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Learning Query Letters

Two weeks ago was a Twitter pitch contest, #Writepit. I put out four tweets to get a feel for whether my piece might be ready. Three favorites later, I was searching websites for the next step. The answer: send in a query and x amount of pages. Pages I have. A query letter, well, I’m less certain about that. Being nervous about this next step, I fell back on researching the internet. Here’s what I found.

Query Letters: Form

  • Keep it short: Single page cover letter (250-300 words)
  • Three to six paragraphs:
    • Three paragraph form. The hook (read the back-cover-copy or flap copy of your favorite books), the mini-synopsis, and your writer’s biography
    • Add ons: basic personalization for the agent, request for action
  • Title and word count
  • Contact information (signature block)

Query Letters: Getting into and out of them

  • Start: I’ve seen letters start in two basic ways (with personalization and without): My novel x is y words long and z genre — or — I have seen x where you recently expressed interest in z. Novel x is y words long and z genre.
  • End: bio (with accolades if you have them) and a signature block

Query Letter: The Hard Part

  • Setting
  • Goal
  • Obstacles
  • Show us who the characters are
  • Strong actions, strong ramifications, and lots of emotions tied to each
  • Tone of the story

This is a picture taken from WeddingBee comments

Most of the websites suggest hard work, trial and error, critquing queries, and reading lots of examples. Here is the list of websites I relied most heavily on when researching:

Rachelle Gardner, agent –

Jane Friedman, professor –

Huffington Post –

Agent Query – 

Writer’s Digest –

Query Shark – examples of query letters in process with advice



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August 2015 Challenge — Cute Bedtime Story

August’s flash challenge is this:

Create a story less than 1000 words

Content is a cute bedtime story

Princesses, castles, little red riding hood, happy endings. No gore, no horror.

Next meeting: August 16 at Hyvee (95th and Antioch) at 6:00 pm.

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July Writing Prompt

Flash Fiction Challenge – The Dead Body

So here’s the challenge for next month. Posts are due by the 12th of July for the meeting on the 19th. Let the bodies hit the floor!

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Take Off Your Pants

I have read Libby Hawker‘s book on outlining. In short, I mostly like it. It gives a great framework to start with when approaching the daunting task of outlining a novel. I was introduced to this book by an online discussion in a group within Scribophile, an online writing and critiquing site. Several of our group are using this book as a guide to plotting, and discussion on the group’s forum brought my attention to it.

I enjoyed her idea that a character flaw driven story arc drives the external arc.  That external arc then assists in building a plot that is kept in check by theme, defined as an underlying and unifying concept. My interpretation of her outlining methodology is potentially flawed and subject to change as I work through the process and hopefully grow more enlightened.

As I read through this book, she walked me step by step through her process with clear descriptions and examples of what she is trying to help me accomplish at any given step. All through the steps leading up to and working through outlining and plotting were clear to me, and I enjoyed the character arc driven insight the book had to offer. This book got more difficult to follow once she was beyond the plotting stage and headed into what she referred to as “Pacing”.

This breaks down for me in an area where I admit I have been struggling with lately – bridging the gap from plot points/tent pole moments to a series of scenes during the outlining. I have been struggling within this part of my own writing journey, so I am hesitant to label this a flaw of the book. This could and is quite likely a result of my own shortcomings to get through this bit of the process.  In this discussion of creating beats from plot points and then scenes from these beats, she discusses the idea of inverted triangles which I am not able to visualize based on her descriptions. After discussing with my writing partner, we think “funnel” might be closer to what the author intended, but I can’t be sure. I hope to gain clarity in the practical application of her ideas as I follow her instructions.

Though not without its flaws, I am glad I purchased this book and hope to learn more as I work through and apply her outlining method to a story idea I am currently working on. While I apply this process in actual practice, I might find I come to understand the areas that were not clear to me. This is, at least, my goal.

As I started working through this process, I found I was flipping back and forth through this book to find the order and explanation of each step. To help myself with this, I put together a template to guide me. I doubt I will use it without the book handy as a companion but find it helpful to have a condensed set of steps to guide me though the outline. I offer my crude templates below.

One is a blank template, and one has a brief guide to the process order with some hint text in the fields. I imagine the blank one being printed out and filled in while flipping through the book, though I am using the guided one in word. I am over writing the hint text as I work though each field.





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The First 20 Hours

Every time I start learning about some specific component or approach to some aspect of writing a novel, I inevitably come across some as of yet unknown and yet to be studied component or approach. Then I go off to study that new approach and find many more concepts and methodologies I am ignorant of. I find myself  feeling like I may never know enough to actually get there.  I get lost in this cycle of blog and craft book reading in a never ending quest to find the secret, this elusive secret that everyone but I must know that will make writing and finishing a novel mere child’s play.

I am trying to move from this self perception of myself as a grossly incompetent hack to at least someone capable of faking it as an actual writer, but it is not easy. It is possible we all feel that way. It is quite possible I may not be alone in my feelings of inadequacy that lead to nightmares of all those around me waking up and realizing I am a total fraud and screaming for my removal from their very presence.

This video, even though it was not aimed at writers in particular, gave me hope that I might get there if I just keep at it.  I just need to practice. I just need to keep writing.

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