So you can read my books

Monday, April 18, 2011


Judith Engracia, agent for Liza Dawson Associates,

said this revealing and important truth :

"The query itself is a writing sample,

so it should be tightly written.

The manuscript could have a great plot,

but if the query letter doesn't convince agents that it's well written,

then it probably won't receive many requests."


And since she is a student of Keysi Fighting Method,

a school of self-defense that's meant to prepare you for multiple opponents in real-life situations on the street,

perhaps we should pay attention to her words!

As writers crafting a query, we, too, grabble with multiple opponents.

What did Mark Twain write?

"I don't have time to write you a short letter,

so I'm writing you a long one instead."

And that is so true. Economy in words is brutal and time-consuming.

Ever been forced to use only one suitcase preparing for a trip? Ugly.

So much had to go. Not that those items weren't useful or even necessary.

Just not as necessary as those items packed.

Doing a half page query

{ the other half is filling in who you are and what you've published,}

shows the agent we have the discipline of one of the 300 Spartans.

If we had the skill, deliberation, and grasp of story-telling

to arouse the agent's curiosity in a mere half page,

it bodes well for what we did in our novel.

Bottom line : agents are drowning in a sea of unsolicited queries.

They simply don't have the time to read a three page query

that a 400 page novel calls for.

But as Victor Standish might say, "It is what it is. So deal with it."

The half page query is forced upon us by the realities in which agents struggle.

So we have to deal with it and do it expertly and with flair.

If we want to communicate successfully with an agent,

we must speak "agent-ese."

Can you squeeze your 400 page novel into three lines?

Can you make them convey why your story is unique and absorbing,

detailing background and characters?

Sure, and after that, you'll establish world peace.

Here's an approach : go to

Type in the search box the title of a classic movie in the genre in which you write.


And I got : a manipulative woman and a roguish man carry on a turbulent love affair in the American south during the Civil War and Reconstruction.

Do those words sing?

Do they capture the magic, scope, and heartbreak of the movie?

No. They just lie there without life or spark. Well, put a little spin to them :

My novel is the saga of a selfish woman who doesn't want to admit her feelings about the man she loves, and she finally loses him.

Better but still murmurs "reject" to the agent.

How about tuning up the summary in three sentences?

GONE WITH THE WIND is the epic tale of a woman's life during one of the most tumultuous periods in America's history.

From her young, innocent days on a feudalistic plantation to the war-torn streets of Atlanta; from her first love whom she has always desired to three husbands.

She survives going from the utmost luxury to absolute starvation and poverty and from being torn from her innocence to a sad understanding and bitter comprehension of life.

Are you beginning to see how you might be able to pull off the half page query?

Now, it is your turn.

Your mission, Jim, should you choose to accept it, is to go to IMDb and type in five classic movies in the genre in which your novel exists.

For each of the five, see what has been written in the summary section for the movie.

Re-write them in ways that sing and entice.

If you feel like you're getting the hang of it after five times,

then look at your novel as if you were writing the summation for its movie for IMDb.

Something else to think about.

Your query letter is basically a job interview.

And in the job interview you are thinking internally what the company can do for you.

But what the company wants to hear is what you can do for them.

Same with an agent.

Can you make the agent money? Period. The end.

Is your summary unique and "Oh, wow!"

Do you include the punch line to your joke? No holding back to tease.

If the agent presents an unfinished turkey to her editors, she gets her hard-earned reputation bruised.

Is your novel in the genre the agent handles? Her list of agents is genre specific.

If she handles techno-thrillers, she doesn't know one editor who would be interested in your Western.

And worse, you've shot your ounce of good will with that agent.

Agents are tired, impatient, and lovers of order.

Agents want your summation to be three sentences.

That's it.

They want to see your entire query laid out in three orderly paragraphs.

Short ones. Easy on the eye ones.

Any more paragraphs, any longer, chunkier ones scream unprofessional rookie to them.

And they don't have time to be your mentor. They want a partner not a pupil.

You are not in the remake of THE KARATE KID.

Begin with the best hook you can.

Let her know you are writing to HER. Not just another agent.

Know something about her before you write, then include that in your beginning.

Don't you like to be looked in the eyes when spoken to and not looked through?

As for the intro at the end-tro, make it as personal to her as possible.

"I'm submitting to you because I saw your interview with Larry King, and you mentioned you were looking for just the sort of book I've written."

Here is my latest query to let you see my advice put into practice :

Dear Ms. Agent :

In your interview with Casey McCormick on LITERARY RAMBLES, you stated that you would like to see YA’s with a spunky, sassy protagonist.

Spunk and sass are all 13 year old Victor Standish has to stand between him and the vice and the vice cops he meets on the streets.

In his world there are : No werewolves. No vampires. No demons. One angel : the angel of Death.

Have you ever looked at your image in the mirror and thought does the world I know exist for this copy of me? Or beyond that reflected corner is there a more magical, lyrical, dangerous world?

Thirteen year old Victor Standish lives in such a world.

There are strange tales told by the vagrants of the French Quarter when midnight descends. The hours fade as the shadows creep closer.

The tales are not to amuse, but to keep weary eyes from closing.

For the creeping shadows are hungry.


Thirteen year old Victor Standish is repeatedly abandoned and picked up by his unpredictable mother. He learns “free running” and other skills a boy needs to survive the mean streets.

Victor finds New Orleans brings "mean" to a new level : the supernatural level.

A mysterious Jazz club owner takes him in. Victor learns the Jazz club is actually the Crossroads of Worlds ... and the owner has the blood of Death in his veins. They both find love and adventure as Hurricane Katrina approaches.


The undead Abigail Adams marshals her forces to repel the Shadowland invasion led by her European counterpart, Empress Theodora.

Empires care much about power and little about people. The jazz club owner is the opposite. While he tries to keep the little people of the French Quarter safe from the Big Picture, Victor falls in love with the British ghoul, Alice.

His “ghoul friend” he calls her.

Between Victor's wits and Alice's strange abilities, they save the jazz club owner from Theodora and Abigail Adams.

Victory becomes ashes when the Angel of Death arrives at the door of the Jazz club to claim Victor. He does not understand why he merits a special visit from the Angel of Death. But to save his new family, he faces her.

He discovers she is no stranger. And Victor understands why the Angel of Death has come to pick him up ... again.

She is his mother.

To get a better idea of my writing voice, you may want to check out my blog, WRITING IN THE CROSSHAIRS. For my post of April 16th, I have posted an excerpt from THE LEGEND OF VICTOR STANDISH in which he meets the ghoul, Alice Wentworth, for the first time :

Or check out the free first three chapters of my Native American Lord of the Rings, THE BEAR WITH TWO SHADOWS on Amazon :

I am a former high school teacher, family counselor, and now a blood courier. The last a result of being evacuated from Lake Charles due to Hurricane Rita and having to support myself any way I could. I found I liked the job and the people with whom I worked. And it gives me more time to write.

Thank you for reading my query. I would be happy to send you sample chapters or the full manuscript. I hope that you find some gem in the flood of submissions that pour your way. May your spring and summer hold only happy surprises with some relief for punished eyes and swamped workloads.

Roland D. Yeomans M.A.

Well, I've taken up many more than three paragraphs, so I'll end now.

Here's Diana Krall singing a favorite of mine from her concert in Paris :


  1. Great post with great reminders--and I find having a good logline/pitch before I write the novel useful too.

  2. Thanks, Conda :
    Yes, having a logline in mind at the start of your novel can act as a compass to keep you on course as you sail over the sea of prose.

  3. Great thoughts Roland. I am tinkering with my query now so this really comes in handy!

  4. Since I'm about to self-publish I've found that writing a blurb for the back of my book is like writing a query -- and mine ended up at three paragraphs and 203 words. Now I've got to come up with the three sentence pitch. So tough! Good luck to you.

  5. Awesome query advice, Roland. I've also found that by summarizing the first chapter in a few sentences, then pulling together the conflict and stakes, a query will then have all necessary elements to draw in an agent and make them request more.

    Query writing is such an art.

  6. Good advice. Funny you should mention that, I do live in IMDB :)

  7. I can always use good advice on querying--it's so hard for me.

  8. Good advice! Thanks for stopping by my blog. Count me as a new follower.

  9. Great advice and thanks for the link! :)

  10. Great information and an excellent exercise to write about a movie. Thanks for the info. It is so true that it is what it is so deal with it:)

  11. Oh, QUERY, my old nemesis--we meet again. I'm still struggling with my query. Must get to work on it. Perhaps after the Teen Boot Camp is over I will have time to focus on my writing again. (=

  12. Hi Roland. I hope you're well. I've tried many times to open your blog whilst on holidays. All I have for the net in my little netbook and my phone. So I've got to make the most of it. Thank you, I got the book!! Fantastic. Thanks a million.

    Love your Query post. I'll come back when I'm at that stage.

    Also there are some things that may well appeal to you in my post today so I'm leaving a link. I don't believe you've visited me yet on my A-Z Challenge.

    I've also tried many times to refollow you and will keep trying.


    L'Aussies Travel A-Z Challenge O is for Outback

  13. Queries are torture.
    There is a query blog hop going on at the moment, I'll blog the details later today, you may like to join in, the idea is everyone will give feedback on each other's query letters. Scary, but helpful.
    PS I like Victor.
    Wagging Tales - Blog for Writers

  14. Query Letters, right (or maybe write) up there with the dreaded Synopsis.

    Many would prefer to write an entire novel rather than tackle either, let alone both of those.

  15. Your re-write of Gone With the Wind had me sold. Bravo! What a great example....and reminder.

    I totally understand, fan. I will never watch Training Day. Denzel just cannot be a bad guy!

    I'll watch Perfect Host for you :)

    Hope you're taking care of yourself.

  16. Lydia :
    Glad I was of some help. You're always so helpful to the rest of us with your blog.

    Helena :
    I wish you luck with your three sentence pitch. It is hard!

    PK :
    That is a very good idea for writing a great query.

    Siv :
    Yes, I roam the corridors of IdMB quite a lot myself!

    Jeana :
    When it is your time to write a query, I wish you loads of luck. Good fortune in your publication dreams.

    Julius :
    Thanks for following. And yours is a great blog.

    Victoria :
    Glad to be able to help.

    Josh :
    Thanks for liking my post. And it is what is but that sometimes smarts!

    Jo :
    I wish you luck with your Teen Boot Camp -- sounds fierce. Send me your query if you run into snags.

    Denise :
    I'm glad you liked the book. And I'm even more glad that it reached you. I wasn't sure it would. The internet is a harsh mistress : I hope you can follow my blog soon.

    Charmaine :
    And Victor likes you. To earn the weekend off, I had to agree to nightmare hours this week, so I will not be able to do just to your query bloghop. Sigh. There's always a price-tag to the good things in our lives. Rats.

    Terry :
    Ouch! A synopsis is the one thing I hate to write worse than a query. But what do we expect of something whose syllable is sin!

    WordsCrafter :
    Yes, aren't we fans something? I can't watch one of my favorite actors play a villain if they have been always in comedies as good guys.

  17. very interesting . .


  18. Thanks, Donna :
    I had to agree to nightmare hours and a Herculean work schedule to be off this past weekend for the convention, so I haven't had time to read the critique you put so much effort into. Sorry. But the effort and care are much appreciated. Roland

  19. Hi, Roland,

    Wonderful advice and EXAMPLES... Thanks. I am currently writing Amber's. I ran them by Jen Daiker and she loves my third. The second she like best, but she suggested to try and "fuse't the two. That's what I'm up to this afternoon.

    I hope you're well.


  20. My 'Q' post is also about querying and will appear Wednesday. My #1 tip for success is both succinct and proven: DON'T GIVE UP.

    Talent, timing, and story are all secondary, maybe tertiary. In fact, maybe they don't matter at all. We'll see.

  21. VR : Winston Churchill gave the same advice to a graduating class : "Never ... never ... never give up."

    But if you persist ... and do so without showcasing your writing skills and abilities in your queries, persistence will still produce heartache for the writer.

    A deft touch in prose, a riveting story, and hitting an agent who is looking for your kind of novel -- are all essential ... in my thinking.

    But then again, I am unagented and unpublished. LOL. Roland

    Michael :
    I wish you luck with your Amber query. And my hat's off to Jen for helping you like this, Roland

  22. I'm really glad I finally found the time to check out your blog and leave a comment.

    This was a useful new way of looking at one of the most crucial aspects of writing. I'm still only a wannabe - I'm using the A to Z challenge right now just to get used to putting words on a page, crafting them comes later - but there are so many useful hints and tips from other writers on here. I hope you won't mind me using you as a learning resource :P

    Victor Standish sounds fascinating to me. Good luck with him.

  23. Mojo :
    Good to have you as a friend and commentor. I have prior posts on all subjects related to writing.

    You might want to punch in THE NAZCA LINES FOR WRITERS in the search box for my blog to the upper top left. It has proven very helpful to a lot of my visiting friends, Roland

    And yes, Victor is a Ulysses of the French Quarter, contesting with monsters and demi-gods, all with sass and attitude.

  24. Thank you for the helpful information and for the example. I always learn better through an example or demonstration than with advice or lecture alone. You have highlighted many important factors. I am finally getting to the query stage so this post was extremely helpful for me right now.

    I am going to try the IMDB exercise. Thanks again for so much information and the link. I am looking forward to reading more of your blog

  25. Sugar Scribes :
    I'm glad I was able to help in some small way. I wish you luck on your query. May you find success in your publication dreams, Roland

  26. That is fantastic, good tips and advice that could be used in other areas as well. I'm not a writer, but I just learned a lot from this post.
    I love your story of Victor. Intriguing. I hope to read the book when it's published.
    The pictures you use are wonderful too. I love the one of the girl at the beginning of your post At the crypt of Marie.
    Have a pleasant day! :)

  27. Thank you, Heather. After a 15 hour straight day and 300 miles of night driving, your comments put a smile on my weary lips. Roland