Friday, April 30, 2010


Today’s guest blog post is by Jessica, better known as The Alliterative Allomorph. Does she not have the coolest screen name in the blogoshpere? Please be sure to visit her blog and become a follower.

I’m sure you’re all used to this by now, but if this is your first time here Jessica’s thoughts are in blue and my own are in red.

Firstly, I’d like to say this query is a mess. I don’t think it’s such a bad piece of writing, it might actually work for a marketing piece with a little tweaking, but as far as queries go, it’s bad, bad and more bad. I have no idea how I got a full ms request from this query. It says nothing comprehensive about the story whatsoever. All it does is touch upon my ms’s themes and my intentions in writing it. But, I guess this is a breath of fresh air. It means that if your writing is up to par, the query means squat. I’m so grateful for agents who make their decisions based upon sample pages – queries are very difficult to master. I think it’s quite sad when agents don’t allow us to submit sample pages. I don’t think it does anybody any good – neither the author, nor the agent. The difference between writing a business letter and writing fiction is huge. Anyway, here’s my query:

I’m making these comments before actually reading her query but even if it is that bad (which I doubt) I would like to thank Jessica for sharing an example of her point. Ultimately it is the actual writing and voice in your manuscript that will land you an agent. A query is just an introduction to give them a taste that will hopefully get them to want to read more.


In DEAD IN THE CORNER OF MY BEDROOM Jane’s ordinary life is about to be transformed. She's a devoted mother and a hard-working wife, dedicated to her day job but still harbouring hopes of becoming a singer. With her guitar in her hands she feels real – but as she reaches for her dreams one moment shatters her world for ever.

Ok, this isn’t too bad. At least I’ve included a log line. I think I could have done without “Jane’s ordinary life is about to be transformed”, and “singer”, should have been “rock star”.

I’m not going to critique specifics of her query, but sure there is room for improvement here. I will certainly agree that singer should be rock star though. Hell all singers want to be rock star isn’t that why shows like American Idol exist?

My novel sways between edgy women's fiction and literary fiction, as it deals with some very complex and dark subjects, such as life changing decisions, memories of an emotionally abusive childhood and frustrated ambitions amid the all-consuming minutiae of the everyday, in a largely commercial way. Its intimate style draws the reader in; as though they are too inside Jane's mind. Despite Jane being quite a quirky, yet gritty heroine, she still mulls over her neglected aspirations, marital problems and nostalgia for a time when she had a firmer sense of self – issues I believe will strike a chord with many female readers.

“novel sways between edgy women's fiction and literary fiction” – bad bad bad! Never mix genres. Agents tend not to like that. They want to know immediately what shelf to put it on in a bookstore. Plus I think the first sentence is way too long. This paragraph says nothing about the plot. It talks about themes and style. Also, the last sentence is SO not necessary. The agent is sure to be able to see this after reading what precedes it.

Boy do I have this problem. I once called my novel a young-adult commercial-fiction/literary-fiction/fantasy crossover novel. In a letter. To an agent. I had no idea what I was talking about. Narrowing down to a single genre can be difficult for a lot of writers.

My ultimate goal is to break into the women's fiction market and steer it away from the stereotypically glorified woman that is most commonly portrayed today with pure honesty instead. Not every women in this world lives without regret, knows exactly what they want, and has the courage to put every essence of their being into achieving their dreams. Not every woman is inspirational. Not every woman can leave their comfort zone to better their future. But, so what? Does that mean a less strong-minded woman doesn't have an interesting story to tell? Definitely not.

I quite like this paragraph. It’s kind of like my motto – I have it on my web site. Although it’s probably against query ‘law’, I think it says something about me as a writer. It says I have a real motivation for what I’m doing, a passion – that I’m not just writing because I want my name to be seen on a cover in a book store. But again, it’s not really doing much, is it? Still no real info here about my story. Ugh.

I’m not an expert, but I have learned a lot about querying in the last several months. Technically Jessica’s right. By normal query standards this is entirely unnecessary. That being said I have a suspicion that it was largely this paragraph that interested this particular agent. It’s just a hunch, but that’s what I think.

Although this is my first novel, I have been working in ELT (English Language Teaching) publishing for the past five years, both as an editor and freelance writer for Macmillan Hellas, Cengage Learning, Pearson/Longman, Education First and Signature Manuscripts. I am also a singer/songwriter and guitarist. These factors, and my experience as an Australian living in Greece, have greatly influenced my novel. I also have a Bachelor of Arts with an English major.

I think this is ok. Every query needs a little bio. I have, however, changed the first line to be less specific, and have directed them to my website for a list of publications in my name. I did this because they’re not really relevant to novel writing. They’re just English text books. So if they want to see them, they know where to go.

I’d say this is a little better than okay. Sure, Jessica’s never been published for fiction but proof of having the ability to write coherently enough to get published in a text book is not a bad start.

Please see below for the first two chapters (3365 words) of my work and a synopsis.

Thanks goodness for the sample and synopsis!


Thank you for your time and I look forward to hearing from you.

Best wishes,
Jessica C. Bell

This got me a full ms request from an Australian agent around the end of March – a full two months after submitting the query. This was the response:

Dear Jessica,

Thank you for your email regarding DEAD IN THE CORNER OF MY BEDROOM. REDACTED has now had a chance to consider your submission and has requested the full manuscript to be sent via email to submissions@

Kind Regards,

I’m so excited about this. They’re my top choice. They represent the screenwriter of my favourite film Strictly Ballroom, and Baz Lurhmann’s Romeo and Juliet. Apparently it can take up to seven months to hear back! Ouch! So I’m waiting … patiently … hoping and praying!

I didn’t realize your MS was still out on submission. Best of luck with it Jessica!

For those that are interested to know what my novel is actually about, here is the bulk of my latest query:

Jane dislikes her job, but has been preparing for a possible promotion as chief editor, to provide a better upbringing for her four-year-old daughter. A year later, she has still neglected to tell her husband, Max, because it will mean relocating from Athens to London. But when Max, who organises music events for a living, and who has got used to treating her like a housewife instead of a musician, dismisses her effort and refuses to support the idea, it’s the final straw. Jane’s abandoned aspirations, marital problems and nostalgia for a time when she had a firmer sense of self, have been consuming her thoughts long enough. It’s time to bring back the rock star within, before it’s too late. In an attempt to improve her marriage and quench her thirst to play music again, Jane tells Max that she will relinquish the job opportunity, but that she’d like his help to play gigs. He agrees. But just when their relationship shows signs of improving, Jane discovers Max’s infidelity.

In a situation like this, Jane would usually give up—but not this time. Determined to escape this domestic rut, she contacts her Australian heavy metal-head ex-boyfriend via Facebook, and he offers her the opportunity to play guitar on an American tour. Jane not only decides to seize both the job and the tour opportunity, despite feeling guilty about becoming like her mother and neglecting her daughter, but she also tells Max she’d like to temporarily separate. But when discovering that she’s pregnant, puts her plan to tour on the back burner, little does she know what a minor setback this is, until tragedy shows its frightening face, and realises she’s been seeking fulfilment in the wrong place.

So that’s it for Jessica’s query, post and correspondence with her (hopefully) soon to be agent. Please take a moment to thank her in the comments for being brave enough to share this with us and also don’t forget to visit her blog and become a follower.

So what do you think? Isn’t it great when an agent accepts pages and or a synopsis with the query?

Thursday, April 29, 2010

In Which I Gush about Blogging

Yesterday I had a great experience blogging. I mentioned, just briefly, that I was getting tired of posting my rejected queries and the love that came pouring out of my fellow bloggers was not only very kind, but really encouraging. This is exactly what I love about blogging.

Here are a couple of examples:

- Hi, Matthew! Don't be tired of posting these, it's lovely to watch your queries evolve and improve. Plus, it just whets our appetites for the successes that'll start rolling in for you - ones that, following such rejection, will be all the sweeter for it :D

- Thanks for sharing your querying journey, Matthew. It's really helpful and brave.

- Don't forget, we also want updates on how things go with your first 30 pages crit, and all that good stuff.

Personally, I'm hoping this batch of queries I've sent out gets me a couple more requests for partials, and eventually representation. I want to be able to guest blog on a Friday!!

- OF COURSE the one time i watch glee on time, you don't do a glee post.

That form rejection doesn't seem like a form rejection at all. it's awesome.

I don't know if i've said it before but i love the sound of your story. I really enjoy stories where kids go to school - ESPECIALLY boarding schools

- Yes, you definitely have some guts putting your rejected queries up but it so gives us an idea of what to do and not to do. I think you deserve a lot of credit for doing this :)

- I still give you props (did I just say that) for putting yourself out there for all of us to see. Bravo, rejections or not.

- Matthew, It's truly amazing to see the evolution of your query letter - already, this one is so much better than the first ones, and I can see that they are going to keep getting better. I think the reason you're able to improve is because you have such ability to step away and get out of your head - thus viewing your own work with fresh eyes. Many of us struggle with this. I wonder if the fact that you're able to do this is in part due to meditation - do you meditate? I did it briefly last year and mean to get back into it. It helps with so many things. In any case, this is a great blog, and I respect you for doing it.

You people rock. I know this sounds cheesy, and it is, but in a small little way you've all changed my life. When I DO GET PUBLISHED I'm going to owe all of you a lot. We'll talk more about compensation when that happens.

Sometimes this blogging thing takes up too much time, and sometimes it is a little tedious, but I have to admit: I love it.

Two and a half months ago I was fed up with my attempts to get published. I had (as you all well know by now) made a lot of early mistakes in the query process, but I had learned from them and eventually found four separate agents who wanted to read my manuscript.

Three of them responded to say that they like my writing, the voice was strong, but they could not even consider my novel at its current length. I was frustrated. I had written the thing passionately, not knowing the hard and fast rules about debut novel word counts, but now I was facing what seemed like an insurmountable amount of editing. Not because I was feeling lazy but because I could not conceive of removing 75% of the words without ruining the plot and gist of the story.

Anyway long story short I had just about given up on writing, or at least on becoming published. Then on a whim I decided to start this blog and now all of a sudden I'm meeting other writers, I've got a beta reader, I'm being critiqued by actual agents (still waiting to hear back from Marietta on my first 30) and exchanging emails with published authors. I know it's not the coolest thing since sliced bride, and I still don't tell my real-life friends about my blog because most of them wouldn't get it, but I have to say that this is all pretty cool. Mostly because of all of you.

So I just wanna say thank you. And here are some of my favorite blogging friends and their blogs, in no particular order. Please stop by and become followers of them when you have a moment.

Justine Dell



Emily White

Miss V

Empty Fridge who I need to apologize to. She was one of my first followers and for whatever reasons I just thought she didn't blog very often because I never see her updates in my dashboard. Then I went to double check and I wasn't following her blog. Doh!

Candace Ganger

Bish Denham

Jaydee Morgan

The Alliterative Allomorph
who is tomorrow's guest blogger, by the way.

Sarah Ahiers

Zoe Courtman

Jennifer Daiker

Talli Roland


Alex J. Cavanaugh


Stina Lindenblatt


To make the list you had to comment yesterday. So if you're one of my good blogging friends who isn't listed, that's why.

Thanks so much to all of you and please make sure to come back tomorrow for the Alliterative Allomorph's guest blog post!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Form Rejection at its Best.

I wanted to write about Glee this morning, I really did, but thanks to heavy traffic after Kylie's Hapkido lesson last night we only caught about the last 25 minutes of it. I'll have to catch up on Hulu.

So anyway thanks to an I.T. snafu at work over the last day and a half I am currently barely able to do my job and will have to make this morning's post pretty quick.

I'll get back to bad queries because that was the original impetus behind this blog and I want to keep doing at least one a week (and because you all love them SO much).

So here's another bad query:

May 8th, 2009


Insert the standard first bad paragraph here.

You've all seen it before so I'm not going to subject you to it again.

Insert the standard second bad paragraph here.

Remember? That's the one where I talk about all the things I love about eastern culture.

Lee is a troubled young man from a broken family. After being expelled from boarding school and having experienced several brushes with the law, his adopted parents, who also happen to be his cruel aunt and uncle, decide to ship him off to a strange and distant reform school which is in the remote wilderness in the panhandle of Northern Idaho. He becomes a member of a group of 12 other students who arrived at the school at the same time as him. They are all very afraid and apprehensive about what will be going on at the school but they are soon pleased to discover that it is not nearly as bad as they had feared. After working in the Wood-Corral for several months they begin taking classes like Aikido, Kenjutsu, Calligraphy and Meditation. It is some time before they discover that through meditation they can imbue their calligraphic scrolls with ancient magic. The book consists of many themes such as the beauty of nature, the life-energy that exists in everything and the awkward struggles that teenagers go through as they grow into themselves and become adults. Lee’s coming of age and struggling with the loss of his mother and the breaking of his family form the core of this introspective but also character driven tale.

This paragraph is not terrible. If it were the only one in this query the letter would be almost serviceable. This IS an example of what a query letter needs to be LIKE. It is NOT a very good example of how to do it well. There is almost no voice to it but at least it does describe some of what HAPPENS.

Insert standard fourth bad paragraph here (the one where I say it's my first book and give my phone number - whatever).


Thank you for your consideration of this proposal. I look forward to hearing from you soon.


Matthew M. Rush


Her reply:

Dear Mr. Rush:

Thanks for your query.

As to your material I'm afraid I must pass -- I'm just not enthusiastic enough about the premise of your story to feel that I'd be the right agent for the project. Our agency represents a very full list of fiction writers and we must be highly selective in adding to it. I realize it is difficult to judge your potential from a query; nevertheless please know that I give serious attention to every letter, outline, and writing sample I receive.

Sorry I couldn't give you a more positive reply. Thanks for thinking of me, though, and best of luck in your search for representation.

REDACTED Literary Agency
Submission Guidelines:

This is form rejection at its best. This is a very professional reply. It's kind but firm and yet admits to one of the fundamental flaws of the query process.

If you've read their submission guidelines before querying (which I did, of course) you might be a little insulted to see them plug the link in the rejection but keep in mind it's a form letter and I'm sure there are people out there who query agents without reading the guidelines first.

I'm getting a little tired of posting the horrible queries and I want to start focusing on more positive things but there are not that many more to go and we do have the Friday guest posts to keep our spirits up for now. I promise that once I've bared all the terrible queries for the world to see (or at least the 100 or so people who read this blog) I will share my successful examples with you.

Have a great Wednesday.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Spam on Rye

I selected this lazy attempt at a humorous title for two reasons.

First I have just started reading Ham on Rye by Charles Bukowski. My buddy at work loaned it to me after he noticed that I always had a book in my hand.

I'm only a couple of chapters in but so far it's pretty good; disturbing but good. I had heard of Bukowski before, and I had thought that he was one of the beat poets (Jack Kerouac, William Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg) but then I looked it up and he's not. The style does seem similar though. It's a sort of a counter culture type of voice that is common in all those books. It was written in 1982 which is much later than the famous beat novels like Howl, On the Road, and Naked Lunch but it is set in the same time period of the late 50s or early 60s.

Anyway I'll try to write more about it after I've finished it.

The second reason is that as some of you know my email was hijacked by spammers over the weekend. Some of you have already seen the email that supposedly came from me: A blank email with nothing but a naked link in the body.

I've heard back from around 50 people who were in my contact list who received one of these BS emails from my address. Most people knew better but those who did click the link said it either didn't work or led to a website trying to sell them Viagra.

Sidebar: Are the people who make Viagra really not selling enough of the stuff?

Hopefully most of you that I email have spam filters that caught the message. For those of you who did see it I would like to apologize. I've since changed my password and emailed Google to let them know what happened. I'll continue to watch my sent mail folder to make sure this doesn't happen again (hopefully).

So, before this post gets too long I just want to talk about spam for a moment (unsolicited electronic messages or solicitations, not the canned meat). There are many different types of electronic spam but email spam is the most annoying IMO.

According to Wikipedia (the most reliable source on the internet) spam makes up 80-85% OF ALL EMAIL. That seems ridiculous. I understand why it's done and I suppose it's a necessary evil for all the benefits of technology but I have to wonder: does it really work? I suppose there are a lot of stupid people out there but really how often does someone click on a link in a spam email and actually buy something at the bizarre website it takes them to? I realize the sites may be supported by per click advertising or some model like that but still, those ads have to drive some kind of sales to make it worth it right?

Okay I won't rant about this for much longer but I honestly just don't get it. If you ever get an email from me or anyone else with nothing but a plain link in it - question it. Would someone you know really contact you this way? I rarely send people links in an email but if I do I certainly still say hello and explain what it is I'm trying to point you to. At least reply to the sender to confirm they sent it to you.

And if you're a spammer remember: what goes around comes around and karma is a beach.

So what do you think? Do you hate spam as much as I do? Have you ever read Ham on Rye or the beat poets? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

Monday, April 26, 2010

In Which I Blog about ... Blogging

I'm feeling a little lazy this morning so I'm going to take the easy way out and just blog about ... oh hell you read the title of the post I'm sure.

Anyway it's been almost two months since I started this silly thing and I've already learned a lot.

Here are some of the things I love about blogging:

Followers and following: I love that I can keep track of the blogs I enjoy reading and by following them can get an easy update whenever they put a new post up. One of my favorite things is when my little Yoda picture gets buried by new followers at one of my favorite blogs. When that little guy disappears I know my friend's blog is getting popular.

Comments and commentors: Probably the only thing I like more than followers is comments. Not only do comments prove that people are actually reading what you're writing but they're a great way to learn, not only about other's opinions but even about some things you might never have considered.

Here are a couple of things I don't love about blogging:

Trolls: This is actually the wrong term because what I'm talking about is more like a lurker. I don't mind having followers who often read but never comment but what I don't like are people who stop by and follow but never come back and never post a comment. I'm not even sure why anyone would do this but ... whatever.

The time it takes: That's another reason I need to start doing shorter posts. I've met a lot of great people while blogging and I've learned a lot about writing and publishing but I need to take back some of the time I spend blogging and apply it to revising my book.

That's it for now I guess but I would love to hear from you. What do you love about blogging? What do you hate about it?

Oh and if you follow my blog and for some reason I have not reciprocated please leave me a comment and I will be sure to visit your blog and become a follower.

Friday, April 23, 2010


So finally here is Michelle’s fiction query. Unfortunately I had to work over night last night so I’m not going to be able to add much to it. See my post from earlier for more information.

I will quickly remind any of you who haven’t already done so to visit Michelle Mclean’s blog and become a follower. Speaking of which if you’re not already following me here you should do that as well.

So without further ado, her query:

Dear Agent,

I am pleased to submit for your consideration, TREASURED LIES, complete at 97,000 words. In this romantic suspense novel, set in Victorian England, young Minuette Sinclair is swept into an illicit affair with a reformed thief, Bryant Westley, and becomes entangled in the search for a priceless necklace with a bloody past.

Most of the time, this was my opening paragraph. However, sometimes I’d personalize it with a “I read in your recent interview at such and such a place that you were interested in historical romances so I’d like to submit for your review my romantic suspense novel. Set in Victorian England…” or “I am an avid follower of your blog and read there that…”.

Michelle makes a great point here. Anything you can do to prove that you spent time researching the agent will certainly not hurt.

Instead of having too many tags for my genre, I left it as romantic suspense, since the setting makes it obvious this is also historical. I also wanted to start with a hook line to lead into the main body of my query…which is a bit long. However, with romances, the story often focuses on both members of the couple, so I have a paragraph for each character.

I would have to agree that the setting is quite clear. I also love the character names, especially Minuette, and they seem fit the setting very well.

When Bryant’s former associate in crime, Lord Rellik, commands him to steal the famed Courtland necklace in exchange for his family's lives, Bryant reluctantly agrees to return to his criminal profession. Tracking the elusive necklace, he accepts a position at Miss Courtland’s Boarding and Finishing school. A distraction, in the form of the quirky and beautiful Minuette Sinclair, is the last thing Bryant needs. But Min becomes a temptation too strong to resist, and Bryant will do anything to keep her in his life.

The moment Min meets Bryant, the handsome new dance instructor at her school, she is instantly captivated and soon in love, even after learning of his dark past and uncertain future. Min joins him in his quest to find the jewels that will buy his freedom and save his mother and sister. Their passionate devotion sustains them as they struggle through the mystery surrounding the infamous gems. However, when the impatient Rellik fears he has been double-crossed, a horrific murder attempt forces Min and Bryant to separate until they can find a way to vanquish Rellik for good.

This is a bit long, and I’ve tried on subsequent projects to keep my queries shorter, but this did all fit on one page, so I didn’t stress over it too much. And it got me quite a few requests, so it couldn’t have been too bad.

I’m no expert when it comes to romance novels, historical, suspense or otherwise but the separate paragraphs for the two main characters works for me.

TREASURED LIES would be enjoyed by anyone who loves a good romance with a hearty side of mystery. My writing is aided by a BS in History, a MA in English, my membership in RWA National, RWA Chapter #136, and two online critique groups. I have also been published in three recent Chicken Soup for the Soul books.

I didn’t really have any specific books in mind to compare mine with, but I did want to give the agents an idea of who would be interested in my book. As for the bio, since this was my first book, I didn’t really have much to list, so I listed everything that was even slightly relevant. My publications are NF, but I mentioned them anyways.

We would have to ask an agent how much this kind of things helps for fiction, but I’m pretty confident it wouldn’t hurt. Especially considering Michelle’s bio and the fact that she is published are no small feat.

I would be happy to send you a partial or the complete manuscript. Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.


Michelle McLean

I sent this letter out 97 times, received 22 requests, and eventually shelved the project. I signed with Krista Goering a year later for a NF project and am currently revamping this story into a YA paranormal for her review.

And that’s it. Sorry I couldn’t give a more thoughtful analysis for this but between being awake for 24 hours and feeling a little outclassed by Michelle’s expertise and experience I did the best I could.

Please remember to visit Michelle’s blog and her website to learn more about her.

Also please be sure to let us know in the comments what you think. Unfortunately I’ll be sleeping all day today, so I won’t have time to get to all of your blogs until this evening. As always thanks so much for visiting and a very big thanks to Michelle for sharing both her queries with us.

Night Shift

So I was asked to work the overnight shift today because my help desk is expecting a high call volume because of a corporate snafu earlier today. So I am working from 12 midnight until 8AM. I already worked my normal shift on Thursday. Anyway it's not that big a deal. At least I get Friday off.

The reason I'm blogging about it is because Michelle is still going to be doing her guest post this morning, but it won't go up until later than normal because I wasn't able to prepare it. I wanted to write this mini post so you would all have something to look at and so it would be clear that she and I are still doing the guest post.

Okay, it's really mostly her.

So that picture above is me as kid on the deck of our family home on Queen Anne Hill in Seattle. Yes that's my underwear.

This one here below is after my big sister Em dressed me up. Our mom was a TV actress. Those are her boots.

Anyway this is only up here temporarily, please check back a little later this morning and Michelle and I should have the guest post up soon.


Thursday, April 22, 2010


Today we have our first Thursday guest blogger: Michelle McLean. Please visit her blog to learn more about her. She is a wonderful person but also a great writer who has a really fun blog.

This post is about her Non-Fiction submission. I personally have no experience with this kind of thing so I’m not going to add much. I will point out that Michelle would like to direct us all to two posts that she has shared with the world that contain some great advice about the Non-Fiction submission process and proposals:

How to Write a Non Fiction Query

How to Write a Non Fiction Proposal

Her agent, Krista Goering has agreed to share some of her correspondence with us. I’m sure you’re all used to this by now but if not Michelle’s thoughts are in blue and if I do have anything to add it will be in red.

I did learn one thing from her just in our correspondence. A NF proposal is not the same as a query – not even close in fact. It’s basically a sample of the book and can be huge. Michelle’s was 70 pages.

I had been referring to this term incorrectly, thinking a proposal essentially was the same as a query, and I think I probably even did it on the blog. So thanks Michelle for sharing your knowledge with me and curing me of that one bit of ignorance.

Her thoughts and query:

Just like in a fiction query, you need a hook. But you also need to clearly state what the book is about. With fiction, sometimes you might leave out some details in order to entice your audience into wanting to read more. But with non-fiction, they need to know what your book is about in order for them to want more.

Makes sense.

Dear Ms. Goering,

According to the United States Census, there are over 71 million grade school and college students in this county. Each one of these students will be required to take several language arts classes over the course of their educational career. During these courses, students are expected to complete various writing assignments, which include essays of all types, research papers, and the writing of poetry. Yet for many, these assignments are overwhelming and confusing. These assignments prove especially challenging for the four to six percent of students who have learning disabilities.

This first paragraph lets the agent know how large my market is – 71 million students, all of whom will have to take at least one English class. Because there is such a large market for my book, it’s a major selling point, so I put it up front and center. This also states why my market needs my book – because writing assignments are confusing for many.

Michelle makes writing Non-Fiction look easy! I’m sure it’s not but she’s obviously quite good at it. Some of this obviously applies to Fiction queries a little bit. No one NEEDS Fiction, but laying out your audience in a clever way can certainly help.

While there are many textbooks and guidebooks designed to help students and other writers with these types of assignments, the books available generally focus on only one type of writing style (either essays, papers, or poetry - not all of the above) or are so in-depth and complex the average student or writer has a hard time understanding exactly what they need to do.

This shows that I am aware of my competition and points out what is wrong with what is already out there…setting things up for the next paragraph where I state why my book is better than what is currently available.

Michelle does a great job here of pointing out some her competition’s flaws; without disparaging anyone specifically.

My proposed book, FROM PAPERS TO POETRY: A HANDBOOK FOR WRITING EVERYTHING FROM ANALYTICAL ESSAYS TO THE VILLANELLE, solves this problem by giving students and writers a fun, user-friendly narrative guide that walks the reader through every step of the most common types of essays, papers, and poetic forms. Unlike the other books out there, my book is both easy enough for junior high school students and those with learning disabilities to understand while still being thorough enough to help college students and freelance writers.

Tells exactly what my book is and what it includes and again mentions the market. Side note: my book has since been renamed Homework Helpers: Essays and Term Papers and will be published by Career Press in Jan 2011. The poetry part of the book has been expanded into its own book.

Good for you Michelle!

In addition to my personal experience of helping acquaintances both with and without learning disabilities through these types of writing assignments, I hold a BS in History and a MA in English. Over the long course of my education, I honed my writing skills, with exceptional results, and obtained my Master’s with a GPA of 3.96. My publications currently include several essays that appear in various Chicken Soup for the Soul books. I also maintain a blog, Author Michelle McLean, where I share my knowledge with aspiring writers and students.

I would have turned the title of Michelle's blog into a link here, but it made her letter look funny and I didn't want to ruin the tight professionalism she has going that seems very important with this kind of letter.

Please be sure to click the link to her blog at the beginning or end of the post.

I am committed to building my internet presence and educational networking so that I may help market this book to the best of my ability. I have my blog and website in place where I can promote the book, I will continue to submit other material for various publications, and will promote the book in any publications in which I appear.

This is the weakest part of the query – I have an almost non-existent platform (and platform is huge in NF. It can make or break your deal). I have the degrees and the experience, but not the professional background. So I made the most of what I did have, trying to sound very confident and wanted to assure whoever was interested that I was committed to doing as much as I could in order to make up for my lack of platform.

I have no knowledge or experience regarding this part whatsoever, so don’t listen to me. However I thought Michelle did a great job of highlighting the positive and the important thing is that it worked.

If you are interested, I would be happy to send you my completed proposal and sample chapters. I look forward to hearing from you. Thank you for your time and consideration.


Michelle McLean
(address, phone, and email contact info)

I sent this letter to 12 agents and received 3 requests. After reading my query, Krista Goering, my soon-to-be agent, sent this:

Dear Michelle,

Thank you for your patience while I reviewed your query. Sounds interesting. Please send your book proposal with sample chapters as an attachment in Word to this email address:


To which I responded:

Dear Krista,

Thank you for your interest in my proposed book FROM PAPERS TO POETRY. I have attached my proposal and three sample chapters to this email. I look forward to hearing from you.


Michelle McLean

To which she responded:

Michelle - Thanks for sending. Please allow me 3-6 weeks to review and get back to you. If you accept representation elsewhere, please let me know.

All my best,

And an hour or so later, I received this:

Hi Michelle - I couldn't wait to read your proposal -- and I found it beautifully done. If you're still looking for an agent to represent you, why don't we set up a phone call? My normal office hours are M-F 8-4 (I'm in the Central time zone). Let me know what might work for you.


And right about here is when I started screaming and my children came running to see what was wrong :)

Out of my submissions, she was my first choice, and after speaking with her, I knew I wanted to work with her. I withdrew my submissions from the other two agents and signed with her.

How's that for an agent getting excited about a writer's project? She certainly sounds passionate about this book.

Congratulations Michelle! It sounds to me like you have a very useful book here and I’m sure it will do well.

Don’t forget to come back tomorrow to see Michelle’s YA Fiction query.

Also please be sure to visit Michelle's blog and become a follower. She has a lot of great, informative posts and often shares some obscure but thoughtful quotes.

I realize this is a big change of pace but I found this really interesting as well as informative. I’ll probably never write any Non Fiction unless perhaps a memoir but even so this is great to know.

What do you all think?

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

A Material World

For a change of pace I'm going to do something raw and spontaneous. I realize this is cheesy and lame, but hell we're all writers, we've all had to push ourselves at times.

So here are some random hand written notes I took last night while watching the Epic Wonder of Television Production that is Glee. I'm going to write EXACTLY what I wrote (through the minor haze of a couple Mike's Harder Cranberry Lemonades) bad spelling, hand writing and general poor logic and all. Okay they're not quite random. I will go in order of the notes I wrote, which followed the chronology of the episode, but otherwise throw organized thought into the wind. I'm pretty good at that kind of thing so hopefully this will be fun.

I will say that this episode was a HUGE improvement on last week. I'm still not sure that it lived up to anything from last season but a lot of that may be just the fact that the debut of something this unique is always kind of special.

Anyway here are the notes. Please don't judge me too harshly.

- Madonna is the most beautiful, talented and powerful woman. I had a huge crush on her even while I still packed my Star Wars Action Figures in my Darth Vader's head shaped holder that even then gave me dark dreams.

Does that mean I was too young to think about a woman in that way (finding her attractive)? Possibly, but it doesn't mean that Madonna's too old to still be HAWT.

- Did Miss Pillsbury actually mention Anne Coulter?

I don't even remember the scene in which this came up so I can't really comment on what this means but I do recall finding it funny last night.

- Sound production during the Cheerleader/Cirque Du Soleil dance was top notch. I almost thought I was at a Rave.

Wow. I just dated myself with that one.

- Misogyny is alive and ill.

I know the show is not actually trying to address what it truly a serious issue, but it's nice to see that they're honest.

- The production/beat behind Express Yourself was dope, but you can't stop top the sensuality of the original.

Again, here the audio mixing and quality really stood out. I don't have the greatest stereo at home but this show really shines.

- Most Madonna music takes me back to a simpler time, when my parents were still alive and my family was together.

This sucks. It's sad but true, but also such is life. Besides, I've got my own family now and we're quite happy, thank you.

- Madonna is not in the public domain. Doesn't copyright require 50 years to expire?

Can't remember who said that but it's obviously not true.

- Coach Sylvester thinks she's 29? Hah! Yeah right. Besides that would ruin her status as a cougar.

Obviously that was a joke (the age thing in the show, not her cougar status).

- I realize it's a comedy but some of the "first time" shit is inappropriate.

I suppose that this is my fault because this isn't really prime time and I let my 8 almost 9 year old stay up too late to watch it.

- Vogue - pure genius.

Does Coach Sue sing her own part? I've seen her in movies for years. She must. Obviously she's not an amazing singer and much can be done with condenser mics and things of that nature, but I thought she did a pretty good job.

- Like a Virgin - hilarious and awkward. Finn was the best! Even the vocals sounded innocent and simple. My daughter said: "I like the beat".

Obviously Madison didn't get it, but it was still a fun scene.

- Mr. Shuster is an excellent role model - for men - and for what young women should put up with. Except when he allowed Jessie from Vocal Adrenaline into New Directions.

Okay, not sure I still agree with this 100% this morning, but he is certainly better than most TV characters.

- Can't blame Curt and Mercedes for joining the cheerios, they sure do get the shaft.


- What it feels like for a girl was brilliant, but they should have made it more boy centric.

Not quite sure what I meant by this.

- Like a Prayer really exercised the pipes of these stars! Great Tunage!

There really are some great singers on this show. I'm glad it comes on after American Idol, because it's nice to hear some good singing to heal my ears after the likes of Tim.

So anyway those are my random notes. Strange I know. Kind of a fun experiment though, and hey, if you don't put it out there for others to read it's not even writing; it's just writing shit down.

What are your thoughts? Did you like the Glee episode last night? Do you love Madonna?

P.S. I've decided to compromise about Michelle's guest post this week. Most of you voted for Non-Fiction yesterday, but there were plenty of votes for fiction as well.

I'm going to go ahead and do both this week. We'll start with Non-Fiction tomorrow, for a special Thursday guest blogger edition and then we'll follow up with a normal Friday guest blogger successful query post. Please don't forget to come back, read comment, follow, whatever and make sure to visit Michelle's blog as well!

EDIT: I've added a Carbon Neutral Button to my blog (see the left sidebar). You should do the same. Click the button to get linked to the instructions. They will plant a tree to offset the carbon footprint of your blog.

How awesome is that?

The Right Amount of Enthusiasm

Back to work, back to business. Tomorrow I'll probably write about Glee again, because it's so much fun. So today I figured I'd better bet back down to brass tacks and the point of this whole "bloggish blog thing" (to borrow a fun title from my friend Josin and her blog): Queries.

With all the success the guest posts have been having I don't want to get into my own successful queries yet. So here is another bad one. Keep in mind that this letter is from nearly a year ago and does not represent my current query or even the status of my manuscript.


May 8th, 2009


I am writing to you seeking representation for my young-adult fantasy-adventure novel which has the working title, Warrior-Monks, which is complete at approximately 475,000 words. The sequel, which is untitled, currently exists only in outline form. I am including a synopsis as well as the first two chapters of the book because the REDACTED Website specifically asks for no attachments to be sent.

Boy. I'm not going to go over this all again but this is pretty bad. See like 10-15 previous posts labeled Queries/Rejections if you don't already know why - you should though.

I love Eastern Cultures and art forms – Martial Arts, Calligraphy, Japanese Swords, Tea Ceremony etcetera and all the tradition and high level of art that go into them. I also love magic and fantasy and eastern religions such as Buddhism, Hinduism, and Taoism. Warrior-Monks incorporates all of these themes in a fantastic way which has never been done in young adult fantasy to my knowledge.

Yep. I was apparently really attached to this bit. I guess I thought it summarized what set my project apart. It's not a horrible idea it's just not done very well here.

Lee is a troubled young man from a broken family. After being expelled from boarding school and having experienced several brushes with the law, his adopted parents, who also happen to be his cruel aunt and uncle, decide to ship him off to a strange and distant reform school which is in the remote wilderness in the panhandle of Northern Idaho. He becomes a member of a group of 12 other students who arrived at the school at the same time as him. They are all very afraid and apprehensive about what will be going on at the school but they are soon pleased to discover that it is not nearly as bad as they had feared. After working in the Wood-Corral for several months they begin taking classes like Aikido, Kenjutsu, Calligraphy and Meditation.

And here begins the query. This is actually a lot better than some of the others queries (of mine) we've examined. The query should have started here. With a better one sentence hook/pitch before this it wouldn't have been half bad ... okay well maybe half but not three quarters!

It is some time before they discover that through meditation they can imbue their calligraphic scrolls with ancient magic. The book consists of many themes such as the beauty of nature, the life-energy that exists in everything and the awkward struggles that teenagers go through as they grow into themselves and become adults. Lee’s coming of age and struggling with the loss of his mother and the breaking of his family form the core of this introspective but also character driven tale.

And then we sink right back down into the muck of lazy query writing. I mean these are all great ideas and of course these themes do exist within the novel but to spell them out like this ... not good. I'm shaking my head here and picturing some tired old drunk of a magician playing a kid's birthday party and giving away the secrets to all his tricks. This isn't even show and tell; it's just tell.

I have never been published but I am confident that many authors like Christopher Paolini and Brunonia Barry have proved that you do not have to be a highly experienced or best-selling author to write an incredibly entertaining book. Please feel free to reply to this email, or to call me on my mobile phone at any time at 206-555-1212, or even to write to me at home at:

Email address is sufficient.


Right, see above.

Thank you for your consideration of this proposal. I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Matthew M. Rush

NOTE: I then for some reason pasted, single spaced, the first like 40 or so pages of the book (2 chapters). I guess their guidelines said to do that, but I'm pretty sure she didn't read them.

Her reply:

Dear Matthew,

Thank you for sending me your query letter. Unfortunately, I do not think it is a good fit for our agency. Since we are a very small staff and take on few new clients, please do not be discouraged by our response. I'm sure you will soon find an agent with the right amount of enthusiasm for your work.

Thank you for considering us. Best of luck with your writing.

Best wishes,


I like this rejection. Okay, I mean I don't actually LIKE it, but I respect it. Yes of course it almost certainly form, but I find it to be kindly worded, and perhaps ... it makes me feel better to critique the rejection a little bit.

I especially like the phrase: "soon find an agent with the right amount of enthusiasm for your work".

Anyway it's another understandable rejection. I wish I had a new and different example to show you all of things that DON'T WORK, but I'm going through these old queries chronologically so ... I don't. Not yet.


So, this week's (and possibly next) guest blogger is Michelle McLean. Please visit her blog to learn more about her. She's given us an interesting option for her guest post this week.

Michelle is published in Non-Fiction. Well that is her book has been sold and will be published in 2011. Again, see her blog for more info. She is also a writer of YA fiction though she has not yet been published in that genre, and like many of us still seeks an agent.

Anyway she has offered to share with us both the query/proposal that landed her her agent for the non-fiction book and a query she has used for one of her fiction projects that has garnered her a request for a full or partial manuscript. I think they're both pretty interesting and will eventually share them both with you but I would like to know: which one do you all want to see first?

I don't know how to set up a poll so please make your preference clear in your comments. As always thanks for visiting!

P.S. Michelle is the last guest blogger I have lined up. I'm still looking to schedule others after we are done with her two weeks. If you have ever written and sent a query that earned you at least a partial MS request please let me know if you are interested in sharing it.

My email is on my blogger profile.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Another (sort of) Sick Day

Well Madison's been running a fever since last night and Kelly has to work a double today so I'm staying home from work again. Then to top things off, Nesta, our puppy, had a big brown accident in the kitchen this morning - so I've been unable to do a normal post.

Thanks for the continued support everyone, and go take a look at last Friday's post, titled CANARY, if you haven't already.

I'll try to post something more meaningful later on today.

Friday, April 16, 2010


Today we have another awesome gust blogger. Rachele Alpine of Freckle Head. She is sharing the query that landed her an agent. She is represented by Lina Sion at Global Literary Management.

Please be sure to visit her blog today as she is holding a query contest based off her guest post! This is a great opportunity to get some feedback on your query so be sure to enter.

I’m sure you’re all used to the format by now, but if not Rachele’s thoughts are in blue, and my comments are in red.

Her query:

Ms. Sion:

I would like to introduce CANARY, my edgy YA novel complete at 73,000 words. The novel is told in a combination of narrative and blog entries.

This is a revised query based off of comments from Kate Schafer Testerman. I submitted my first draft to her on her blog and she posted it for comments. While it scared the heck out of me to put my query out to the public, every one had some really great ideas. One of the main comments was that my first paragraph (hook) sounded a lot like the second paragraph summary. I broke a big query letter tradition and deleted the hook, making my first paragraph short and sweet.

This paragraph is all business. It does lay out all the basics in a nice neat manner. I love that she called her genre edgy and that she pointed out the unique format of her novel. The combination of narrative and blog entries sounds really enticing to me.

Don't forget to check out Ask Dahpne! About My Query for feedback on your own letter.

Kate McCrea’s dad is good at coaching basketball; what he isn’t good at is communicating with Kate and her brother Brett. When her mother dies, he shuts down, throwing himself into basketball as a way to cope with his grief, leaving Kate alone in silence. When he lands a job at Beacon, Kate finds it easy to fit in when she starts dating a player on the team, while her brother, shy and weak, is rejected by the school. Kate quickly learns to overlook the perks given to the athletes who openly disgrace her brother for not being one of them. However, the players take their power too far one night at a party and Kate is raped. Kate doesn’t stay silent about the rape, but her accusations aren’t accepted by the Beacon community. The school rallies with the team and lashes out at her. Ugly rumors are created to destroy Kate and her credibility. She’s not praised for her decision to be truthful, but instead, it brings terrible consequences. The final blow comes when her dad tries to silence her in order to protect the team. The world that Kate believed was safe is now her worst enemy, and Kate must decide whether to stay silent or expose the corruption, destroying her father’s career and bringing down a town’s heroes.

Again, my earlier draft was a bit different. I didn’t mention a lot of specifics. I alluded to things and talked about a tragic event, but I didn’t say what that was. I didn’t want to ruin the plot for the agent, but I learned that you should. Tell them the problems, situations and major events. Don’t keep things a secret. You need to tell them everything major in your book.

She is certainly right about specifics – especially when it comes to plot. I can see why she would consider this edgy. The plot sounds incredibly compelling and the stakes of the conflict are certainly high.

I am a graduate of Boston University, where I earned a Masters in English Education, and I am currently working on a Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Writing (Fiction) at Cleveland State University. I may not be in high school anymore, but I am a high school English teacher and experience daily the struggles teenagers have trying to find their own voice among the heavy influence of their peers. I have seen first hand what hooks my students into a book or series.

I know an author’s background isn’t that important to an agent, so I only chose information that I felt related directly to my book.

This is perfect. Obviously this is Rachele’s first novel, but she doesn’t need to point that out. The things she does mention are 100% relevant to the structure of her book and she brings them up in a way that doesn’t undermine the most important part: what actually HAPPENS in it.

Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to sending you sample chapters or the completed manuscript of CANARY.

Thank you,
Rachele Alpine

Lina replied back asking for a full manuscript:

Dear Rachele,

Thank you for sending your query to our agency. I am interested in reading your manuscript. Feel free to email it to me by replying to this message or to mail it to the address below to my attention.


She read it in three days and requested representation. I contacted the other agents who had my full and waited until every one replied back to make my final decision to sign with Lina. The process of querying is like a rollercoaster. I loved the adrenaline of it, but it is scary as you wait for those replies back. Finding an agent is great, but now that I’m on the submission process to editors it feels like I’ve climbed onto a bigger and faster roller coaster. The adrenaline never stops! Wish me luck and I wish the best to all of you.

We surely do Rachele! Thanks so much for sharing your successful query with us and best of luck with the submission process.

So this example is a bit different from last week’s. The query is longer and more detailed but I think that’s appropriate for the context of the novel. This sounds like a story covering some pretty important issues and I think they call for the appropriate seriousness.

Don’t forget to visit Rachele’s blog this morning to enter her contest. She also is a regular blogger with lots of fun things to say so make sure to become a follower as well.

Otherwise what do you think? Please share your thoughts in the comments and make sure to thank Rachele and Lina as well.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

About My Query XXII

In Rachele Alipine's guest blog post tomorrow she mentions that her query received some revision advice from Kate Schafer Testerman and her readers at her Ask Daphne! About My Query blog. For those of you who don't know it's a service she holds on her blog that is a lot like the Query Shark, Evil Editor, or the Public Query Slushpile. Readers submit their query and get feedback from literary agent Kate Schafer Testerman and the readers of her blog.

Me and my query got a lot of assistance from this service as well a few months ago so I thought I would share some of it with you all. You can read the whole post here: About My Query XXII.

She always begins with a fun bit about shoes:

Happy Friday, readers! Ready to chime in with your thoughts and advice on another About My Query? Then let’s get going, with monk shoes for Matthew — did you know a “monk shoe” is a style of shoe with no lacing, closed by a buckle and strap? Men’s footwear is such a learning process for me! And speaking of learning processes…

Dear Daphne,

I am writing to you seeking representation for my young adult fiction novel, which has the working title “Warrior-Monks” and is complete. Warrior-Monks is intended for young adult readers ages 13-17, who are buying books in droves these days, but I am certain that once you read the manuscript you will find that it is mature enough and compelling enough to enthrall even the most discerning adult reader as well. I also feel obligated to inform you that this is not an exclusive submission and although I do not yet have an offer of representation there are several other agents who have requested and are currently reading full or partial versions of the manuscript.

The book is about a teen aged boy named Lee, who is from a broken family and who eventually ends up being sent to a unique reform school in Northern Idaho after he is expelled from a normal boarding school and kicked out of his aunt and uncle’s home. He is very worried about what will go on at this school but eventually discovers that he enjoys the curriculum. They teach him things like Aikido, Meditation and Calligraphy and take him and several other students camping and backpacking in the mountains in Montana as he grows and puts his self-conscious and shy tendencies behind him. The story does not begin to incorporate any magical realism until about halfway through, when the students begin to discover some magic of the everyday sort in the curriculum, which is based on east-Asian calligraphy and Buddhist/Hindu mysticism. It is an introspective and character driven novel in which the plot is not necessarily the focus but still has enough interesting occurrences to move the tale along as the reader comes to know and love the characters.

I have never been published but I am confident that many authors like Christopher Paolini and Brunonia Barry have proved that you do not have to be a highly experienced or best-selling author to write an incredibly entertaining book.

Please feel free to reply to this email, or to call me on my mobile phone at any time at 555-555-1212, or even to write to me at home at:

1234 Main St.
Hometown USA, 00000

Thank you for your consideration of this proposal. I look forward to hearing from you soon.


Her feedback:

There’s lots to work with here, Matthew, but I also think there’s a LOT you can cut. For instance, your first paragraph? Should read “I am writing to you seeking representation for my young adult novel, Warrior-Monks.” Slash and burn! First of all, of course you know how I feel about the phrase “fiction novel.” As for telling me your novel is complete — well, of course it is. There’s no reason you should be querying if it’s not. You certainly don’t need to tell any agent who would be interested in representing YA about the YA market, and saying it’s “compelling enough to enthrall even the most discerning adult reader” shows a lack of interest n your preferred market. If you’re writing for YA, write for YA. It’s more than worthy enough.

A lot of this advice is similar to things I've pointed out before. Guess where I learned them first.

So, moving onto the second paragraph, I think you need to find a way to make the hook stand out. What’s your one-sentence description of the book? Start there, and expand on that. “Sent to reform school by his aunt and uncle, his last living relatives, Lee discovers a hidden mysticism in the curriculum, and XXXXX,” in which “XXXXX” represents what happens. Having fully-developed characters in your novel is a great thing, don’t get me wrong, but something has to HAPPEN. I absolutely would not say that “the plot is not necessarily the focus,” and I can’t imagine a YA audience falling in droves for a pure character study. How does Lee put his shy, self-conscious tendencies behind him? Does he become friends with the other students? Do they have to band together against something? Why was he kicked out of his previous school and sent to reform school anyway? What else can you tell me about the other characters?

All great points.

As for waiting until halfway through to bring some magic realism into the tale, I worry you’ll lose your audience long before that, if you promise them a mystical story and put off delivering. Think of some great books you’ve read, particularly in the genre you’re writing. Consider the famed five act story structure:

* rising action
* climax (or turning point)
* falling action
* resolution

I think the introduction of magic certainly needs to happen in the second section, especially if it’s going to have an effect on the resolution. But that’s story structure, not query help.

She's right of course and I never should have put it that way in the query. The magical/fantasy elements are introduced pretty early in the novel, they just don't become part of any conflict until much later. I'm not sure why I struggled with laying that out so much in my early queries.

Back to the query — put your address and phone number below your signature line, with a link to your website or blog, if you have one, and don’t waste space in your letter with your contact information. If you really want to mention that your query is non-exclusive, put it here in the closing, although unless an agent specifically asks for exclusivity, most of us assume you’re querying widely.

I now know all of this as query basics 101, but you have to start somewhere and my jumping off point was buried deep in the quagmire of ignorance.

Readers — any other comments?

Some of the more astute comments from her readers:

Lydia Says:
September 25th, 2009 at 12:50 pm

I would definitely cut the line about how Christopher Paolini has proved that you don’t have to be an experienced first novelist to write a first novel. I don’t think any agent reading this is going to smack herself in the forehead and say, “Oh my god, you’re right! You DON’T have to be published to be awesome.” So it just comes off as patronizing and desperate.

I was trying to follow that advice that's out there on the web about comparing your project to one that is similar and was successful, but I went about it all wrong. And as I've pointed out before, this kind of thing is insulting.

Jamie Harrington Says:
September 25th, 2009 at 8:27 pm

For some reason this comes off as a little egotistical. The whole “lots of other agents have this, so you better get on it if you want your shot at repping me” sentence, and then the whole you don’t have to be experienced to write a first novel thing…

No one needs to know it’s your first. Just leave that part out. In fact, I’d leave pretty much everything out EXCEPT the story. (I’m guilty of short query-itis though) If you don’t have any credits, etc. to your name-then there’s no reason to call attention to it.

Good Luck!

I don't know about this. The part about the query not being exclusive was meant to be polite, but I can see how it might have come across that way. Either way it's not necessary.

Karen Says:
September 25th, 2009 at 10:07 pm

I agree with everyone here. That first paragraph should go almost entirely. The only thing that should be in there is the title, WORD COUNT, genre and the hook if you have it. The rest of it should go.

I feel like the second paragraph is more like a conversation instead of a summary. You want it to read like the blurb on the back of a book cover and you’ve never picked up a book and read, “This book is about a teenaged boy…” No, they are always something like, “Sent to reform school by his aunt and uncle, his last living relatives, Lee discovers a hidden mysticism in the curriculum…” as Daphne has pointed out.

And as others have said, never put in the query that you have never been published. The agent will know that by the lack of publishing credits in your bio paragraph.
From what I can dig out, you may have a decent story here, but you are really going to have to rework the query to make the story shine through.

Hope that helps!

Of course I skipped the word count in this submission because I didn't want the feedback to focus on that.

Krista G. Says:
September 26th, 2009 at 9:47 pm

I agree with Jamie Harrington that the tone comes off as a bit egotistical, and that immediately turned me off. Tone aside, though, I tend to shy away from statements that tell me how I’m going to feel about a book (i.e., “I am certain that once you read the manuscript you will find…”). Let the writing speak for itself.

The second paragraph is pretty unwieldy, both in size and content. You might consider breaking it up into several smaller paragraphs so as to be easier on the eyes. As for the content, give us more specifics about Lee and his experiences, and tell us these specifics from Lee’s perspective. That will give your pitch more substance; as it is, we seem to be skimming over the surface of the story, not diving into it.

Your biographical paragraph is more lecture than biography. Agents already know that you don’t have to have any real credentials to write a novel; they sign debut novelists all the time. So just give them a few highlights about yourself, focusing on any professional experience you may have with the issues in your novel. Less is almost always more in a query.

Oh, and just one more small suggestion: Instead of encapsulating your title in quotation marks, try using all caps. Quotation marks are only appropriate to set off titles of smaller works, like articles, and italicization doesn’t always transfer well in e-mails.

True, true and ... true.

I then posted this comment with a revision:

Matthew Says:
September 28th, 2009 at 10:30 am

If anyone has time I would really love to hear your thoughts on this revision:

Dear Daphne,

I am writing to you seeking representation for my young adult novel, which has the working title WARRIOR MONKS.

Fifteen year old Lee is a reluctant juvenile delinquent. He never means to get himself into trouble but trouble seems to have quite a knack for gathering him into its clutches nonetheless. All of that begins to change, however, when his cruel Aunt and Uncle, his last surviving relatives that the courts have assigned as his guardians and conservators ship him off to a unique reform school in the bitter wilderness of Northern Idaho. He is so terrified by the idea of the place that he runs away from home, but soon enough he ends up accepting the inevitable and eventually discovers magic and mystery in his strange and wonderful new home.

The school is meant for wayward teens with criminal or behavioral problems but it turns out to have a mystical twist on the standard curriculum. They teach Lee and his group of new found friends everything from East Asian Calligraphy and Yogic Meditation to Aikido and Kenjutsu. Bit by bit they learn to use these talents to harness the magical energy that the Chinese know as Chi. Once the students are proficient in their new found skills their teachers lead them out into the wilderness for a journey of self discovery. After achieving success (more for some than for others) they are forced to band together and defend themselves from a wild and mythical primal enemy.

I have never been published but I love to read and feel that fans of Christopher Paolini, Jonathan Stroud, Michael Scott and Tamora Pierce would enjoy this story as well.

Thank you for your consideration of this proposal. I look forward to hearing from you soon.

It's better of course, and this was one of the first versions of my query that actually fit with the format of what a good query should look like. It still wasn't great but it's evolved a lot since then and is still growing and changing as the novel gets edited.

There was really only one reply:

Jenny Says:
September 29th, 2009 at 8:19 am

Although the revision is much better than the original there are still a few things that could use some work. I like the idea of a reluctant juvenile delinquent. It drums up some sympathy for the character right away. But there is a disconnect between the first two sentences and the rest of the query that leaves me wondering what him getting into trouble has to do with the bulk of the story. How does he get in trouble, what happens to him that he doesn’t intend, how will this knack for finding trouble effect him later on, etc?
Be careful with your long sentences. Readers tend to get tripped up by them. Also, the line about trouble “gathering him into its clutches” sounds a bit cliche.
To me this story sounds a lot like Harry Potter … mysterious, magical school, cruel aunt and uncle, defending against an overwhelming enemy, and so on. How is your story fundamentally unique? Tell us in the query.

That was the first time I realized that about the similarity to Harry Potter. I was like s@#t! at the time. I never meant it to be so close and it is a little darker and more grown up but if you replace the wizardry with martial arts and east Asian mysticism the stories are really similar. I've since decided that's okay. I've read all the Harry Potter books and I figure I could do worse if my story has to get compared to something.

So this post became epically long, sorry about that. But hopefully it's a good warmup for Rachele's post tomorrow. MAKE SURE you all come back for that.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

A Bit of American Idol and then Mostly Glee

I stayed home sick from work today so I didn't do my normal 6AM post. Sorry about that everybody. Also I've been told that my blog was broken this morning so sorry to anyone who stopped by and found the comments all gone and no ability to post new ones. It did that to me last night as well.

I still intend to keep the blog going and will still be having Rachele Alpine from Freckle Head doing an awesome guest post on Friday, so be sure to come back then.

Anyway I'm still feeling a bit ill so I'm just going to talk briefly about the television we watched as a family last night.

American Idol:

This is my first seasons watching the show. I'll admit I get a little distracted but my daughters love it and I love them so I try to watch. That being said I'll give my opinion here:

My favorite contestant is Siobhan. She's not the most polished singer. She doesn't have the best stage presence. But her style is unique and I consider her voice to have the most potential. Her range is incredibly dynamic and her sound belts from all the way down at her diaphragm, reverberating across the room.

I realize Crystal Bowersox has to be the favorite right now and SHE IS good. Damn good. But she's a bit ... flat. I mean she sings her ass off and can play the hell out of the guitar but to be a star she needs something more unique that I feel is missing. I like her a lot and her performances have been very strong but...

I missed last week so when I heard Big Mike got saved I was like WTF!?! Dude is a great but not amazing singer but I love his personality SO much.

Otherwise Lee Dewyze has the coolest voice. Almost like Rob Thomas from Matchbox 20 singing "So Smooth". Anyone agree?


This season's opener did not quite live up to the level of quality that last season brought to the table. But it still rocked.

Maybe it's because I was a nerdy D&D fencing club type of dude in HS, but Rachel is awesome! Sure she's the best singer and performer on the show, but it's her presence as an actress that grabs me. She's beautiful, yes, but she also (the character) is willing to be proud of who she is and not conform to the expectations of other students. That I like for my daughters to see.

The part I don't like is how she's so wishy washy about boys. I understand she's insecure and that does ring true for her character but it's a bad thing for them to see I think. Oh well at least it gives mom and me an excuse to talk to them about what kind of things they should be willing to put up with, see: not much.

Did anyone else notice that the opposing coach is basically a grown up Rachel? Physically? I hated her for a second and then she liked dropped this caring, honest, REAL knowledge on Mr. Shuster and I was like DAMN!

Anyway that's my two cents on it. I don't watch much TV besides sports myself but my kids love these shows and I have to admit I'm getting into them too.

Tomorrow it's back to bad queries and then don't forget to stop back by for Rachele Alpine's awesome successful query guest post on Friday.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Areas of Specialization

Today we'll get back to what this blog is all about: Queries.

I'll post another early query here that garnered a rejection, but before I get to that I just want to thank everyone who participated in yesterday's discussion. It was informative, opinionated and even entertaining at times but what I really appreciate is everyone's honesty and willingness to share what they thought or felt about the issue.

I've decided (at least for now) not to continue with the "shameless self promotion" addenda to my comments on other blogs. I really do want to promote somehow when I have guest bloggers on Fridays so I'm not sure what I will do yet but I will probably try to find a way to make a more clever link in my comments a bit like Southern Princess's kingdom links (which I find cute AND clever, personally). Or perhaps I'll just stick to mentioning it only if that person's blog post is actually relevant (like when Elana Johnson posts about blogging). I may also ask some of you loyal followers to simply mention it on your blogs on Friday in return for links back, we'll see. Anyone have any other suggestions?

Anyway, on to the query:

May 11th, 2009


I'm not sure why I addressed this agent by his last name. I'm sure each agent has their own preference for this kind of thing but based on what I've read using first name only is usually better. That's what I normally do.

I am writing to you seeking representation for my young-adult fantasy-adventure novel which has the working title, Warrior-Monks, and is complete at approximately 475,000 words. The sequel, which is untitled, currently exists only in outline form. I am including a synopsis as well as the introduction/prologue of my book because your website does not advise against sample chapters and so that you may get a glimpse of my writing style.

There are no rules (well very few) to query writing but here are a couple of suggestions: Title, Word-Count and Genre ought to go at the end, unless somehow otherwise specified in the agent's submission guidelines. Query one project at a time, in other words don't mention sequels. If an agent is interested they will ask as we saw in Cole's guest post last Friday. Finally as I've pointed out several times before and wish I had realized for myself back then, don't tell the agent why you are or are not including a synopsis, sample pages, map, table of contents, cover art, gifts, whatever; just do it. They know their own guidelines and don't need their hands held while you prove that you followed them.

I love Eastern Cultures and the many art forms they incorporate such as – Martial Arts, Calligraphy, Japanese Swords, and the Tea Ceremony as well as all the traditions and high level of art that go into them. I also love Magic and Fantasy and Eastern Religions such as Buddhism, Hinduism, and Taoism. Warrior-Monks incorporates all of these themes in a fantastic way which has never been done in young adult fantasy to my knowledge.

I so want to delete this paragraph from each of these old queries before I share them with you. It's not terribly written. It doesn't cover lame or boring topics, but it also does not really serve the purpose of the query. The last sentence here is really the only one that matters but again, it's all tell and no show.

I have never been published but I am confident that many authors like Christopher Paolini and Brunonia Barry have proved that you do not have to be a highly experienced or best-selling author to write an incredibly entertaining book. I also do have some personal qualifications to write this story. For example my own mother died when I was eleven years old and I was then sent to live with a cruel aunt and uncle and eventually did end up at a reform school in Northern Idaho which although strange, was not nearly as fascinating as the place in which my characters find themselves within this book.

Blah, blah blah. This kind of lip service is embarrassing. It's okay to compare your project to other author's books IF you do it in a way which tastefully shows how your novel is similar (will appeal to fans of) but also unique. Using these other debut authors as evidence that debut authors can write good books is ... well probably kind of insulting to an agent's intelligence. As if they didn't already know that first time authors can write great books. Would they really accept unsolicited submissions if they didn't believe that?

Also the "personal qualifications" in this instance are entirely unnecessary. Rarely is such information pertinent to fiction. If you wrote a political military thriller in the vein of a Tom Clancy novel it might make sense to point out that you actually did serve in the navy. If you're trying to get representation for Harry Potter, it doesn't really matter whether you went to boarding school as a child.

Please feel free to reply to this email, or to call me on my mobile phone at any time at 206-555-1212, or even to write to me at home at:

I'm not sure why I always made sure to put my phone number in. It's fine, no big deal, but usually the ability to reply to your email will suffice. I guess maybe I was holding out hope that someone would love my novel so much they'd just have to call me then and there. Not sure how I figured that would happen since I rarely sent pages.


Thank you for your consideration of this proposal.

Matthew M. Rush

His reply:

Dear Mr. Rush,

I wonder if my addressing his last name prompted this? No idea of course, but it is curious.

Thank you for your recent query regarding representation, which we have now had an opportunity to consider. Unfortunately, I don't think our agency is going to be the right fit for your manuscript.

Tastes and areas of specialization vary widely from agent to agent. If you haven't already done so, you may wish to consult a directory such as Literary Marketplace ( for the names of agents whose interests are more compatible with your work. We wish you the best of luck in finding representation.



It was not even signed by the agent I wrote to, which is fine, but I'm not sure if it was an assistant or what.

So this is most likely a form rejection. No surprise based on the quality of the query, but there is one curious difference here compared to many of the other rejections I received back then. The assistant or whoever took the time to direct me to the literary marketplace to research the genres agent's represent.

I will admit that I was overzealous in my blanket querying back then but I'm pretty sure I didn't query agents who clearly stated that they did NOT represent YA. I may have written to some who did not state one way or the other but ...

No matter; it's still good advice. Make sure to research any agent that you query as much as possible before you write to them. Querying an agent who does not represent your genre is not going to hurt your chances with other agents (it's not like they have a newsletter where they tell each other "look at this idiot") but it will be a waste of your time.

News: I sent the first 30 (actually 25) pages of my MS to Marietta yesterday and I'm still waiting to hear back from her, but she did email the 3 winners to let us know that she is offering to give each of us a 30 minute consultation over the phone after she has returned her critiques to us. This is amazingly generous of her and although I am looking forward to it I have to admit I'm very nervous.

Oh well, this won't be the last time I have to push through some fears if I want to end up getting published.

Monday, April 12, 2010

A Comment on Comments

I had a strange experience on Friday when I was roaming the blogoshpere desperately trolling for traffic. I'm pretty new to this whole thing so please forgive my ignorance if there is some unspoken rule of etiquette that I'm unaware of.

My understanding of the whole point of blogging is for your blog to experience traffic - the more the better - whether you're a published writer trying to get your name out and make people aware of your coming book release or you just want to share your recipes and photos with your family it doesn't seem to me that there would be much point if no one came to read it. Obviously there is something to be said about the quality of traffic (followers and comments over readers only) versus the quantity, but in general I would assume that more is better.

So the point is that I personally have a few strategies to accomplish this that I will share with all of you know. The very first thing was to make my blog about something that people (or at least other writers) would care about. I got the idea after seeing the film Julie & Julia and decided to share my painfully horrible queries with the rest of the novice writer blogging world. My hope was that it would be first and foremost informative enough to help other new writers avoid my mistake, then secondly hopefully awkward enough to make a few people laugh - at my expense - and thirdly, maybe, just maybe, be a little bit cathartic for my own sense of hopelessness when it comes to getting published.

So far it's working out pretty well. The second strategy I came up with (which is not a new idea in any way) was to have guest bloggers on my blog. This has been the single most effective thing so far for increasing traffic to my blog. The only part about my idea which was new (I think) was that I asked my guest bloggers to share some intimate details of their own experiences in seeking an agent.

This is going on longer than I had planned but the third thing was to go out and manually, assertively promote my blog on other writers blogs. This is the main point of today's post. Before I get to why this came up let me explain what it is I do.

On Friday's when I have a guest blogger I go out to all the blogs I follow and post a comment attempting to send their readers to my own blog. I ALWAYS make sure of a few things:

- That I already follow their blog. Following someone's blog means that you have the ability to watch your dashboard for their new posts. Some people don't always visit but at least it means that you are interested in what is going on at their blog.
- That I comment thoughtfully about their post for that day and that what I say is relevant enough to prove that I read their WHOLE post. To make a promotional comment without this part would be in my opinion selfish and rude.
- That I don't go out promoting my own blog when it is just a post by me. This part may not be such a big deal but I'm a humble person and I feel more comfortable promoting someone's guest post than I do my own. Plus it means that I'm part of a community and I do sincerely believe that as novice writers we're all in this together, so I have no problem doing some leg work to promote other writers.

Now, the reason I'm writing about this today is that I apparently upset one of my blogging friends on Friday. Here is an example of what I was adding to my comments after saying something relevant:

Shameless promotion for your other reader/followers:

I have an awesome guest post today on my blog by Cole Gibsen.

This one is pure query/submission gold folks in which she shares the ACTUAL query that landed her an agent and the correspondence that ensued.

Please stop by to read, comment and follow.


I got an email from my friend that morning that made me question my tactics. Before I paste it let me point out that my friend and I both follow each other blogs. She had already commented on my post that morning before I commented on hers. So here is her email:

Okay Matthew...I appreciate that you're a follower. And I have reciprocated. And I will read and/or comment on your blog. But I'm feeling a bit put upon with your self-promoting. I've been reading blogs now for well over two years and I've never seen anyone promoting their blog in the comments. Please stop. I don't want to have to block you.

My reply:

Sure thing, no problem. Sorry to have offended. I wasn't making the comment for your info, as I know you already follow, but more for your other readers. Either way I will be sure to cease.

She then replied to thank me and I told her she was welcome. I am not mad at her at all because after all it is her blog and she has every right to make the decision whether this kind of thing is okay with her or not. In fact I still follow her blog and intend to continue to read and comment on it, but I have to say I'm a little surprised.

First of all I am not the first person to have ever done this kind of thing. I see people reference their blogs in comments all the time. I'm not saying I can't possibly imagine someone getting annoyed, that's exactly why I make sure that it is obvious that's not the only reason I visit, but I just don't really get it.

I'm not going to speculate as to what her reasons might be, it doesn't matter, but I am curious to know - have I annoyed any of the rest of you and you just didn't speak up? Would you ever go out to promote your own blog in comments - guest blogger or otherwise? Do you care if people do it on your blog? Please answer these questions or any others you think of and then discuss in the comments.

Disclaimer: As far as I am concerned anyone who wants to can promote their blog in my comments section. You don't have to be a follower. You don't have to start with something on topic. You don't even have to write anyhting, just post a link if you want. In my opinion if I can drive traffic to other blogs in any way possible that's a good thing.

Thanks for reading, I'll get back to queries tomorrow, I promise.

P.S. I might be a little too busy to read and comment on every one's blog today. I won a contest over at Hilary Wagner's blog and now I have to get my first 30 pages ready for her agent Marietta Zacker.