Monday, April 21, 2014

The Query Letter Revisited

by Susan J. Berger

Last Sunday I attended my first meeting of LARA, Los Angeles Romance Writers.

The speaker was Anne Cleeland and the topic was 8 questions to ask yourself before querying. Anne has four published novels and is a member of RWA,
Anne has her own style of querying. It’s direct and ignores many of the given rules. Anne’s background is in the legal field. I thinks her suggestions are clever and logical. I asked Anne for permission to share and she granted it.

Define your book.
Be specific. Genre and sub Genre, Editors are trying to fit slots in a publishing line. Make it easy for them.

Kind of book: Picture book, Easy reader, Early Chapter book, Mid-Grade, YA

Fiction or Non Fiction?

Is your story Contemporary? Speculative Fiction? Fantasy? Science Fiction? Realistic Fiction? Historical Fiction? Graphic Novel?

This link to a GCSU course syllabus give great examples of types of children's literature.

Have a short pithy hook.
It should indicate the sub genre. You are not TELLING your story. You are trying to get someone to OPEN your story.

Example of a tried and true hook:

When [event] happens,[main character] must confront [conflict] and triumph [describe how]

Variations: Give era and/or ;location if this is of interest: “Set in the Barrios of Los Angeles”

Start with an intriguing fact “Following a school lockout. . .”

Or try to tie in to a pop culture phenomena.

Anne gave the following examples. Tainted Angel is a Regency Version of Mr.& Mrs. Smith.”
"In Murder in Thrall, Sherlock Holmes is Breaking Bad."

Who Do You Query?
Subscribe to Publishers Market Place. (Join for one Month. It’s 25.00. Make your list of top agents and deals in your field. Look for the top 100 Deals.

Here’s a link to how one author used this method and sold her book. The site is Miss Snark. and the post is on the meaning of deal terms. Look for Maya’s comment. It's the second one down.

Other places to research agents: and Literary Rambles. Casey has a huge data base of agent interviews which you can search by age category they represent. I recommend checking t the agents' websites before querying.

Before writing your query, know the buzz words. Then Use Them.
Project = book, Mss, literary vs. commercial, hook, trending, character driven vs plot driven, external conflict vs. internal conflict.

Anne created her own version of the query letter. She got lots of requests using this format.

Dear Ms. [Agent:]
I see that you sold [name of project] to [name of editor] and I was thinking my historical series might be a good fit for the same line.

The first book, Tainted Angel, is a Regency version of Mr. and Mrs. Smith. One of the most beautiful courtesans in England is actually a spy working for the crown. Or  is she working for the enemy? The hero is a fellow spy who must choose between love and allegiance.
The completed project is 85,000 words. Please let me know if you would like to see a partial manuscript.
Thank you for you time and attention.
Very truly yours,

Anne Cleeland
Chapter One
[Anne pasted chapter one into the letter.]

I think that’s a great idea. Maya Reynolds in her comment on Miss Snark spoke of doing the same thing.
You’ve just saved you and the agent time and money. If she doesn’t like your writing, that’s the end of it.
Note the signature. She has a website and she has a twitter. I think that’s professional credibility. If the query and chapter interest the editor, she can look up Anne’s bio.

The other taboos Anne broke:
She sends multiple queries on the same book to different agents. Obviously they are personalized for each agent since she mentions deals they have made. Many panned out.

She pasted the first chapter in the body of the letter. (NEVER send an attachment.)

She re-queried the same agent after receiving a rejection. She sent her a different book.  

(I did that too. Allyn Johnston rejected my first Ms, The Undertoads, and I immediately sent her Log on Log. I sent it as a thank you joke. I never dreamed she’d accept it.)

She didn’t respect an agent’s stated request for no new clients or no emails.

If you want to query someone and you cannot find the email go to this site: 

Best time to query?
Avoid querying at conference times. Everyone is overwhelmed. Anne said, "Do go to the conferences. Volunteer, pitch, Glad-hand and be friendly. Dress for business. Have a card and hand it out like candy." Then you get to put "Requested submission" as your header when you do pitch. But avoid querying the month before and after a conference. Anne mentioned that Tuesday evenings are good times to send your queries. Probably Wednesday as well. (I think this is sound advice. But you'd have to look up all the conferences in your field to make this feasible as a strategy.. I wonder how many days would end up as viable query times?)
Did it work for her?



     Tainted Angel                                                                              Murder in Thrall
I can’t wait to try it myself.

Write on!
Visit Anne at
You also might be interested in this post on Query by Jane Friedman

Monday, April 14, 2014

Instead of Matzah Ball Soup Tonight,
I Wrote This Post


by Hilde Garcia


Normal people are in bed. I am not normal. I can only hear our thoughts at this hour. I need total quiet, which only occurs when everyone is sleeping, including the dog and my dishes are done.

Passover starts tonight. My family and I decided to celebrate our Seder on Sunday evening, which had me shopping at 10pm on a Saturday night. I went to three Ralph’s and Whole Foods in search of Cherry Flavored Manishewitz. It seems that Concord Grape is the favorite flavor choice for the year, but I still tried.

And I met some interesting people along the way. Everyone wishing me Chag Sameach- which means joyous holiday. I felt like I belonged to the tribe. Well, I do, but I recall when I was in school and how little I felt like I belonged.

So I am at the second Ralphs and I am in the Passover section. When this gentleman overhears me asking for the Manishewitz- which is really sweet Kosher for Passover wine- he takes it upon himself to show me where it is. We then begin a 30-minute conversation about religion, choices, following your heart and saving the world.

He tells me of a Muslim girl his temple was trying to save from being hanged for killing the man that tried to rape her- she was defending herself, but the man died as a result. She was 15 and now she’s 22 and facing death.

And I thought, why on Earth am I talking to this complete stranger in the wine aisle at a Ralphs about some poor soul whose fate is being decided by a very unjust process-well, according to me that is. And in that moment, I no longer had to run home to cook, nor to finish my shopping. I didn’t even feel tired anymore. I simply listened while holding a 5-pack of matzah and a bottle of Passover wine.

Then I come home and clean the fridge- really well. I clean when I am mad. And I was. At all the hurt and injustice on the planet. At the fact that so many souls never get the chance to be creative because insanity still prevails.

The man’s name was Isaac and he was truly a kindred spirit. He asked me, “Why you become Jewish?” Funny, the answer was so easy. “Because I followed my heart and this is where I belong.”

I think about the literature we expose young people to and I wonder if we are sending powerful enough messages about the world around them? And are we sending it from the point of view of the child or young person. Not Westernizing it but painting a portrait of how they see the world. Truly, in today’s world, we are so much more diverse and for that, I am so thankful, but it seems we can do more.

In my last post, I talked about some great novels that featured strong heroines in very unique stories. In particular, Wanting Mor by Rukhsana Khan and Sold by Patricia McCormick. These novels brought forth stories of the lives of girls in countries where their freedoms are not what we are used to here in the U. S.

Today, I’d like to share another amazing story that not only moved me, but my entire class of 4th and 5th graders when I read it aloud to them. A Long Walk To Water by Linda Sue Park. It is based on the true story of Salva, one of some 3,800 Sudanese "Lost Boys" airlifted to the United States beginning in the mid 1990s.

Before leaving Africa, Salva's life is one of harrowing tragedy. Separated from his family by war and forced to travel on foot through hundreds of miles of hostile territory, he survives starvation, animal attacks, and disease, and ultimately leads a group of about 150 boys to safety in Kenya. Relocated to upstate New York, Salva resourcefully learns English and continues on to college. Eventually he returns to his home region in southern Sudan to establish a foundation that installs deep-water wells in remote villages in dire need of clean water. This poignant story of Salva's life is told side-by-side with the story of Nya, a young girl who lives today in one of those villages.

This powerful story not only showed my kids how precious their world is, it opened their eyes to how other kids live. I think as writers we must always search out these stories and share them with young readers so they can grow up and perhaps change the world.

Especially in today’s world of immediate gratification and over stimulation, we need to teach kids how to listen and follow their hearts.

The following historical fiction titles (with live links) are some of my favorite choices that transport kids into stories of strife, hardship, and hope. Jane Yolen’s book speaks the most to me during this Passover Season.

May your holiday, Passover or Easter, be joyous and surrounded by love.

Run, don't walk to your nearest independent bookstore and buy these books.
- The Management

Monday, April 7, 2014

Dispatch #20: Wealth of Words


by Lupe Fernandez

When I drive, the front axle of my 2000 Mitsubishi Eclipse makes a grinding noise. The mechanic says the transmission is failing. A repair will require money that I don't have to spend. I could get a job. Wait...I already have a job, only I pay them. I'm a writer.

If words were wishes, then I'd buy a new car. What are words worth? Remember back in ye ole days when writers were paid by the word? I don't. I never sold anything. Based on that economical model, my 50,000 word manuscript would net me 50K and I'd add more words to up the paycheck.

But only in my dreams.

Best Selling books earn more money than Mid-List books. Does that make best sellers more valuable? What about the authors? Is their worth depending on profit? If it was me with the best seller, I sure as hell would agree. But it isn't, so I don't.

What are words worth? 

Are articles cheaper than propositions? Are verbs more expensive than nouns? What about the much maligned adverbs with their dangling LYs? Are there discount prices for adjectives?

Can I get more bang for my buck with a independent clause than a propositional phrase?

Here's a speculative breakdown:
"a" = 1 cent.
"the" = 5 cents.

"house" = 10 cents.
"The White House" = $10 dollars.

Verbs (pricing various with tense)
"running" = 90 cents.
"run" = $1 dollar.
"ran" = $2 dollars.

How about syllables?
"moose" = $1.50 dollars.
"astronaut" = $3.25 dollars.
"Pnuemonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis*" = $5000.00 for 19 syllables.

What about fonts? 

Are Times New Roman and Courier the English and Spanish of popular languages?

Is Adobe Garamond Pro Bold more valuable than Shruti?

I prefer Times New Roman for prose writing. Courier is too plain. Much more suited for screenwriting. Just call me a font snob.

So who decides?

We should take a vote. There are many parties.

The Noun and The Verb are the two main parties. There are splinter groups like Gerund, Elliptical Clauses and Infinite Relative Pronoun, and extremists like Stream of Consciousness.

Don't get me started on commas.

Volcanic Ash
So vote.

*"Pnuemonou..." is a respiratory diseased caused by the inhalation volcanic silicates particles.

Monday, March 31, 2014

First lines from the 2014 Cybil Award Books

by Susan J Berger

I wanted to do a first line post. First, my gratitude to the internet which permits me to do the research and to Amazon's Look Inside feature which allows me to copy the first lines into my post without leaving home. The title links are to Amazon so that you, too, may read further and decide if you want to buy or borrow the book from the library.

Next my gratitude to The Los Angeles Public Library whose on-line service enables me to place holds on books I want and/or order books electronically.

These first lines are from The 2014 Cybil winners.

Picture Books

Mr. Tiger Goes Wild written and illustrated by Peter Brown

Everyone was perfectly fine with the way things were. Everyone but Mr. Tiger.

I love this.

Easy Reader

It was a busy day at City Hospital. Doctor Glenda was writing something important on the wall chart. Nurse Percy was helping someone in a red coat who was crying because she couldn’t find her grandma.

Not so much.  Three. Count them. Three was ­__ing in the first paragraph? Not a great example for an easy reader.

Easy Chapter Books

Horror (scary tales) by James Preller

“Wake up, Liam. We’re here,” Mr. Finn whispered from the driver’s seat. “Our new home.”

            The eight year old boy rubbed his eyes, groggy from the long drive. He looked out the car window, blinking into the dark. “What time is it?”

            Around midnight,” his father said. “you three have been crashed out for hours. Home Sweet

Since this is admittedly a horror story, I would read on to find the horror

Speculative Fiction

Of the first few hauntings I investigated with Lockwood & Co. I intend to say little, in part to protect the identity of the victim, in part because of the gruesome nature of the incidents, but mainly because, in a variety of ingenious ways, we succeeded in messing them all up.

Wow. Try saying that all in one breath. I believe the author thought the editor was sure to read the first sentence and wanted to make it count.

Middle Grade Fiction

Ultra by David Carroll

Mile O

QUINN: I still don’t get why it was such a big deal. All the kids like to run. Go to any schoolyard. You’ll see kids playing tag, soccer, capture-the-flag . . .All those games involve running.

SYDNEY WATSON WALTERS: The difference is, most kids run for 10 or 15 minutes. Not for 24 hours straight like you.  

This turns out to be a kind of preface. I read on to find out why someone would run for 24 hours. Sounds like a book I might like.

Young Adult Speculative Fiction

The SummerPrince by Alaya Dawn Johnson

 When I was eight, my papai took me to the park to watch a king die.

I love this opening. What a great first sentence. Naturally I read on to find out what happened. If you like the sentence, click the link and read on yourself.

YA Fiction

“Yaqui Delgado wants to kick your ass.”

            A kid named Vanessa tells me this in the morning before school. She springs out with no warning and blocks my way, her textbook held at her chest like a shield. She’s tall like me and caramel. I’ve seen her in the lunchroom, I think. Or maybe in the halls. It’s hard to remember.

I have to read this one. She had me at the name.

This is a bit short so I’ll add three from NY Times Best Seller List from the week of March 25th

 The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate


I am Ivan. I am a gorilla.

It’s not as easy as it looks.

I've been told by several friends this is a wonderful book. It's definitely one I want to read.

A Long Walk toWater by Linda Sue Park

Southern Sudan 2008

Going was easy.

            Going, the big Plastic Container held only air. Tall for her eleven years, Nya could switch the handle form on hand to the other, swing the container by her side, or cradle it in both arms. She could even drag it behind her, bumping it against the ground and raising a tiny cloud of dust with each step.

I've met Linda Sue Park at the SCBWI Summer conference. I am so delighted to see her on the best seller list.

One last Book.
Journey by Aaron Becker

This book had no words It’s a story in pictures. It’s 4 on the picture book Best Seller List and a 2014 Caldecott Honor book. I love picture books with no words. So I wanted to call it to your attention.

Happy reading and writing.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Women's History Month via Supercuts

By Hilde Garcia

A chair. I sit. After a multitude of minutes that have turned into years due to the breakneck pace my life has been since my wonderful twins were born, I sit. At Super Cuts. Because my regular stylist is sick with the flu, but I need my hair done and I need it done now.

I’ve been trying to be the most amazing mom, wife, teacher, aunt, person, so I do for everyone, everyone except me. I’ve buried parts of me that so deep that my kids have no idea who I was before they arrived. I used to act. I use to produce. I still write. But lately, my writing's been buried in a deluge of baseball games, cheer practices and girl scout events.  Smothered by a heavy dose of lesson plans, grading papers, homework and the endless pile of laundry. It’s a miracle that I pee on a daily basis. 

My writing partner, Sue, say she’s in awe of me. I’m not sure why. I don’t write often. Lately, it seems like never. I post when prompted by my group and mostly at gunpoint. In fact, why should I post? I’m no one famous- just a pre-published lady with a story to tell. Who will want to read anything I write?

AND there is always something in my way. I am not sure why I am destined for this. I have learned the word no, but it’s like Murphy knows I want to write, so he throws stuff to cause my pencil to break.

This week’s obstacle of choice? Planning a party for my niece, 3 vet visits and a dying hamster that I couldn’t save. And that was all by Wednesday night.

Who knows? Maybe I’m my own biggest obstacle. I promised this post by Tuesday to make up for missing my deadline last week and here it is, Friday night, and I am banging it out at Super Cuts. The lady doing my hair is talking to me, but I seem able to write in one language and talk to her in another. Who knew?

(And by the way, my hair is looking great, because taking passport photos in the morning with bad hair, isn’t going to work. I’m going to have to look at that photo for ten years. I am going to ensure I look like someone who is NOT frazzled.)
Sigh…. Does it ever end? 

But in honor of Women’s History Month this March, I’d like to highlight some amazing children’s novels that I love for two reasons. One, these fictional young heroines shape their worlds with their courage and love. I’d like to think they are representative of so many other amazing women who have done the same in the real world. And two, I have met most of them or heard them speak and they are as amazing as their heroines. They are diverse and smart and courageous and give me strength to keep making strides.

So I believe these characters exist in us and their choices/our choices can change the world. Each of these heroines comes from a different walk of life and time period, just like the authors who crafted them, and yet they all face their troubles and obstacles with grace and courage. So I’ll keep making my own strides, to face my obstacles in the same fashion, even it if is at gunpoint, and when I am published, I can join the ranks of these one-of-a-kind women.

If you haven’t read some of their outstanding novels, do so. You won’t be disappointed.

Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan

Esperanza thought she'd always live with her family on their ranch in Mexico but a sudden tragedy forces Esperanza and Mama to flee to California during the Great Depression, and to settle in a camp for Mexican farm workers. Esperanza isn't ready for the hard labor, financial struggles, or lack of acceptance she now faces. When their new life is threatened, Esperanza must find a way to rise above her difficult circumstances.

The movement of the train rocked me like a lullaby. I closed my eyes to the dusty countryside and imagined the sign I’d seen only in Gideon’s stories: Manifest—A Town with a rich past and a bright future.

A powerful story of loss and redemption.

Hattie Big Sky by Kirby Larson

Alone in the world, teen-aged Hattie is driven to prove up on her uncle's homesteading claim.
She courageously leaves Iowa to prove up on her late uncle's homestead claim near Vida, Montana.  With a stubborn stick-to-itiveness, Hattie faces frost, drought and blizzards. Despite many hardships, Hattie forges ahead, sharing her adventures with her friends.

Her backbreaking quest for a home is lightened by her neighbors, the Muellers.  But she feels threatened by pressure to be a "Loyal" American, forbidding friendships with folks of German descent.  Despite everything, Hattie's determined to stay until a tragedy causes her to discover the true meaning of home.

Gentle’s Holler by Kerry Madden

The sixties may have come to other parts of North Carolina, but with Mama pregnant again, Daddy struggling to find work, and nine siblings underfoot, nobody in the holler has much time for modern-day notions. Especially not twelve-year-old Livy Two, aspiring songwriter and self-appointed guardian of little sister Gentle, whose eyes “don’t work so good yet.” Even after a doctor confirms her fears, Livy Two is determined to make the best of Gentle’s situation and sets out to transform the family’s scrappy dachshund into a genuine Seeing Eye dog. But when tragedy strikes, can Livy Two continue to be strong?

Fly Girl by Sherri L. Smith
Ida Mae Jones dreams of flight. Her daddy was a pilot and being black didn’t stop him from fulfilling his dreams. But her daddy’s gone now, and being a woman, and being black, are two strikes against her. When America enters the war with Germany and Japan, the Army creates the WASP, the Women Airforce Service Pilots—and Ida suddenly sees a way to fly. But WASP won’t accept her as a black woman, forcing Ida Mae to make a difficult choice of “passing,” of pretending to be white to be accepted into the program. Hiding one’s racial heritage, denying one’s family, denying one’s self is a heavy burden. And while Ida Mae chases her dream, she must also decide who it is she really wants to be. 

Sold by Patricia McCormick

A current account of sexual slavery in Nepal. Written in spare and evocative vignettes, this powerful novel renders a world that is as unimaginable as it is real, and a girl who not only survives but triumphs.