Query Tips from an Agent


Very few, if any, authors look forward to writing the dreaded query letter. And honestly, who can blame them? After spending countless hours alone and staring at a computer screen crafting what will eventually become your novel, your baby, you have to condense all of that hard work into just 3-5 paragraphs. You have just ONE PAGE to get an editor interested enough in your novel to want to read it.  Just thinking about it is enough to give any author a headache. However, if you are reading this you can thank Agile Writers and David H. Morgan for making a tough task just a little bit easier.  David was graciousness enough to spend some time with members of Agile Writers, critiquing letters and giving some very informative advice on the ins and outs of writing a successful query.




When an agent is reading a query letter the worst thing that can happen is that they get bored and toss it to the side. You only have a limited amount of time to gain the editor’s interest and in order to gain that interest you must do two things: focus on the drama and establish an emotional connection.

First, what is drama? Many are under the misconception that drama comes from the situation. Wrong. Drama comes from the character. Take two people being stuck an elevator for example. Not very dramatic right? Now let’s say this elevator is at a court house and the two people stuck in it is a father whose daughter has been murdered and the defendant accused of the crime. This situation is highly unlikely to come about, but the point is, the situation is made more dramatic because of the characters that are placed in it.

Alongside drama there must also be an emotional connection to the character. The editor must care about the character or else why would they want to read past the query letter? If there is no emotional involvement there is no character. The above situation for example, most people would feel sympathy for a father whose daughter had been murdered. And they would care enough to want to know how the story ends. Does the father find peace after confronting the defendant? Does he attack the defendant in the elevator? Or does he find out that the man accused is innocent? The editor would want to read more because they are emotionally invested into the situation.

Remember, without emotional involvement there is no drama and without drama there is no keeping the editor’s attention.


DO YOUR RESEARCH        research-clip-art

Before you can begin writing a query letter you need to research the agency and agent that you are going to send your query to. During your research you need to find out the following information:

  • Who are you sending the letter to? Always address the agent or editor you are writing to. Take the time to find out the name of the person who will be reading your query letter. A query addressed to the agency tells the editor that you were either too lazy or just didn’t care enough to find out their name.
  • What does the editor require you send along with the query? Do they want the first chapter, first three chapters, or just a synopsis?
  • Double check that the particular editor you are writing still works at that company.
  • Call and see how the agent prefers to be address. Do they prefer to be called Mr., Mrs., Dear, or do they prefer to just be address by their full name?
  • Make sure you are pitching your work to the right agent or editor. You don’t want to send your query to an editor that only publishes mysteries and your novel is a historical romance.


  • “I am pitching my 60,000 word YA-“The editor has stopped reading because you are telling them something they already know. The fact that you sent them a query letter has already told them that you are pitching a novel so just leave out the word pitch altogether.
  • “I am hoping to pique your interest-“of course you are hoping to pique their interest or else you wouldn’t be writing a query.
  • When describing your novel do not say that you have written a murder mystery fiction novel. The word fiction is redundant, it is already known that your novel is a work of fiction.


One thing David Morgan said that really stood out was, “The editor do not have to like you but they do have to like your book.” The main purpose of a query letter is to SELL YOUR BOOK. You may want to point out every writing accomplishment you have to your name, but don’t. Include your writing career at the end of the letter. Remember we want to focus on the drama, your writing career is not drama.

You should avoid:sell-clip-art

  • Biographies. The editor does not need to know about your childhood.
  • “I recently read…” They do not care what you have read or are reading.
  • Comparisons. Yes you need to sell your book but do so by avoiding comparing your novel to already successful novels. An editor does not like being told what to think. If your novel is the next Lord of the Rings Trilogy, then let the editor come to that conclusion themselves.
  • Pitching trilogies. Pitching a trilogy may make the editor feel as if he or she must take a package deal. And they may not want to take that chance, especially if you are an unknown author

Stay Focused

When writing a query letter remember to stay on topic. Do not begin writing about the novel and then jump to what your inspiration was or when you and that particular editor met. Start with introducing your novel and then continue to write about your novel. Anything else will give the editor the impression that you jump around and cannot stay on subject. They will assume that your novel will be like your query letter.

Don’t spend too much time on other characters. The main character should be the focus of the letter at all times. The editor or agent that reads your query needs to get to know the main character and come to care about what happens to the main character. If not, they have no reason to read past the query. Your main character needs to remain in the spotlight at all times.


  • Get the word count, genre, and title of your novel out ASAP. Don’t make the editor read an entire paragraph before getting this information.
  • “I sincerely hope that this is the beginning of a long relationship….” WRONG. Do not write this. Try: “I look forward to your response” and even more desirable would be, “I hope you will find (title of your novel) to be an appropriate book for your list.”
  • If you have previously met the editor or agent whether or not to mention it depends on the context of the meeting. If you met him or her at a writer’s conference they will most likely not remember you. They meet a lot of people at numerous conferences every year and they are required to be nice at these events. But, if you have met in a more private setting then you may include it. Do Not take up an entire paragraph on how you met. Just a sentence or two will do.

When writing a query letter don’t be nervous, take a deep breath and remember that in the end agents need authors. You just have to get them interested.



Agile Writers has become the go-to place for writers in the Richmond area. Offering seminars in screenwriting, publishing, marketing, rewriting and much more. Nevertheless, majority of writers still join with one main goal in mind: to complete their first drafts. With that being said, Agile Writers would like to congratulate three of its own for crossing that first draft finish line.  A big round of applause to Cat Brennan, Jim Bono, and Christine Gauthier. They have spent countless hours immersed in their own heads trying to get the right words onto a blank page, chose to spend time with their fictional characters instead of with family and friends, and have outlined, plotted, and critiqued their way to the end.

These three are great examples of how the Agile Writers Critique Groups have transformed the usually solitary process of crafting a novel into a process that includes support from peers and brings the motivation, encouragement, and discipline that is needed to complete the first draft. All three give credit to Agile Writers and each other for their success.

cat                                                    CAT BRENNAN, Chaos in Old Town

Writer, Seamstress, and Recipient of the Grace of God.

Cat Brennan is one of those people that you cannot help but to like. With her bright and contagious personality it is no surprise that she once had her very own radio show entitled “Cathy D & Love Songs in the Night.” Currently Cat is working in Horticulture, described by her as getting to work with one of her favorite colors-green. Even better to Cat than working with a favorite color is being a Grammie and a GG. That for her, is the good life.

Chaos in Old Town tells the tale of lonely widow Abigail Jackson who decides to take a chance and open a fabric shop in Albuquerque, New Mexico. However, this decision comes with more than just the new life Abigail was hoping to find after the death of her cop husband. The opening of her shop brings about threats from the evil Vincente Quintana causing Abigail constant fear and wavering in her faith. But on the other hand, FBI agent, John Garrison also finds his way into her life. Although she has sworn to never be involved with an officer of the law again Abigail cannot help but be attracted to his blue eyed charm. Chaos in Old Town is a Christian Fiction Romance, with a heroine that is strong and full and faith. Which is why Abigail is Cat’s favorite character in the novel.

Cat joined Agile Writer’s a year and half ago so that she could gain discipline in her writing and in the end gained much more. She doesn’t hesitate to credit Agile Writer’s and her critique partners with having a huge part to do with her completion of her goal. Yes, she put in the work but without the inspiration and support from her “cheering section” as she calls her critique partners, or the coaching from Agile Writer leader Greg Smith she may not have finished.



“Villans make fabulous subjects, since they have fewer and wider boundaries than heroes.”

Jim Bono, Guilt Trip

Guilt Trip, is Jim Bono’s second novel with Agile Writers. The 238 page science fiction follows protagonist Kristen Butler, whose life is changed when the high school senior finds an amulet with the power to inflict overwhelming feelings of guilt on whomever she chooses.  The concept for the story came from Jim asking himself the question, “how would an ordinary person deal with acquiring a super power?” Our heroine, Kristen, finds out the hard way that sometimes power comes with an awful price. For most writers, their protagonist is the favorite character. Jim is not most writers. Jim’s favorite character in his story is the parents of the main villain. It really is no surprise that these malignant pair of scoundrels are Jim’s favorite characters since he enjoys the unpredictability that are villains.

Like many a writer, the hardest part for Jim while writing his novel was putting the words on the first page each week. A blank screen can sometimes be a scary thing, but with a little motivation and a deadline to meet every week, Jim pushed through until he had finally reached The End. Jim credits Agile Writers with guiding him through his story with help developing his characters, building a plot structure, and ensuring critical points were positioned properly throughout the story.

The next step for Jim is to begin working on his second draft for Guilt Trip, with the help of his critique partners, Cat and Christine, whom he describes as indispensable. According to Jim, his partners provide him with motivation, creativity, logic, and the reassurance needed to complete what he started.



“I ultimately finished, ten pages at a time, to stand in the light at the end of the First Draft Tunnel…”

Christine Gauthier, Hair Story

Hair Story chronicles a young woman, Christine, who at the prime of her life is diagnosed with Alopecia, a rare autoimmune disease. The tale follows Christine on a journey that would eventually lead her to India where she finds self-acceptance and learns that she is more than her disease. What is interesting about Christine’s novel is that it is based on true events from her own life. Christine not only has the courage to face alopecia but also has the courage to tell her story to the world.

Christine admits that the hardest parts of the novel to write came when writing about the bad that actually occurred in her life. Nevertheless, with the support and motivation from her critique partners she kept going and refused to give up because she knew that she had a story worth telling.


Three writers. Three great stories. Three more reasons why the Agile Writers Method works.

Agile Writers Spotlight

spotlightOne of the great things about Agile Writers is the members. Agile Writers brings together a diverse group of people that range from college student to retiree, from editor to healthcare worker, and everyone in between. Each month the Agile Writers Spotlight will shine the light on one of these great people to hear their thoughts on writing and what it means to them.  Of course, the Spotlight will also be a great chance to brag! And who better to put into the Spotlight first than the man with the plan,

                                                                       Greg Smith


Greg’s love of writing began in middle school when he wrote a short-story on time travel. Which he then had to read to the class because the teacher liked it so much. Although Greg’s love of writing began in his youth, it would not be until 2001 that he would begin his quest to find the answer to the question, “What makes a good story?”

If you have read Greg’s book Agile Writer Method: Your Novel in 6 Months, you already know the following story. If you haven’t read the book, do so. ASAP.  2001 was the year that Greg’s parents celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary. He decided to gift them with a video-tape of their story, told through a series of interviews of his parents and a ton of other family members. The video was a hit with his family members. Not so much for people on the outside. This is when the quest began.

Greg spent five years running the Chesterfield Writer’s Club before deciding to start his own group. He wanted to create a group that was more than just a social meeting amongst writers. A group with structure and organization. He created Agile Writers and along with eighteen others created the Agile Writer’s Method. The Agile Writers Method is based on mythology, screenwriting, psychology, and project management.

Today Agile Writers has grown. Greg has moved into a new office and the increase in space allows Agile Writers to offer more classes and seminars on a multitude of writing subjects. The first Agile Writers Conference will also be held this coming January.  But….back to Greg.  So why would a software engineer and computer scientist spend so much time helping strangers complete their first drafts?

Greg have been working with computers for over 40 years and being the software engineer that he is, everything looks like a computer program. Even novel writing. When the Agile Writers Method was created, it became a step-by-step program that just about anyone can execute. Greg also runs Agile Writers because for him there is a thrill and sense of accomplishment every time someone completes their first draft. Without Agile Writers, some novels may not have made it across that first draft finish line.

One of the questions asked to Greg for the Agile Writer Spotlight was, if he was stranded on a deserted island what one book would he take and why? He had an interesting answer. He would take the dictionary, because, “it has all the words I’d need to create stories of my own.” And that is Greg Smith. Software engineer, author, and teacher. A man that looks at writing as a chance to examine all the questions he has about the world.



Not Just Hump Day

Untitled design(1)To most people Wednesday equals Hump Day.  They have made it halfway through their work week and the weekend is just around the corner. They are one step closer to Friday. But, not Agile Writers members. To us, Wednesdays mean that we can leave our working lives for two hours and enter the world of writing. Which for most is usually a solitary event, with just you and your computer, but this one night a week you are joined by others. And every week you leave with a little more knowledge to take home and help hone your craft.

Last week, July 27th, Agile Writers were lucky to have Richmond Writers organizer, Joe Erhardt, as our guest editor. Every month two members courageously offers up ten pages of their working manuscript to be thoroughly dissected. The pages are then put on the screen, red ink and all, for the entire group to see. I promise you, it’s not as scary as it sounds. Everyone leaves with valuable knowledge. Not just those whose pages were put on the chopping block. Each month you get to see, first hand, what editors are really looking and how to stay out of the rejection pile.  Our session with Joe Erhardt was no exception.

One of the most important things Joe said was to “write for the reader.” Although, I had heard this before I think it’s important enough to hear again. Many times as a writer you get caught up in the world you are creating and the message you are trying to get out that you forget this simple piece of advice. You are focused on you, and not the one that will be the buying your book. One thing I noticed about Joe is that he actually edits for the reader. All the while he is explaining the red ink throughout the pages he makes statements such as, “This will be easier for the reader,” “The reader would like/love this,” or “I think this would be confusing for the reader.” He edits and makes suggestions with the reader in mind.

Here are a few more things I learned from Joe:

  • Don’t write “off of.” Simply writing off is enough. For example, He jumped off of the cliff. Should be written-he jumped off the cliff.
  • Using the simple past –ed version of a word is more forceful than –ing. Use he rolled instead of he was rolling.
  • Using “as if” waters down whatever follows. Ask yourself if that phrase is really needed or wanted.
  • Try to avoid using “due to.” Unless it is being said by a character in dialogue.
  • Do Not have too many blank spaces if it’s not indicating a scene break. An editor may think you do not know what you are doing and you will be in the rejection pile.
  • Don’t say something is “unusual.” Describe it!
  • “Adverbs are cockroaches that need to be stomped on!” This was Joe’s response when asked by a fellow member what he thought about adverbs.

Of course, Joe Erhardt gifted the group with more knowledge than I can write here but I will leave you with this: If you can make readers care about your characters and their situations, it DOES NOT MATTER if what you are writing has been done before.

Announcing the Launch of Agile Rewriters

“The only kind of writing is rewriting.” – Ernest Hemingway


AW Logo BWThere’s an exciting new development underway at Agile Writers. Last week our fearless leader, Greg Smith, assembled a group of seven novelists in the process of writing a second, third, fourth or even fifth draft. He dubbed us the Agile Rewriters and bequeathed us Thursday nights, and we were off–swapping visions, ideas, struggles and solutions.

The task of the Agile Rewriters is to develop a repeatable method for the complex work of rewriting. Similar to the tried-and-true Agile Writer Method for creating a first draft novel in six months, the rewriters are ready to unpack and strategize the elements of successful rewriting.

How do we develop characters, organize timelines and backstory, decide on point of view, and test the mettle of each and every scene? How can we assess the cohesion and readability of our work? How do we empower our own style and voice to emerge?

How do we get our triumphantly produced 250 page rough drafts from the wobbly amateur stacks they are to the polished, marketable books we envision? And, as with all things in Agile Writers, how can we do that together, supporting one another through the process?

These are the questions we hope to successfully tackle.

Please stay tuned to find out what we uncover.

Time to Write

TimeToWrite1Today’s writers contend with distractions inconceivable to writers of the past. It has almost become pat to discuss the diversions inherent in living in our modern, digitally connected world. But these problems of instant gratification and endless attention shifting are even more lethal to the creative than they are to the average citizen.

The writing process requires a lot of space and silence, though that isn’t always immediately apparent. Writers are urged to read–read often and read the greats–and this is good advice. An hour with The Plague will certainly serve your craft better than an hour of watching cat videos. (No offense–I’m a total cat person!) But even carefully curating our information diets is not enough to protect our writing life.

Writers must also push back against over-scheduling and the pervasive, toxic level of busyness lauded by our society. If not, our minds and hearts will not have the resources to amalgamate whole worlds, or drink in new images, or index precise vocabulary for later use.

And not only is our culture generally hostile to the kind of deep reflection necessary for writing, it literally devalues creative endeavors–after all, writing is a gainful career for only a fraction of pursuants. So you can see the kind of conviction necessary to create a regular writing practice.

So how does a novelist stay focused on such an enduring project?

Like anything else, the desire to write must be a powerful one if the writer is to stay on task. I joke often that I only write because I can’t not-write. Not writing makes me cranky, to use a very scientific term. There is a kind of creative constipation that sets in any time I step away from the page for more than a couple of days. The mental hurdle to starting again grows in proportion to the time spent away. Eventually, I find myself sitting in front of my computer screen, hopeless that I will ever regain the ease of my own voice. (It does come back, if only after painful hours of working through the stock sentences and lame ideas that have built up inside my mental pipes. There is no shortcut for this, unfortunately.)

Even with this knowledge, I still go through periods of falling away from my daily writing practice. Sometimes I self-sabotage a project that is nearly completed. Sometimes I just allow the overgrowth of my life to cover and consume the time I’ve allotted for writing. Sometimes, through no fault of my own, my writing time gets eclipsed by other, more immediate needs.

In these times, when I feel the need to reset the boundaries of my writing life and reinstate the inner guard who takes my writing seriously, it is helpful for me to remember the advice to “do your own work first.” For me that means that I will answer emails in the afternoon, but I will write in the morning. I will read articles and books at night, but I will write in the morning. I will critique for my writing partners on schedule, but I will write my daily allotment of my own manuscript first.

The writing simply has to matter more than the other stuff. No one can give you that determination or discipline. You must earn it through careful observation of yourself when you are not writing, and truthful examination of all the pieces of your life and what purpose they serve. Use a felt sense of your own mortality for a scale. After all, the ultimate deadline will befall each of us eventually.

I’ll leave you with one of my favorite quotes about writing, from the late Zen Buddhist teacher and author, Alan Watts:

“Advice? I don’t have advice. Stop aspiring and start writing. If you’re writing, you’re a writer. Write like you’re a goddamn death row inmate and the governor is out of the country and there’s no chance for a pardon. Write like you’re clinging to the edge of a cliff, white knuckles, on your last breath, and you’ve got just one last thing to say, like you’re a bird flying over us and you can see everything, and please, for God’s sake, tell us something that will save us from ourselves. Take a deep breath and tell us your deepest, darkest secret, so we can wipe our brow and know that we’re not alone. Write like you have a message from the king. Or don’t. Who knows, maybe you’re one of the lucky ones who doesn’t have to.”

Your writing matters. How do you make time for it?

Plumbing the Depths of Your Own Life


In a recent chapter of Lawrence Block’s Telling Lies for Fun and Profit he talked about a phenomenon he calls “burning the raft at both ends.” By which he means, consuming one’s own life experiences in the service of one’s writing. According to Block, you can use up your life. You can run out of experiences. You can write through your life faster than you can live it.

I’m vested in believing he is wrong about this.

I write from my own life. Maybe it’s because I come out of a poetic tradition. Or maybe I was drawn to confessional poetry, in particular, out of a compulsion to use my own life experiences in the service of my writing.

Part of gaining skill in writing has been learning how to do this more skillfully—to take the emotional kernel, the essence of my own experiences, and of the social and psychological realities I know intimately, and allow that essence to sprout circumstances for my characters that are not so easily traceable to my own life. In part, I do this to avoid libel charges, sure. But I also do it—like most writers—to protect the innocent, or at least the loved.

But as I have expounded before, I write as one vehicle toward self-knowledge. Writing without explicit self-examination is impossible for me.

I happen to believe that human beings are infinitely complex. That the material in any one human life is inexhaustible and ever-deepening. I was listening to a podcast by the New York Public Library yesterday. In it the novelist Karl Ove Knausgaard seeks to dispel the rumors that people with good childhoods can’t be writers. That well-adjusted, ordinary folk have nothing to write about. He describes himself as such a person who was lucky enough—and as a writer unlucky enough—to have supportive, well-adjusted parents and no major traumas. And he talks about learning, through the works of such writers as Flannery O’Connor, that every human life is engaging and interesting if you zoom in close enough.

Frankly, I don’t trust writers who claim not to write from their own experience. Maybe they don’t write from their own experience in such an obvious way. Maybe they use persona. Maybe they write science fiction or supernatural horror or murder mystery. Maybe they haven’t  personally experienced taking someone’s life but their hero is a serial killer. I would argue that even that person is writing from their own experience—maybe from their Jungian shadow side—maybe it’s unconscious. But to write that character in a compelling way they must be in touch with the human impulse to violence (whether expressed or unexpressed) in themselves. We each have it, after all.

We each have the capacity for all human emotions and psychological experiences. The entirety of your novel must spring from your own mind, which has been shaped by your experiences. That’s part of the mystery of writing. Somehow all of that stuff is in you. “You contain multitudes,” as Walt Whitman said.

So can you burn the raft entirely before you reach the shore? I would argue that you cannot. You have no choice but to keep living while you are writing. The raft keeps getting built as you are burning it. And as you refine your craft, perhaps you are also refining your attention, and you will see things in your life you never saw before. And they will be revealed to you through the act of writing itself.

What do you think, Agile Writers? Feel free to make a case for the opposite in the comments below!