Tag Archives: Carol Brendler

RADIO GIRL is on the air

Checklist for a Great Party.

Fabulous music.


Exciting venue.


Interesting people.


A gracious host.


And when it’s a book launch party, of course, you need a wonderful book which we have in RADIO GIRL.

RADIO GIRL by Carol Brendler

It’s been a great party this week as we welcomed RADIO GIRL into the world. Join the celebration. Check out Carol Brendler’s debut novel and find out what life is like for one girl in the middle of history as it’s being made. If you’ve ever wished you could do the Lindy Hop, if you love the look of those 1930s magazine covers, if you’ve wondered what it would be like to live through the panic caused by the War of the Worlds broadcast or if you just love a great story, pick up a copy of RADIO GIRL. Or comment on any of the posts from this week and you’ll be entered to win a shiny, new autographed copy.

Congratulations, Carol. Happy Book Launch Day.

RADIO GIRL is on air. Tune in.



Filed under Book Promotion, Celebrations

Getting the girl just right: An interview with RADIO GIRL cover artist Michael Koelsch!

RADIO GIRL by Carol BrendlerWhen you’re reading a historical novel, what’s your first clue that the story is set in a different time period? The cover is usually a pretty good indicator—and in the case of Carol Brendler’s debut novel RADIO GIRL, boy is it ever!

Today I’m so pleased to welcome artist Michael Koelsch to Emu’s Debuts to talk about his work on RADIO GIRL’s beautiful, vintage-inspired cover.

Tara Dairman: Hello, Michael! Your cover for RADIO GIRL is so evocative of the time period when the story is set (1938, the heyday of radio). I see from your portfolio that a lot of your other art also embraces a fabulously “retro” style. What got you interested in creating this style of art?

Michael Koelsch: Thanks. I have been interested in classic illustration since I was little. My grandmother introduced me to a lot of illustration early on: artists like Norman Rockwell, N.C. Wyeth, and even pulpier illustrators like Norman Saunders and Walter Baumhofer. I got into a lot of the old movie posters as well.

N.C. Wyeth brought Treasure Island to life, Rockwell idealized life in America, Saunders made book covers explosive, and illustrators like Coby Whitmore made women beyond gorgeous in advertisements in the 1960’s. These are the guys who I looked up to in school and who I try to bring back when I do illustrations today, whether it’s for advertising or for book covers.

TD: Cecilia (the main character in RADIO GIRL) is the focal point of your cover. Did you have any of the stars of that era—like Judy Garland, or Deanna Durbin—in mind when you drew her?


Cece: Ready for her close-up

MG: Most definitely. When doing vintage-looking illustrations, it’s really important to reference the things of the past, whether it’s people, or cars, or buildings. I like to discuss things with the art director and sometimes the author to see what their inspirations were in doing the book. I then put my two cents in visually.

On RADIO GIRL, Judy Garland was a big inspiration—but other actresses from that era also helped me get the feel and look of our girl character for the cover. Once we had the look of the character, then we went through some phases of capturing the emotion and expression our character was going to show. I got some references from the author, but I will tend to do a lot more in-depth studying of that era, from clothing to hair styles, from architecture to color moods of that time period.

A pattern that helped inspire the look of Cece's shirt.

A pattern that helped inspire the look of Cece’s shirt

I will pull things from old books and, of course, the Internet—everything from old sewing patterns to soda pop ads to actual photos of girls from that time period. When doing realistic paintings, everything and anything I can find goes into helping me draw and paint.

TD: A little more about Cecilia: Her face is so expressive of the different emotions she feels in the story (earnestness, bravery, fear). We authors often have to write many drafts of a story to get the emotions just right. Did you need to go through a similar process when drawing Cecilia?

An early sketch of Cece

An early sketch of Cece

MG: My process is quite similar—but usually I don’t have to explore the gamut because I have the benefit of working with an art director who has discussed things with the author or has come up with a rough concept before I start. While this is just the starting point, I already have narrowed things down quite a bit. BUT, while that’s the norm, there are always those times where I do a sketch or two, and then those spark another idea which could be completely different but might make a stronger cover or image. I’ve been blessed with working with confident art directors who are not fearful of trying something different and usually like to explore those options too.

A model for Cece's new expression

A model posing for Cece’s new expression

On this cover specifically, we did actually make an “expression” change with Cecilia.  Initially I went for a classic, almost heroic/confident look for Cecilia, which probably looked too much like a vintage ad.  After some discussion, we decided to pull some “real” emotion into the piece and give her that “first time in a recording studio” look.

TD: What is your process generally like when designing book covers? Did you receive much direction from Holiday House before you started to work on the cover for RADIO GIRL?

MG: I’d probably bore everyone to death if I discussed my whole process, but generally I get a synopsis or a copy of the book. For covers, sometimes I don’t get a chance to read the whole book due to time constraints, so a synopsis from the art director or editor usually works best.

From there, I do a couple of thumbnail sketches based on references I have, or I find references based on those thumbnails. Those are usually for my eyes only, but occasionally I have to send those to the AD too.

The final masterpiece!

The final masterpiece!

After that, I put together a pretty tight sketch from the reference I have or have shot. These tend to have some color thrown on top. This is a good stage to work out any changes to the composition or figures and saves me from redoing them in the final painting. I still paint traditionally, so that’s huge—I can’t always go into Photoshop and just hit “undo.”

Once my sketch is approved, I go to paint on the final. Then I scan the painting and do some minor tweaks and cleaning up in Photoshop and, if need be, add text.

Thanks for the opportunity to share my part of this whole process; I hope you guys find this interesting and possibly inspirational. When authors and illustrators team up together, they get the chance to create a little magic no matter what format, digital or traditional!  It’s a great experience to put ideas to paper.

It sure is, Michael! Thank you so much for sharing your process and your art with us!


Readers: What’s your favorite aspect of RADIO GIRL’s cover? Remember, one lucky commenter this week will win a signed copy of the book!

Tara DairmanTara Dairman is a novelist, playwright, and recovering world traveler. All Four Stars, her debut middle-grade novel about an 11-year-old who secretly becomes a New York restaurant critic, will be published in 2014 by Putnam/Penguin.

Find her online at taradairman.com.


Filed under Book Promotion, Celebrations, Illustrators, Interviews

The worst job ever …

17351021Even people who have gone on to great heights in their careers started out with some less-than-inspiring jobs.

Actor Ashton Kutcher talked about this in his acceptance speech at this year’s Teen Choice Awards, saying: “I believe that opportunity looks a lot like work. I never had a job in my life that I was better than. I was always just lucky to have a job. Every job I had was a  stepping stone to my next job, and I never quit my job before I had my next job.”

Kutcher’s career path to TV and movie stardom included helping his dad carry shingles, washing dishes at a restaurant, working in a grocery store deli and sweeping in a factory.

Carol Brendler can relate. In her new novel RADIO GIRL, set in the 1930s, teenage Cece desperately wants to be a radio star. She even gets a secret job at a radio station. But, will it be the best job ever? Or the worst? And what will happen when Cece’s secret job collides with Orson Welles’ infamous, and very public, “War of the Worlds” broadcast?

Just for fun, we asked each of our EMU’s Debuts bloggers to share their worst job ever. None involved alien invasions, but they were all memorable for other reasons.

Take it away, folks!

Tara Dairman’s incompetent embassy
“When I was 21 and living abroad in Ireland, I stumbled into a summer clerical job at another country’s embassy. I won’t say which country; all I’ll say is that Ireland was clearly not where this country sent its diplomatic A-team. The ambassador was most frequently found asleep at his desk, and his underling, who interviewed me, barely spoke English. But worst of all was my direct boss, who had a penchant for screaming and half of whose office looked like a storage center for a brand of unfiltered cigarettes from his home country, which he smoked right through our meetings. Ireland had workplace smoking laws at the time, but technically, in the embassy, we were on his home country’s soil, so I guess he was able to do whatever he wanted (much to my lungs’ displeasure). I lasted three weeks, and my payment in the end was a blank envelope full of cash euros. I’m pretty sure there is no official record of my ever having worked for this country’s government!”

Adi Rule’s substitute woes
“Now, some people enjoy substitute teaching. (Some people also enjoy hooking a car battery up to their nostrils.) And I will say that I had some wonderful experiences and met some really awesome teachers and students. But there are a lot of reasons why substitute teaching is terrible, the worst of which, for me, was the fact that almost everyone automatically thinks you’re dumb as a post. They will trust you to hit “play” on the VCR, but can’t imagine you’re capable of making six photocopies without five of them being of your butt. This was made clear to me one day when I was in for an English teacher. (It was a class I’d been in previously, where I’d told the students that when they were done with their busywork — ahem, assignment — they could read, write, or draw. One girl said, “Write? Write what?” I said, “Whatever you want.” She was totally confused. How sad is that, America?) So this particular day, they were going to learn about adjectives. There was a clear lesson plan drawn up. I was at the board, 30 seconds in, when a disheveled teacher rushes in and apologize for the HUGE MIX-UP. You see, they didn’t realize the lesson would involve TEACHING, something that would clearly cause the barely sparking neurons of a substitute teacher to short circuit and explode! So she was there to save the day and teach about adjectives! YAY! And she must have done her job well, because that day, twiddling my thumbs at the teacher’s desk, I managed to come up with quite a few substitute teaching-related adjectives.”

Mylisa Larson’s early morning cadavers
“Well, I’ve had some winners in my checkered early employment history (swatting flies for my mom at a penny a fly was my first paying job followed by hoeing endless rows of corn for ten cents a row), but the worst job would have to be that I put myself through part of college by getting up at 4 AM and cleaning the cadaver lab in the biology building.”

Joshua McCune’s telephone hell
“The worst job for me was a telemarketing gig I took my first summer of college. Non-profit stuff (American Heart Association, etc.), so I didn’t feel like a complete scuzzball. Didn’t matter. I’m the antithesis of a salesperson … if somebody says no thanks, I say thanks for your time and goodbye. WTF is a rebuttal? Yeah, I sucked. Days were only six hours long and I only did it for six weeks, but it was pure, monotonous misery. Positive note: My experience there provided some background for a critical scene in TALKER 25. Side note: The meanest people in the country (at least in terms of hanging up on you and snappishness) seemed to conglomerate in the Pacific Northwest.”

Laurie Ann Thompson’s injury-riddled deli stint

“It could be the time I worked for an insurance salesman, cold-calling clients — during dinnertime, of course — trying to convince them to buy an annuity, but I’m going to have to go with the grocery store deli I worked at in college. They specifically instructed us to disregard all safety precautions so we could get things done “more efficiently.” Every night we were supposed to wipe down the deep fryers with hot oil still in them (yup, 3rd-degree burns and a trip to the ER) and clean and disinfect the meat slicer while it was running and all the safeties were removed (yep, sliced off the very tip of one of my fingers). Fortunately, neither job lasted very long before I found something better!”

Amy Finnegan’s cheesy fundraiser
During my sophomore year of high school, my dance team was invited to a competition in Hawaii. Everyone wanted to go, but the trip was going to be crazy expensive. We worked for months doing the typical fundraisers — car washes, rummage sales, coupon books — but still came short. Then came the opportunity for the team to work a designated amount of hours at a cold storage facility … unwrapping single slices of frozen American cheese. Not so bad, right? WRONG. The cheese turned out to be moldy and disgusting! All of it! We were unwrapping it so it could be sold to a dog food factory, and I felt bad for those poor little dogs. After weeks of this nauseating fundraising effort, more than 20 years later, I still can’t look at a slice of American cheese without gagging. And now you won’t be able to either. (But it was a great trip to Hawaii!)”

And MY worst job? That would have to be a secretarial post I took right out of college. It’s true I might have thought I was a tad overqualified for the spot, and that feeling didn’t change when the company CEO gave me a hand-scrawled sheet of paper to transcribe. His writing was terrible, and I did the best I could, but I obviously missed some finer points. He was yelling at me for getting it wrong, when I said, “But, I thought …” and he responded in full Dolby surround-sound: “I don’t pay you to think! I pay you to type!” Yeah. That was my clue that we would not have a long and happy partnership.

But all those jobs are long gone. See, we’re all just like Ashton (although maybe not as famous or well-groomed or quite as handy with a camera). Our worst jobs led us to successful, fulfilling careers as new or soon-to-be authors. Could we have done it without those early struggles? Who knows? Perhaps they built character if nothing else.

Anyway, what was your worst job ever? Leave a comment and tell us. You’ll be entered into a drawing for a free copy of RADIO GIRL.


Filed under Promotion



Picture this: your family has just returned home from a nice dinner out and gathers around the television a few minutes after America’s Got Talent begins. You are soon all enjoying the acts and discussing which performers should advance . . . when suddenly the program is interrupted by NBC Nightly News anchor, Brian Williams.

His message: America is under attack, by aliens! Would you believe him? I would. It’s the Nightly News!

In RADIO GIRL, Carol Brendler takes her readers back to a time when families gathered around a household radio rather than a yet-to-be-invented television—a time that many of our parents and grandparents can remember (it wasn’t that long ago). Their childhood evenings were often spent listening intently to not only critical news stories from around the globe, but also dramatizations performed by actors who brought fictional stories to life with vivid descriptions, believable character voices, and eerily accurate sound effects.

It is therefore understandable how true stories and fictional productions—sharing the same, limited airspace—had the potential of causing confusion.

orson-war-of-the-worldsNever was there a more exciting time to be tuned into the radio than on the evening of October 30, 1938, when mass chaos was created by Orson Welles and the Mercury Theater company. Their radio broadcast on this particular night was an adaptation of a popular novel, The War of the Worlds, and even though it was clearly introduced as such, the production was so believable that thousands of people—who had somehow missed the narrator’s brief introduction—called radio stations, newspapers, and even the police, desperate for information about the alien invasion that was being broadcast live via the radio.

Not what you would call “mass chaos” yet? But wait, there’s more . . .

People ran out of their homes and pounded on their neighbors’ doors to warn them, families loaded up cars and headed out of town in droves, makeshift gas masks were thrown over terrified faces (the aliens, you see, were using poisonous gas), and women went into early labor. Miscarriages and even stress-induced deaths were blamed on the broadcast. It was madness, people. Madness!

But what exactly made the broadcast so darn believable? What was it about this time in our country’s history that created such a jumpy, easily-shaken atmosphere? Radio Girl holds these answers and many more entertaining and insightful tidbits about this fascinating era, all while following the daily life of fourteen-year-old Cece Maloney whose dreams of becoming a radio star put her right in the center of the pandemonium that’s stirred up by The War of the Worlds broadcast—and only Cece knows what’s really going on when her neighborhood goes nuts.

17351021Want to read the book for yourself? You can now find Radio Girl in bookstores or online. You can also listen to the original radio broadcast here, and watch a dumbfounded Orson Welles try to answer the accusatory questions of angry reporters—the day following the broadcast—here. Enjoy!

And congratulations to the fabulous Carol Brendler on the launch of her first novel!


IMG_0723-2Amy Finnegan writes Young Adult novels and is a host at BookshopTalk.com. Her debut novel, NOT IN THE SCRIPT, will be published by Bloomsbury, Fall 2014. You can follow Amy on Twitter @ajfinnegan, and Facebook (Amy Finnegan, Author). She is represented by Erin Murphy.


Filed under Celebrations

And now… introducing… RADIO GIRL!


Photo from ADoseOfShipBoy on Flickr

Guess what, folks — that’s right — we have another book launch to celebrate here on Emu’s Debuts. So, put on your party hats, throw some confetti into the air, and join the fun all week long as we welcome Carol Brendler’s RADIO GIRL into the world!

Carol isn’t technically a debut author. She already has a delightful picture book (WINNIE FINN, WORM FARMER), but RADIO GIRL is her first novel. Since that’s an entirely different experience, we’re thrilled she agreed to join us for her second debut journey!


To get you in the mood for the upcoming RADIO GIRL extravaganza we’ve got planned for you this week, though, you should take the time to go back and read Carol’s post about the story behind the RADIO GIRL story, here.

Then, read this great interview to find out more about Carol, including her advice for aspiring authors.

Plus, Carol and fellow EMLA author Trent Reedy did a fun video interview here.

And, watch for Carol on DEAR TEEN ME on Wednesday!

You can also find Carol at her website, which has lots of fun facts about old-time radio and the 1930s, and on Twitter. And, you can buy your own copy of RADIO GIRL here:

  • Indiebound
  • Powell’s
  • Amazon
  • Barnes & Noble

    Finally, one lucky reader will win a signed copy of RADIO GIRL! Just comment on any of this week’s launch party posts (including this one). The winner will be announced next Monday. Good luck!


    Filed under Celebrations, Happiness, Updates on our Books!

    The Emus Retreat

    One of the many special things about the Erin Murphy Literary Agency is the annual client retreat. This summer, the retreat took place at Big Sky Resort in Montana. Emus came from all across the country–often at great personal expense–to connect, recharge, learn, explore, and laugh. The whole experience reminded me once again how blessed I am to be a part of this community and how important this community is to me, both professionally and personally.

    We heard insights and advice from guest speakers and a panel of experts. We broke into small groups to discuss our own individual career quandaries. We shared our works in progress and the ugliest sweaters we could find (or make). We got serious, and we also got plenty silly. We wrote, hiked, ate, drank, took in the scenery, and didn’t get nearly enough sleep (well, some of us didn’t). We took notes, pictures, and videos. We listened to our very own in-house band, sang, clapped, cheered, and maybe even shed a tear or two. For many of us, events like these can tax our introverted natures, causing us to retreat from the retreat. That was not only allowed, but understood and valued. Through it all, in doses we could all be comfortable with, we got to know one another better. What a treat!

    Some Emus

    [Some of the current Emu’s Debuts: Christine Hayes, Kevan Atteberry, Pat Miller, Laurie Thompson, Joshua McCune, Carol Brendler, and Tara Dairman.]


    I’m mostly an analytical type, so I like to try to quantify things: What exactly did I get out of this retreat? What is one thing I can point to that makes the retreat worth the time and money I spent to go there? What will I be able to directly use from this experience to further my career? I don’t have a satisfactory answer to any of those questions.

    Still, I know it was all worth it. The connections made and relationships built will keep me going when things get hard. They make me feel like not only am I a part of something magical, but I actually belong there! I think so many people are drawn to writing because at some point in their life they felt awkward, marginalized, forced to stand on the sidelines and watch the “cool” people have all the fun. Well, at an EMLA retreat, we get to hang out with some of the coolest people out there, and we find out they’re actually a whole lot like us.



    p.s. We also got to see an advance copy of Pat Miller’s SOPHIE’S SQUASH, and we were absolutely charmed and delighted. You will be hearing more about this fabulous book, I guarantee it! In fact, you might just want to pre-order your copy right now, before they’re all sold out.


    Filed under Colleagues, Happiness, Thankfulness, Writing and Life

    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.


    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.


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

    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.



    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.



    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.



    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,


    [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!


    Filed under Advice, Agents, Editor, Query Letters