books Magazine article Thoughts on writing Uncategorized Writing tips

Writing Another Book Proposal

I just submitted a magazine article two weeks ahead of deadline. Yay me! Now, I can turn to writing a book proposal that an editor asked me to develop. I short queried first, taking no more than twenty minutes to write up the query. The editor replied, asking for a complete proposal, one that includes two sample chapters. Here’s what this publisher asks for:

  • A cover letter, including: a brief summary of the book, the approximate length (word count) of your manuscript, and why you think your book is a good fit for Imbrifex Books.
  • A table of contents or outline of the book’s contents
  • Two sample chapters
  • Any photographs or illustrations you believe might assist us in evaluating your proposal (do not send originals!)
  • A brief list of similar or competitive books, including title, author, publisher, ISBN number, and date of publication. (These are all available on and other online booksellers.) Tell us what makes your book unique. How does it differ from your competition? (This is vitally important information — please take the time to research thoroughly and think about it carefully.)
  • Marketing and publicity plans or ideas
  • A description of your book’s target audience (Please be as specific as possible.)
  • A brief autobiographical summary or résumé. What do you, as the author, bring to the project?
  • Your mailing address, daytime phone number, and e-mail address

A big project, eh? Certainly. And I’ll develop a website to support the proposal, just like I did with (external link). One editor, who passed on that project, called Nevada Ag’s website the best book proposal idea he had ever seen. Why all this work?

It’s all about commitment. Any press is taking a big risk on your book, both in time and money. They want to see that you are also fully involved, not just in writing the book but also in marketing the title. Are you a true partner or not?

A good comparison is the business plan. You can’t ask for financing based on an interesting idea, you have to develop a lengthy, well analyzed plan that shows how your idea makes economic sense. Business plans can take months to write but they are the first test a lending company will ask you to pass.

I am aiming to complete my proposal by January 1st, 2018. A warning word to all my foreign readers — little gets done in America during December. It is a very difficult time to get hold of people. Lots of holidays in December with families often the central focus. Get your correspondence done now or be prepared to wait longer for replies next month.

Magazine article Thoughts on writing Uncategorized Writing tips

My Outdoor California Article is Going to Print!

It’s always a wonderful feeling when an article nears publication. I’ve been sent a .pdf of my most recent magazine article to review and to submit corrections. The article is on the Yolo Bypass which is near Sacramento. Entitled High Water Legacy, it chronicles the role the bypass plays in providing wildlife habitat and flood control. The magazine is hard copy only, so I can’t point you to any online presence. The photograph below isn’t the issue I am appearing in, it’s just a typical cover. What’s the magazine about? As they put it,

Outdoor California Magazine

The Official California Fish, Wildlife and Habitat Magazine

Each issue offers California at its best—compelling stories on the state’s native species and habitat, presented with page after page of beautiful photographs. All of this plus the Thin Green Line, which chronicles California’s war against poachers!

How did I get my bypass article query letter accepted? Although some of it is luck, because you never know what an editor needs at any given moment, some it is not luck.

I had previously written on the bypass for the West Sacramento News-Ledger. I became an occasional reporter for that paper by doing my first two articles for free. After that, I did a number of stories, all for $25 an article. But the money wasn’t really the issue. I got paid, something, I got a byline, and I got published. Look at my story titles below.

Can you see yourself working for a weekly or a community newspaper? Query the editor with pitches and see where it leads. The idea is that one door leads to another. Years ago, writing about telecom on the web lead me to be accepted by several magazines and then I eventually landed an appearance on the History Channel. Can you think how the articles below might lead me to other articles? Keep writing!

The Outdoors Next Door: Exploring the Yolo Bypass 

The Port of West Sacramento is on a Path to Profitability 

West Sacramento’s CERT: Educate, Prepare and Assist

The TBD Fest: West Sacramento Hosts the Area’s Largest Music Festival

West Sacramento Reacts to TBD 

The West Sacramento Historical Society: Looking Forward and Back 

The Yolo Education Center: Helping Students Achieve Success

All Politics are Local

Retired Assistant City Manager Carol Richardson Looks Back

A Historic Firehouse Reborn

The Sail Inn is Back In Port

Artwork for Joey Lopes Park

West Sacramento Waterfront Stories

Chando’s Tacos Expands to West Sacramento

The California Highway Patrol Academy

The Sail Inn

Thoughts on writing Uncategorized Writing tips

News and Notes to Start The Year

Quartzsite Coming Up

Next week I’ll travel to Quartzsite, Arizona (external link) to see what’s been called the world’s largest flea market. Most notably, at the so called QIA POW WOW show, some five hundred vendors will be selling rocks, gems, jewelry, fossils, and minerals. Truly, a rockhound’s paradise. Beyond the show grounds will be countless other vendors also selling rocks as well as everything from Mexican piñatas to metal garden sculptures. I’ll be writing an article on spec for Rock&Gem magazine (internal link) about the event.

World’s Fastest Query Letter?

In mid-march I’m taking a day tour of the Nevada National Security Site, a normally off-limit area once used for atomic testing. Although cameras are not permitted, I think the tour will make for a great article. I’ve queried a national magazine, taking all of twenty minutes to do so. With my high rejection rate I am now concerned about being efficient when proposing an article. I could spend hours on a query but, really, how well have I done doing that?

Nevada Agriculture: Past and Present is Looking for a Sponsor

My Nevada agriculture book proposal (external link) has been turned down by the first outfit I approached. To be realistic, the book would have a limited audience so I am concerned it may not find an outlet. I’ve done a little investigating into e-books and this seems a possible, affordable way to publish. Kindle, for example, does not charge to publish a book, instead they take a percentage of sales. While publishing may be free, the hard part, after the writing, is all of the formatting needed to make something attractive. Not my speciality. But there is software to help. More to learn.

Speaking of proposals, my ag book proposal is already out of date. In the time since I wrote it, only months ago, a wide swath of land called Gold Butte has been grabbed by the government and turned into a national monument. That wrecks my statistics on federal land ownership in Clark County. And recreational marijuana has been approved in Nevada, again destroying what I wrote about it as a crop. The tyranny of hardcopy type. All of which argues, perhaps, for not a book but a website that could be built and kept up to date as Nevada agriculture changes through the years. But Yipe! Talk about a project. I ramble. I’ll check in later from Arizona.




Magazine article

My Unorthodox Query Letter is Rejected. But I Wouldn’t Have Changed it.

My query letter to National Geographic’s Traveler was just rejected. But I think I did the best I could. Here are the details. Perhaps you will be inspired to put your own off-the-wall query letter into the mail.

I proposed a travelogue to central Nevada, participatory tourism to discover turquoise at the Royal Royston claim outside of Tonopah. That was what my Rock&Gem (internal link) article was all about and I thought I might interest Nat Geo in a piece tailored toward their audience.

Since my article and query letter revolved around turquoise, I decided to confort the query letter editor with the real thing: real turquoise. I bundled up two samples, one rough, one finished, and sent them off. I included my magazine article and a photo of Kate Blanchett at the Academy Awards wearing a turquoise necklace. Just to show turquoise is in style. (See the image below.)

Alas, my approach did not work. According to the one sentence rejection notice, my article did not fit with their editorial needs. Sigh. Still, I think I did all I could to grab their attention. Perhaps this approach would work with a smaller magazine; getting anything published in a Nat Geo title would be like winning the lottery.

The query letter I sent is below these two images. Read it, and tell me what you think. To all of you trying to get into national magazines, keep trying, and let me know if you have any crazy schemes of your own.




January 15, 2016

Query Editor
National Geographic Traveler
1145 17th St. NW
Washington, DC 20036

A Turquoise Tale: Collecting Stones and Stories From Nevada’s Distant Hills

Can you put adventure in the palm of your hand? Can you touch and feel it? You can near Tonopah, Nevada. Under brilliant blue skies, in hills covered by low sagebrush, you can search for and collect turquoise at the Royston Turquoise Mine, two hundred miles north of Las Vegas. You can take your discoveries home, to be worked into jewelry, or simply keep and admire them for the beautiful rocks they are. This high desert quest for turquoise is a quintessential Nevada adventure, fresh with new countryside and populated by the colorful characters that inhabit them.

My feature article would revolve around the participatory travel experience that the Ottesons provide with their Royston Turquoise mine tour and dig. Why now? Turquoise is riding a new wave of popularity, perhaps its greatest since the 1970s. Why Traveler? Because this rural Nevada adventure hasn’t been featured before; it’s a novel journey for any traveler who thinks of sage country as only home for cattle, wild burros, and ghost towns. Family mines still exists. And this is one of the last in America. More?

A dozen Ottesons have claims in the Royston Hills. Dean Otteson, the patriarch, carries on the work his father started. Brothers and wives and children are involved, from operating the mine to making jewelry. The clan has been pitched with a reality show. Their Royston turquoise is featured in high end jewelry throughout the United States. Rockhounds come from all over the West to collect on the property. It’s a tale worth telling.

I’ve included a copy of my recent Rock&Gem article on turquoise and Tonopah. For Traveler I would visit the mine again and write a shorter, all new piece with less mineralogical musings and an emphasis on the storytelling of the people I meet along the way. My writing credits include two American Heritage Invention and Technology pieces. See the attached sheet. In years past I’ve had a good relation with Edwin Grosvenor. I’d carefully follow your guidance, word count, and deadline. Open the box I’ve included. And put adventure in your hand.

Thanks in advance,

Thomas Farley


How Long Should I Wait For A Reply to My Query Letter?

It depends. Do you have another title in mind for your proposed article? If so, give your first magazine two months to respond and then mail off an inquiry letter. If you have only one publication as a target then you can wait a little longer than two months. In today’s market, though, you may not receive any reply, to your first letter or your second. I know that sounds terrible but I’m being realistic. Editors are busy and they are swamped. There are things you can do while you’re waiting.

The first thing is to keep at it! Keep writing, even if it is only for your own blog. Keep researching new topics. Send letters to a newspaper editor. Offer to write for your home town weekly. Keep reviewing freelance job sites and Craigslist. Don’t sit by the mailbox waiting for just one query to bear fruit. Plant a dozen trees while you wait for one to grow. I do have some practical advice.

Many editors still allow queries and materials in hardcopy. A few, but some, like National Geographic Traveler and Outside Magazine. These people require an SASE if you want a reply. For those companies, you can send your materials by UPS with a postage paid return envelope. Make sure the return envelope has tracking. You’ll get an e-mail if that letter starts its way back to you. That may be a way to know when your query has been rejected. Or, accepted, perhaps. Also, when you write your follow on letter, you will have a tracking number to give them. Less chance of them losing your materials in the mailroom. Good luck.




Another query letter

Here’s another query letter that didn’t find acceptance. It’s about weather balloons, a story I thought Smithsonian Magazine (external link) would be interested in. They weren’t. Still, at least you can tell what one writer’s approach is. How would you go about it?

They’ve been accused of spying, mistaken for UFOs, and their contents can be returned by mail, postage paid. What are they? Weather balloons. Twice a day, every day, 92 National Weather Service stations send these balloons skyward, some 70,000 launches a year. The radiosonde dangling beneath the balloon relays basic, vital forecasting elements: wind speed, barometric pressure, temperature, and relative humidity. Information from these balloons is currently woven into nearly every weather forecast. NOAA states that weather balloons and their payloads will be used for years to come. Since everyone has an interest in the weather, I think this subject would make for a fascinating feature article. One treatise puts it this way:

” The contributions of this relatively simple device [the radiosonde] to the late twentieth-century way of life can hardly be exaggerated. No other factor contributed more to the systematization of weather observations, which is beneficial to all who depend upon meteorological prediction. The . . . radiosonde directly affected agriculture and aeronautics, and its more sophisticated offspring made possible many of the marvels of the space age.”

The last Smithsonian article on weather balloons and their payloads appears to be “How’s the Weather Up There?” in Air and Space Smithsonian in 1999. The Invention and Development of the Radiosonde, published in 2002 by Smithsonian Institution Press, and quoted above, is the definitive work on weather balloon technology; I would greatly rely on it for its authoritative, accurate history. Along with a technology review, I would include weather balloon news stories; many colorful tales exist, from the Khrushchev administration’s spy accusations to the Roswell incident. I could also attend a live launch and report on it. E-mail me for a more complete query. Thank you!


One page query letter example

Some publications still take or require hardcopy proposals. Common sense dictates that such a query should not go over a page. But what does that look like? The proposal below fills out a single 8 1/2 by 12 inch piece of paper. It’s about 450 words, with 11 point type. If I were doing this one again I would cut out at least a hundred words. There is a quotation in the query that I really like, but I would now eliminate it for the sake of brevity. If you want the backstory on this proposal, read my comments below the query. It’s all rather nasty . . .


November 1, 2013

Editorial Department
Outside Magazine
400 Market St.
Santa Fe, New Mexico 87501

Article Proposal: Turning the Wild into Wilderness

Lewis and Clark live! (Or at least their modern counterparts.) Using four-wheel drive, GPS, digital cameras, and plain old fashioned brawn, men and women trek throughout the wildest parts of the West, cataloging resources of public lands. They seek to have areas like the Excelsior Mountains and the Pine Forest Range in Nevada designated “Wilderness,” thus protecting them for future generations. The original Corps of Discovery may be gone, but the spirit of exploration, infused now with the goal of preservation, lives on. Who is responsible for this?

In Nevada, Friends of the Nevada Wilderness put these inventory workers into the field. This one activity is just part of a larger campaign of environmental activism. At the height of the season, Friends may have over fifty paid staffers and volunteers across Nevada, part of five different crews, all moving toward the goal of Wilderness and the stewardship of both designated Wilderness and wild lands in general. Whereas Greenpeace sends their people out in boats, the Friends of Nevada Wilderness sends theirs out on foot, by pack train, and in 4WD trucks.

I propose a 3,000 word feature article on this organization, with an emphasis on what they do in the field, along with background on the Federal Wilderness Act, which next year marks its 50th anniversary. The Act initially protected nine million acres of land, but that has now grown to over 100 million. More importantly, it provided ordinary citizens a mechanism to protect tens of millions more.

“Wilderness is probably the most grass-roots oriented thing that has been ever been done by Congress,” says Shaaron Netherton, Executive Director of Friends. “If we want to see Wilderness designated, it’s really the citizens, local people who care, who generate support, talk about the area, get people excited about it, bring in their elected officials, that’s ultimately what moves forward on getting wilderness designated.”

A Wilderness designation is not without controversy. Wilderness status prohibits any kind of mechanized operation; even running a chainsaw is prohibited. Off road clubs, snowmobilers, and prospectors are excluded from Wilderness areas. My article would discuss, at least in passing, the views of groups like the Pacific Legal Foundation and Public Lands for the People.

I have the cooperation of Friends to write this article. Their extensive library of outstanding images is available, as well as access to different crew members. I have been out with two of their crews for an overnight visit, a longer tour could be done in the Spring. Lewis and Clark opened the West; groups like Friends are now preserving it.

Thank you for your consideration.

Tom Farley


At the time I wrote this, Outside Magazine required proposals in hardcopy. In their Writers’ Guidelines they requested authors to include a self addressed stamped envelope or SASE. I thought this was great because there was certainty involved. If rejected I would at least have something in the mail that would tell me to move on to soliciting another magazine. I pictured some unpaid intern at their New Mexico office, diligently stuffing envelope after envelope with rejection slips.

Alas, months went by and I heard nothing. I sent them a follow up letter and, again, nothing. What is the point of asking for an SASE if you are not going to use it? This shabby treatment does not fit such a fine magazine with an excellent history of writing. The writing community may be small, perhaps their feelings can be disregarded without thought, but I will never regard them them positively again.



Query letter example

Article proposals are as varied as the people that make them. Here’s one of mine. Although it wasn’t accepted, and no reason given, nor any rejection notice received, I can’t feel too badly. Sunset Magazine (external link) relies on a small cadre of existing writers and they are very particular about the stories they publish. Perhaps mine would have been too regional, not appealing to enough of their broad audience. This query is about as short as I make them, under 300 words. Unless you are proposing a feature length article in a major publication, I would urge you to pen no more than 500 words. Brevity, in the internet age, is everything.

January 19, 2014

Sunset Magazine

Article proposal: Martinez: Maritime, Martinis, and Muir

What do martinis and John Muir have in common? It’s Martinez, a small, bustling town 35 miles northeast of San Francisco. The ‘Martinez Special’ originated there, later called the Martini. And John Muir’s home of 24 years lies on a hill above the city, now a National Historic Site. There’s a nearby shoreline, a marina, an Amtrak station, antiques, and even an archery shop. Plus good dining and, of course, a great place to get a martini.

I think a short article on Martinez would serve Sunset’s readers well. There’s much to discover. The Pony Express galloped through when they missed the steamer from Sacramento. It’s the birthplace of Joe DiMaggio. And it’s the seat of Contra Costa County. Across the water from the better-known Benicia, Martinez can claim its share of attractions. And it will only get better in the fall, probably the best time to place the article.

The San Francisco Bay trail, once finished, will complete a 500-mile shoreline trail around the Bay. The Carquinez Scenic Drive portion will open in the fall of 2014, linking Martinez to Crockett, with a first-class bicycle and pedestrian roadway. Known to locals as Snake Road, this part will be dog walking and stroller friendly. Grand views of ship and rail traffic along the Carquinez Strait await.

Can I answer any questions? Please e-mail me with your thoughts. Publishing credits are at my blog, linked to the signature line; I am a life-long Northern California resident. Thanks in advance, Tom Farley









Thoughts on the end of the year

Apologies for the tone of this post, it is more negative than anything I have written while as honest as anything I’ve penned. Trying to be positive is absolutely essential in an oft-too negative world, but I won’t be Pangloss; I am now a troubled Candide in the freelance writing world. With that one cry of human distress, I’ll try to sum up what I’ve learned from 2014.

It hasn’t been a good year for me as a freelance writer. I am bothered by that certainly, but I am more bothered by the fact that I don’t know why I haven’t been successful. Of the dozens of query letters and job proposals I’ve drafted, only one has generated a form letter rejection. That despite each proposal being individually crafted. Lacking any kind of feedback, I stumble forward. Although guesses aren’t a good way to explain the past, it is all I can do. Here, therefore, are my conclusions about writing in 2014.

The hardcopy magazine business is certainly dwindling. Fewer titles mean fewer markets. And while each magazine has a website to complement it, these sites aren’t new opportunities, they are merely an extension of the title, an archive and showcase, rather than a market for additional writing.

Opportunities to write abound if you don’t need to make money. You can write for free for the local newspaper or one of  thousands of websites covering your interests. Everyone wants content if they do not have to pay for it. Revenue from advertising for most web sites has to be scarce to non-existent. I can think of dozens of sites that are so covered in ads that you accidentally click on them as you scroll down the page. But if you need to write, if you are really driven to that, never mind getting paid, the world is wide open.

Developing new skills like video does not mean that a writing pitch will be more successful. Each query letter that I wrote in which I mentioned developing complementary video was met with silence. Working with sound files or developing an app mean little as well unless you have someone interested in a project beforehand. Being versatile and skill rich is a good thing, just don’t expect that to get your proposals answered any more than when you didn’t have those talents.

Any bright spots? My gardening video on YouTube has been a tremendous hit, with over 2,700 views at this point. Although I think the gardening market is saturated, perhaps there is room to grow here.

What’s next? I am developing a motorcycle website. I hope to attract a sponsor at some point but I have tempered my expectations lately. There are so many websites covering the trade that I may be irrelevant or simply overlooked amid all the sites. In the spring I will probably return to nursery sales part-time as a way to earn extra money. Right now, I can’t think of a way to do that on the web.




Clear paths for submitting article proposals

August 10th, 2019. This list is now long out of date. Fully 30% of links die each year on the net, making any link article impossible to maintain.

These publications offer a clear path for submitting article proposals.

Discover Magazine:

Esquire Magazine. Unusual. Accepts complete manuscripts. Link now dead.


High Country News:

Los Angeles Times Magazine:,0,760705.story#axzz2slBY9koC

Pacific Horticulture Magazine:

Popular Mechanics:

Popular Science:

Sacramento News and Review:

Sactown Magazine:

Scientific American:

Smithsonian Magazine:

Spirit Magazine:

Sunset Magazine:

Via Magazine: