How to Query

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It’s official. I’ve begun sending out queries for a new picture book manuscript. It feels good and productive and I’m really excited and hopeful to get some feedback from agents.

Thanks to the talk I went to last weekend, I’ve begun to change my querying process and the way that I think about query letters. Picture book author, Dev Petty, walked us through her own querying process during her talk. Here’s a breakdown of how she goes about it:

  1. Research agents that take on subject matter and writing styles similar to your own.
  2. Search for editorial agents. Editorial agents provide editing services before sending your book off to publishers. No agent is going to identify as non-editorial but many don’t provide this service. If you want help with editing before your work is sent to publishing houses, check agent websites and interviews to see if they mention editing as one of their services.
  3. Create a list of 10 to 15 agents that you are most interested in working with.
  4. Research them, research them, research them. Read their past interviews. Get to know their client lists. Read agent spotlights. Learn as much as you can about these people. Remember, if they choose to sign you, they will be representing you. Make sure you know who they are and how they like to work.
  5. Construct personalized query letters for each agent. Show that you’ve done your research. Congratulate them on a recent award they’ve won, or on a new successful client they’ve signed. Follow their specific query formatting preferences. Mention that your book will appeal to readers of one of their current client’s books. Tell them why you want to work with them, specifically.
  6. Have a handful of other manuscripts ready to send. There’s a chance that an agent will ask to see more of your writing.
  7. If they say no, or offer any sort of feedback, thank them and use it as an opportunity to send them a new manuscript: “Thank you for your feedback on So and So Manuscript. I’ve taken the advice you gave me and used it when revising my latest manuscript, The Adventures of So and So. I think it would fit nicely with your current list because of reasons A, B, and C.” As you continue sending them your work, you’ll begin to build a relationship with the agents you’re interested in working with. They’ll recognize your name. They’ll get to know your writing style and voice. Above all, they’ll recognize your commitment and desire to work with them.

I really like Dev’s approach because of its personal nature. Since I’ve started following her advice, I feel more connected to the querying process. It only makes sense that one should know as much as possible about a person before trying to work with them. After doing mountains of research I feel as though I am more equipped to make a case for my book and why someone should add me to their client list.

Wish me luck. I’ll keep you updated.


Much love and keep writing.



Is Your Picture Book Ready to Send?

This past weekend I attended a talk by picture book author, Dev Petty, at my local SCBWI chapter meeting. Dev is the author of I Don’t Want to Be a Frog and I Don’t Want to be Big. As promised in my last post, here is a list of questions that Dev asks herself before sending her picture books to agents.

  • What are my goals?
  • Have I read current and popular picture books?
  • If so, what have I learned about current popular flow, rhythm, and style?
  • Have I considered writing in different tenses, points of view, and formats?
  • Have I considered deeper options, metaphors, and ideas?
  • What is the most interesting way I can turn my idea into a story?
  • Does my story have a strong beginning and a satisfying ending?
  • Does my story have an original voice?
  • Did I leave room for the illustrator?
  • Did I consider action on the page?
  • Did I leave room for the reader to participate with the text/images?
  • Do I get quickly into the action and story problem?
  • Did I read it out loud? Many times? To different audiences?
  • Is my story too long? (More than 900 words for a picture book)
  • Is it rhyming? If so will that hinder my chances of getting published? Dev made a good point about the fact that rhyming texts are harder to edit for publishers. She also shared that agents/publishers tend to be more enthusiastic about signing picture books with prose than with rhyme.
  • Is more than one beta reader telling me the same thing?
  • Can I remove anything that isn’t adding to the story?
  • Do I have a handful of other stories to show agents should the request them? (More on this question in my next post)
  • Does my query letter voice reflect my writing voice?
  • Do I have a social media presence?

So there you have it, the thought process of a published, successful picture book writer. I fully intend to ask myself all of these questions before sending manuscripts out in the future. Hopefully they’ll work for me (and for you!) like they worked for Dev.


Much love and keep writing.

Beta Reader Appreciations



Today’s post is about gratitude. More specifically, it’s about the endless appreciation I have for my readers. Composing a novel is a rewarding yet maddening process. The journey from to a jumbled clot of half-formed ideas to a coherent parcel of neatly synced details is a long one. It’s like creating an incredibly elaborate patchwork quilt. Every detail is it’s own patch and not only does each patch have to compliment the ones directly next to it, it has to tie into the ones above and diagonal to it. It has to fit with the border. There have to be patterns and themes. And too top it all off, everything has to be neatly stitched together–so well stitched that you can’t see the stitches.

The more time you spend on a novel the harder it is to look at it objectively, to see if each patch is in place or if you’ve missed a stitch. Everything gets muddled inside your head. It’s for this reason that I’ve come to appreciate the immense importance of having people read your work as you go–of having beta readers.

Over the last year and a half I’ve been lucky enough to have some incredible people volunteer to read and edit my novel. My parents were the first. They’ve been more supportive and helpful than I could ever ask for and I wouldn’t have made it this far if it weren’t for them. Others who have taken many hours out of their days to read and give me feedback include my brother, grandma, my two beautiful aunts, Cameron Daniel, Becca Farmer, Lars Nordgreen, Ren Luckenbaugh, Max Pollock, Aaron Juchau, Andrew Punsoni, Kimberly Sabatini, Mark Holaday, Tanner Connolly, Danielle Renino, and anyone else who I might have missed. I’ve thanked all of these wonderful people individually but today I wanted to take a moment to revisit the support they’ve shown me. Whether you read the first few pages or all 270, my novel would be nowhere near it’s current state if it weren’t for you. Thank you for backing me in this journey.



Much love & keep writing.


2014: A Year in the Writer’s Life

happy-new-yearHi friends,

2014 ends tomorrow night. Of all twenty-two of my years spent breathing, this has been the most intense.

It’s the year that I completed my college education and the year I moved across a continent to a place where I didn’t know a soul. In the last 365 days I became a certified teacher, discovered my passion for outdoor education, parted ways with love, and began teaching a class of twenty-six hormonal eleven-year-olds.

It’s also the year that I finished writing my first novel and began drafting my second.

From rewrites to rejections to more rewrites it’s been a hell of an experience. And now, with a shiny new full time job, I’m beginning to realize that publication just isn’t going to happen as quickly as I’d like it to. There’s just not enough time in the day to work, pump out queries, and swamp your social media pages with blog posts. I’ve spent the last month mentally kicking myself for not querying enough, not drafting enough, not blogging enough. But honestly, what and who sets the standards for “enough?” Here’s a revelation: It’s me. I’m in charge of how much I say is enough, and if I can’t manage a blog post a week or a thousand words a day, then too damn bad. I’ll live. My books will continue to exist and I’ll get to it when I can.



New Year’s Resolutions: Breathe.

Jumping Write In: Skipping the Outline

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Laini Taylor gets me.

I decided before drafting the second novel in my series that I would first create a thorough outline of the plot. I embarked on my first book with nothing more than half a page of very disjointed notes scribbled on a napkin scrounged from a paper bag lunch. I decided that this time around I was going to do it “right.”

So instead of just jumping into the opening scene I began outlining…and outlining…and outlining. For three days I sat in front of a single page word document pulling my hair out as I attempted to claw ideas out of my head. What did I come up with you ask? Interestingly enough, mostly questions. Littered here and there in the white sea of a mostly empty document lay questions such as “What’s happening in her world when the book starts?” and “What is the conflict?”

Helpful? Not so much.

On the fourth day I said screw it, exited out of the document and opened a new one. I didn’t think. I didn’t wonder how what I was writing now would effect the end of the book. I just wrote. And a wonderful thing started to happen. The more I wrote the more the plot began to take form in my mind. As I filled the page with words the questions started to answer themselves. It’s a bizarre experience, really. Sometimes it feels as though the story is already in me and I just have to give myself the time to organize all the bits and pieces into a coherent whole.

That’s just how it works for some of us I guess. Some people spend weeks, even months planning out every little detail before they begin to write. But for some of us planning isn’t what breathes life into our books. Writing is.

Laini Taylor, author of The Daughter of Smoke and Bone series is an excellent example of someone who can write an incredibly compelling book with no plan at all. She’s also a goddess. If you haven’t read her trilogy, check it out.

“I’m a Writer”: Claiming the Title

On our way down from the peak of Yosemite’s Liberty Cap, my housemate, Max, and I encountered two ill-prepared Hollanders with round bellies and jovial grins. With nothing more than a camera and a some stylish European shorts, they passed us on their way to complete the six hour hike from whence we came.

“How much farther to the top,” the one with the camera sang at me in his heavy Dutch accent.

“Depends on which top,” I replied with a smile, glancing towards the many surrounding peaks.

This halted their gleeful ascent but did little to deter the enormous dimples carved into the corners of their lips.

“Any top,” he chuckled, swaying gently in contentment. “Where are you from?”

“Berkeley,” Max offered.

“Ah ya, so are you in a Startup too?”

“No,” I giggled, gesturing towards Max. “He’s a pilot and I’m a…” I hesitated. “I’m a writer.”

We exchanged a few more pleasantries before they ultimately decided–despite the ominous rainclouds above–to carry on with their hike.

I walked away from the conversation beaming. I had finally done it. After so many sleepless nights spent running through plot lines and character arcs, thousands of hours of drafting and editing, after tens of thousands of words typed, I had finally claimed the identity of a writer as my own. I could have fallen back on my usual response: “Oh I’m starting a teaching job in December,” sometimes accompanied by a barely audible squeak, “and I’m trying to publish a novel.” But I didn’t. I don’t quite know why this particular instance inspired me to own up to my rightful title. Perhaps it was the adrenaline-driven rush of confidence that comes along with completing a challenging hike. Perhaps it was the light-hearted nature of the cheery Dutch man who asked the question. Maybe I was just too damn tired of discrediting all the emotion and energy I’ve put into this book. Regardless, now that I’ve claimed the title of writer I’m never giving it up.



“I am a writer.” Every syllable feels right.

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