Author Archives: Carol Brendler

About Carol Brendler

Author of books for children | WINNIE FINN, WORM FARMER, illustrated by Ard Hoyt, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2009 | RADIO GIRL, Holiday House, 2013 | NOT VERY SCARY, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2014 | THE PICKWICKS' PICNIC, illustrated by Renee Kurilla, Clarion, 2017

Take This Personally. No, Really.

T-ShirtHilariousHey, all! For my farewell post here at the EMUs, I have a burning desire to talk about reviews and how to survive them.

My debut novel, Radio Girl, has been on the shelves for a few weeks now. Reviews are cropping up in journals and stuff every few weeks. I’m lucky in that mine have been largely favorable, but you know how it goes when you’re being critiqued–it’s the negative parts that stick with you. Those words become forever seared into your brain. It might even make you sick to your stomach, knowing that thousands of potential readers will read that one negative sentence in an otherwise glowing review and take a pass on your novel, the work that took you so many months (years, decades) to craft.

Seasoned authors will advise you not to take the comments personally, but gads. How can you not?

I’ve developed a way for me to focus on the praise in a review (works for a critique, too!) by picking out positive words and phrases from it that would be fun to wear on a T-shirt. When printed on a shirt, these phrases automatically become connected to the wearer. So, in a way, by imagining myself sporting these T-shirts, I’m taking the review extra personally. The good parts, I mean. Make sense? Here are a few shirts I’ve designed, with phrases taken from reviews of Radio Girl:

T-ShirtCharm
T-ShirtPluck

T-ShirtCringe

OK, maybe “cringeworthy” isn’t that flattering, but it makes me smile anyway.


T-ShirtBoundless
T-ShirtMoxie

See? I’m the epitome of moxie! The reviewer said so. Funny how this eases the sting. What about you? In the comments, won’t you all share some positive phrases from your critiques or reviews that would look good on a T?

In conclusion, let me thank the other EMUs, both current and emeriti for the opportunity to be a part of this amazing blog. My time here is ending, but my interest and support never will. There are so many awesome books coming out of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency in the next two years–I’m sticking around to watch them all debut. Hope you will, too.

Fondly yours,

Carol B.
====================
CarolSmilingCarol Brendler is the author of the young adult novel RADIO GIRL (Holiday House) September 5, 2013.
Coming 2014: A picture book, NOT VERY SCARY, illustrated by Greg Pizzoli, from FSG.
Also by Carol Brendler: WINNIE FINN, WORM FARMER (FSG, 2009) a picture book illustrated by Ard Hoyt.

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28 Comments

Filed under Advice, Anxiety, Farewell, Reviews

And We Have a Winner!

Congratulations to blog commenter L. Marie, the winner of last week’s Radio Girl launch party comment drawing!  L. Marie will be receiving a signed copy of the novel for her very own. Thanks oodles to all who participated.

Squee!

Squee!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

csb_2013-copyCarol Brendler’s debut novel, Radio Girl, is about a New Jersey girl who lands a job at CBS Radio in New York, only to become entangled in Orson Welles’s 1938 War of the Worlds broadcast, which sent thousands into a panic across the country, and is thought by many to have been the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American public. The book was released in September, 2013, in time for the 75th anniversary of the original broadcast.

Carol is also the author of Winnie Finn, Worm Farmer (FSG, 2009), a picture book illustrated by Ard Hoyt, and another picture book, Not Very Scary, illustrated by Greg Pizzoli comes out in 2014 (FSG)

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

1 Comment

by | September 9, 2013 · 5:52 am

Sophie’s Squash–Ripe for the Picking!

. . . off-the-wall absurdity and absolute believability . . .

Fourstars

So editor Anne Schwartz describes Pat Zietlow Miller’s debut picture book, Sophie’s Squash. With its four starred reviews and its pitch-perfect illustrations by Anne Wilsdorf, Pat’s story of a girl and her beloved butternut, Bernice, is well on its way to becoming a favorite with kids and adults alike!

Sophie's Squash by Pat Zietlow Miller Schwartz and Wade, 2013 ISBN: 978-0-307-97896-7

Sophie’s Squash
by Pat Zietlow Miller
Schwartz and Wade, 2013
ISBN: 978-0-307-97896-7

Remember, there’s a giveaway!!! Leave a comment on this post and you’ll be in the running to win your very own copy of Sophie’s Squash AND temporary tattoos (amaze your friends, become the life of the party) W00! We’ll announce the winner next week.

So, dear readers, we have had a stellar time this week (stellar, as in STAR-like–see what I did there?) bringing you interviews with the book’s editor, its illustrator and with Author Pat herself; tales of real-life much-loved objects from childhood; and perhaps the most funnest post of all, photos of our own squash babies sharing our real-life adventures. A bit “off-the-wall”–am I right? We especially enjoyed celebrating Pat’s authorial success, those starred reviews, and the release of Sophie’s Squash out into the wild. (Don’t miss this book! Order your own copy by clicking the book’s image at left!)

Aside to Pat Zietlow Miller: Brava! Well done! And keep us posted about your next books (some of which are already in the works!) You’re on your way, girl! 2013-02-24 04.03.04

10 Comments

Filed under Celebrations

They Just Don’t Get It–The Dunning-Kruger Effect

Note: Keen readers of our blog will have noticed that Wednesday posts are often written as a response to the previous (Monday) post. I wish to make it perfectly clear that this time that is not the case. The reader is advised that the following article is in no way connected to Kevan Atteberry or to his charming introductory post and any effort to corellate the two should be regarded as an exercise in futility. Thank you. ~~CB 😛

OK, so this writer (whom I just made up) writes a story that is, he is convinced, quite good. Breakout novel, in fact. Bestseller, that sort of thing.

20130613-194804.jpg

“I’m talented, ain’t I, Dad?” “Almost as talented as me, son, and that’s danged talented.”

At some point, he joins a critique group. He sizes up the other writers when he arrives. Hacks, he thinks, every last one of them. They’ll probably be gobsmacked when they hear my piece read aloud. They’ll probably applaud.

His turn comes. He reads. When he finishes, silence. Frowns.

Where’s my applause? Where are the gasps of amazement, the eager handshakes and pats on the back? What the heck is wrong with these people?

Then the questions come from the group. What is the reason for the loquat argument on page 3 …? Why does the main character shave her …? How will the disconsolate yeti help her to win the …?

The new writer gets defensive. After every remark, he impatiently explains why he wrote it the way he did. He’s like a goalie on a one-man team, blocking each shot. And inside, he’s thinking, These people are morons. Dilettantes! They don’t grasp my artistic vision!

Chances are, if you’ve been writing for a while, you’ve run across someone like this. I have, more than once. It’s the reason so many groups adopt the Author Is Silent Rule. These writers come to critique group ostensibly asking for feedback, but they never agree with any comments anyone makes and they never even seem willing to try the suggestions given. Well, almost never. They waste your time asking for feedback they will not even consider. And often, they rip your piece to shreds when it’s your turn.

So, what is with these types?

Most of them are relatively normal, just suffering from a little beginner’s arrogance. Be patient. They’ll come around after they go home and think over what’s been said. If not then, well, a few rejections should squeeze that arrogance out of them. (Or they’ll self-publish and forever sneer at you and the world of “traditional” publishing, but that’s another topic.)

But some of these writers, an unfortunate few out there, are under the influence of the Dunning-Kruger effect, and these poor people will probably have a much harder time ever producing a publishable manuscript.

The Dunning-Kruger effect describes a cognitive bias in which people perform poorly on a task, but lack the meta-cognitive capacity to properly evaluate their performance. As a result, such people remain unaware of their incompetence and accordingly fail to take any self-improvement measures that might rid them of their incompetence. — Psychology Today (link below)

Am I at risk? Probably not.

Am I at risk? Probably not.

Funny thing, this Dunning-Kruger concept, how well it seems to fit so many incompetent people working in so many different occupations. It’s the computer programmer who believes that her code is superior to others’ but everyone else can see that her code is convoluted and full of bugs. It’s the restaurant chef who cooks up unpalatable dishes and blames the patron who rejects them, saying they just must not know how to eat. And it’s the writer who refuses to really stop and think about why the readers of her draft have questions about it. She simply cannot believe that others don’t recognize her genius. And others, quite likely, view her as an untalented writer.

How do I know I don’t have this? Well, that’s just it, isn’t it? I don’t know. If you have it, you’re unable to recognize it. But I figure I’m safe because, believe me, I question my ability often. I spend a lot of time feeling pretty sure I don’t really know what I’m doing and hoping no one finds out (the impostor syndrome).

How do you know if you’re Dunning-Kruger free? You’re D-K free if you’re always trying to improve, and you not only listen to advice from other writers, agents, and editors but you really consider what they’re saying. If you’re willing to try out their suggestions even when you’re pretty confident that it’s really not going to make your story any better, just because you know you’ll learn something by trying it, you’re probably Dunning-Kruger free.

Awesome!

Awesome!

Bottom line: Because we recognize our weaknesses and faults, we’re probably way more competent than that writer with the attitude at crit group who defends his manuscript on every point.

It’s comforting, isn’t it, to know that our insecurities about our writing ability may mean that we’re actually pretty good–or that we’re on our way there?

14 Comments

Filed under Advice, Colleagues, Controversy, Editing and Revising, jealousy

Ssh! Don’t Tell the Grownups

Mother would not approve.

Mother would not approve.

The Monstore is a place that only kids know about. No grownups ever go there, and they wouldn’t know how to get in even if they did. As we continue our week celebrating the release of her new picture book, author Tara Lazar has us EMUs thinking about the secrets we once kept from grownups and the kids-only places we retreated to way back then.

Hiding Out

Hiding Out

So, here they are. Pretty sneaky kids, these EMUs. Read on.

Pat Zietlow Miller: When I was growing up, my babysitter, who lived just down the street, had a small hideout under her front porch. You crawled under the porch through a little green door. It was musty. It was dirty. It was awesome. She had a guest book you would sign, plus games and magazines. And she let us visit a lot.

It made me feel so cool!

Laurie Ann Thompson: Two places stand out for me. When I was a preschooler, my brother and I found the space under the eaves in our old farmhouse. It had been used for storage by previous owners long ago, but had been forgotten. There were old clothes, black and white movie reels, etc. We would go in there and stretch the movies out by hand against the window so we could see the images. Our cat liked it in there, too. Small, dark, and cozy, where the adults would never go. Perfect!

Going to great heights to hide out.

Going to great heights to hide out.

Then when I was in first grade, we moved to another old farm. We weren’t really farmers, so it didn’t matter that much of it had fallen into disuse and disrepair. When I wanted to get away from everything (which was fairly often since I was such an introvert), I used to climb up the barely attached rusty metal ladder to the top of the crumbling concrete silo so I could sit on the rotten wooden platform at the top, legs dangling down. I loved being up so high, seeing everything for miles, feeling the wind, enjoying the quiet. No one knew I was there. In fact, years later when I told my dad that was my favorite place to go while we were living there, he was shocked. He said he would never have let me climb it, as the whole thing was ready to collapse… let alone having a child 60 feet up in the air unharnessed and unsupervised! I guess it’s a good thing I was tiny and had very good balance. 🙂

Josh McCune: I’m feeling as if I led a rather dull childhood. I cannot for the life of me recall a secret hiding place. I did try to create secret traps – i.e., holes covered with leaves. Thankfully I was about as good at making traps as I was at finding secret places to hide. I did once hide in a box dressed as a monkey for my grandparents’ anniversary. Does that count?

Jump-on-the-Head, a popular game among the 5-year-old set. Its rules vary from state to state.

Jump-on-the-Head, a popular game among the 5-year-old set. Its rules vary from state to state.

In terms of stealth maneuvering, when I was five, my best friend was spending the night. We were playing this awesome game of jump-on-the-head. He lost. He was not happy and went home w/o my parents’ knowledge. I knew my father would be furious if he discovered what had happened. So I skulked out of the house at like midnight (okay, it was probably 9, but it felt like midnight), crossed the street, cloak-and-daggered it inside his house and convinced him to sneak back over to my house. Not sure if that story’s relevant, but it’s one of my favorite under-the-parent-radar memories 🙂

Cattails

Now largely obsolete, weaponry such as these once struck terror into the hearts of the enemy.

Christine Hayes (our newest EMU!): My grandparents ran an apple orchard for many years, and their home was a natural gathering place for the all the cousins. Down in a gully behind the house grew thick patches of reeds, or cattails–probably not the proper name for them, but that’s what we always called them. We used to split into groups and build forts in the reeds with any spare supplies we could scrounge: cardboard, wood scraps, even apple crates. Then we would declare war and attack each other’s forts, using the fuzzy tips of the cat tails as weapons. Such a great memory!

Carol Brendler (aka Me): One summer, the row of empty lots next to our house became a sea of grass several feet high. It must have been very dry that year, because we discovered that crawling in the grass made it flatten into paths really easily. So my brothers and me and the neighborhood kids set to work making a vast (to us) network of trails that connected a bunch of secret chambers where we could sit and talk and no one could see us, ever. I don’t remember how many days or weeks we spent expanding our web in the field that summer, but it didn’t last. By the following summer, the lots had mostly been sold off and houses were built, and our secret hideout was gone forever.

Won’t you tell us in the comments about your forts, hideouts, and secret places? Come on, it’s fun!

The Monstore is now available!

The Monstore is now available!

And look for The Monstore at your local bookshop and online.

18 Comments

Filed under Celebrations, Colleagues, Happiness

The Trouble with Outlines

I tried outlining. I used to long to be a writer who outlines in very much the same achingly desperate way that I used to long to become a person with tidy and organized closets. Thing is, I’m just not the sort for either one. Adi’s hilarious and insightful Monday post started me thinking about why.

Google “novel outline images” and you’ll find gobs of ways to outline a book. It’s not always the roman numeral/capital letter stuff. Methods abound. But my problem is, they are almost always linear. Left to right, up to down. It’s right there in the word itself: Outline.

My stories aren’t left to right or up to down to me. I visualize them more like helixes. I’m at one end of the helix when starting a new project and during the process I’m inside it, with its characters and scenes all around me. If I’m lucky I will eventually come to the far end of the helix, with all the plotting behind me, and then the book is complete.

Helix

See me in there, wandering about in my story?

I am not known as a linear thinker–just ask my family. What I do instead, I think the experts call it “radial thinking.” Ideas sparking other ideas in all directions. In three dimensions, even. While this trait apparently makes me a laugh riot at the bar with my droll asides and non sequiturs, it makes just about any outlining task anathema to me. The closest I get to an outline that works for me is an Idea Web. (Incidentally, here’s a pretty cool one.)

Idea Web for the letter B

Rather simple idea web for the letter B

So how do I organize a plot? The same way I go about organizing a closet. First few drafts, I just cram everything in there, wherever it fits, even if it doesn’t.

Fibber McGee's Closet

Fibber McGee’s Closet

Then in the next draft I take everything out. Yup. Empty the entire closet and set all of its contents on the floor. In other words, by the time I start this particular draft, I’m starting over. I’ve figured out the scenes that are essential and that have a specific place they need to occur in the plot line. Those things are like the most important things that need to be in the closet. I place those on the shelves first, where I can make sure they go into their ideal slots. The inciting incident, at the beginning; the climax scene, near the end, etc. Sometimes I do this physically, by cutting up a printed draft and laying out everything on the floor around me. Then I figure out how the other scenes/items need to fit around them.

The closet shelves are getting filled up again, but neatly this time. The draft seems to be coming together.

Then, a reversal! At some point I realize that not everything I want in the closet is going to fit. I have to omit items, or change them or wedge them in differently. Often, once I see how things are not quite fitting into my closet, I have to take every last item out and start over again. Scenes get pulled out and reworked or rearranged.

Theoretically speaking.

Theoretically speaking.

I organize and place them by instinct almost, juxtaposing scenes for max effect, keeping all the plot balls in the air.

At some point, finally, everything has a place. It looks good; it feels right and complete. I don’t know how else to explain it, but my story is plotted then. It’s set. It’s done.

Now you. Tell me about your outlining technique. At least, tell me if my method makes sense to anyone but me.

20 Comments

Filed under Advice - Helpful or Otherwise, craft~writing, Plotting, Writing

Breaking news! Sophie’s Squash by our Pat Zietlow Miller–

CoverBreaking news! Sophie’s Squash by our Pat Zietlow Miller–STARRED REVIEW from Kirkus!

6 Comments

by | May 17, 2013 · 6:53 am

Regarding Editors & Big BUTS . . .

ButDon’t get me wrong. The best thing to happen to a writer is her editor. Having a collaborator who is just as infatuated with your characters as you are, who is as crazy in love with literature, who is as eager to pore over every paragraph of your writing to make sure it sings–priceless. However, I must point out that there is a common affliction among many editors. Sorry to say, they often have big BUTS. In Adi Rule’s Monday post, she reveals that an editor acquired her novel Sing BUT then turned around and went away to have a baby or something. I agree with Adi; those kinds of ‘buts’ can be nerve-wracking to the author.

If you’re a writer, you, too, may have encountered one or more editors with big BUTS, as in:

    • Dear Author, I enjoyed reading your novel immensely. In fact, I couldn’t put it down, BUT I feel that it is not the right fit for our list …
    • Dear Author, we very much like your short story and all of my colleagues agree that there is a need today for truly strong writing such as yours, BUT unfortunately we just acquired something very similar …
    • Dear Author, I love the changes you’ve made to this picture book text, BUT there are still one or two things that don’t work …
    • Dear Author, I am looking forward to working with you on Your Newly Acquired Novel, BUT I am going on maternity leave. See ya in 3 months. (This has happened to at least 3 writers I know, including me.)
    • Dear Author, your editor has left the company. Actually, he has left the industry entirely in order to pursue his true passion: building ukuleles out of discarded cigar boxes BUT do not despair! We have assigned another editor to the project and she seems pretty darned enthusiastic about your story as well.
A Cigar Box Ukulele

A Cigar Box Ukulele

2013-03-23 09.48.32

Wait now –WHAT?!

That last one is similar to something that happened to this writer I know. She was assigned a different editor from the one who first fell in love with her piece. Wait a minute, she thought, the first editor’s true passion was supposed to be my novel. She thought they had a thing going, and now she had to worry that this replacement editor wouldn’t give her story the same kind of lovin’ she had been anticipating.

Then the editing began and she discovered that her new editor hearted her characters too, and was every bit as dedicated. There were many months of liking things, BUT. Then one day, when that author’s galley proofs arrived via post (as mine my friend’s did yesterday) she realized that her new editor, who had previously exhibited signs of bigBUT-itis seemed to have completely recovered. There were no buts about it.

The oddest thing. When an editor is cured of this affliction, it’s the author who feels relief.

7 Comments

Filed under Anxiety, Editing and Revising, Editor, Panic, rejection and success

The Nitty Gritty Dirt Brand

ou guys, if you haven’t seen Laurie Boyle Crompton’s farewell vid, please do so. It’s great. Painfully accurate, though. That stuff about promoting our books. <shudder>

Ugh. Publicity. Platforms. Author branding. It’s so dirty, so vulgar.

Oxydol-Box-perspectiveMakes me feel like a box of Oxydol.

I get that authors have to do our own publicity. It’s just that the publicity experts make it so . . . so mandatory. So specific. Like, if you don’t do exactly these things in this order, you’re a dodohead and no one will buy your book. Here are a few examples, snips from the internet:

Start Twittering. Do this before you do anything else online.~~Michael Hyatt,  author of Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World (Thomas Nelson)

Your author photo is another important branding tool. Be sure to get a professional looking photo and use it everywhere, to build recognition of you.~~Dana Lynn Smith, the Savvy Book Marketer

[Discover the] Influencers – Well-known people in your field, book reviewers, celebrities, media, and bloggers. These folks can help spread the word about your book. ~~Dana Lynn Smith

OK. Sigh. I’ll do it. But it’s no fun. Listen, I’m a writer. If I wanted to discover influencers and have my image recognized I would have majored in marketing or drama. Branding myself–it’s just . . . anathema to me.

And you know what? I can find almost nothing online about whether that stuff really works. Have there been any studies? Can the results of regular twittering be quantified? Let me know of any data out there that goes beyond the anecdotal. If I knew that tweeting actually led to increased sales, I’d perch on that branch with both feet.OxydolizedCB

Why? Because as a debut author, you don’t want to get lost among all the other books out there. You don’t want to be bundled together with those people who upload documents and call themselves authors.
OxydolCarolSo, you think, maybe I should hire a publicist to do all this! Yes! I need a publicist! Well, I looked into it:

Most writers will find the cost of hiring an independent publicist prohibitive ($5,000 to $20,000), but some manage to save up the money or put aside a portion of their advance to cover a publicist’s expenses. ~Poets and Writers magazine

A portion. A portion. Um. Right.

The thing is, I want my books to get noticed. Nobody’s more enthusiastic about my character Cecelia and the War of the Worlds radio broadcast (Radio Girl) or about worm farming (Winnie Finn, Worm Farmer) than I, and to that end, I hereby announce my new website avec blog. 2013-02-24 04.03.04 I plan to post about stuff related to my books, but not for the sole purpose of advertising them. Just anything that interests me about old-time radio or swing dancing, or the blue worms of New Guinea. Fun stuff. Interesting and unusual trivia. Ephemera. Stuff I love. And if people learn about my books and become interested, yay. Thinking of it that way, maybe I can “promote” my “brand” just by using my natural enthusiasm? Maybe it won’t seem so icky and I won’t feel so much like a box of detergent. Am I being a dodohead? I’d love to learn how you–or someone you know–became a brand. Do tell.

If you’re still itching for actual advice about promoting your own books, I like this article by Kelly Kathleen Ferguson at Hunger Mountain very much.

23 Comments

Filed under Advice - Helpful or Otherwise, Book Promotion, Promotion

The Only Way to Write a Query Letter . . .

I'd be an author by now if it weren't for those danged queries.

I’d be an author by now if it weren’t for those danged query letters.

… or, how I stopped worrying and started liking writing queries.

Some of us writers get really worked up over querying agents and editors. It’s because of that danged query letter you have to write, your pitch, your one chance at impressing those lofty souls in their fancy-pants, luxury New York offices. It can spoil the momentum you felt when you typed The End on your story. Even though you have perhaps just completed a brilliant 300-page manuscript, it’s writing this simple, one-page business letter that keeps you up at night, worrying about what should go in it, in what order, and what can be left out. Gaaaah!

Frankly, sometimes agents and editors don’t make it any easier. Even though they patiently tell us at conferences what they would like those letters to say, sometimes they give us so many rules about what to put in the letter, what not to put in (e.g., glitter); what the email subject line should be; if it’s to be snail mailed, whether the letter should be wrapped around the accompanying SASE or folded separately, whether the two should be paper-clipped together, and on and on.

This was once the beginning of a query letter, abandoned, lo, these many years.

This was once the beginning of a query letter, abandoned, lo, these many years.

There are also templates available to use as a guide for crafting these dreaded (and sometimes dreadful) letters, but it seems to me that if everyone followed those templates to the letter (so to speak) then every query would read the same. Not to mention that a strict following of the rules can result in ridiculousness, like that of a writer I once knew who, learning that the query letter should be only one page long, printed it out on legal-sized paper to make it fit.

So what is the one right way to write a query? Let’s take a look at some query letters that worked and see what they have in common. The examples below were written by EMUs Debuts authors, but I’ve taken the liberty of stripping out the identifying matter so we can just examine the structure, the bones, of the letter. Remember, all of these elicited a positive response.

Example #1

Dear Agent/Editor:

[A 160-word synopsis of a middle grade “tween” novel, written in a sprightly style that reflects the novel’s voice.] [TITLE] is a [WORD COUNT]-word, humorous middle-grade novel about [very brief, less than 25 words, DESCRIPTION of the story]. The novel stands alone but has series potential.

I graduated from [UNIVERSITY AND DEGREE] and have a [PREVIOUS RELATED PROFESSIONAL WORK] published in [PUBLICATION]. My work has garnered [AWARDS AND RECOGNITION], which are detailed on my website, [URL].

I would be happy to send my complete manuscript upon your request and have pasted the first [#] pages below. Thank you so much for your consideration.

Sincerely,

[AUTHOR]

Example #2

Dear Editor:

[Twenty-seven word DESCRIPTION of the plot of an ecology/science-based picture book]. May I send you [TITLE], a funny [WORD COUNT]-word story for ages four to eight? The tale begins:

[“FIRST FEW LINES of the manuscript–54 words.”]

Although this story is fiction, I’ve gathered scads of facts about [RELATED SCIENTIFIC INFORMATION], thus providing an option for sidebars or notes at the end. ([EXAMPLE given of a question that might be used for these notes])

I am a member of [A RELATED PROFESSIONAL ORGANIZATION, for which I volunteer]. I’ve sold stories, poems, and activities to [MAGAZINE TITLES related to the genre], and my personal essay “[TITLE]” appeared in [PROFESSIONAL PUBLICATION]. I’m also a[n amateur in the scientific field from which the book comes].

Please contact me if you’d like to see [TITLE]. I look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,

[AUTHOR]

Example #3

Dear [Agent’s first name, NOTE: This author had already met the agent in person and established a more casual relationship, hence the familiarity, usually a no-no.]

I know you represent nonfiction and picture books, which is an all-too-rare thing these days. I love [AN AUTHOR THIS AGENT REPRESENTS and one of THAT AUTHOR’S TITLES], and I’m also a huge fan of [ANOTHER WELL-KNOWN AUTHOR THE AGENT REPRESENTS]. Plus, you just seem totally cool! 🙂

I hope my [WORD COUNT]-word picture-book biography, [TITLE], will be a good match for you. [150-WORD SYNOPSIS OF THE BOOK, INCLUDING THE SUBJECT’S BACKSTORY].

I have published more than [#] articles for children and parents in [RELATED MAGAZINES AND OTHER PUBLICATIONS]. I have been a member of [PROFESSIONAL ORGANIZATION] for five years, and as you know, I’m now [A VOLUNTEER LEADER FOR THAT ORGANIZATION].

I became interested in this particular story [HOW I LEARNED OF THE BIOGRAPHY’S SUBJECT]. [I HAVE INTERVIEWED THE SUBJECT FIRSTHAND]. Please let me know if you are interested in seeing more. Thank you very much for your time.

Sincerely,

[AUTHOR]

Example #4

Dear [Ms./Mr. X]

[Personalization if applicable]

[115-word SYNOPSIS/description of a young adult fantasy novel].

[TITLE] is an [WORD COUNT] word YA urban fantasy, an excerpt from which won [WELL-KNOWN WRITERS’ CONTEST AND LINK TO ITS WEBSITE). I am the author of [TITLE], a short story in [A GENRE-RELATED ANTHOLOGY], and this is my first novel. I’ve included the first chapter inline.

Thank you for your time and consideration,

[AUTHOR]

[contact info]

What can we make of these queries? They have similarities, but they’re not boilerplate, by any means. What I conclude when I look at them is this: The only right way to write a query letter is to write it like a writer. You are unique and talented, your project is unique (we hope) and so your cover letter, naturally, ought to reflect that.

You can do it! We’re supposed to be good at this communicating-through-words stuff, right? So gather up all the things you want to communicate and set them down on paper, using your own voice. Make it professional, but not stuffy.

What we have here is your typical agent or editor, as we sometimes picture them.

What we have here is your typical agent or editor, as we sometimes picture them.

Think about your audience, too. Keep in mind that these editors and agents really aren’t snobs and don’t usually work in plush offices; they are regular people who probably wear threadbare PJs once in a while (rarely to work, though, I suspect). They leave crumbs by the sink and have to grocery shop and do laundry, just like most of us. Don’t let them intimidate you! Write the agent/editor a business letter that shows them you can interact with people like a normal, fully functioning human being. If they take your project on, they’ll be stuck with you for a long while, so they might like to know beforehand that you’ll be professional, collaborative, and easy to work with. Which you are, right?

Write your query as only a talented writer can, with style, and with the guiding principle that you intend to communicate information that may be of interest to the reader. It’s really all about confidence in your writing skills and, you know, I hope you have some because you’ll need that confidence later when it’s time to work with that agent/editor on revisions.

Golly, I had no idea!

Golly, I had no idea!

I just ran across this quote by historical fiction author Hilary Mantel. Although she was referring to writing her memoir, I think it applies to how one should approach writing a query, too:

“I will just go for it, I think to myself, I’ll hold out my hands and say, c’est moi, get used to it.”

C’est moi. This is me. This is my work. I like it and I hope you will, too. See? Not hard at all. Nothing to get worked up about. Now go write that query!

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Filed under Advice, Agents, Editor, Query Letters