Dare to Read

May 31, 2011

Three Steps to Query

Filed under: On Publishing,On Writing,Query — carmenferreiroesteban @ 8:29 am
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by Carmen Ferreiro-Esteban

A query letter is a business letter. It tells the agent/editor (referred from now on as the ‘Agent’ and assumed to be a ‘she’) how awesome, unique and marketable your manuscript is, how perfectly qualified you’re to write it and, once it has been published, to market your book. Preferably, it does so without adjectives or adverbs. Because it is a truth universally acknowledged that a good writer has no need for them.

A query is the key that will open the door to the Agent’s heart. It must be professional and to the point, yet, at the same time, “as individual as the book it describes and the author it introduces.” (Arthur A. Levine).

Simply put, a query letter consists of three parts: the hook/the book/and the cook.

The hook introduces the story. It states, in one sentence, what the book is about in an enticing way that will force the Agent to read on.

If your mind goes blank when trying to summarize your four hundred pages manuscript in about 20-30 words, try answering the following questions: Who is your protagonist? What does he/she want? Who/what is the antagonist/reason he/she can’t have what he/she wants?, then write the answers in a single sentence.

After a lot of thinking this was my first hook for my YA novel Requiem for a King: Princess Ines wants to keep Nowan alive, but both, her father and Richard, the king’s bastard son, hate Nowan and want him dead.

This is the skeleton of my story, but as is, it is not a terribly appealing hook. Probably your first attempt isn’t either. But now that it’s written, it’s easier to flesh it out.

After several revisions, my hook became: Princess Ines’s love for Nowan, her whipping boy, is put to the test when he is accused of killing the queen and sentenced to death by the king who hates him.

Better? I hope so.

As you see, I have simplified, eliminating Richard, who is a secondary character, and adding the enticing incident that puts Nowan in danger.

Next in the query, comes the ‘book’. The book is usually two or three paragraphs long and may include, among others, the character’s motivations, the story arc, and the setting. It is not a chapter by chapter synopsis and need not include a list of characters, not all the subplots. It is more like the blurb you find on the jacket of a book, a taste of the story to pique the reader’s interest.

Most agents, but not all, say they don’t want to know the ending at this point. But they all agree they want to know the word number, and genre of your manuscript.

The ‘cook’ part of the query letter includes information about you. Make it short and to the point, mention only those credentials that make you the right person to write this story, and, if you have any, list your publications and/or platform.

If you have done your homework, you may want to personalize your query by adding a sentence, here or at the beginning of the letter, explaining why you chose that particular Agent. Did you meet her at a conference? Found out her preferences at her website/blog/interview? Does she represent your favorite author? Agents are human, and will be flattered if they see you took the time to learn about them.

Now that you have written the perfect query, I suggest you leave it for a day or two, or even a week, and read it again as if you were reading it for the first time. And while you do, ask yourself, would I want to read this book?

I also recommend you pass the query to another writer. And, remember, you are not asking for validation here, but for a brutally honest critique.

In my case, I posted my query in the Query Critique forum at the online Children Writers’s conference (WriteOnCon.com). As the critiques started to come, I realized my perfect query was nothing but perfect. So, I rewrote it again and again. And again.

I queried agents with my sixth version and, so far, I got four requests for a full ms and one for a partial. A great success considering that from my previous queries I had received only rejections.

Which brings me to my next piece of advice: Make a list of agents that represent your genre and send the query to ten agents at a time. If you get no positive answer rewrite the query.

And don’t forget that the query is just your calling card. It’s the strength of your story that will get you an agent or/and a book contract. So before you start querying, edit your manuscript to perfection. You must write a powerful story that resonates with your readers, with characters so memorable they stay in the readers’ mind after they close the book. To achieve this, you must pour your soul into the story and that requires courage.

As for the query, that is just plain, old fashioned, hard work.

Good luck!

Note: An edited version of this post appeared in the magazine of the NJ SCBWI (Sprouts (2011/2)

August 3, 2010

Publishing Seminar!

Filed under: On Publishing — carmenferreiroesteban @ 3:09 pm
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Come Join us at Mercer County Community College on

Thursday, August 12th from 7-9 PM for our informative Publishing Seminar!

Three Women, Three Authors, Three Approaches to Publishing

You finally finished “The Great American Novel.” Maybe you’re putting the final touches on that children’s book you’ve been penning. Perhaps you want to publish your memoirs for posterity.
How do you go from typing on your computer to holding the finished book in your hands? Join authors Mary Fran Bontempo, Carmen Ferreiro Esteban and Chrysa Smith in this two-hour seminar as they share their interesting, maddening, but ultimately fulfilling experiences about writing and publishing their books using traditional, print-on-demand, and self-publishing methods.
Tuition and fees: $65

We’d love to share our hard-won knowledge with you!  This seminar will give you essential information to help you to get your work published.

For registration and more information, click on the link below.


July 26, 2009

In Search of The perfect Query. Or How Far Would You Go to Get Published?

Filed under: On Publishing — carmenferreiroesteban @ 9:29 pm
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Carmen Ferreiro Esteban






Dear Publisher to Be,

Zamparo, this guy I met last night over at the Emporium, asked me to contact you if something bad happened to him. He’s dead now, back at the hotel, so I guess that qualifies as bad, and that’s why I’m sending this e-mail to you.

He said you might remember him as you two met last month at the Writers Workshop in Philadelphia and, I quote, “you were impressed with the first chapter of his manuscript, Publish or Perish.”

I’m attaching the complete manuscript to you now as he instructed me to do. Afterwards I will send a press release stating that you have it.

From then on, its fate and yours will be in your hands. Meaning that once they—the men that killed Zamparo—know, they will try their best to stop you from reading the story that would uncover them was it ever to become public. So, it seems, your best protection would be to publish it as soon as possible.

I would if I were you.

You see, Zamparo’s death will give the book free publicity. And with him being dead and all, you will be making all the profit.  What is there to lose except your life? As it will be at risk if you don’t publish his manuscript.

Besides, Zamparo deserves to be heard. He was a nice guy, and he really wanted his book published even if he had to perish to make that happen.

As for me, don’t worry, I’m nobody, just a messenger that never existed but in your mind, and soon will be

Gone forever,


For those of you who wouldn’t want to go that far to get your book published (dying is after all kind of irreversible), here is a link to the Preditors and Editors’ website where you will find expert advice on what an editor is looking for in a query: http://anotherealm.com/prededitors/pubquery.htm.

From my own experience:

The perfect query is the one that sells your book, whether it’s perfect or not is a matter of opinion.

Make your query professional, but not boring. 

Make it engaging, original, AND specific to your story. To do this, you may try to:

            Write the query in the voice of your character,

            Start with your first paragraph,

            Or ask the question(s) your book answers (this works best for non fiction).

And when you are absolutely, positively sure that your query is ready, send it to Query Shark (http://queryshark.blogspot.com/) for a critique.

Good luck and Good Writing

Carmen Ferreiro Esteban

June 10, 2009

A Killer Beginning

Filed under: On Publishing — carmenferreiroesteban @ 5:10 pm
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Pearl DSC_0015

by Carmen Ferreiro Esteban

A killer beginning doesn’t guarantee publication but may be your only chance to catch the editor’s attention.

With publishers receiving thousands of manuscripts/queries every month, it is a mathematical impossibility that they read them all. If you are lucky, an overworked editor will pick yours and read your first line. In those precious seconds the future of that novel you worked so hard to create hang in the balance. It is that first line that will determine whether he/she will read more or discard your submission to the reject pile together with your dreams.

The importance of the first page is no secret. First Page readings are a part of most Writers conferences and workshops. In them, editors/publishers read different first pages and explain why or why not they would keep reading.

Over the years, I have collected a list of things editors look for on a first page. Among them: memorable, relatable characters, engaging story telling, and a good sense of place. Editors, tell us, want to be tickled, surprised, transported to another place and time. They want to know by the end of the first page to whom, when, where and why this is happening and they want to care enough about your characters that they cannot stop reading.

Also, I almost forgot, they want the piece to have a voice, that elusive element “they recognize when they see it.”

Not bad, for a mere 250 words.

Never to be discouraged, last year I decided to create a perfect first page following all the advice above and send the resulting creation to a local workshop. It worked. They chose my piece and, apart from some minor tinkering the three editors like it well enough.

But my triumph was short lived. My first page was perfect, thank you very much, but I had no idea where to go from there.

So this year I decided to go the traditional way and write the story first. I sent my first page to the same workshop. This time they didn’t choose it. I didn’t mind. Not too much, anyway. I know I am on the right track. The story is strong in my mind, the characters are speaking to me, and the setting is gorgeous. I have even found my voice.

So, for now, I’ll stick to the writing and worry about creating that perfect beginning when I’m done.

In the meantime, I leave you with several killing beginnings taken from published books I and other readers have added to a thread I started some months ago at Goodreads. You can check them at:


You are welcome to add yours there or here as comments.

And don’t forget to keep writing.

May 23, 2009

Espresso, Latte or Mocha

Filed under: Uncategorized — carmenferreiroesteban @ 2:09 am
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Carmen Ferreiro Esteban  by Carmen Ferreiro Esteban

Coffee and writing being my two drugs of choice, EspressoLatteMocha seemed to me the obvious title to represent the three roads to publishing we’ll be discussing in this blog.

Espresso, coffee only, dark and strong, stands for flying solo. Yes, you have guessed right, I’m talking about Self Publishing, because, in this case, you’re on your own.

Latte is the route I chose. The coffee (my book) and the milk (a publishing house) were partners in the deal.

Mocha stands for “On Demand”, for what would be sweeter for an author than print books somebody already wants?

So whether you are an espresso, mocha or latte kind of guy (and guy stands for both boy and girl, woman and man, I checked) please feel free to stop by and ask your questions. Soon your manuscript, the coffee, if you please, will be on the way to become a fancy beverage. Whether that would be an espresso, a latte or a mocha, that’s for you to say.