25 key steps about pretesting your niche book

Because you have the huge advantage of being able to pretest your niche book, go a big step farther and write down (and do) the needed test-related steps before you spend $500-700 (to earn at least a $50,000 profit). Otherwise, it’s too easy just to slap something together and wind up with useless (and exasperating) results.

Doing this listless(ly) makes me think of buying lots of attire and equipment so you can play cricket without having the vaguest idea of what to do when you reach the empty playing field. (If you actually do play cricket, think of Ecuador’s pelota de guante.)

At the end of a successful pre-test you should know if a sampling of your niche market will respond positively to your book title, a particular price, the author, the Table of Contents, and the promises (benefits) in your flyer.

To help make that happen, let me share a rather skeletal 25-step checklist that I use, all plucked out of my book Niche Publishing: Publish Profitably Every Time.

1. Figure out your topic and qualify the buying market.
2. Who will write the book? (Will you write and publish?)
3. Create an abbreviated Table of Contents.
4. Determine how much income you must receive from the book.
5. Determine the minimum price you must charge per book.
6. Study your niche and prepare your one-page test flyer.
7. Find the best direct mail list.
8. Get test names as free as possible!
9. Determine three first-mailing starter book test prices.
10. Prepare your pretest note, postcard, and envelope.
11. ZIP sort your test names for two mailings (probably testing five prices).
12. Put prices on the fliers and postcards for the first mailing.
13. Apply the pressure-sensitive labels on your test-mailing #10 envelopes.
14. Stamp the envelopes and postcards.
15. Apply the self-addressed labels on the postcards.
16. Insert the notes and postcards in the proper envelopes and seal them.
17. Mail the first test mailing.
18. From the results of the first mailing select the two most profitable sales prices.
19. Put those prices on the fliers and postcards for the second mailing.
20. Prepare the envelopes and send the second mailing.
21. If the second-mailing results are a huge “go,” get going!
22. If they are marginal, change one weak spot (at a time) and retest.
23. If it’s a stinker, shriek and run for the hills.
24. If it is a winner: write, publish, and sell. And sell.
25. Build an information/product empire around that topic for that niche.

There, I did half of it for you—you are invited to rethink, redo, and resort the 25 steps however you wish. But at some point once you have an action list, you must act. There’s no shame in returning the cricket clothes and tools and doing something else instead. On the other hand, there can be great honor and many extra farthings if the test shouts “yes” and you then write (or acquire) the book and publish as the test says.

This is the fourth niche-publishing blog in this short series. If you still have doubts, the next blog (in a few days) will suggest why you may not want to niche publish at all, if the 25 steps above haven’t already sent you fleeing.

Incidentally, at this site I offered a 12-step “how to pretest your niche book” series, with details of each point in the process. Just go to the list of blog posts on the right, then to see earlier pages and posts hit the “earlier” word at the lower left of that same page.

Best wishes,

Gordon Burgett

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How niche authors and niche publishers share the gold

The interaction or relationship between niche publishers and their niche book writers varies, in part because they are often the same person!

But where they aren’t, what the publisher seeks from the author mostly depends upon the kind of empire-building that each is pursuing. Some publishers simply publish the author’s book(s); they aren’t pursuing other sales in that niche field. In those cases, it’s usually the author who is expanding their sales by speaking, seminaring, writing articles, and consulting.

We are on the other end of the spectrum. We are the focus of expansion in the niche field, so we are extremely selective in the writers we bring aboard. Of course we expect that each book will be cutting-edge, needed, well written and resourced, and jargon-free. We seek authors who are well known and held in high regard in their field, are eager to speak at conferences and conventions, are able to do so well, and will handle the related back-of-the-room book sales. We make most of our money from the books. They earn all of the money from speaking in which the book plays a key role in their getting booked. And we both sell the books on a mutually agreed basis.

Since they program their own speeches, we will coach them on that and the speaking process (if coaching is needed). That’s possible because I have given over 2,000 paid speaking presentations. They keep 100% of what they earn from speaking (and pay any fees if they use agencies). When we get asked if our writers speak, we send the request directly to the person they are interested in scheduling. We also supply them with their own personal selling stock (at a 40% discount; they pay shipping). And we handle the rare all-attendees-get-a-book sales. This provides a steady income flow both for the authors and for us, keeps the authors’ names current and them visible, and makes the sale of subsequent related books (that we publish) much faster and easier.

They have access to the e-list we create from the niche buyers’ and speaking attendees’ names and street and/or e-mail addresses, which we use to promote books and they use to help with their speaking promotions.

It’s to both of our benefit if the authors write more books and create offshoot or follow-up products that we can publish. Most of our books are sold as bound paperbacks. A few were cloth. For dentists, we also used a three-ring binder format that included a CD. Now, all our books are also available in e-book formats. Originally those e-books were paperback-faithful .pdf downloads sold from our Web site (or the authors’). Today the K-12 books are also sold at CreateSpace, Kindle, Nook, Lightning Source, and Smashwords. (Digital sales account for about 10% of our niche income.)

Here are some of our guidelines when we consider a new author to add to our list:

1. We are seeking a leader/writer/speaker in our niche who is eager (and able) to write a book right now.

2. We ask that that person to identify the ten biggest problems that practitioners in that niche would pay $100 a book, on the spot, to have that problem solved. If we find an area of mutual interest, we check to see what else is available to solve that problem. If there isn’t a book or much competition, we conduct a modest pre-test to see if a book would be well received. We ask the author to provide a table of contents, several titles, and several paragraphs about the benefits the book would bring or the promises the book can honestly make. With that, we expect that our pre-test will confirm that enough buyers would pay a pre-determined amount (we seek at least $50,000 profit) for a book with a specific title, table of contents, and price. If the pre-test is successful, we ask the author to write the how-to, step-by-step book that matches what we have tested.

3. At the same time we focus on some of those other nine key problems to see if this author, or others (usually who he/she recommends), might be able to write a book about the solution to those problems, all books that we could pre-test and, if wanted, also publish.

Why would an author eagerly become a willing and valuable ally with us to help us expand in the niche field?

1. They receive a 10% royalty on gross receipts.

2. They keep all speaking income related to the book.

3. We extend a discount of about 40% on books the author buys from us to sell directly at workshops and any other way.

4. We pay a 50% commission on any sales of their digital products that the author generates, and a 40% commission on these sales if the books have to be mailed. (We do this mostly through an affiliate program.)

5. We gladly help the author build their own empire. That is often done by creating spin-off books, guides, workbooks, booklets, classes, seminars, workshops, consulting, and more. We publish all of the printed items for the author.

This is our thinking right now as a niche publisher. Our main function, initially, is to quantify a book’s appeal and potential sales. The author then creates the book that will produce those sales. After that, they build outward from each book they publish, limiting their focus to the niche we are serving.

We also mimic and use many of the best techniques and outlets favored by conventional publishers to earn an additional 10-20%, mostly selling through intermediaries like wholesalers and retailers.

In summary, we get most of the gold that the book reaps, and the authors get all of the gold they earn from the venues made possible by having the book available, promoted to the niche, and produced and sold professionally.

[The two previous blogs at this site discussed niche publishing, and the next two will discuss 25 steps taken to conduct a niche book pre-test and reasons why you may not want to niche publish.]

Best wishes,

Gordon Burgett

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Ten advantages to niche publishing

It’s hard to tell which is the greatest boon, that (1) a book can be inexpensively pre-tested (title, price, contents, and benefits) before either a word is written or the book costs have been incurred, or (2) one book can establish the author as an articulate expert and create the foundation from which a multi-book, speaking, and consulting empire can be built. The author builds the empire; the publisher creates and sells the products. (Often, the publisher is also the author.)

An author’s emergence as an expert about a topic or process is far quicker and more obvious in a niche. Niche authors become big fish fast in that proverbial small pond, which in most niches are self-contained. In fact, in our K-12 niche field we do it in reverse. I find the experts, the best in their field—or they find me. We then build the niche books around what they know, want to share, and have tested in practice.

For example, three of the top educators in Illinois (one, the equivalent of state Secretary of Education a few years earlier) pooled their respective expertise to write What Every Superintendent and Principal Needs to Know. That was so successful they wrote and we published The Perfect School. Then one of the three wrote Teachers Change Lives 24/7—and continued to co-author, with a noted school attorney, Finding Middle Ground in K-12 Education: Balancing Best Practices and the Law. All four used their books as the core of speeches they gave extensively and for courses and academies they taught… You get the idea. (I’ll talk more about this huge advantage in the next blog in a couple of days: “How niche authors and niche publishers share the gold.”)

Other niche publishing advantages are (3) a built-in market easily identified and inexpensively alerted to the author’s presence and performance, (4) easier back-of-the-room book and related product sales, (5) quicker and more certain speech and seminar scheduling (with greater attendance), and (6) more tightly focused conventions and gatherings for personal contact and selling—all beneficial if the book is good and warmly embraced.

Best of all, (7) the publisher can receive half the expected gross income from a book in 30 or so days, and almost all of it in about 12 weeks. (8) The net is often 50% of the gross.

And since niche publishers sell mostly by direct mail, (9) the more first-rate spin-off products related to the book they can include in their mailed flyer (with several items usually offered as a “bundle”), the higher their return will be in the same length of time for no additional marketing cost.

Finally, (10) the publisher can be the author of the niche-published product, or the publisher can find as many authors as there are core products, let the authors write their book, speak about it, and create related spin-off products, which the publisher can also publish.

Usually, the biggest problem the niche publisher has is the timing, or how to manage the process needed to realize this windfall of potential wealth. My book, Niche Publishing: Publish Profitably Every Time, or our related products (costing $1 or $5) should make that coordination and scheduling easier to plan and manage.

Let’s also discuss “How niche authors and niche publishers share the gold,” “25 key steps to pre-testing your niche book” and “Why you may not want to niche publish” in the coming weeks. (The previous blog began this short series: “Why niche publishing is a much better deal….”)

Best wishes,

Gordon Burgett

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Why niche publishing is a much better deal…

When we niche publishers claim that the smaller our market, the higher our profits (and it’s all virtually risk free after a quick pre-test), we suspect that other publishers think we are either spouting or smoking hocus-pocus. Selling to the same eager buyers for a lifetime also probably strikes them as utterly incomprehensible—or blindly short-sighted. (I won’t even mention empire-building.)

We can only suspect that they don’t know what we do, or why. So we understand the puff of collegial misunderstanding. That’s fine. We’d as soon they remain general publishers anyway. Our claims are honest enough, for publishers, but we aren’t so foolish as to want to divvy up our gold.

Some of the confusion comes because niche publishing and conventional publishing differ hardly at all in the writing, editing, and production phases. The end result also looks pretty much the same: books, with covers, tables of contents, guts, and indexes. It’s the marketing that could hardly be more different, especially when it comes to the when and the how. Conventional publishers seriously warm up their selling machine when a book is in the editing stage. Niche publishers have finished their most important marketing before the book is even written.

In fact, niche publishers won’t research or write the book at all unless a big enough testing slice of their market has agreed beforehand that they want to buy that exact book by that title at a specific (very profitable) price.

So let me expand on that, to tell why for us the marketing cart gleefully goes before the horse, discuss advantages and disadvantages of niche publishing, how we think pre-test, and how we can make our authors very rich—some of which sticks in our coffers.

My qualifications to discuss both kinds of publishing? My wee publishing venture has made about two thirds of its money producing products (mostly books) for dentists and K-12 school administrators—my niches, although I have never been either. I did have my teeth fixed and cleaned (when the receptionist could catch me) and I’m certain there were administrators somewhere in the schools I attended. (I know there were principals in two of them, and they had their own offices.) Most of the rest of my publishing income comes from writing and publishing books for freelance (mostly travel) writers, speaking about the book topics, and consulting (mostly) with niche publishers. (I also wrote Niche Publishing: Publish Profitably Every Time.)

Niche publishers stay well away from handling fiction or books written for “everybody,” kids, or genders. But when we see that there is a hot body of like souls who love or live by something they willingly share, that there are enough of them to form an association, that they want to be on the group mailing list, and that they aren’t unwilling (or, better, are eager) to read a book or attend a seminar to solve a common conundrum or flaming frustration, we recognize a niche waiting for us to devotedly service.

A niche is a group with a collective bond proudly shared, like bus drivers, Giants fans, urologists, and maybe hat blockers. Or like individuals in need of a tried and proven slant and solution to a problem they and their birds-of-feather buddies share, like closing the sale of garbage trucks or building tubas. Or they are twins, deaf at birth, or speak Flemish–but never all three because they are too hard to find and too few to test. Conventional publishers: enter, but at peril. We are territorial and are set up to service groups like chiropractors or Corvette (or Cubs) believers in ways you conventionally never could be.

Why do we niche publish? It’s much easier and faster to do; niche markets are usually much more profitable to sell to and serve, and done right, as I said, it’s an almost a risk-free shoe-in touchdown before we even run back the kickoff simply because we test first and only play when the odds are almost all our way. (Details in “Don’t Invest Until You Test” in the IBPA [Independent Book Publishers Association] Independent, January, 2012). Oh yes, our buyers are much easier to find. In fact, they are hunting for us.

If you care to explore niche publishing more fully, please see the next four blogs, appearing here, two a week. The titles are “Ten advantages to niche publishing,” “How niche authors and niche publishers share the gold,” “26 key questions to pre-testing your niche book,” and “Why you may not want to niche publish.”

If you’re really interested, here are some extremely inexpensive products ($1, $5, $10, or $15) that should make that venture much easier and quicker.

I’ll see you at the next post in a couple of days: “10 Advantages to Niche Publishing.”

Best wishes,

Gordon Burgett

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Christmas articles are a big deal—but you may be too late for 2012!

Yesterday was Valentine’s Day, as my wife kindly reminded me, and it brought to mind why Christmas articles were such a big deal, and so oddly placed on my working calendar when I lived by my freelancing. (A quick check with friends still fervently freelancing: nothing has changed!)

Christmas is an off-season pot of gold. One, a ton of copy is needed—and new angles or slants are warmly embraced. Two, newcomers don’t know about the early buying deadlines, and when they figure it out, the holiday ship has sailed.

Most of the major magazines start their Christmas issue in March or April, and deadlines are usually in June, or the latest July. The actual publication issue is either ready to go, with the ad holes waiting to be filled as the fall ad deadlines come, or the entire issues are actually printed in the middle of summer and stored for early release. Often as not, the Christmas issue has a different editor too, frequently an assistant editor put to the test. That means a fresh mind and eyes to send your queries to.

Which also means that if you have Christmas ideas to hawk, you have to ask the editors of your query targets about their submission deadlines. I usually did my Christmas plotting just as the previous season ended, getting my prioritized market list for each idea or piece ready to go so I could make four or five query submissions—the same topic sent one at a time, then pursued repeatedly if it met ill favor with editors as I descended the list. Some took 10 days for a reply, others took 40. (If the first or second editor agreed to read it—almost always a sale if I lived up to the query promise and got it in on time—I would then find a clearly different slant to that idea, refashion the core query, and start over on that same list, leaving out the editor who gave me a “go-ahead.”)

There was another bonus: it was so easy to see what editors sought by studying what they had just bought for their holiday pages. If you spent an afternoon at the library listing what the 30 mainstream magazines used in November and December (probably in December or January), and sorted that into key idea/query piles—like “evergreen” (always used), “regional” (find other examples in other regions), “religious,” “crafts,” “food,” “historical,” “famous people,” “terminology” (what the Christmas-related words meant), “customs,” and so on, you could focus on the articles that that were interesting, different, and you particularly wanted to write.

But you’re only half way there—the hard half because most freelancers work only the major magazines. Do the same thing to the niches you serve: they have Christmases too! There are lots of magazines that have tightly-targeted readers, they pay well, and only a few daring writers fill a lot of their pages. So get in this shorter line. If you’re a foodie, mix the holidays with new recipes, modes of serving (or new presentations), food with a holiday twist. Make a list of the niches with magazines: food, seniors, decorating, outdoor ornamentation, Internet (“shop digitally this year!”). Maybe even seasonal Santas have their own magazine. (Ask your librarian.) The submission process is the same: a list of ideas you want to write, target publications in order of what they pay, how likely they are to use that idea, what percent of freelance material they buy, how many issues they print per year, and if they pay on acceptance or publication. (The latter are fit only to buy reprints if you are serious about survival!)

You get the idea. But if you’re going to cash in, you’d better get going. (The good news is that some of the magazines do nothing different. You can query them until September!)

Merry Christmas!

Gordon Burgett

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Why you should thank the writer of a great article…

It dawned on me yesterday that I’m as bad as they get about thanking other writers for articles they wrote that are great, or made me laugh out loud, or changed my life or others’ lives. So I’m reminding myself with this blog, and you, if you are eager for an unsought reminder.

A pinch of background. I’ve given “writing” seminars for about 25 years, but really “how to sell your freelance writing” is the core theme. (After all, if you can’t write, that’s one thing, but if you can write but can’t sell, that’s much worse. It can be rectified.) One of the most frequent questions I get at the seminars is “How many people reading your article write back? What do they say?”

Maybe what I send out is awful, but with 1700+ articles and 41 books somewhere in print, I figure I’ve had 100 letters or enotes in total, and about 25% of those ask if I’m that guy who went to XXX grade school (or high school) with them…” There must be a lot of Gordon Burgetts around (the national white book lists six, and I’ve only ever met one) because only about five were actually former schoolmates. Most of the remaining 75 or so lightly praised the article in question (there could never be enough praise for it to be “heavily.”) Mostly, they asked about a fact or a person mentioned. In other words, you can die of anonymity writing either lousy or awesome printed prose!

I encourage you to write to those article authors who make a difference in your life not because I or they want pen pals, God forbid, but because it’s a good way to make friends, get more good articles written by encouraged authors, keep the Post Office open, and because it’s just the right thing to do, like not spitting in a crowd, holding a door open for a person trucking a huge box, and telling your wife how good she looks in that get up. (Why not cc: a copy to the editor as well?)

Apropos, I read an article about “book selling to teachers by Skype” yesterday in the IBPA Independent, and it was precisely what some of my firm’s K-12 authors needed to know so they don’t have to drive to every hamlet in the Midwest to “save” the administrators and teachers. I wrote Barbara Techel a short thank-you email and explained why I was grateful. (Which reminds me of another reason why we should all do more of that: it makes us feel righteous!)

I was so stoked I then added some thank-you notes in an email to a super editor who not only uses my ramblings, she edits them up so even I want to write myself reams of undeserved praise. In fact (sort of), I did just that. I wrote myself a long, effusive enote of salutations and obrigados that was so supportive it, in turn, started me writing a flowing letter of gratitude to Christopher Hitchens about his book Arguably Essays–until I remembered that he was dead.

Let me close with another strong reason for writing and thanking good writers, particularly if you are a fellow byte-jockey. How many times have I zeroed in on a new idea or a provocative fact from which I could build a super article? Most of the time. And what I’ve found is that writers are, almost without exception, very generous sharing sources or extra information about something they already liked enough to write about. With my question always comes a deserved pinch of praise, since they stirred my usually idling curiosity enough to ask. Naturally I start my query by telling them that I particularly liked the example used (or invented), a process explained, or the quote from so-and-so (so-and-so is also my favorite interviewee). That’s two reasons in one.

And that’s enough. On behalf of the lowly underpaid servant of the pen sharing, perhaps inadvertently, sterling or catchy prose, I thank you.

Best wishes,

Gordon Burgett

P.S. If you’re in/near Santa Rosa, CA, the afternoon of 2/25/12, I’m offering yet another of those “writing seminars”: “Writing Travel Articles That Sell!”– (707) 527-4372. If not, my book the Travel Writer’s Guide pretty much explains what you are missing, minus a few jokes.

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Publishing concerns before submitting to CreateSpace…

I like CreateSpace and enjoy their responsiveness to the writer/publisher using their system to get their bound book in print. It’s hard to believe that they are from the usually mute (and mostly invisible) family!

So my thinking isn’t whether I will use them or not, but how, and what I should do to make that use most productive for me (and thus for them).

First, I must remember that making my printed book available from them (or other bound/paperback ancillary publisher) means that I am competing with myself, and probably forcing my own price down.

That makes no sense if I’m creating a niche empire where I am selling unique, valuable, tightly-targeted information to my e-list and others on a direct mailing list I will also use. I simply want every buyer to come through my portal paying my price. Which means I self-publish the book (paperback or, rarely, cloth) and only release it after conducting a satisfactory pre-test, probably selling the book alone or, more likely, some choice of just getting the book itself or getting it bundled with related products. (More on this process and thought pattern at earlier blogs here and in my book Niche Publishing: Publish Profitably Every Time.)

How will Amazon fit into that scenario? If I am releasing a bound general book (not niched) or a novel, I may wish to list my self-published book at their site and make it available through Amazon Advantage at the price the buyer would pay if they ordered it through me. That way I would get about 40% of list price (the discount to Amazon Advantage is 55% and maybe 5% to ship to them), so I must calculate whether the profit margin even justifies that secondary selling venue. Particularly since Amazon will offer it at a “sale” price below mine!

If sold through CreateSpace, I will earn a 40% royalty if it’s bought from Amazon (most are sold this way) and 20% if sold by the CreateSpace ebook store. But if my e-book is sold through Kindle, Nook, and Smashwords (if I keep the digital price $9.99 or less), I would receive a 70% royalty. So do I keep the bound book in house and just sell the digital version through the ancillary houses (and directly)?

It’s very confusing, but it’s usually the most profitable route to go through Create Space for a general book or fiction (it will be listed by Amazon that way) and do the digital books too. It’s no contest for a pre-tested niche book. Everybody must buy it from me.

I will also keep the same ISBN number for all the paperback or ink-on-paper versions.

Four, I don’t have to release my version and CreateSpace’s (and the e-book publishers’) versions at the same time. I get my own version(s) of the book printed and selling before I approach the other houses. This allows me time to arrange for book club sales, with speakers selling B.O.R. or through/to their presentation sponsors (like an association wanting to give a “free” copy to every attendant in the audience), and to my web list, affiliates, or to other Internet marketers before there is any (or much) outside selling of my book.

There are probably six or eight other pre-CreateSpace considerations but these seem the most urgent right now.

Hope this helps you.

Best wishes,

Gordon Burgett

P.S. I just read an excellent, though a bit convoluted, plan asking the same questions above in the February 2012 IBPA Independent: “Amazon Availability, Part 2:Plan B in Six Steps,” by Aaron Shepard.

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The dumbest query I ever sent to an editor

In retrospect, there have probably been 100, or 800, queries that I would do differently—and in the olde days (before computers) that retrospect might have been ten minutes after I put a stamp on the envelope and sent the query off because it took so long to retype each query to make changes, type the envelope, address the SASE, and so on…

But the dumbest has to be the time I somehow got interested in motion sickness, in the newest medicine to counteract it, and what mareo was and how it happened.

For me, that was a typical article at that time: I wrote by interest only—mine. Then I found the most logical publication, and off went the query to its editor.

If I had read or heard something intriguing about the “nose,” I quickly convinced myself that everybody was likewise on the edge of their chaise lounge champing to read about the “nose.” I’d head for the library, find the encyclopedia, read about the nose, and make a page or two of notes. Then I’d find a book about the nose, or face, or whatever, and I’d find another 5-10 interesting facts. From that I created the query, slanted it to the imaginations of the kind of folk that I thought read a general magazine and were nose-eager, and off it went. (If I found three angles about the nose and three different, eager magazines, their editors each got a similar but reslanted query. If all three said yes—I can’t remember that ever happening—each editor would get her own article tailor-made.)

But the dumb thing about the motion sickness query wasn’t the query itself, it was the target I sent it to. I had sold a lot to Air California Magazine so I sent the query off as quickly as possible to that editor.

His reply came back about as fast: “Burgett, are you crazy? The magazine readers are flying in our airplanes when they read our magazine. And you want me to run your article about air sickness? Why not an article about air crashes? Or toxic in-flight snacks? I’ve got a better idea. Why not send this query over to P.S.A.? I think their readers would be delighted!”

P.S.A. was their in-California short-flight rival, and they had a magazine that bought from freelancers too!

Do what I didn’t: just think twice about the worst topic you could query a respective editor, and don’t send it. If you’re stuck for a topic, try the ear or the tongue.

Best wishes,

Gordon Burgett

P.S. I talk about querying in the Travel Writer’s Guide.

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