What’s better than a Writers’ Roundup?

A new website! I’m skipping our weekly roundup feature today as I transition this blog to WordPress.org. If all goes well, I’ll have a new cyber-home on Monday!

Have a great weekend.

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What makes a good head shot?

Before I launched my Facebook page for Socialexis, I sent the link to my sister and my best friend, asking them to look it over. Both came back with the same criticism: I needed a more professional photo.

I knew they were right. Not only did I need one to promote my new business, I also needed a professional head shot for this blog and hopefully, at some point, to promote my book.

Andrea of Servidone Studios sets up a backdrop.

But I hate getting my head shot taken. I never like how they come out! People often tell me I’m photogenic, but apparently that doesn’t apply to posed photos, because I find something wrong with every one: my smile looks fake, my arms look fat, my hair looks greasy. I thought about using my photo from my days as a reporter at the Houston Chronicle, but it was several years old and, let’s face it, I never loved it anyhow.

So I called a photographer friend, Andrea of Servidone Studios, who was nice enough to truck her equipment, including a large white backdrop, to my house. While she took what seemed like hundreds of shots, she gave me some tips on how to take a good head shot.

Andrea’s tips:

Wear a brightly colored shirt. White doesn’t do well with a flash, and it can wash you out if you’ve got light skin. Black causes problems too; it is slimming, but doesn’t show up well on camera. You’ll see below that I followed Andrea’s advice and wore a bright blue shirt. Red or green or any other bright color works, too.

Avoid patterns. A solid shirt is best, rather than one with a busy pattern. “It’s about you,” Andrea said. Don’t let your shirt steal the show.

Ladies, pick a v-neck or cardigan. Unless you work in finance, collared shorts can look stuffy. Wear a shirt that shows some neck. But only a little bit of neck! Modest is good, too.

Don’t sit facing the camera. Instead, sit with your body to one side. Leave your feet planted and turn your upper body and head to face the camera.

Tilt your chin down. And look up at the camera. This feels kind of awkward, but it works well for the photo. And that’s what we really care about, right?

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Example of a query that worked

I love practical advice. What do I love even more? Practical advice with examples.

So today I’m sharing the query I sent to literary agents with the hopes that it will help you create your own pitch letter. I’m no expert on this, and my query isn’t perfect. But it’s the result of a lot of research into how to write a good query, and several people who know what they’re talking about helped me mold it into its current form. Despite its flaws — which I hope you’ll point out in the comments — it passed the real test: it yielded a decent number of bites from literary agents who asked to see my partial or full manuscript and/or proposal. I don’t know why each of them expressed interest. But that’s gotta mean the query has a few good elements, right?

E-mail Subject: Query: Title Here (travel memoir)

Dear [Agent],

I’m seeking representation for my travel memoir, [Withholding Title to Surprise You Later]. I’m querying you because [personalize here for agent. I hand-picked the agents I queried for specific reasons that I’ll explain in another post.]

You’d think shadowing a bull-riding cowboy would be enough. Or covering an execution at a Texas prison. As a journalist at the Houston Chronicle, I had plenty of adventure, but it wasn’t the kind I wanted. I longed to travel. Not to Europe or the Caribbean like other single twenty-seven-year-olds. I wanted to go to Africa. And I wanted to go alone.

Africa?” My friends and family spit the word back at me as though it were a euphemism for bottomless pit. “By yourself? Why would you want to do that?”

[Title] is my story of leaving my job to follow a dream, backpacking through an undeveloped continent. I don’t want to be the woman who talks about her dreams. I want to be the woman who lives them. And by the time readers are done with this travel memoir, they’ll want to take leaps in their lives, too.

Unlike the narrator in most women’s travel books, I’m not looking for love or running from a relationship. My journey takes me to the mountains of Cameroon, where I help a grieving polygamous family heal; to the sandstorm-plagued desert of the infamous Timbuktu; and to a near-empty zoo in Burkina Faso, where I watch an AIDS-infected boy bond with a chimp. It’s not until I find myself alone in a dangerous Malagasy bus station after midnight that I admit that traveling alone in a place so different from home is scarier than I expected. But this is what dreams look like up close: dirty, frustrating and uncomfortable. And facing obstacles helps me learn that leaning on others isn’t a weakness – it makes me stronger.

I’m a professional journalist, a former reporter for the Houston Chronicle who has also contributed to The Christian Science Monitor, the Albany Times Union and the Colby Magazine. I tested the salability of much of this manuscript through my travel blog, Inkslinging in Africa, which garnered 50,000 hits in just six months. I also have a following on my writing blog, The Traveling Writer, where I’ve chronicled my experience writing this story.

Please let me know if you’d like to look over the completed 84,000-word manuscript or my proposal.

Thanks for your consideration,

Alexis Grant
Journalist
[My cell number]
My blog: The Traveling Writer
Twitter: @alexisgrant

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