...  Publishing New Writers

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 May, 2004


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The Next 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 a reply.

·        Address the query letter to a PERSON, not a position.

·        Don’t say how wonderful your book is. Allow the editor/agent to make that decision.

·        Check and double check your spelling and gramma

See Section Seven for a sample query letter.

Finally, be sure to include the appropriate genre of your manuscript. A list and description of the major genres are in Section Seven.

Good Luck!

(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 at tritt@wvadventures.net for permission and additional resources at no or limited charge.

   Keep writing!

Sandy Tritt

Inspiration for Writers tritt@wvadventures.net






















Learning from the



by Laura Backes, Write4Kids.com -The Children's Writing SuperSite

I love my job. I get to spend entire days in the children's section of the book store and call it research. I also get to celebrate birthdays of people I've never met. We recently  marked
Maurice Sendak's 75th birthday, and the 40th birthday of his  most famous child, Max from Where the Wild Things Are. So I took
the opportunity to reacquaint myself with some of Sendak's impressive body of work, and to meet Brundibar, his newest picture book, written by Tony Kushner and based on a Czech opera of the same name.

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  stories,
with subtexts that often illuminate the dark side of human nature. In an interview appearing in the November/December  2003 issue of The Horn Book Magazine, Sendak says "...we can get
away 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 his audience, as well as the picture book as an art form. In the same 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 was working on Outside Over There he had a breakdown and stepped away from the project for six months. And though he is revered as
one 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 for drawing or any really exceptional gift for writing," he told The Horn Book. "My talent is knowing how to make a picture book.
Knowing how to pace it, knowing how to time it. The drawing and the
writing are good, but if my whole career counted on that I  wouldn't have made it very far."

Virtually every article in the November/December 2003 Horn Book 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 picture books not from a technical aspect but with my gut. Here are
three author/illustrators whose work, to me, embodies the pure emotion and wide-eyed wonder of childhood.

* Peggy Rathmann: Rathmann's illustrations always say more than her texts. Packed with tiny, delightful details and secondary characters acting out stories all their own, her books
mesmerize 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 fair 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 as 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 relives her adventure.

* Ezra Jack Keats: Keats' classic, deceptively simple books resonate with the everyday experiences that define childhood.
In analyzing The Snowy Day, my lack of artistic experience became apparent. At first glance, I thought the illustrations were bold 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 were painted with watercolors and a large brush. Faces were drawn
with 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 making tracks through unmarred snow, first with his toes pointing out, then with his toes pointing in. After studying the book, Matthew
said, "I can make pictures like that." We bought different types 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 into the picture. In one spread from The Polar Express, the reader  is 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 personal 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 meet Santa. Van Allsburg's somber palette, the straightforward  nature 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 real thing.

I urge you to spend a day in the book store or library finding those books that make music for you. By studying their rhythms, you'll learn how to make your own stories sing.


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 tips, insider secrets and much more, visit Children's Book Insider's home on the web at http://write4kids.com

Copyright 2004, Children's Book Insider, LLC



Critiquing Special

  • Limited time special, one cent per word.  Just mention Publishing New Writers  Newsletter (May, 2004).

    Critiques by Sandy Tritt

  • 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 writers.

  • 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 appropriate, line-by-line.

  • 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 strengthened.

  • 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 email.

  • Provide my telephone number for a personal follow-up, if you desire.

For Sandy's success stories, see http://tritt.wirefire.com/Manuscript_Critique.html

Write Sandy at tritt@wvadventures.net

(See Sandy's article above.)

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Publishing New Writers,

May, 2004 (no. 505)


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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 and informing.
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 matter.
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.'
Next month,
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!'



Ken Mulholland,

Australian Editor.




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