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Today, we’re proud to share with you another GUEST POST! Please read up, and take some hints about avoiding simple mistakes from Yael Grauer, as she has excellent advice about making the most of your pitches. Please share your thoughts below in the comments section.

Put your best foot forward when pitching editors, agents, and corporate clients

by Yael Grauer

When communicating with potential clients, we all strive to put our best foot forward. And yet editors, agents, and corporate clients are often quick to advise aspiring writers to avoid what seem like glaringly obvious errors.

“You’d be surprised,” they all say, recounting dozens of stories of misspellings, inappropriate inquiries, and instances of bizarre behavior.

We all laugh at these amateur mistakes when they’re made by others, but I’ll reluctantly admit that I once noticed I’d sent an e-mail to a dream client with “copywriter posiion” written as the subject line. Needless to say, I didn’t get the job.

How do we avoid these embarrassing errors? Here are five tips to keep in mind.

  1. Check your spelling. This includes that of the person you’re addressing your inquiry to, the company they work for, and the entire text of your e-mail or letter. And not all of these mistakes are easily caught by spellcheck, either. Businesses often have non-standard capitalization, spaces where you wouldn’t think there’d be any, or other unexpected oddities. Being oblivious to these idiosyncrasies makes you seem inattentive to detail, so take the time to show that you’re paying attention.
  2. Double-check the addressee of your inquiry. “This article would be perfect for Woman’s Day,” an editor of a different women’s magazine recalled reading in a query. Her knee-jerk reaction: “Then why don’t you send it to them?” Although the time-consuming process of personalizing each and every pitch isn’t always feasible, at least tailor the addressees of your query letters.
  3. Make sure your pitch is appropriate. So you know how to spell the name of the person you’re trying to reach and the name of their business or publication. Now, make sure the idea you’re pitching them is actually something that will interest them. That means that you don’t want to send a pitch about Android apps to Macworld, or a kid’s story to AARP, or something about making ham for Easter to Tikkun Magazine. It means you’re not going to send a proposal for young adult fiction to an agent who only represents biographies, or poetry to a magazine that only publishes articles. Not sure? Check the FAQ section of their website, or any back issues (if appropriate). If it’s not immediately obvious, check with someone in the know or consider picking up the phone to contact the company in question directly.
  4. Don’t be a stalker. Following up a couple of weeks after you’ve made an inquiry is acceptable. Following up the next day (and the next day and the next day) is not. Sending a holiday card to someone you’ve worked with is a nice touch. Mailing a gift to someone you’ve never worked with is not.
  5. Don’t argue. If someone chooses not to use your services and you’re lucky enough to get an explanation, say thank you and move on. Bickering with the decision-maker about why they’re wrong isn’t only unhelpful, it’s also obnoxious. Try to learn from the feedback, using it to restructure future pitches to either avoid the error you might have made or to avoid the misperception of one. If you suspect you’re not getting the whole story, it’s possible that there’s actually a different, more complicated, or political explanation the person you’re communicating with chose not to share with you. Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and try again. You’ll be better for it.

What seemingly obvious errors have you seen people make, and what steps could they have taken to avoid them? Leave your thoughts in the comments.

Yael Grauer is a freelance writer and editor based in Minneapolis, MN. She blogs about health, fitness and the freelance life at yaelwrites.com/blog.

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Dictionary Day honors patriot and language wrangler, Noah Webster

Dictionary Day is recognized annually on October 16 in honor of Noah Webster, the father of the American dictionary, who was born on this day in 1758. Besides his fame for compiling the dictionary that bears his name, Webster was an educator, textbook pioneer, English spelling reformer, political writer, editor, and prolific author. Webster began compiling his dictionary at the age of 43, and it took him 27 years to finish it.

Webster believed that English spelling rules were unnecessarily complex, so in his dictionary he introduced American English spellings of words like color (as opposed to colour), wagon (replacing waggon), and center (instead of centre). He also added uniquely American words, like skunk and squash, which had not appeared in British dictionaries.

The point of setting aside today as Dictionary Day is to emphasize the importance of spelling and dictionary skills, and seeking to improve vocabulary. As important as they are, dictionary drills can be boring. For some entertaining ideas to improve your skills (or your child’s) at finding words, understanding meanings, and learning to spell, pull out that dictionary — an actual book, not dictionary.com — and try these exercises.

A dictionary offers much more than simple definitions, although it can be quite important to discover whether a word you always thought meant one thing really means what you think it means. You can use a dictionary to:

  • Learn the proper spelling of a word
  • Determine a word’s part of speech
  • Learn secondary or multiple meanings of a word
  • Find out how to pronounce a word
  • Find the origin of a word

For a clean, well-organized explanation of the parts of a dictionary, see this SlideShare presentation.

Want to learn a Word of the Day, or add that feature to your website? Check out these sites:

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http://www.merriam-webster.com/word-of-the-day

TODAY’s WORD: bumbershoot

\BUM-ber-shoot\ noun

DEFINITION: umbrella

EXAMPLES: Noticing that a light rain had just begun to fall, Grandpa turned to Susie and said, “Don’t forget to take your bumbershoot!”

“The Camas Days parade featured vintage cars; rodeo royalty mounted on horses; and the Lacamas Shores Rain or Shine Umbrella Drill Team, which wowed the crowd with their bright orange bumbershoots — not that anyone needed them.” — Kathie Durbin, The Columbian (Vancouver, WA), July 23, 2011

DID YOU KNOW?

Umbrellas have plenty of nicknames. In Britain, “brolly” is a popular alternative to the more staid “umbrella.” Sarah Gamp, a fictional nurse who toted a particularly large umbrella in Charles Dickens’s novel Martin Chuzzlewit, has inspired some English speakers to dub oversize versions “gamps.” “Bumbershoot” is a predominantly American nickname, one that has been recorded as a whimsical, slightly irreverent handle for umbrellas since the late 1890s. As with most slang terms, the origins of “bumbershoot” are a bit foggy, but it appears that the “bumber” is a modification of the “umbr-” in “umbrella” and the “shoot” is an alteration of the “-chute” in “parachute” (since an open parachute looks a little like an umbrella).

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http://wordsmith.org/awad/add.html

TODAY’s WORD: vituperation

PRONUNCIATION: (vy-too-puh-RAY-shuhn, -tyoo-, vi-)

MEANING: (noun) Bitter and abusive language; condemnation.

ETYMOLOGY: From Latin vituperare (to blame), from vitium (fault) + parare (to make or prepare). Earliest documented use: 1481.

USAGE: “The judge I knew best was my grandfather. His unflappable nature helped him handle all the vituperation that comes to highly placed judges through the mails.” Amelia Newcomb; “Judges: Not All Black Robes and Gavels;” Christian Science Monitor (Boston, Massachusetts); Feb 7, 2002.

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http://dictionary.reference.com/wordoftheday/list

TODAY’s WORD: lummox

\LUHM-uhks\ noun;

1. A clumsy, stupid person.

QUOTES: “Spence regarded the lummox. He was a good-size boy, give him that – six one, six one and a half maybe – with limp blond hair…” — Howard Frank Mosher, Waiting for Teddy Williams

“Today I told myself that in actual fact anyone who takes an innocuous and random delight in his life is an absolute lummox.” — Robert Walser, Selected Stories

ORIGIN: Lummox is of uncertain origin. It is perhaps from “dumb ox” or influenced by “lumbering.”

It’s Dictionary Day, so pick up your dictionary and look up a word!

Laura

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Poor spelling doesn’t equal inferior intelligence, but it does require a Plan B

After a recent conversation with a Facebook pal about her spelling challenges, I was reminded of this voicemail I received from a client a few years back:

Hi, Laura. It’s Elizabeth. I really hope I caught you in time. You know that article I sent you to edit? Don’t open it! I mean, I hope you didn’t look at it yet. I just reread it, and realized it’s terrible. I need to rework it. I’ll see what I can do with it later this afternoon, and send you my improved version tonight or tomorrow. Thanks.

Unfortunately, Elizabeth never sent me the revision.

Funny thing about writing: many people have absolutely ZERO confidence in their ability to do it. What they often fail to realize is that they are much more skilled than they give themselves credit for. And for those whose ability is less than stellar, that’s the whole reason editors have jobs, isn’t it?

What I’d like to convince my client, Elizabeth — and everyone else out there who feels similarly — is that there is absolutely nothing to be ashamed about with regard to their writing skills. No matter how bad the spelling or how egregious the grammar errors, none of that is representative of how smart she is; nor does it diminish the importance of the information she wants to share with her audience.

In a 2000 Suite101.com article, “What Does Your Spelling Say About You Behind Your Back?” Sandra Linville references Marilyn Vos Savant’s book, The Art of Spelling: The Madness and the Method. Vos Savant wrote her book after conducting a 1998 survey in her Parade Magazine column, in which she asked, “What does your spelling really say about you? Is spelling ability a measure of your education, intelligence, desire, or none of the above?”

In her article, Linville explains, “The survey garnered more than 42,000 responses, indicating that better organizational skills benefit spelling ability, rather than intelligence. However, Vos Savant realizes that inept spellers can look inept in other ways. A misspelled word can kill a job offer or result in a rejected proposal. She also states that an English-speaking perfect speller doesn’t exist.”

Corresponding with Vos Savant’s theory, it is widely reputed that Albert Einstein, the unquestionable genius physicist, was so bad at spelling that he was initially assumed to be retarded. In fact, according to the 1998 ScienceGoGo.com article, “Ten Obscure Factoids Concerning Albert Einstein,” Factoid #3 is:

He Was a Rotten Speller. Although he lived for many years in the United States and was fully bilingual, Einstein claimed never to be able to write in English because of “the treacherous spelling.” He never lost his distinctive German accent either, summed up by his catch-phrase “I vill a little t’ink.”

Some now purport that Einstein struggled with dyslexia, a learning disorder that impairs a person’s fluency or comprehension accuracy. However, this claim is only speculative. Nevertheless, spelling is only one of several serious difficulties facing people with dyslexia.

According to Dyslexia-Parent.com, there are four main challenges for a dyslexic person:

1. Spelling
2. Sentence punctuation
3. Handwriting
4. Sequencing ideas

In such a case, lack of intelligence clearly is not the issue for a challenged speller.

There is also the distinction to be made between poor cognitive spelling skills and never having learned to do it properly. As Philip Hensher writes in the UK’s The Independent:

Spelling may, in the end, not be a very reliable indicator of intelligence, and it is certainly possible to imagine very intelligent and articulate people who lack the skill. But society has agreed that it is significant, and there is no doubt that people, at some point in their lives, will be judged partly on the basis of whether they can spell or not. It is simply the job of education to teach that skill, and it is incredible to hear professional teachers sneering at the notion.

I fear that this attitude is not all that unusual, however. A couple of years ago, I agreed to teach a residential course for sixth-formers who were interested in becoming journalists. They were from a disadvantaged part of London, but I would say they were intrinsically bright and capable. I set some written work: it arrived: I held my head in horror. Not one of them was capable of writing 20 words without making a mistake in spelling, and sometimes an elementary one.

The point here is not that they lacked ability, but that their education had never impressed on them the importance of accuracy. It seemed perfectly plausible to them, and to their teachers, that native ability and enthusiasm would be enough to qualify them to write prose for a living. The idea that accuracy might be needed had literally never occurred to them.

One interesting yet seldom-mentioned fact is the converse of this idea that poor spelling is an indication of inferior intelligence, that is, good spelling is NOT necessarily an indication of intelligence. A person may have strong memorization and/or language skills without possessing comprehensive intelligence across all subjects.

Beyond spelling, another consideration is the fact that not all of us are inherently strong in verbal/linguistic skills. Renowned social scientist Howard Gardner developed a model known as multiple intelligences, meaning that although each of us has many ways in which we learn and perceive information, we generally have one primary area where we excel. The eight intelligences Gardner identified are: Verbal/Linguistic, Logical/Mathematical, Visual/Spatial, Intrapersonal, Interpersonal, Bodily/Kinesthetic, Musical/Rhythmic, and Naturalistic.

Although verbal and linguistic may be perceived as the most commonly emphasized of the eight intelligences, there are seven other skill sets at which a person may excel. Verbal/linguistic may be my personal strengths, but just ask my niece about my fiasco as a sub, teaching math to her 6th grade Montessori class.

What it comes down to is this: in business in particular, heighten and hone your natural skills and leverage them as far as you can – but HIRE OUT your weaknesses. Don’t worry that you don’t do it well as you hand over the project to your outsourcee – that’s why you’re hiring them!

My client who said she needed to rewrite her article before she sent it to me reminded me of those people who feel they have to clean their houses before the housekeeper arrives. That one also baffles me. Rather than focus on her imperfections, I wish she could celebrate her wisdom in reaching out for help. If we could all just get past our shame about our deficiencies and instead focus on the things we do well, life would be so much easier.

Laura

Originally posted on March 31, 2007 as “There’s No Shame in Being a Bad Speller/Poor Grammarian” on the blog Communication Made Easy, by Marcie Brock creator, Laura Orsini.

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