the information you want to relay, you can use any of the following books to help you revise and refine the writing.
My desk reference book for editors and writers who want to edit themselves is called Purge Your Prose of Problems. Use it to look up questions related to grammar, punctuation, creative writing, and Chicago style while you are revising your manuscript. It is available at http://tinyurl.com/kkk9jzz. Other good books on writing include The Elements of Style by Strunk and White; On Writing Well, William Zinnser; On Writing, Stephen King; and Stein on Writing, by Sol Stein.
Also go to my website (www.zebraeditor.com) and sign up for my free newsletter for writers, The Writers Network News, for monthly tips and information on writing.
Q: I have been writing travel articles for several years but have never submitted a sidebar, because I do not know exactly what they are. Can you tell me? Would it be additional information, such as campgrounds and activities in an area?
A: You are right. A sidebar to a magazine article is usually an additional short bit of information related to the article. In some magazines, the sidebar is simply a bulleted list of the high points in the longer article.
As examples, an in-flight magazine gave me an assignment to write an article about an upcoming charity golf tournament. In the main article, I wrote about the tournament, its prior winners, the golf course itself, and other information pertaining to the event. In a sidebar, I told about the charity that would benefit from the event.
For a local magazine, I wrote an article about home security systems and added a sidebar that listed all the local security companies and their contact information.
For one travel article I wrote, I included a sidebar that listed contact information for the museums and other places mentioned in the article.
Not all magazines use sidebars, and most magazine editors do not want sidebars for every story, but sidebars can endear you to an editor and add value to your articles. In addition, if you are paid by the word, sidebars put more pennies in your pocket.
Q: What do magazine submission guidelines mean when they ask that the query letter include clips of published articles?
A: The editor wants to see copies of articles you have written that have appeared in published form. The magazine wants to know, therefore, that other sources have published your articles and that you can write a good article. You can scan and send copies of articles (with your byline) that have appeared in newsletters, magazines, or newspapers, or you can even send a Word file for an article that appeared on the Internet; but if possible, include a link to the article. It is best to send the type of articles you are proposing. For example, if you are proposing a magazine article regarding your backpacking trip through Ireland, you would be wise to send clips of travel articles you have written that have appeared in other magazines.
If you have never had an article appear in printed form, you may volunteer to write articles for nonprofit publications, to get clips of your published work. Yes, getting paid to write can be difficult until you have already been published—the old Catch 22.
Q: I am putting together a travelogue as a coffee table book, and it requires me to purchase a few stock photos that are costly. I am wondering if I need to have a “finished” galley (exact photos and owned, in place) or just put copies of not-yet-licensed photos in the galley to be shown to an agent. If the agent sees the merit in my work, then I would purchase the photos.
My second question is this: where online can I find a travel editor and a food editor? My search online has been time-consuming.
A: First, it is my opinion that the purpose of a coffee table book is to feature original artwork and photography, so I am not sure why the book needs stock photos. Perhaps it should not be a coffee table book, if you do not have the artwork to support it. Nevertheless, when the author is not an illustrator or photographer, publishers usually provide the artwork, so you may not have to buy any art to sell your manuscript. You may suggest artwork, but if the publisher likes a manuscript, it will usually procure the art you want or provide something even better.
I am not sure what you mean by a food editor or a travel editor. Do you mean an acquisitions editor with a publishing house that publishes travel books and cookbooks, or a manuscript editor who will edit the manuscript for punctuation, grammar, and style? If you want to find an acquisitions editor, use www.writersmarket.com to search for agents and publishers. The site charges a small fee, but it provides a huge database you can easily search.
If you want to a manuscript editor, I am one, and hundreds more can be found through any search engine on the Internet. Simply search for “book editor” or “manuscript editor,” or if your book needs editing for concept, clarity, and/or organization, search under “book doctor.” To learn about my services, credentials, and prices, go to www.zebraeditor.com.
Bobbie Christmas, book editor and owner of Zebra Communications, will answer your questions, too. Send them to Bobbie@zebraeditor.com. Read more Ask the Book Doctor questions and answers at www.zebraeditor.com.