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30 Best-Sellers in 3 Years

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The Write Way

1 August 2008

The Door That Must Never Be Opened ...


Imagination is a wonderful thing, isn't it? 

It lets us run simulations that outdo the world's best computers. Don't believe me?

Then tell me this: what computer do you know that can run through 25 different versions of, "If I see him on the bus on the way home from school today I'll ..." or "I'll walk into the boss's office, look him straight in the eye and tell him I should get a promotion because ..." or "We could move that rose from the front garden to a pot and replace it with a ..."?

Or there are all those other bits and pieces the imagination involves itself in, such as the Theory of Relativity, the invention of instruments for micro-surgery, symphonies, bridges that soar above ravines, tunnels that bore through mountains ... Well, you see what I mean.

It's not half bad having an imagination ... most of the time.

The trouble is, this same imagination can also dream up some pretty horrifying things, and I don't just mean Big Brother and Rap music. 

Imagination is what keeps us wide-eyed with fear when our kids are out driving late at night; it's what makes us wake in a cold sweat when we think of our parents getting old and frail; it's what puts us in a panic as we think of what the world will be like when our grandchildren are grandparents.

And it's what turned the entrance into an innocuous storage room in a house we once rented into the Door That Must Never Be Opened ...

My dad was the one who started it all. 

He'd always had a vivid imagination and a wicked sense of humour, and when our kids were toddlers and we moved into a rambling old house on acreage, he and Mum helped us unpack. While moving an old cupboard that had been left in the walk-in pantry by the original owners, Dad and the Love of My Life discovered a door that led into what must once have been a scullery or similar. This room had a boarded up door to the outside and a few dodgy shelves that the spiders had claimed as their own.

From the moment he found it, Dad referred to this as the Door That Must Never Be Opened ... and every time I was alone in the house at night with the kids, those words echoed through my tiny brain. If I had to go into the pantry at such times, I'd actually feel the hair on the back of my neck rise in terror, and I'd grab whatever I needed to get and positively leap back out into the light and safety of the kitchen.

Such is the power of the imagination ... that it could turn a lovely old house (you've come with me to Frog Hollow before) into a House of Terror.

We all have an active imagination, it's just that some of us don't give it free rein often enough ... but if your imagination has been working overtime and forcing you to put pen to paper (or dainty digit to keyboard), you'll enjoy this week's Little Something Extra, which gives you a detailed guide to writing query letters and finding markets for your writing. (And thanks to Olga from Thailand for suggesting this as a topic!)

And if you're thinking that you don't really need to worry about a query letter, think again, because a query letter is one of the most important things you'll actually write, and it has three main tasks:

1. It shows you've researched your market. Just as no exam question ever says, "Write all you know about X," so no publishing house ever accepts every style of writing. If you've written a scientific article on particle accelerators, you'd be a bit of a dill if you sent it to Mills and Boon. If the publisher's guidelines ask for the first and last chapter and a synopsis, and you send them your entire manuscript, guess who won't be getting a call? (And just as a by-the-by, that synopsis should be just that ... a synopsis. A brief outline of your plot or argument, and that means 3-4 sentences, not 3-4 pages!)

Here's a good plan for a novel synopsis:

Put a man up a tree

Throw stones at him

Get him down again 

Just a sentence summarising how your book does each of these will make a great synopsis.

(Our LSE has a plan for a non-fiction query.)

2. The second thing a query letter does is it lists your previous writing credits, but if you don't have any don't panic. It's actually better to skip this if your only previous credits are stories you wrote at school or your family's Christmas brag letter.

3. The final task is to find out if the editor wants to see your submission, so tell him/her you can submit a completed work in X days/weeks and mention that you've included a stamped, self-addressed envelope for his/her response. (Some people even include a card with boxes the editor simply has to tick to receive the full submission.)

How hard is that, eh? You'll be a published writer in no time and can dedicate your first book to me!

And a story about a famous author ...

The famous author arrived at the University - drunk, as usual - to talk about his craft. "Hands up all those who want to be writers!" he yelled. Everyone's hand went up. 

"Then why the hell aren't you at home writing?" he asked and staggered off the platform.

And some books you may not want to have written:

Babar Becomes a Piano

Controlling the Playground: Respect Through Fear

Curious George and the High-Voltage Fence


This week's quiz:

Here are some publishing terms you'll need to be familiar with when you get your big contract!

appendix, slug, advance, sinkage, flexography, rasterization, agate, molleton, scum, reflow

1. undesirable film of ink that prints in the non-image areas of a plate in offset lithography 

2. unit of measure used in calculating columns of advertising space, primarily in newspapers

3. undesirable occurrence in which the line breaks in digitally typeset copy change due to alterations in the layout 

4. type of printing that uses rubber printing plates

5. process of converting mathematical and digital information into a series of dots using an imagesetter for the purpose of producing film negatives or positives 

6. money paid to an author, usually at the time a contract is signed, that is a portion of expected royalties that will be paid to the author once the book is published 

7. thick cotton fabric used on the dampening rollers of a printing press 

8. short phrase or word that identifies an article as it goes through the production process; usually placed at the top corner of submitted copy 

9. extra white space at the top of a chapter opener

10. part of a book's back matter that includes lists of resources, tables or other reference material 

And some light bulb jokes ...

Q: How many proofreaders does it take to change a light bulb?
A: Proofreaders aren't supposed to change light bulbs. They should just query them.

Q: How many writers does it take to change a light bulb?
A: Two. One to change the bulb and one to tell a long story about it.

Q: How many mystery writers does it take to screw in a light bulb?
A: Two. One to screw it in almost all the way in, and the other to give it a surprising twist at the end.


Did you know that every newsletter is archived? So if you've missed anything since 1998 or want to revisit some favourites, you can do so any time!  

Don't forget to bookmark the page when you get there ... or even make it your Home Page. (For Internet Explorer, just click on Tools ... Internet Options ... General ... fill in and click OK. For Netscape, select Edit ... Preferences. Then select Navigator from the left menu, click Home Page and enter the URL above next to Location and click OK. For all the flash new browsers, you'll have to do a search on my mate google to find what to do. There's a search box on the archives page!)

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Never-Ending Story

An Ape that wants to play Hamlet after being type-cast as King Kong, a talking anvil and that rottweiller ... Dr Morgenes is still caught in the nightmare that is the casting couch. Help him find a plot!  Just click on the Comments button at the end of the entry to add your contribution. If you have friends who fancy themselves as writers, invite them to contribute (just forward this newsletter in its entirety to them).

Map of the World

I often trawl this for comments to post on my site ... so if you say something about the newsletter or site, be warned, you may end up being read by one of the 2,000+ unique visitors who visit Write101 every day! Make your Mark on the World. Then stop by our Map of the World and read the messages. (Just click List) and add your mark.

Last week's quiz:

Her are some terms you need to know to keep your car in tip-top shape ...

gasket, differential, flywheel, ammeter, caliper, actuator, governor, camber, injector, clutch 

1. inward or outward tilt of a wheel assembly - CAMBER

2. device that performs an action or outputs a signal in response to a signal from a computer - ACTUATOR

3. assembly of gears used to provide power to the rear axles and allow them to rotate at different speeds as necessary - DIFFERENTIAL

4. an instrument, calibrated in amperes, used to measure the flow of an electrical current in a circuit - AMMETER

5. device used to control an engine's speed - GOVERNOR

6. soft, flexible material placed between two parts to prevent leaks; common materials used include cork, polyurethane and sometimes asbestos - GASKET

7. spring-loaded valve that meters fuel into the pre-combustion chamber of a diesel engine - INJECTOR

8. component that houses disc brake pads on both sides of the brake rotor and are forced together through applied brake fluid pressure to stop the rotor from turning, thus stopping the car; also the name of a tool to measure small inside and outside diameters - CALIPER

9. device that allows the driver to engage or disengage the engine and transmission - CLUTCH

10. large, heavy wheel mounted on the rear end of the crankshaft; usually includes a ring gear that is engaged by the starter pinion - FLYWHEEL

The man went to a bookstore and asked the saleswoman, "Where's the self-help section?"

She answered, "If I tell you, it will defeat the purpose."

A Little Something Extra

This week, author Jenna Glatzer takes a detailed look at what it takes to get started on your writing career ... from the Big Idea, through to writing the query letter and finding a suitable market to selling your book and giving interviews! 

"Okay. So you’ve figured out that you would like to write. Unfortunately, so have about eight gazillion other people on this planet. Therefore, you have to stand out from the crowd. You have to sparkle. How do you do this? Simple. It all starts with “The Big Idea.”  The first secret you must learn in this funny business is that you don’t actually have to write the whole article/story/editorial/etc. to get a job. In fact, only bright green novices attempt to write the whole thing before selling it. What you do need, however, is the IDEA for the great story. You will use this great idea to convince editors to pay you exorbitant amounts of money via a proposal letter (called a “query letter.” But you’ll learn about that in a minute.)" 

Click to read how to write a query letter 

And find lots more useful tips by published writers here.  


Word of the week Synopsis (n) a brief or condensed statement giving a general view of some subject; a compendium of heads or short paragraphs giving a view of the whole; a brief summary of the plot of a novel, motion picture, play, etc

Notice anything about these definitions?

Right! They all refer to the briefness of the content. Don't say you haven't been warned.

Oxymoron of the week: kindly editor

And a Latin phrase you can expect to hear from your agent (if you have one):

Amicule, deliciae, num is sum qui mentiar tibi?

[ah-mee-KOO-lay day-LEE-kee-ay NOOM EES SOOM KWEE MAYN-tee-ahr TEE-bee]

(Baby, sweetheart, would I lie to you?)

Did you know that you can have your very own Latin reminders? How about undies proclaiming, Bene est rex esse? (It's good to be king) Or a shopping bag that warns, Emptrix nata sum (Born to shop)? 

Kind regards,


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Copyright  Jennifer Stewart  2008

Individual articles copyrighted by their authors.