Thursday, November 6, 2008

Preparing a Writer's Resume

Call it a resume, call it a precis. Whatever you call it, make sure it helps you sell yourself to those editors who don't yet know you!

All of us have to do it from time to time ... cold-call on an editor who doesn't know us from Adam. Sure, a query letter works well when introducing our projects. But even when an idea for a book or a short story catches an editor's eye, there's always the nagging thought in the back of his mind: "Yeah, but can this writer really deliver?"

You see, editors hate taking a chance on a an unknown writer by tying up his time and resources, planning on publishing an article on the history of Amtrak, for example, only to have the writer fail to come through in the end. That's where a writing resume comes in.

A resume helps to sell an editor on you--as a reliable, trustworthy writer who deserves an assignment ... or, at least, a closer look. By reviewing your writing-related accomplishments, an editor can get a pretty good idea of whether or not you can be relied upon to deliver what your query letter or outline promises.

What's that, you say? You haven't had anything published? You're new at the freelance writing game? You haven't written much of anything before and don't have a real literary track record to follow? Well, don't be too sure.

Have you ever had a letter-to-the-editor printed in a local newspaper? Have you ever self-published anything like a book or a pamphlet? Have you published anything on a Web site or a home page?

Have you written promotional copy for a brochure? A church picnic? A service club? Have you done any book or product reviews, either for the print media or the Internet?

Have you entered any writing contests and won any awards? Do you belong to any writing groups, either amateur or professional? Have you helped anyone else out with his or her writing? Or perhaps critiqued someone's writing, either formally or otherwise?

Have you worked anywhere near a book, newspaper, or magazine publishing house? A television or radio station?

Have you ever taught English as a first or second language either at a school or at someplace less formal, either here or in another country? Have you ever shown someone how to write a more effective business letter or been asked to edit or re-write someone else's correspondence? Have you received any awards or compliments for your communications skills? And, by the way, what courses did you take in high school and college? Anything related to writing, communication, journalism, media, filmmaking, photography, etc? Were you an editor or a reporter for the school newspaper or yearbook?

If you've answered "yes" to any of these questions, you have a good head start on your writing resume. No editor wants to know that you were a member of the Skokie High School Chess Club, but someone will be interested in knowing that you helped write a brochure or a paper (call it an article, please!) on how to play better chess.

If you don't have any published material to show off, show off your unpublished stuff. If you've written seventeen short stories--but have nothing published yet--list the seventeen short stories. Most editors are more concerned about your being a quality writer who lives up to his word than a widely published one. Prove that you can do what you say you can and back it up with a writing resume that says you're both creative and industrious, and we can almost guarantee a by-line in your near future.

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