Monday, February 29, 2016

week #8 - The Query Letter

Week 8 -  Query Letters

The query letter is the first piece of your writing that an agent or publisher will see. Even if you have the most wonderful manuscript the world has yet to read, none of that matters if your query letter is a mess.

The query letter serves multiple purposes: it shows the agent / editor your ability to form cohesive sentences and that you’ve done your researching in selecting them, it introduces your project and it gives you a chance to speak about why you are qualified to write this piece either through sharing your past writing experience or because of real life experience.

Below is my initial query letter for my second young adult novel, Strays. You’ll notice the book was formerly titled, Hothead and the Dog Days of Summer.

 To INSERT NAME HERE: 

      I  am writing regarding the possibility of representing my young adult novel,  HOTHEAD AND THE DOG DAYS OF SUMMER. 

      It is no wonder that Iris Moody, a sixteen-year old animal fact aficionado with a penchant for caffeine, has a problem controlling her temper. She has a lot to be angry about. Iris was forced to move to Santa Cruz, California after her mother  passed away two years ago, her father is so entrenched in work that he  hardly notices her existence, her boyfriend dumped her and thanks to old  Mrs. Schneider, she’s barely passing 11th grade English. 

     Iris lands in trouble when she lashes out at Mrs. Schneider on the last day of school. Because of her outburst, she is sentenced to a summer program for delinquent teens rehabilitating aggressive dogs. She is paired with Roman, a three-legged pit bull who is an equal match for Iris in temperament. When Roman’s unruly behavior  threatens his life, Iris steps outside of her comfort zone to rescue him. Her summer is filled with new love, an inspirational summer school  instructor and an increasing complex and difficult relationship with her workaholic father who crosses the line when he dips into her college fund. Iris eventually learns to train her dog, temper her anger and experience the upside to being vulnerable. 

     I am a writer and college instructor living in Los Angeles, California. I received an  M.A. in English Literature from California State University Los Angeles and an M.F.A. in creative writing through the University of British Columbia. My first young adult novel, Urban Falcon, was published in 2009. I have served as the dog columnist for the Los Feliz Ledger since 2005. I received a Creative  Capacity Fund grant for HOTHEAD AND THE DOG DAYS OF SUMMER from The Center for Cultural Innovation in 2010. 

     I  look forward to your response! 

     Sincerely, 

     Jennifer  Caloyeras

Let’s analyze this letter.

While I left the name blank above, you’re going to want to address a specific agent or editor. This shows that you’ve done your work in selecting someone who is compatible with your project. It would be a waste of time to send your short fiction collection query to an agent who only deals in picture books.

The first section should mention your interest in seeking representation or publication with them specifically. Here, you could reference a book or two an agent has represented or an editor has worked on that you love.

Next, you’ll want to summarize your project. This should get to the heart of your pitch and should be written in the manner of the manuscript itself. If the book is funny, humor could be infused into this section. You can absolutely spill the beans on what happens in the story; no need to be coy.

The last paragraph of the query letter involves the author’s bio. Here, feel free to mention your educational background or credentials and any other published writing you’ve done. If you don’t have an M.F.A. or any previously published novels, that’s fine! You can make this more personal and talk about why you’re the person to write this book. For my novel, Strays, I mentioned that I was the dog columnist for a local paper – this is not something I mention on my query letters for other writing projects, but it was apropos specifically because I was writing a novel about dogs.

Each editor / agent usually posts very specific guidelines about what information they want in a query letter, so be sure and read that information and heed their advice.

Want more help with writing your query letter? Come to my final event at the Annenberg! Click here to R.S.V.P.



Writer-in-Residence Jennifer Caloyeras will read from work completed during her tenure at the Beach House. After the reading, all (but especially aspiring writers) are welcome to stay for a workshop (Query Letter-Writing 101) centered around demystifying the submittal process. Small breakout group discussions will commence around 7:15pm.

Interested in sending out your work to magazines, agents or publishers but you don’t know where to begin? Jennifer Caloyeras and author Tisha Marie Reichle of the 'Women Who Submit' author group speak about their own experiences as well as strategies and tips for sending out your work. After, workshop attendees are invited to split up into smaller groups where we will review one another’s letters. Feel free to bring one single-page query letter to the workshop. Participants will leave the workshop with a solid understanding of the submission process as well as a stronger query letter.

Jennifer Caloyeras is the 2016 Writer-in-Residence at the Beach House. She began work onsite in mid-January and is working on a novel in the Marion Davies Guest House through mid-March. Her most recent novel, Strays, is for young adults and explores an incarcerated teen’s relationship with a pit bull. Caloyeras’ short fiction has appeared in Booth, Storm Cellar and other literary magazines. She holds a M.A. in English from Cal State Los Angeles and a M.F.A. in creative writing from the University of British Columbia. Jennifer’s current project is her first adult novel – a mixture of humor and pathos – that explores a mother’s journey with her transgendered six-year-old daughter, and the weight of expectations parents place on their children. She will share her work with three public events, a weekly blog, and open office hours throughout her tenure (schedule below). Her website: jennifercaloyeras.com

Mondays January 25 – March 7, 11am-2pm: Open Office Hours – come by Jennifer’s office at the Beach House with any literary questions or to catch up!


Follow her weekly updates on the Resident Blog

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