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Step: The Query Letter
by Sandy Tritt
Your query letter is your first—and perhaps only—chance
to capture an agent or publisher’s attention. It is the introduction to
you and to your manuscript. It must be brief and it must be intriguing.
So, now that you are appropriately worried, let’s get started.
The first paragraph of a
query letter should state what it is you want (published, representation
by an agent), and give the name, length and genre (type) of the manuscript
you want published or represented. (See Section 7 for a list of
genres). You may also list any awards this particular work has earned or
the audience this manuscript is appropriate for.
The second paragraph
describes your novel in just a few sentences. Use your focus statement (as
explained in Section 2.) and expand on it slightly.
The third paragraph tells
about you. If you’ve been published, so say and say where. If you’ve won
awards for your writing, also say so. Also mention anything that gives you
integrity as a writer (being the president of your local writing group,
holding a Master’s Degree in Creative Writing and so on). If you come up
short in writing experience or credentials, fill in with why you are the
appropriate person to write this story. (“I served as a Corporal in
Vietnam from 1965 until 1968” or “I have been a detective with the Los
Angeles Police Department for thirty years”).
And the fourth paragraph
covers business basics, a summary of exactly what you want (“May I sent
the completed manuscript to you for review?”) and a hearty thank you: “I
have enclosed a short synopsis and the first three chapters of “name of
manuscript. I have also enclosed a self-addressed stamped envelope for
your reply. It is not necessary to return my material. I very much
appreciate your time in reviewing my material, and I look forward to
hearing from you.”
Sign off in a business
fashion: “Sincerely, Jane Doe.”
Some dos and don’t:
Use standard business block format.
Keep your query to one page.
Be sure to include your name, address, phone
number and email address in the header.
Include a self-addressed stamped envelope for
Address the query letter to a PERSON, not a
Don’t say how wonderful your book is. Allow
the editor/agent to make that decision.
Check and double check your spelling and
See Section Seven for a sample
Finally, be sure to include the
appropriate genre of your manuscript. A list and description of the major
genres are in Section Seven.
(from Section 5, Workbook)
Want more great tips and techniques? Our
Inspiration for Writers
Tips and Techniques Workbook is now available. Expanded tips, more
topics, reproducible worksheets, exercises to practice what you learn and
much more--check it out! Free shipping anywhere in the United States.
(c) copyright 2002 by Sandy Tritt. All rights reserved,
except for those listed here. September be reproduced for educational purposes
(such as for writer's workshops), as long as this copyright notice and the url: http://tritt.wirefire.com are distributed with the pages. For use in
conferences or other uses not mentioned here, please contact Sandy Tritt
for permission and additional resources at no or limited charge.
Learning from the
by Laura Backes,
Write4Kids.com -The Children's
I love my job. I get
to spend entire days in the
section of the book store and call
it research. I also get to
celebrate birthdays of people I've
never met. We recently
Maurice Sendak's 75th birthday, and
the 40th birthday of his
famous child, Max from Where the
Wild Things Are. So I took
opportunity to reacquaint myself
with some of Sendak's
body of work, and to meet Brundibar,
his newest picture book,
written by Tony Kushner and based on
a Czech opera of the same
Whether illustrating someone else's
words or his own texts,
Sendak could never be accused of
taking the easy route to
publication. His books are
complicated, deeply emotional
with subtexts that often illuminate
the dark side of human
nature. In an interview appearing in
issue of The Horn Book Magazine,
Sendak says "...we can get
with things in children's books that
nobody in the adult world
ever can because the assumption is
that the audience is too
innocent to pick it up. And in truth
they're the only audience
that does pick it up."
It's comments like this that show
Sendak's deep respect for
audience, as well as the picture
book as an art form. In the
interview, Sendak talks about how he
chooses subjects he feels
passionately about, or those that
resonate with him on a basic
emotional level. These are not cute
bedtime stories, but books
that reveal his soul. Some cut too
close to the bone--when he
working on Outside Over There he had
a breakdown and stepped
from the project for six months. And
though he is revered as
of the most influential artists in
the history of children's
picture books, Sendak doesn't think
of himself as a genius.
"I have no brilliant conceptual gift
or any really exceptional gift for
writing," he told
The Horn Book. "My talent is knowing
how to make a picture
Knowing how to pace it, knowing how
to time it. The drawing
writing are good, but if my whole
career counted on that I
have made it very far."
Virtually every article in the
November/December 2003 Horn
is devoted to analysis and
celebration of Sendak's work, and I
highly recommend it for anyone
interested in studying picture
books. It inspired me to round up
some of my other favorite
author/illustrators. I'm no artist,
and so I respond to
books not from a technical aspect
but with my gut. Here are
author/illustrators whose work, to
me, embodies the pure
and wide-eyed wonder of childhood.
* Peggy Rathmann: Rathmann's
illustrations always say more
her texts. Packed with tiny,
delightful details and secondary
characters acting out stories all
their own, her books
even nonreaders. Her latest picture
book, The Day the Babies
Crawled Away, is stunning. The story
is told by a mother
recalling the day her young son
saved all the babies when they
crawled away during a town fair (the
parents were busy at the
pie-eating contest). The
illustrations are black silhouettes
against a technicolor sky. Though we
can't see the characters'
faces we always know who's who: the
boy hero wears a fireman's
helmet, the babies are distinguished
by bows, bonnets and
topknots. A butterfly starts the
baby parade away from the
and is soon joined by a caterpillar,
a frog, a bat and a bird.
The same butterfly lands on Mom's
hair at the end of the day
the tired hero falls asleep in her
arms. Rathmann makes clever
use of every page in the book,
starting the story on the
endpapers and building through the
title page and dedication.
Take a close look at the last
picture to see how one baby
* Ezra Jack Keats: Keats' classic,
deceptively simple books
resonate with the everyday
experiences that define childhood.
analyzing The Snowy Day, my lack of
artistic experience became
apparent. At first glance, I thought
the illustrations were
shapes cut from different types of
paper glued on top of each
other. But closer inspection shows
edges of colors bleeding together and lines that aren't quite
filled in, as if they
painted with watercolors and a large
brush. Faces were drawn
pencil or charcoal; snowflakes
appear stenciled over tissue
paper. In any case, the effect is
childlike, wet and a little
messy, just like playing outside
after a big snowstorm. My son
especially likes the spread of Peter
in his red snowsuit
tracks through unmarred snow, first
with his toes pointing
then with his toes pointing in.
After studying the book,
said, "I can make pictures like
that." We bought different
of paper and Matthew proceeded to
create artwork modeled after
Keats. In my opinion, any book so
accessible that a child can
make it his own is a winner.
* Chris Van Allsburg: Van Allsburg's
books have a magical,
otherworldly element that often
takes my breath away. He is a
supremely skilled artist,
incorporating design, balance, color
and texture in a way that gives the
sense of stepping right
the picture. In one spread from The
Polar Express, the reader
positioned above Santa's sleigh as
he flies over thousands of
elves crowded into the North Pole's
city center. I almost get
dizzy every time I see it. The Polar
Express is a very
story about a boy going for a ride
on a magic train that takes
him, along with hundreds of other
kids, to the North Pole to
Santa. Van Allsburg's somber
palette, the straightforward
of the text, the depiction of the
North Pole as a city of tall
buildings past a desert of ice, and
the poignant first-person
narration all help the story to feel
true. Put aside those
cutesy Santa stories--here's the
I urge you to spend a day in the
book store or library finding
those books that make music for you.
By studying their
you'll learn how to make your own
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Laura Backes is the publisher of
Children's Book Insider, the
Newsletter for Children's Writers.
For more information about
writing children's books, including
free articles, market
insider secrets and much more, visit
Children's Book Insider's
home on the web at
Copyright 2004, Children's Book
Critiques by Sandy
Unlike most editors, I consider my role
to be a mentor or a coach. Instead of just telling you what is wrong, I
explain how to correct the problem, and I work with you to teach you how
to write effective prose. More than 50% of my business is repeat
business, and I relish establishing long-term relationships with other
Treat you with respect and compassion.
All criticism will be of the "constructive" sort. My purpose is to
improve your writing, not to destroy your confidence.
Mark your manuscript, correcting
grammatical and spelling errors and suggesting alternative wording where
Highlight areas that are especially
well-written, so you will know where your strengths are.
Where appropriate, offer suggestions for
plot development, character development or other areas that could be
Return a two-to-four page written
analysis of your work. This will include evaluation of: plot, setting,
characterization, dialogue, special effects (flash forwards, flashbacks,
etc.), voice, point of view and any other areas particular to your work.
If appropriate, recommend reading or
resources to strengthen your areas of weakness.
Answer any questions you have via
Provide my telephone number for a
personal follow-up, if you desire.
For Sandy's success stories, see
Write Sandy at
(See Sandy's article above.)
Visit our sister websites...
Publishing New Writers,
May, 2004 (no. 505)
Publisher: Bruce L. Cook, P.O. Box 451, Dundee, IL 60118.
Fax (847) 428-8974.
Submissions /comments firstname.lastname@example.org.
To subscribe and/or review our archive of past newsletters, go to
Thinking that you're going to get published
- Part Two
by Ken Mulholland
Well Readers, it's that time of the
month again when the A/Me Newsletter
appears, advertising, encouraging
Or, in this case, not informing.
Picking up from the last Newsletter article, I ended by saying that I
would report back on any progress regarding the short story M/S 'Sencha.'
At my end, there has been almost no action at all. I have had only a
brief email from the Publisher acknowledging receipt of the final eight
chapters of The BlackEagle Girls, requested by them some months ago.
The only other communication was a phone conversation letting me know
that other Manuscripts ahead of mine were taking longer to lay out and
illustrate than first considered and asking for my patience on the
And there you have it in a single word. Patience.
The old saying, 'Patience is a virtue,' was as true when it was first
coined as it is today, and just as relevant.
Unfortunately, it appears to me that in this 'Brave New World' we find
ourselves 'running on empty' in the patience department.
Here, all you impatient 'would-be writers' will have to take a 'leaf out
of my book,' and learn to 'hold your horses,' and if you think that
speaking in metaphors is passé,
try this example of the mixed metaphor that I hear consistently from a
local Melbourne radio broadcaster, "This is something that really gets
up my goat."
Now here the mind boggles.
Something that gets 'on' my goat, or something that gets 'up' my nose,
but what are we to make of his version?
I shall leave you to patiently think on that, and while you're at it, to
consider the virtue of patience itself and its application to everything
you do in life, including waiting for your M/S to reach its destination.
After all, 'a watched kettle never boils.'
I shall report again on what to do until 'your ship comes in.'
Remember, 'Brain-bone connected to the finger-bones, finger-bones
connected to the keybone, keybone connected to the manuscript, now hear
the word of the publisher!'
Created You: A Guide to Temperament Therapy
AuthorMe Paperback... (Released May, 2004)
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