7 Tools Any Mil-Writer Should Have in Their Kit

While my expansive definition of "military writing" includes practitioners of all forms and genres—fiction, non-fiction, science fiction and fantasy, policy papers, techno-thrillers, poetry, playwriting, and so on—there are a few tools that are applicable to all. These are "evergreen" pieces of professional writing and correspondence: Items you craft once, use many times over, and update only infrequently or as-needed.

In no particular order, these are:

1. The 50-word "bio-blurb." In three or four sentences, tell readers who you are, what you've done, and where they can read more of your stuff. Bonus points for humor, or other memorable indicators of your personality and voice. If you have to write for free—and literary journals are notorious bootstrap contraptions that pay only in "exposure"—you should at least make the most of the marketing opportunity. Motivate people to search you out. Don't be afraid to mention your book or your blog.

2. The "About the Author." In 200 to 300 words, tell everything there is to know about you professionally: Works published, awards received, schools graduated, in that order. Keep the tone professional. Offer family, geography, and other personal information only as needed. A personal preference? Avoid too much detail, particularly about family members. "Think PERSEC."

3. The Press Release. Be able to tell the "5 Ws and an H"—the "Who, What, Where, When, Why and How"—about your latest research project, book, or event in no more than one printed 8.5x11 page of text. Details up front. Points off for being too cute or clever. Writing a press release demonstrates to people you've done some serious thinking and planning about your project—that it's not just a flight of fancy, or a overnight delivery from the Good Idea Fairy. Make sure you provide contact information, and multiple ways to communicate. Because someone's good name is on the line, and it's likely your own.

Bonus tip? If you can write a mission statement in a military-format Operations Order, you can write the first paragraph to a press release.

4. The Elevator Speech. In a one-minute oral presentation—the time it takes to ride alongside a new acquaintance in an elevator—introduce yourself and what you write. Most of all? Get them excited about it!

5. The Cover Letter. Some editors say they don't want one. Have one ready anyway—even if it's just for your files. "Dear editor: Please allow me this opportunity to introduce myself. My name is X. My qualifications are Y. My published credits are Z. Attached please find new and original work I am submitting to your publication. Thank you for your consideration. Sincerely …" Everything else is a variation on a theme. Consider this, however: If you can't deliver a well-written, efficient letter of introduction, why should an editor trust that you can otherwise deliver glorious prose or poetry?

6. The Query Letter. Like the cover letter, but asking an editor to hire or assign you to deliver a particular work on a particular topic. If you are suggesting something short and timely—like a 750-word opinion essay on what to do about INSERT LATEST GLOBAL SECURITY THREAT HERE—you're better off just writing a cover letter, and attaching the finished piece of writing. That's writing "on speculation." Everything else is a query.

7. The 750-word essay. This is a blog post on-line. This is one page of magazine copy. This is an "Op-Ed" in a newspaper. This is the basic building block of military writing. To paraphrase Aristotle, "Give me a well-crafted essay as a fulcrum, and I shall move the world."