Friday, May 5, 2017

How to Write a Query Letter

So, you or your homeschool writer have completed and polished a manuscript, and are ready to have the story or article published. The first thing thing to do is study market guides. You can find agents and editors to query in such books as Sally Stuart’s Christian Writers’ Market Guide, Writer’s Market published by Writers Digest, and the 2013 Guide to Literary Agents edited by Chuck Sambuchino. All can be found on Amazon. For convenience, editors and agencies are presented by genre.

Each publisher or agency lists the types of fiction and/or nonfiction it handles. Follow their contact instructions. Some only accept referrals or contacts they have made at conferences. Others request a synopsis and sample chapters. Many will only accept a query letter.

So what is a query letter? It is a one-page sales pitch whose purpose is to entice the agent/editor to ask for the full manuscript. This is one's opportunity to make a good first impression. Whether by e-mail or paper mail, use Standard English and follow a business letter format.

Set up pages with one-inch margins. The lines should be single space and paragraphs should be block style. Use Times New Roman and 12 font size. Center align your letter head. List your name in slightly larger font and your contact information—address, phone number, e-mail, web address—in slightly smaller font.

Align the inner address against the left margin. Always spell the agent/editor’s name correctly and use his proper title.

The first paragraph in the query’s body is a hook that is supposed to catch the agent/editor’s attention. It needs to contain the story’s title, genre, and word count. It can mention the name of a referral, part of the story line, or some fact within the story. To show that the query isn’t a form letter, mention something gleaned while researching the company.

The second paragraph resembles a book blurb such as seen on the back of book jackets. Summarize the first quarter of the book and name the protagonist, describe a bit of the setting, reveal his inner conflict, and explain the story problem. End the paragraph with a question.

The next paragraph is the writer's bio. Tell the agent/editor why this story is different from others of its kind and why the author is the one person who can tell it. Present credits, if any. Describe work or life experience that’s pertinent to the story and how the writer can promote the book. In the last paragraph, politely thank the agent/editor then ask whether they'd like to see a synopsis or proposal and sample chapters. When sending a paper letter, be sure to include a self-addressed stamped envelop.

Then the writer waits for the listed response time. If nothing appears, send a polite e-mail with the submission’s name and date and ask whether they received the query or whether a decision had been made. Once I waited twice the allotted time before contacting an editor who had requested my manuscript. She told me her computer had died, and she lost all her data. She asked that I resubmit. I would have lost out on a publication had I not e-mailed her. So, unless requested otherwise, make contact.

The following is my idea of how L. Frank Baum might query the Acme Agency if he was looking for a home for The Wizard of Oz today:

 L. Frank Baum
1 Writers Lane
Kansas City, Kansas


C.C. Smith
Acquisitions Editor
Acme Agency
121212 Park Place #4
New York, New York

February 28, 2013

Dear Mr. Smith,  (Note: Double check the title and spelling)

Your client John Rabowski recommended that I query you about my 60,000-word fantasy novel The Wizard of Oz. It is the story of Dorothy Gale, an unhappy Kansas farm girl who learns there is no place like home.

Dorothy dreams of evading her problems by escaping to a land over the rainbow that is a much happier place. To her surprise, a cyclone picks up her house and carries her to a sparkling land filled with music and flowers and happy munchkins. Though she is welcome, she misses her family and wants to go home. The only one who can help her is the great and mighty Wizard of Oz. But he lives faraway at the end of a yellow-brick road that’s fraught with dangers from winged-monkeys, witches, fighting trees, and a deadly poppy field. Can a young girl survive such obstacles and return home?

Having grown-up in Kansas and having studied American Folklore, I believe I am uniquely qualified to tell this American fairy tale. My short stories have appeared in such publications as The Story Teller Magazine and Knights and Dragons. I am on Face Book, have 3,500 Twitter followers, and receive 5,000 hits per month on my blog.

Thank you for your consideration. May I send a synopsis and sample chapters?

Yours truly,

L. Frank Baum

So when should a writer query? For a novice, after he/she has completed and polished his/her manuscript. It is a good idea to have others read it before submitting. Moms will love it no matter what, so find objective readers who can give sound advice.—Quinn

Wednesday, February 10, 2016


My homeschooling adventure began on day one with my first child. At first, I did what every mom does. I talked and sang to her. This served to stimulate her brain development. Early on, I began reading to her as well. By age one, she played with wipe-able books, which were placed within easy access with the rest of her toys. I read and sang nursery rhymes at story time. This taught her the rhythm and syntax of language.

As she grew, I further stimulated her brain development by allowing her to explore her world. We provided many age appropriate learning experiences. She went to parks, zoos, the beach, the snow, the airport. At the grocery store, we talked about the foods. I allowed her to “help” as I worked in the home and garden.

Between ages one and three, she sat beside me on the couch reading picture books. I’d point to the pictures and we’d talk about what we saw and what the characters were doing. This built her vocabulary. Soon, she learned to sing the alphabet. While she learned the letters, I pointed to words as I read to her. This way she connected the symbols with sounds. Around age three, when she seemed ready, I made up cards that contained phonetically similar words (at, bat, cat; book, look, cook; can, fan man). I found several first readers that used this method. She was delighted when she opened them and found she could read!

My little student dictated her first story (about a princess) to me at about three and a half. Over the next year or so as she acquired a larger vocabulary and continued to make up stories, I gently introduced the story format: beginning, middle, end. By five, she was writing and illustrating her own little picture books. At six, she began a family newsletter, The Snoopy News, to keep our clan informed about our family’s activities. Now, many years and a few degrees later, she is about to publish her first monograph.—Quinn

Wednesday, September 16, 2015


In an earlier blog (What Happens After the End, 9/22/15), I chronicled the steps in traditional publishing. Another option which is gaining a large slice of the market share is self-publishing. Writers no longer have to wait up to two years to see their book on a store shelf. It can take as little as 24 hours for an e-book to be on sale at Amazon.

There are two routes in self-publishing. The first is working with a so-called vanity press. In this method, the author pays a publisher several thousand dollars to go through the publishing process. This might be good for a book that promotes a business and has limited circulation. The second is indie publishing where the book is published free by an on-line store such as Amazon for worldwide distribution.

The process is easy. All you need to do is upload the manuscript, a blurb, keywords, and a cover. That should take five to ten minutes. If you are using Amazon, they will take a bit of time to review then within 24 hours you’ll be published.

Edit carefully before you submit your story. If it’s within your budget, hire a professional editor for this. After that you’ll need to format by using the easy to follow directions in Building Your Book for Kindle, which is free on Amazon.

 Amazon offers book covers. However, you can hire a professional to customize one for $40 and up. They must be 100x1600 pixels.

Have a book blurb ready that describes your story. Examples can be found on the back of book covers or by browsing through book pages on Amazon. Decide ahead of time what your categories are. These are equivalent to directions to the particular stack in a library where your book may be found. You are also allowed up to seven keywords or keyword phrases. These are used to direct readers to your book, so select these carefully.

E-publishing is easy and your book will never be out of print until you decide to remove it. You or your student might want to start with short stories.—Quinn

Wednesday, October 29, 2014


Motivation reaction units are so important, I thought I should repost my blog entry, What in the World is an MRU? MRUs are the engines that move a story along and keep it interesting. Mastering this technique will take you or your homeschool student a long way in becoming an accomplished story teller.

Let’s talk about motivation reaction units (MRUs). The first time I heard these explained was by Randy Ingermanson, creator of the Snowflake Method. He read about them in Dwight V. Swain’s classic. Techniques of the Selling Writer, which is available on

So what is a motivation-reaction-unit? An MRU is the fundamental grouping of words that form a story.

The first component of the MRU is a sentence or several sentences which comprise a cause. The cause is something the reader can see. It is totally outside of the point-of-view (POV) character, and can be anything tangible or intangible, conscious or unconscious that stimulates a change in the character. Neither the POV’s name nor pronouns that refer to him may appear in this part of the MRU.

The paragraph that follows contains the second half of the MRU. It is a sentence or group of sentences that show the effect of the stimulus. It is about the POV character and shows the change in his behavior or state of mind in response to the motivating stimulus.

The following is an excerpt from the prologue of my novel Kokoweef, which may be accessed by clicking the tab under the banner. I’ve labeled the alternating pattern of motivation and reaction. Notice that the motivating sentences are completely outside the POV. Also note how the stimulus produces a change in the POV that moves the story along

The soldiers assumed their posts. Commander Lucifer positioned himself on high ground opposite the wormhole, his generals at his sides. [MOTIVATION]

Malum drew his swords. With Michael and his army vanquished, what would Lord Lucifer do next? Attack High Heaven? It had been eons since the Enemy cast them out. A victorious return would be joyous. [REACTION]

The wormhole rumbled, and Lucifer raised his hands. [MOTIVATION]

Malum’s swords shook. Steady. Only moments until Lucifer signals to attack. [REACTION]

A low whine grumbled in the passage. [MOTIVATION]

Malum tightened his grips. [REACTION]

The noise rose in pitch and volume. The tunnel’s crystalline walls vibrated. [MOTIVATION]

He swallowed, and his breaths quickened. The surface on which he stood rolled and swayed. He fought for traction then furrowed his brows. Something was wrong. The resonance frequency had changed. An operational wormhole never made that high, warbling sound. What was Michael up to? [REACTION]

Fire roared from the wormhole and incinerated several soldiers. The tunnel warped. Squealed. Folded inward. In a blink, it disappeared. [MOTIVATION]

Malum cursed, and turned his attention to Lucifer. [REACTION]

Rage contorted the commander’s faces. He bellowed and lashed out with his swords. The heads of his generals rolled down slope to Malum’s feet. [MOTIVATION]

His hearts lurched. [REACTION]

So why are the MRUs important? They provide the momentum that moves the story along. Strings of MRUs form scenes and sequences. Alternating scenes and sequences then produce the story pattern.—Quinn

Thursday, October 9, 2014


Young adult (YA) literature incorporates nearly all genres. Its main target is youth between twelve and eighteen, but older people may enjoy it as well. The plots are primarily plot-driven and coming of age.

Writing techniques employed in other genres also apply to YA.. However, sentence structure is less complex and vocabulary is simpler. A typical story runs between 40,000 and 70,000 thousand words. That’s enough to develop a multi-dimensional story, but not so much that the reader loses interest. While secondary characters can be any age, primary characters must be teen or college age.

The readers experience the story through a believable and empathetic main character (MC) that they can identify with. As they feel the MC’s emotions and participate in his problems, they can take part in their resolutions. They vicariously overcome crises, reaching milestones on their way to adulthood. This can give them a sense of security, validation, or meaning to their lives. They might also experience psychological or emotional transformation.

Before you begin to write, get to know young adults. Listen to their vocabulary and speech patterns and how they interact. Study their books and magazines for style. Determine what plots or themes are overworked and aim for something fresh.

Teens are constantly bombarded with new experiences. Everything is big, important, and intense. Possibilities are endless. They may feel invincible or they may feel vulnerable and inconsequential, isolated and craving community. Many that desire to change the world care deeply about things of substance.

Topics that interest them are romance, independence, friends, influence of peer groups, and milestones like first date, first car, first job. Stories for older teens may deal with drugs eating disorders, cutting, and other intense subjects.

Stories about romance and darkness are most favored. Fictional romance from the MC’s unrequited love to his love relationships helps the readers understand their fantasies. If the readers feel trapped and helpless, they may turn to tales of dystopia and vampires. Identification with the MC makes them feel more in control of their lives. Stories such as death, suicide, and cutting allow readers to explore dark topics safely.

The focus of all YA is growth. Readers who experience the MC’s conflicts and resolutions gain more maturity and insight, which inches them along toward adulthood.—Quinn

Monday, September 22, 2014


You, or your student, have completed a novel and want it published. Since most publishers don’t accept unsolicited manuscripts, what will you do? You need to find a literary agent. Query several agents and send proposals to those that are interested. (See archived blogs) If one believes the story will appeal to the market and will fit into what his agency represents, he will accept it and act as the go-between between you and the publisher.

On first contact, the agent presents the manuscript to an acquiring editor at a publishing house. If it fits well with the publisher’s product line, he will submit a proposal though the firm’s acquisitions committee. They will view the work as an investment in which they might profit. To get past them, the book must have certain attributes. It must be well-written and entertaining or informative. It must have potential for enough distribution to make its publication profitable. It must be able to compete with similar titles. And it must have a promotable platform.

If the work meets the criteria and the committee members decide to publish, they send it to the contracts and legal department. The author’s agent negotiates with the acquiring editor. In addition to the amount of advance money the author will receive, he will negotiate what type of rights are involved. The document must state whether rights can revert to the author after a period of time, whether he retains rights over foreign publications and films, and what deadlines he must meet during editing. Once the author signs, the work no longer belongs to him.

After the contract is signed, the manuscript goes back to the editor. In his first pass through it, he decides whether more or less text in required, whether chapters should be shuffled for flow, and whether information is clear and accurate. He then sends the manuscript back to the author for revisions. In the next pass, the editor makes line edits and asks for corrections and clarifications. If he is pleased with the revisions, the author finally receives a “payment on acceptance” check. This is an advance against future royalties.

The acquiring editor then sends the edited manuscript to the copy editor who looks at grammar, spelling, clarity, and makes sure the style and grammar matches the market. Next stop is design and layout. They do typesetting, page layout, and prepare files for e-books. They also decide on the quality of the paper and create a dust jacket. Photos and illustrations are added. Everyone reviews page proofs.

Meanwhile the sales and marketing people will provide information about the book to the book distributors and overseas publishers to try to determine what potential sales are. If interest is high, they may recommend that a co-publisher be employed for a large run, thereby cutting unit costs. If interest is low, they may recommend that the print or marketing be reduced or the book’s publication be dropped. Feedback from marketing also affects formatting, sales strategy, artwork, design, and production of ads and marketing material like catalogs.

Before printing, printers produce a pre-press proof for the publishers that show how the book will look. This is the last chance for corrections. When the publishers sign off on it, it goes back to the printer. Following the printing, the pages are folded, fixed to the board, and covered with the cover.

Marketing continues. It has three components, advertising where publishers pay to place a book in the media or print, promotion which is anything that draws attention to the book, and publicity where print and media pieces on the author or book are used to increase sales. Publicity also sets up book signings and tours.

Months before their release, the sales department matches genre and formats to the right market in the right quantity. They also present titles to buyers and make presentations to buyers form chain stores and independent stores. Advance copies are sent to the publisher, author, editor, and agent for publicity mailings.

After the printing, the books are packaged and sent to the publisher’s warehouse to await distribution. The resale schedule depends on the competition and the number of sales necessary to generate a profit. Next stop is the distribution centers where the books are unpackaged, inventoried, and shelved. The whole procedure from acquisition to the bookstore shelf may take two years.—Quinn

Friday, August 8, 2014


Well, the school year is about to start, and it's time for homeschoolers to get their curriculum together. As a supplement to American history, you might consider two childrens' books written by of all people, Rush Limbaugh. They are Rush Revere and the Brave Pilgrims and Rush Revere and the First Patriots. Both have spent weeks on the New York Times best sellers list and have earned Limbaugh recognition as the best children's author of 2013. The novels are historical adventures where middle school teacher Rush Revere and selected students time-travel through history on the talking horse Liberty. Though written for ten- to thirteen-year-olds, younger children and adults enjoy them as well.--Quinn