Why Journalists Make Great Novelists

Why Journalists Make Great Novelists

why journalists make great novelists

As many of you know, I was a journalist before I became a freelance editor and online course creator. Although I had published a YA book before getting into journalism, my job working for a daily newspaper inspired my first adult novel, Twenty-Five Years Ago Today, about an obit writer and aspiring reporter who becomes obsessed with solving a cold case.

That’s why when Asha Belle Caldwell approached me about a guest post on why journalists make great novelists, I loved the idea. My reporting experience definitely improved my overall fiction-writing and editing skills. I used to handwrite my first drafts until one of my editors caught me writing a School Committee meeting article in a notebook, shook his head vigorously, and said, “There’s no time for that. You have to write on the computer.” That skill quickly transferred to my novels. Journalism also taught me about the importance of hooking the reader with a lead, doing research, meeting deadlines, and much more.

Below, you can read Asha Belle’s article delving into the topic of why journalists make good novelists.   

From the outside, journalists and novelists seem like they belong at the opposite ends of the writing spectrum — one dealing with hard reality and the other with made-up worlds and scenarios. Yet the opposite is true and many of the skills journalists have learned have helped them become novelists. For example, author Sara Goudarzi outlines that her science journalism background helped her cope with the unfamiliar loneliness of writing a novel.

And she is far from being the only journalist- turned author. Some of the most popular authors that we know of today started out as journalists. Mark Twain, the icon of sharp-witted admonishment about racism and slavery, started out as a journalist. Fantasy author Neil Gaiman, whose richly imagined fantasy works have consumed pop culture, also started out as a journalist. Other remarkable novelists belonging to this roster include Joan Didion, Ernest Hemingway, Charles Dickens, and a score of others.

Journalists’ interaction with the real world allows them to scavenge great material for their novels. Here are a couple of reasons why.

Many journalists start with fiction

Writers are often avid readers, and fiction is often the first encounter we have with literature as children. So the most straightforward explanation for why journalists make great novelists is that many of them were already reading or writing fiction. Even renowned fiction authors like Arundhati Roy and Zadie Smith have come to contribute to established publications like The Guardian and The New Yorker to provide critique on culture and current events.

Of course, there is a wide gap between the creative process for journalism and fiction. But working under the pressure of deadlines and having to practice economy of words is sure to enrich journalists’ writing style and discipline, even when applied to writing novels.

Journalists are storytellers

It’s time to break the myth — journalism is never objective. This is because all successful journalists and other formal writing professionals have one common essential communication skill: a commitment to storytelling. Even though the discipline focuses on the facts and upholds truth, at every point in the writing process, journalists will be framing the narrative in a way that gets the readers to empathize with their version of the story.

The Pulitzer Prizes annually award journalists for exceptional reporting. For example, in 2020, Ben Taub of the New Yorker won the Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing for a deeply perturbing, and yet melodically lyrical, account of a man unjustly kidnapped and detained at the Guantanamo Bay detention center. His works exhibit the skillful crafting of a real-life story to illustrate the emotional depth of what would otherwise be an unheard story.

Journalists have to choose which elements to highlight and whose perspective to prioritize. In a similar manner, these skills of selecting elements and enhancing perspectives are useful in the novel-writing process when writers have to set the scene, drive their theme forward, and get the readers to feel the way they want them to.

Journalists learn about the world

Fiction does not exist in a bubble. It’s important to portray real human emotions and create imaginary settings that are believable to make your story convincing for your readers.

Journalism serves as an incredible resource for learning about the world and acquiring information that can benefit novelists. Journalists are always meeting new people and visiting new places. The late Joan Didion, for instance, wrote about California’s hippie counterculture in the 60s and 70s with unconventional novel-like qualities. She also observed and critiqued Hollywood in all its glamour and horror, and wrote about pivotal events like the Manson murders and the women’s movement.

Ultimately, journalist training offers writers the opportunities to expand their perceptions of reality in ways that can be explored further in fiction.

When it comes to the creative process, writers aren’t that much different from one another. At the heart of telling stories are sensitivity to the world and the impulse to portray it with your words. Journalists-turned-novelists prove that when it comes to the creative process, you can derive endless material from the world around you.

How To Write An Effective Query Letter And Synopsis For Your Book

How To Write An Effective Query Letter And Synopsis For Your Book

how to write an effective query letter and synopsis

My editing clients often ask me how to write an effective query letter and synopsis. Thank you to the team at QueryLetter.com for offering to write this guest post which outlines the difference between a query letter and a synopsis and shares some tips for how to write each of them. I’m sure you’ll find it informative. Remember, there is a free blurb unit inside the Shortcuts for Writers Facebook Group. Once you’re a member, you can download the toolkit, 7 Simple Steps to Nailing Your Book Blurb. Your blurb will become an important part of your query letter.

What’s The Difference Between A Query Letter And A Synopsis?

The publishing world is difficult. Your work isn’t over once you finish your manuscript. In fact, finishing your book is just the first step to populating bookshelves with your masterpiece! You’ll need to decide between traditional publishing and self-publishing, but if you want to see book stores stocked with physical copies of your book, traditional publishing is your best option.

In most cases, to pursue traditional publishing, you need to work with a literary agent, who will represent your manuscript and pitch it to publishers. Landing a literary agent can be a challenge, however. When doing research on pitching your manuscript to agents, you’ll come across terms such as “query letter” and “synopsis,” which may be unfamiliar to those new to publishing.

In this post, we’ll take you through the key differences between query letters and synopses and offer some tips on writing both.

What Is A Query Letter?

When you pitch your manuscript to a prospective literary agent, the most important element is your query letter. Your query letter is your chance to introduce yourself and your manuscript to the literary agent and explain why she should be interested in representing your book. The key purpose of a query letter is to intrigue the literary agent into requesting more info about your manuscript, and your query letter thus represents your first step in the publishing process.

Query letters are short, no longer than one page, and provide only a brief overview of your manuscript and your author bio. Since your space is extremely limited, you’ll need to make every word count. Essentially, you have only a few sentences to sell your book to a prospective literary agent.

What Is A Synopsis?

Whereas the query letter focuses on the whole picture, meaning you, the agent, and your manuscript, the synopsis is concerned with your manuscript alone. In essence, a synopsis is a one-to two-page description of the entire plot of your book, including the ending. It gives a prospective literary agent an in-depth glimpse into your plot and helps her determine whether your manuscript may be worth a full read.

Sometimes, literary agents ask prospective clients to submit a synopsis along with a query letter, but in most cases, the synopsis is the second step in the publishing process. In general, if you manage to pique a literary agent’s interest with your query letter, she’ll follow up by requesting a synopsis, and if she likes your synopsis, she’ll request your full manuscript.

How To Write A Query Letter

Typically, a query letter consists of two main parts: the hook and the pitch. In the hook, your job is to draw the agent’s attention with an interesting opening sentence that captures the essence of your manuscript. The pitch elaborates on the hook, providing an overview of your manuscript in two to three paragraphs that may include mentions of comparable books on the market. Finally, your query letter may include a brief author bio describing your experience and reputation—for example, if you have previous publications.

The main purpose of your query letter is to succinctly sell your manuscript. Condensing your 80,000-word manuscript into a few sentences can be difficult, so it’s better to start small and build up. Start by summarizing your plot in one or two sentences and build off that, adding only the most relevant and intriguing information. Take some time to consider the main themes and questions your manuscript deals with to help you best summarize your work.

Use others’ query letters to inspire you, as well. With a quick Google search, you can find thousands of query letter examples, so do some research into what kinds of query letters have successfully landed literary agents for other authors in your genre. This will give you a better idea of how best to structure your query letter for success.

Finally, always personalize your query letter. You can find out more about the agent you’re pitching to by browsing her social media or website, which will likely reveal her interests and the books she has represented previously. If it’s relevant, include this information in your query letter while explaining why you think this particular agent is a good fit for your manuscript.

How To Write A Synopsis

As with a query letter, your primary goal with your synopsis is to succinctly summarize your manuscript in a way that intrigues literary agents. A synopsis gives you more room than a query letter: Typically, a synopsis should be 500 words, or around two pages, unless the literary agent specifies another length. This affords you enough words to explain the main points of your plot and give the agent a solid overview of your story.

Think of a synopsis as an abridged version of your manuscript. It tells the same story, but all the details are cut out. It simply moves through all the key plot points. It has a clear beginning, middle, and end, just like your manuscript. A good way to build a solid synopsis is to start by condensing each chapter into one or two sentences. From that, build a comprehensive synopsis with a clear narrative arc that explains the major plot points.

Your writing style matters in your synopsis, too. Keep things clear and concise—no flowery prose or wordiness. At the same time, don’t just mechanically explain each event. Use your personal style and make the literary agent feel something. Your synopsis should be a mini version of your manuscript, not an emotionless description.

The Importance Of Feedback

Aside from helping to proofread your query letter and synopsis to eliminate typos, a trusted writing colleague, beta reader, or friend can be instrumental in providing feedback that helps you detect issues with clarity or style. A polished query letter and synopsis will maximize your chances of success, so seek out and incorporate as much feedback as you can, finding ways to improve your query letter and increase the intrigue.

If you don’t know where to start in terms of writing your query letter or synopsis, reach out to the team at QueryLetter.com. As experienced industry professionals, the QueryLetter.com team knows publishing inside and out, and they work with authors to help them navigate the challenges of the publishing world and get their books out on bookshelves.

3 Ways To Get Unstuck While Writing Your Memoir

3 Ways To Get Unstuck While Writing Your Memoir

writing your memoir

If you’re seeking tips on writing your memoir, then you’ll enjoy this guest post by Danielle Perlin-Good. Danielle, a book coach, editor, and online marketing strategist, works with many authors who are writing their memoirs. In the below article, she outlines three ways to get unstuck while writing your memoir.

We all have a small, pestering voice that can lead us on a downward spiral. That voice can dictate our choices in life, how we manage our time, and how we tackle our limiting beliefs. By allowing this voice to come in and create our reality, we diminish our courage, confidence, pride, and joy. We ultimately cannot become our best selves. Realizing that this little voice exists, however, is the key to discovering how you’ll be able to start writing your first memoir.

Tackle Your Limiting Beliefs

Many aspiring authors cite that the reason for writer’s block, and the reason that one gets “stuck,” is due to fear—the fear of failing, the fear of being judged, the fear of nobody reading your work, or the fear of finding success. Ask yourself if fear is truly preventing you from reaching your goals. In order to tackle these limiting beliefs about yourself, you need to first acknowledge that you have limiting beliefs.

Next, identify your limiting beliefs. Finally, take responsibility for these limiting beliefs. Instead of saying to yourself, “I am not a good writer. I am never going to publish my book,” change the narrative and say, “I can become a better writer. I will publish my book!” When you cannot take responsibility for these thoughts, you are unconsciously telling yourself that you do not deserve to reach your goals. In order to make room to write your memoir, you must learn how to listen to the positive, encouraging voice inside of yourself. 

Read Memoirs

If you’ve gotten to the point where you can be in a positive headspace, but you’re still having trouble telling your story, I suggest reading memoirs. Here’s a short list of my personal favorites: (click the title to see it on Amazon.)

The differences between these memoirs in particular are quite staggering. You’ll notice that while some of them discuss the author’s life chronologically, none of them would be considered an autobiography. While an autobiography is able to chronicle one’s life story from birth to old age, memoir is simply a piece of one’s life wrapped up, smoothed over, and glistening to give to an eager reader. By reading more memoirs, you’ll become more familiar with the different ways in which you could write your own memoir. 

Think About Your Readership

You’re ultimately making an argument in your memoir about an event or a circumstance that took place in your life. Consider what you learned during this particular time, and show us how you made your way through. Tell us what choices you made, and how you came to decide upon those choices. Make sure that you include transcendence as well—was it one particular piece of advice, one afternoon, or the day someone handed you a baseball? What was the moment that changed the course of your life, and why should your readership care about this? Once you ask yourself these questions, you’ll have a much clearer picture as to how you can begin structuring your memoir. 

Danielle’s Bio

Growing up Jewish, Danielle was always extremely interested in familial history, ancestry, and her roots. She loves helping others share their family’s history and showcase it to the world. She firmly believes in telling stories of the past so future generations can learn from trials and tribulations. Danielle worked at a children’s publishing company as the social media coordinator for over three years, several Chicago-area newspaper companies, and has helped numerous small businesses with their digital marketing efforts. She has more than 12 years of writing experience and has a BS in News-Editorial Journalism from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. In her free time, Danielle enjoys swimming, practicing yoga, being outside, and spending time with her husband and their baby boy.

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