I am bad at sending out queries. It’s a lot of work and I am never sure I’m saying the right thing. Last week Pen and Ink met to force ourselves into the query process. I respectfully suggest you try this with your own critique group.
Hilde set up a long table to accommodate our laptops.
I’d sent an Excel spreadsheet of the Darcy Pattison lists for the top 20 agents for Picture Books, Mid Grade and YA that Greg Pincus mentioned on the SCBWI ListServ, so we could each research beforehand who we wanted to query.
(Yes, you can email me at penink04@gmail and I will send you the list.)
Lupe Skyped in. Victoria Kroll, our junior Pen and Inker, attended the meeting to study our process. She’ll be doing her own post.
Goal: To get out at least two queries each before the end of the meeting.
The first order of business was to vet each other’s query letters to make them shiny. To make sure that our writing voice was reflected in our query voice.
And we did. Hilde's and my query letters were immeasurably improved. I'll let you judge for yourselves.
I want to say how indebted I am to Hilde and Lupe for improving my letters. I now have two base query letters for Tasha (long and short, in case they ask for synopsis.) I know that between the three of us, Hilde’s letter now reflects her style and voice. Hilde now has a base query which can be adapted to suit any agent.
We changed two words of Lupe’s letter. He already had a standout letter that reflected the voice of his main character.
Here is his final letter.
Walden Pond Press
17 New England Executive Park, Ste. 305
Burlington, MA 01803
Dear Mr. Brown,
“…deep and thoughtful feedback and willingness to go to the mat for his authors…” states Laura Ruby in her novel Bone Gap about you, Mr. Brown. That’s the kind of editor I want.
In I WAS A TEENAGE LAWYER, [YA-62K] a contemporary comedy, Roger Herrera finds a porn video that may or may not feature Masha Rulin, the girl in his Media Studies class who rocks his world. He uploads the video onto his high school's website for a second opinion. And a third. And a four thousandth. When the video goes viral, the Student Council uses a mock court to try Masha for violating the school's moral code. Roger feels shitty and nominates himself as Masha’s defense counsel. His divorced parents are lawyers. He’ll wipe the floor with those attorney wannabes.
Roger soon finds out he knows squat about legal proceedings and botches Masha's defense. Everybody, including himself, thinks he's a loser. His mother sentences him to a summer internship at her law firm. When the firm capitalizes on the notoriety of Masha's case by holding its own mock trial, Roger gets a second chance.
This time he exposes a perv attorney hiding documents that can help Masha’s case. But Even if Roger wins with off-beat, innovative arguments, he still has a problem. Should Roger tell Masha he's the guy who got her into trouble? Or keep his mouth shut and get the girl?
My work experience at a law firm and attendance at student mock trials inspired me to write I WAS A TEENAGE LAWYER. I belong SCBWI and I am a founding member of the SCBWI listed blog, Pen and Ink at http://thepenandinkblog.blogspot.com
I look forward to discussing my manuscript with you.
This is a snail mail letter. It sounds like Lupe and the description of I WAS A TEENAGE LAWYER gives a flavor of Roger's character.
Hilde’s first query was to Dystel and Goderich. Obviously a query is dictated by what the agent we are sending to asks for.Their Criteria from their website:
We like our unsolicited queries to be concise, well-written and well-proofed, and as devoid of gimmicks as possible. Tell us who you are (past writing credits or celebrity status is helpful to know about but not mandatory), what your project is (a summary paragraph is good), and whether you have submitted this project to the entire publishing community already.
In order to get your foot in the door remember that appearances count. We don’t like our names misspelled. We don’t like a lot of typos in general. We don’t like generic “Dear Agent” letters, but we don’t like overly chummy greetings, either. Photographs generally don’t help—unless you’re George Clooney. Plain and simple works best for us. Don’t try to convince us that you’ve written the next Atonement… we’ve heard that one before. Let your project speak for itself.
Hilde’s original query (Specially note the description of her book.) Spacing had been changed because of length.
Dear Ms. Goderich:
I have been a member of SCBWI since 2006. Prior to pursuing a writing career, I was a professional actor and producer. I ran the entertainment network of Florida State alumni called The Florida Project. As president, I provided many opportunities for actors and writers to be showcased, often giving them a positive push in their respective careers.
I produced the award-winning world premiere production of WAITING, by Lisa Soland, which was published by Samuel French in 2004, and then again by Best Women Playwrights in 2007.
To support my writing habit, I teach Spanish in a dual language program in Glendale. I started The Franklin Players at our school and love bringing the gift of theatre to elementary school.
My most recent, work-in-progress involves a collaboration with my husband in raising our dynamic duo who are almost 10.
My usual writing day consists of laundry, dishes, grading papers, and some type of sports practice. One child will look over my shoulder, the other will take the tape dispenser and my 60-pound dog will lay at my feet thinking he’s a small, hand-held puppy.
During any given day, a constant sea of friends will drop in to play basketball, print something, borrow cupcake liners, crash in the garage, or do laundry. I do my best writing between the hours of midnight and 2am.
Thank goodness for spell check.
I have a happy, but noisy home in Burbank
I’m currently working on my debut novel, Wet Foot, Dry Foot.
My novel takes place during the summer of 1980.
In Cuba, thousands clamber onto ramshackle fishing boats in the Port of Mariel, praying they can make it ninety miles north, to the United States. Elsa, a rebellious 16-year-old, doesn’t care about any of that – until she gets thrown out of her prestigious Communist high school in Havana and is forced to leave the country with her father.
In Hialeah, Florida, fifteen-year-old Estrella – or Star, as she prefers to be called – is searching for freedom of a different sort: she’s trying to get out of the shadow of her overbearing Cuban mother, while attempting to escape incessant harassment about her body.
When Elsa winds up at Star’s high school, Star instantly dislikes this “Marielita,” whom everyone equates with Star, while Elsa can’t understand Star’s priorities. Forced to get to know each other, they’re dismayed to learn that they have very much in common – including that they each have fragments of a secret that may unravel their entire lives.
Wet Foot. Dry Foot has been submitted to a few select agents at the request of the agent through SCBWI events. I submitted to Marietta Zacker, Allyn Johnston and Jen Rofé and my novel was in various stages of evolution.
Most recently, I sent it to Adriana Dominguez at Full Circle Literacy. They requested more pages after my initial query, but after several months of waiting, also ultimately passed on the project.
What all 3 rejections have in common was that they all agreed that my voices were gold, unique, and strong. They agreed that this story should be published. And in Marietta’s case, who’s also Cuban, she felt that I told the story of her people and shared with me that if she was a writer, this would be the story she would write.
Why didn’t they accept my MS? They said the story didn’t quite connect with them, plot problems over voice. I sought the help of Elizabeth Law, after she left Egmont Publishing, and we figured out the core problem.
I then rewrote it and submitted to SCBWI’s Work in Progress Award this passed November.
I believe it’s a compelling story, one that hasn’t been told, and from a perspective that is original and deep. I hope you will consider it.
Hilde’s final query
Dear Ms. Goderich:
Does being an alien on Star Trek shows give me celebrity status? No? Well then . . .
My name is Hilde García. I came to this country in 1969 at the age of two from Cuba. I grew up in Miami and attended Florida State University. Prior to pursuing a writing career, I was a professional actor and producer in New York and LA. Currently, I'm a member of SCBWI and one of the co-creators of the SCBWI listed blog, The Pen and Ink: http://thepenandinkblog.blogspot.com.
To support my writing habit, I teach 6th grade Spanish in a dual-language immersion language school in Glendale, California where I also started an after school theatre program.
My debut novel, Wet Foot, Dry Foot, complete at 95K, takes place in Cuba and Florida during the summer of 1980.
Sixteen-year-old Elsa cares more about kissing her boyfriend than the crumbling political situation in Cuba. Until the regime’s paranoia slaps her in the face. Thrown out of her prestigious communist high school in Havana for treason, she and her father are forced to leave the country, joining thousands of others who clamber onto ramshackle fishing boats at the Port of Mariel, praying they can make the 90-mile journey to the United States. How will she survive without her friends, without her country?
In Hialeah, Florida, fifteen-year-old Estrella, or Star, as she prefers to be called, would love to have a boyfriend, if she could escape the ever vigilant Warden of Rancho Sanchez- her mother. Her mother's crippling sadness has imprisoned Star's soul and clouded her happiness. How can she pursue the American Dream when her mother won’t even let her watch Dallas?
When Elsa enrolls at Star’s high school, she and Star become instant enemies, but neither is sure why. Star can’t understand how the other students equate this “marielita,” with her. Is it just because they have the same body type? Elsa doesn't understand why she needs Star to tutor her when she had been one of the smartest students at her school in Cuba.
They gradually learn that they have very much in common including fragments of a secret they share that may unravel their entire lives.
Wet Foot. Dry Foot has been submitted to a few select agents through requests received at SCBWI events. I've submitted to Marietta Zacker, Allyn Johnston, and Jen Rofé during various stages of my novel’s evolution. Most recently, I sent it to Adriana Dominguez at Full Circle Literacy. She requested more pages, but after several months of waiting, she ultimately passed on the manuscript.
Why didn’t they accept my MS? They said the story didn’t quite resonate with them due to plot issues. I sought the help of Elizabeth Law as a freelance editor after she left Egmont Publishing. We were able to figure out the core problem with the plot and now, I believe it’s a compelling story; one that hasn’t been told, and from a perspective that is original and deep.
I hope you will consider it. Thank you for taking the time to read it.
All my best,
(contact information followed name.)
My original letter for Adams Literary. They have a submission form and want a note, and the entire MS.
Dear Josh, Tracy and Samantha,
I was all set to query you re picture book representation, till I read you only want author/illustrators. Allyn Johnston told me when she bought Log on Log that my illustrations suck. I have to agree with her. On the plus side, she told me I was a genius with rhyme.
Instead I’m submitting a mid-grade multi-cultural novel, Tasha, the Magnificent, complete at 29,200 words.
What do you do when your parents don’t love each other anymore?
Street smart, sassy, Tasha buries her pain in stories. Izzy withdraws into herself, terrified of change. When they friend each other, everything changes.
On her way to her first sleepover at Izzy’s, Tasha sees a statue of a smiling sun in Gramercy Park. She’s convinced it’s a wish granting statue. All they have to do is touch it. Problem? You can’t get in or out of Gramercy Park without a key.
Tasha and Izzy have big wishes. Tasha wants to be famous so that her estranged father will want to see her. Izzy wants her parents undivorced. When their Karate teacher, Master Lee insists the make peace with their arch enemy, Jose Alvarez, they find he has a big wish too. He wants his sister Carmina to speak. Jose becomes their ally in the search for a way to get into Gramercy Park, even though he isn't sure he believes in magic.
They find a way in. Jose’s sister Carmina touches the statue and she speaks for the first time since her mother died. When Izzy’s father says he is coming for Thanksgiving, Izzy’s convinced her wish that her parents will get back together is coming true.
Tasha, scared that Izzy will move back to California goes back to the statue to wish away Izzy’s wish. Everything starts going wrong. Jose is sick. Tasha and Izzy’s friendship explodes.. Somehow Tasha has to find a way to make things right again.
I am a member of SCBWI and RWA. My picture book, Log On Log, is under contract with Beach Lane books. (I consider it my Great American Novel. It’s sixty five words long.)
I have three published picture books with Guardian Angel Publishing. I’ve a few more to query. My debut romance novel, Time and Forever, written as Susan B. James, is a 2015 Golden Quill finalist for Best First Book and a 2015 RONE Award finalist for Best Time Travel Novel. I’m revising my second adult romance. I have a first draft of my third.
Per your guidelines, I’ve attached the ms. I do think you would have liked Nat the Rat and Fat Cat, my mafia picture book complete at 170 words. and Fair Claire, a medieval fairy tale complete at 314 words. If only I could draw!
My Final letter
Dear Josh, Tracy, and Samantha:
What do you do when your parents don’t love each other anymore? Street smart, sassy, Tasha buries her pain in stories. Izzy withdraws into herself, terrified of change. But when they friend each other, they find magic.
Tasha and Izzy have big wishes. Tasha wants to be famous so that her estranged father will want to see her. Izzy wants her parents undivorced. When their Karate teacher, Master Lee insists the make peace with their arch enemy, Jose Alvarez, they find he has a big wish too. He wants his sister Carmina to speak.
Together, they find a way into Gramercy Park because they are convinced that the statue in that park has magic and will help their wishes come true.
Tasha, the Magnificent, complete at 29k words is a mid-grade multi-cultural novel.
I am a member of SCBWI and RWA.
My Great American Novel, Log On Log, complete at 65 words, is under contract with Beach Lane Books. (Nat the Rat and Fat Cat, my Mafia picture book, complete at 170 words and Fair Claire, a medieval fairy tale, complete at 314 words would be worthy of submission to your agency if only I could draw!)
I have three published picture books with Guardian Angel Publishing and a fourth under contract. My debut romance novel, Time and Forever, written as Susan B. James, is a 2015 Golden Quill finalist for Best First Book and a 2015 RONE Award finalist for Best Time Travel Novel. I’m revising my second adult romance and have started my third.
Attached you will find the manuscript for Tasha. I look forward to hearing from you.
Susan J Berger
I do have a longer version for those agents who want a more complete synopsis. I sent that one to Rebecca Sherman at Writer's House. But Hilde and Lupe, by changing the beginning , changed everything. They also fixed my bio. Woohoo.
My goal is to get out at least seven more queries this week. I have already completed my research on three. (And yes, I still hate it, but my letter is better.)
So how about you? Are you querying?