Thursday, March 4, 2010


The truth is; we all want (at least) one of these to be ours. Query letters to agents, editors, and publishers are the means to our desired end. So how can we make our query letters catch someone’s eye. First, we have to look at the rejections we have received and ourselves some serious questions:

Check out the links to my Wadmates, Susan and Amy’s blogs for what they have learned about queries in the past week.

My analysis of my (query) entry in Joanna Stampfel-Volpe’s contest follows each question…

 Did I target right person to submit it to? No, I treated this like it was a contest.
• Did I do enough research? Answered…I should have known what she was looking for.
Did I critique my query like it was a manuscript? Did I check for adverbs, that's, be verbs…Umm, well you can see I didn’t.
• Did I study interviews of the recipient and found out his or her likes and dislikes in a query? Answered.
Am I aware of what is going on in the market? Thanks to a Skype interview with Agent Mark McVeigh, I feel aware of what is going on in the market. That was why I didn’t query a folktale or a picture book manuscript. Link one and two will get you to my interview with Mark.

 Was it the best letter it could be? At that moment, I thought it was. In retrospect, I should have considered who I was sending it to. I was thinking about using the book in the classroom, not how am I going to hook her and get her to want to read the manuscript.
• Did I have a hook? I thought I did, but not so much…I was thinking of how I would use it as a teacher.
• Did I ramble? I don’t think so.
• Did I keep it under 300 words? Yes.
• Did I follow their guidelines? Yes. I reread the rules of the contest before I hit send.
• Was it tailored to their taste? No, foolishly, I considered this a contest rather than a query letter.

On Sat, Feb 27, 2010 at 12:01 PM

Dear Ms. Stampfel-Volpe,

I appreciate the opportunity enter your Query Contest –I can handle the truth.

BORROW, BEG AND EARN is a beginning chapter book that reflects our society’s current obsession with living beyond our means at any. It incorporates math and personal responsibility on the level that would be appropriate for a second or third grader.  (See what I mean about how I would use it in the classroom...)

8 (Should I have spelled out his age?) year old David desperately (adverb) wants a pair of Ninja Heelys. The problem is; he’ll have to save the money for them. David thinks this will be impossible, but Mom’s willing to pay him for doing chores. The first day of vacation arrives and he borrows money from three people. David gets into a cycle of borrowing and spending. When he hits rock bottom, his family and friends seem to pull away from him. By the end of the summer David has figured out how to live within his means, pay everyone back, reclaim his best friend, buy the Ninja Heelys, and learned to save.  (Did I ramble? Characters? Plot? Resolution?)

I have a B.S. in Elementary Education and taught elementary school for seventeen years. I am a SCBWI member and a Highlights Foundation Summer Workshop at Chautauqua alumni. (Didn't include my magazine publication ecause it wasn't relevant to submission.)

Thank you for your time (Thanks in advance...) and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.

Sharon Mayhew  (Showed a little of my platform, in case she was interested.)

Dear Sharon,

I don't really fall in love with the pushing-the-moral type chapter books.

Pass for me, but thanks for participating,


Joanna Stampfel-Volpe
Nancy Coffey Literary & Media Representation



  1. Hi Sharon

    Was that the whole response from the agent? Good grief!

    Well at least it was to the point.

    I think having something like the current Writers and Artists Yearbook helps - minimizes the usual form rejection letters!

    I think the best thing I've learned (hence my current self-imposed writing sabbatical!!) is to research to whom you are querying to - bulk up your writing CV - research your market. Bulking up the writing CV : this post from womagwriter guest blogger Kate Long:
    has given me hope. So for me that's my way of dealing with past rejections - bulking up my CV - get some writing credentials going.

    Take care

  2. Kitty--It was a contest. Although the response was short, I learned a lot from it. I've only queried a few agents, and none on this manuscript before. I've gotten "good" rejections on the manuscript I am currently sending around. One agent suggested an editor. :)

    I guess I'm out of the loop...What is CV?

  3. Too bad. :(

    Maybe the pitch should have began with something more catchy instead of talking about society. Once you start talking about the actual story, it sounds appealing. But I'll bet she was put off before she even got to the synopsis part.

    Hard to say. I'm still learning this whole query thing. :/

  4. Amanda--In retrospect...I agree. I'm learning too. Thanks for stopping by.

  5. No loss .. the right agent and/or editor is out there. You are on the treasure hunt of your life to find that person. It was great of her to host such an event and I'm glad you feel it was beneficial. In the end, that's a really good thing.

    and, I like your story concept. the educational market is good and important and valuable, too :D

  6. Tess--You're right, nothing ventured, nothing gained.

    I learned something.

    I have this (math/resposibilty based) story and (science/economics) another one that I should try submitting in the educational market. Patti Gauch and I discussed the later and that's what she told me I should do with it.

  7. What I learned from this same contest is that your story really needs to stand out from the crowd. A "good" idea isn't good enough. It has to be phenomenal to catch their attention. I'm planning a future post on this very subject. You've made some very good points here, thanks for sharing what you've learned.

  8. I hope that things go well for you in the future with contests, I can only imagine how difficult they must be! Great points though and thanks for stopping by my blog. Your encouragement was so thoughtful!

  9. Joanna's probably in debt up to her eyeballs! Your right...wrong audience. :)

  10. Thanks for sharing this, Sharon. I love all the questions to ask about the query. Will have to go through mine with the same questions!

  11. Sierra (OD)-- You have a great blog. Very (deep)thoughtful posts! :) I really learned a lot by entering this contest. It's always about the audience...not the speaker.

    Susan--I've read your first two novels...I think your ideas and writing are exceptional...I think the key is getting your hook across to the agent or editor you are submitting to.

  12. DL--Thanks for the vote of support, but I think I was barking up the wrong tree. I should have queried her on something else. I should be pitching this particular manuscript to an editor in the educational market.

  13. Kelly--I need to put all the things I've learned in the past two weeks on sticky notes and post them in my office. I hope you checked out Susan and Amy's query comments, too.

  14. Sharon,

    It sounds like a tough lesson, but I'm in awe at how much you have learned. And how honestly you can look at your writing! You amaze me.

    And your book sounds amazing too!

  15. Jackee--(Here goes the third grade teacher in me...) Thanks, I think it's a great story. Kids need to know the value of a dollar and of a hard days work. I've written another (educational) story about a community learning how to use its resources wisely. I need to market them both the right way. This contest wasn't the right way to approach an agent. I hope I have the ability to step back, remove myself from my work and see the whole picture. I hope that's what I did with this post. :)

  16. I'm impressed with what you learned from the experience and that you were willing to share it with your readers. Good luck with finding the right person for your book!

  17. Wow, I'm so thankful (and impressed) that you shared this. I read your post carefully. "Was it the best letter it could be? At that moment, I thought it was." This is my problem. I think it's a good letter, even pass it by beta readers, but come to find out it's NOT all that great. Query letters are tough.

  18. Good for you for getting your stuff out there! Check my blog tomorrow, there will be an award for you!

    XOXO Suz

  19. Sharon,

    Your honesty is commendable. Seriously, how are any of us ever going to get better unless we take the risk?

    Well done. And good luck on your next query adventure.


  20. I'm giving you an award at my blog tomorrow. :-)

  21. I'm proud of you for taking an important step in your writing career. Keep up the good work. I also wanted to congratulate you on having a chance to visit with Mark McVeigh. I hope the call went well and helps you to make great strides in your desire to be a great writer. I do like the way you write.

    I had My First Drawing ~ ~ ~
    And the winner is…
    Are you the winner? Come on over and see if you can guess.
    ~ Just Joany
    Red Wagon Flights

  22. Sherrie--It looks like I need to study a different section in the Writer's Market!

    Suzette--Awe, thank you! You are such a sweetie!

  23. Shelley--You are very right. You have to learn from your failures, that's the only way you learn anything new. I just picked up GOOD NIGHT, GOOD KNIGHT! I can't wait to read it. :)

    Shannon--You are so sweet to me. :-) You are one amazing blogger! You find time to write lovely comments on lots of people's tells something about your character.

  24. Joany--Thanks for stopping by. I learned a lot from Mark and Joanna.

    Your wordsearch activity was fun...I didn't win. Bummer...

  25. Sharon, you kick some serious ass for putting yourself out there like this. Nice work!!! And the beauty of Joanna's response is that it was kind of a "not for her" type reaction as opposed to a "this is not marketable" reaction. Query and conquer, my friend.

  26. LILA--Thanks. Her response showed me a lot about myself. I get the feeling I've surprised a portion of the blog world by my post. I guess it's all how you look at failure. I look at it as an opportunity to learn something for the next time. I have no problem sharing my failures. I hope someone else learns something from it too. One day, I hope, I'll have a success to post. :)