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.


      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! 


     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:

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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Monday, February 22, 2016

week #7 Write what you know?

Should You Really Write What You Know?

        I’ve been pondering this a lot lately, as I am currently 250+ pages into my first novel for an adult audience that deals with a woman’s experience mothering a transgendered child. Am I a mother of a transgendered child? Nope. Should that preclude me from writing about that experience? To that I say “nope” as well. 

       I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard the adage “write what you know” in creative writing courses. And I couldn’t disagree more… an extent.

       If one were to follow that philosophy strictly, then women would never write male characters. Men would never write female characters. Older people wouldn’t write about children. Most of us wouldn’t write about being an astronaut, or swimming the English Channel. And don’t even get me started on how this notion would wipe out entire genres of fiction: fantasy, gone! Speculative fiction, gone!

       But I do see a grain of truth in this that I hold on to fiercely. I interpret it as “write what I know emotionally.” I’ve never been to the moon, but I’ve felt lonely and isolated. I’ve never swam across the English Channel, but I’ve felt my fair share of anxiety and fear. It’s from this emotional connection that we as writers connect with our stories and are able to, hopefully, transfer them to our readers.

       So where then do my stories come from? This is a question I get asked a lot. 

      In the case of my young adult novel, Strays, there were three circumstances at play:

1.    I was (and still am) the dog columnist for the Los Feliz Ledger. 
2.    While doing research I came across an organization in Santa Monica called K-9 Connection that pairs at-risk teens and rescue dogs. 
3.    I had struggled with a dog with redirected aggression issues. 
       My published short stories had different conceptions.

       In my story, The Sound of an Infinite Gesture, published in Monday Night Literary, a trainer falls in love with a gorilla that communicates to her through sign language. I remember reading the story about Koko the signing gorilla and it made me wonder about language and interspecies communication.

       In Unruly, a girl’s adolescence is heightened by her hair that grows out of control and monster-like. Not only was this my attempt at reinterpolating the fairy tale, Rapunzel, but I also had a dream that my hair was growing out of control and a squirrel came along a snipped off some of the hair for her nest. To this day I keep a notebook by my bed, as I find many of the imagery for my speculative/magical realism fiction comes from dreams.

       Plush is about a young man trying to connect with his father, but can only do so in costume. A friend had told me about the concept of “furries” where people dress in costume – usually anthropomorphized animals. I had also read about “cuddle parties” where people pay to get close to one another. It got me thinking about the notion of having to pay for affection.

       Roadkill, published in Wilde Magazine,  follows a prisoner paramedic who is allowed to leave jail to troll the highway for accidents. This came directly from a newspaper article I read about the stretch of the 10 freeway near Las Vegas where there are so many car accidents and not enough EMT’s to go around so they employ local prisoners to help out.

       So, as you can see, in the examples above (save for the situation with my own aggressive dog) none of these instances has ever happened to me, but I did my best to access the characters' emotions by channeling my own.

       So, by all means, write what you know! But also remember to write what you don’t know.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

week #6 - Leaving the Bubble

Yes, we may write in our pajamas in our offices engaging in human contact only to purchase more coffee, but eventually, all writers have to leave their bubble. And this is a good thing!

Whether you’re just starting a new project or polishing up a finished manuscript, there are many ways to become active in a writing community, especially in Los Angeles.

Join a writing group:
Get a group of friends together who are interested in reading and critiquing one another’s work. If you don’t have a solid group of writer friends, try a meetup group or ask around. You may be surrounded by closeted writers who would jump at the chance to get regular meetings running.

Take a class:
Not only is this a great way to strengthen your writing, but chances are you’ll be able to form a writer’s group from your class participants. 

The Writing Pad  offers a wide range of workshops in Los Angeles. 

UCLA Extension Writers Program  boasts the largest open-enrollment creative writing and screenwriting program in the nation. You can take classes online or in person. And, this just in: I will be teaching a young adult novel writing course there starting in the fall!

Attend a Conference:

        AWP: This year, the AWP (Association of Writers and Publishers) annual conference will be taking place in Los Angeles from March 30 – April 2, 2016! The conference is a big one – with over 12,000 attendees made up of writers, teachers, students, editors and publishers. There will be presenters, readings, panels and craft lectures. The book fair hosts over 800 presses, journals and literary organizations from around the world. While you don’t have to be a member to attend, if you’re serious about writing, they’re an excellent organization to join.

I will be there signing books on Saturday, April 2 from 12:55 – 2:45 at the Literary Classics Booth.


 For those of you interested in children’s writing, SCBWI (society for children’s book writers and illustrators) holds a conference every summer in Los Angeles at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza. In addition to readings and lectures by beloved children’s writers, participants will also have a chance to have a manuscript critiqued by an editor or agent. Dozens of classroom-sized intensives allow you to tailor your schedule to your interests.

Trusted Reader:
And last but not least, I can’t stress enough the importance of having a trusted reader in your life who will give you honest feedback and treat your work with the care it deserves. Find that person and hold on to them tightly. Then, buy them a cup of coffee.