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Why Hire a
Rather Than a Full-Service Publicist?
When a full
scale promotion campaign for your book is required (and it always
is), you hire a
professional to help you plot you campaign. One hour with
Carolyn Howard-Johnson will:
educate you to
the need for publicity which is free.
show you why
free is better than paid.
resources to get you started and keep you going.
in the process
give you the tools to write great query letters and media releases
so you can getfrom radio and TV appearances, feature articles and
equip you to
partner with a publicist if you choose that route.
thousands of dollars if you choose to manage your own
Howard-Johnson tailors your promotion to:
and she will
work to improve your voice if you are submitting a proposal or
other writing, not change it.
Howard-Johnson is credible because:
experienced what her clients need to know in most genres (novel,
short stories, poetry and nonfiction).
published every which way (traditionally, self-published,
subsidy-published--in trade paperbacks, e-books, booklets,
newspapers, magazines and more).
she has worked
as a publicist and journalist--that means she knows how to appeal
to both sides of the fence in your search for
Extension Writers' Program instructor.
Book Promoter, winner of USA
Book News Best Professional Book 2004 and the Irwin
she wrote th
Editor -- and, yes,
editing does have something to do with marketing, especially
writing effective query letters.
she won Book
Publicists of Southern California's Irwin Award and the New
Millennium Award for Marketing.
Howard-Johnson's professional and personal life exemplify the
American Dream. Her passion for the worlds of PR and publishing
resonates with her clients. They leave sessions emotionally charged
and ready to function. She passes on contacts and leads for you to
Howard-Johnson customizes her consulting time with you. Reach her
So, why consult rather than hire it done?
know your book better than anyone else and a good, content-laden
consult is all you need to get you going.
are more passionate about your book than anyone else which means
that your efforts will bear more fruit than someone
of what many publicists do for you can easily be done yourself
including radio, TV and speaking.
have a Rolodex of your own and building it for yourself will bode
well for your writing career.
Carolyn consults to save you money, she doesn't try to sell you
more than you need.
Please contact Carolyn for
quote and the easy process she uses to save you time and
More on Book Trailers at end of this article.
How to Write a Query
Query letters? Do literary agents really read them?
Agents take queries very seriously, and yes, they really do read
them. It’s not some universal rumor that agents have perpetuated
because they all have a secret fetish for being bombarded with
mail. Sure, agents make it sound like digging through the slush
pile is the last priority of their day. Some agents even relegate
the ambivalent task of reading unsolicited queries to an assistant
or intern. But the fact of the matter is that most agents do read
queries. Even more importantly, agents actually respond to ones
that spark their interest.
So write a professional, intelligent, concise, intriguing query and
not only will you entice an agent to ask for more, but you’ll move
yourself one step closer to a book sale.
A query letter is a single page cover letter, introducing you and
your book. That’s it. Nothing more, nothing less. It’s not a
resume. It’s not rambling saga of your life as an aspiring writer.
It’s not a friendly, “Hey, what’s up, buddy. I’m the next John
Grisham. Got the next best selling thriller for ya,” kind of
letter. And for the love of god, it is NOT more than one-page.
Trust us on this.
A query letter has three concise paragraphs
: the hook, the
mini-synopsis, and your writer’s biography. Don’t stray from this
format. You won’t catch an agent’s attention by inventing a
creative new query format. You’ll just alienate your chances of
being taken seriously as a professional writer. A query letter is
meant to elicit an invitation to send sample chapters or even the
whole manuscript to the agent. It’s not meant to show off how cute
and snazzy you can be by breaking formatting rules and going
against the grain. Keep it simple. Stick to three paragraphs. The
goal is to get the agent to read your book, not to blow you off
because you screwed up the introduction.
Paragraph One—The Hook:
A hook is a concise, one-sentence
tagline for your book. It’s meant to hook your reader’s interest,
and wind them in. The best way to understand how to write a hook is
to read the loglines of the titles sold by agents in our
Here are a few examples of hooks for well-known novels:
House of Sand and Fog
When Massoud Amir Behrani, a former colonel in the Iranian
military, sinks his remaining funds into a house he buys at
auction, he unwittingly puts himself and his family on a trajectory
to disaster; the house once belonged to Kathy Nicolo, a
self-destructive alcoholic, who engages in legal, then personal
confrontation to get it back.
Bridges of Madison County
When Robert Kincaid drives through the heat and dust of an Iowa
summer and turns into Francesca Johnson's farm lane looking for
directions, the world-class photographer and the Iowa farm wife are
joined in an experience that will haunt them forever.
When family patriarch, Alfred Lambert, enters his final decline,
his wife and three adult children must face the failures, secrets,
and long-buried hurts that haunt them as a family if they are to
make the corrections that each desperately needs.
The "When" Formula:
As you can see, we’re a fan of the when
formula: “When such and such event happens, your main character—a
descriptive adjective, age, professional occupation—must confront
further conflict and triumph in his or her own special way. Sure,
it’s a formula, but it’s a formula that works.
However, be warned
...everyone and their grandmother who
reads this site will try using our "when" formula, so we recommend
simply using it as a starting point. Write your basic hook, then
try spicing things up as you get more and more into the groove of
"hooking." And don't worry, it's legal in every state, not just
Check out these very simple, yet very non-"formulatic" fiction
The Kite Runner
An epic tale of fathers and sons, of friendship and betrayal, that
takes us from Afghanistan in the final days of the monarchy to the
atrocities of the present.
The Da Vinci Code
A murder in the silent after-hour halls of the Louvre museum
reveals a sinister plot to uncover a secret that has been protected
by a clandestine society since the days of Christ.
Everything Is Illuminated
With only a yellowing photograph in hand, Jonathan Safran Foer—both
author and meta fictional protagonist—sets out to find the woman
who might or might not have saved his grandfather from the
Here are some non-"formulatic" hook
s for a few nonfiction
Into Thin Ai
On assignment for Outside Magazine to report on the growing
commercialization of the mountain, Krakauer, an accomplished
climber, went to the Himalayas as a client of Rob Hall, the most
respected high-altitude guide in the world, and barely made it back
alive from the deadliest season in the history of Everest.
The Perfect Storm
The true story of the meteorological conditions that created the
"Storm of the Century" and the impact the Perfect Storm had on many
of the people caught in its path; chiefly, among these are the six
crew members of the swordfish boat the Andrea Gail, all of whom
were lost 500 miles from home beneath rolling seas.
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius
The memoir of Dave Eggers, who at the age of 22, became both an
orphan and a "single mother" when his parents died within five
months of one another of unrelated cancers, leaving Eggers the
appointed unofficial guardian of his 8-year-old brother,
Other Great Ways to Start Your Hook
# Give era and location:
Three Different Examples:
1. Set in modern-day Jerusalem...
2. During the summer of 1889 in a rural Texas
3. Taking place in turn-of-the-century New York
# Set up your main character:
Three Different Examples:
1. The tale of Una Spencer, wife of Melville's
legendary fictional whale harpooner Captain Ahab...
2. A chatty cozy mystery starring 50-something college
professor Bell Barrett...
3. Narrated by Cot Daley, an Irish peasant girl
kidnapped from Galway and sent to Barbados...
# Variations on the "when" formula:
1. Following a botched circumcision...
2. While defending a drug-addicted prostitute accused
3. After years of abuse at the hands of her alcoholic
mother and step-father...
There are literally scores and scores of hooks listed in our
database, specifically in the past & present clients section of
our agents’ profiles. We encourage you to read as many as possible,
and learn what captures your attention in a single sentence. Then
try to emulate a similar hook for your query letter.
This is where you get to
distill your entire 300 page novel into one paragraph. Lucky you.
We’d like to offer advice on how to do this, but really, it just
takes practice, hard work and lots of patience. Then, like we said
before, get your friends to read it and if their heads hurt
afterwards, go back to the drawing board. We don’t envy you. We
really don’t. Summing up your entire book in an intriguing single
paragraph is worse than a root canal.
So think of it this way.
You had trouble writing the gist of
your book in one sentence, right? Now, you get a whole paragraph.
About 150 extra words. Here’s your chance to expand on your hook.
Give a little bit more information about your main characters,
their problems and conflicts, and the way in which adversity
changes their lives. Read the back flaps of your favorite novels
and try to copy how the conflict of the book is described in a
single, juicy paragraph. You can do this. You really can. You just
have to sit down, brainstorm, then vomit it all out onto the page.
Afterwards, cut, paste, trim, revise, and reshape.
Paragraph Three—Writer’s bio
: This should be the easiest
part of your query. After all, it’s about you, the writer. Okay, so
it’s a bit daunting, especially if you’ve never been published,
never won any awards, hold no degrees from MFA writing schools, and
possess no credentials to write your book. No problem. The less you
have to say, the more space you have for your mini-synopsis. Always
If you do choose to construct a writer’s bio
should), keep it short and related to writing. Agents don’t care
what your day job is unless it directly relates to your book. Got a
main character who’s a firefighter, and that’s your day job? Be
sure to say that. Otherwise, scrap it. Education is helpful because
it sounds good, but it’s only really important if you’re offering a
nonfiction book about A.D.D. children and you hold a PhD in
pediatric behavioral science. If you’ve published a few stories in
your local newspaper, or a short story in a few literary magazines,
or won any writing awards or contests, now’s the time to list the
details. Don’t go hog wild, but don’t be too modest either.
Your Closing: Congratulations!
You’ve finished your query
letter. As a formal closing, be sure to do two things. First, thank
the agent for her time and consideration. Second, if it’s
nonfiction, tell them that you’ve included an outline, table of
contents, and sample chapters for their review. If it’s fiction,
alert the agent that the full manuscript is available upon request.
And in case you still don’t believe us, we want to reiterate: don’t
query agents until you’ve finished your full fiction manuscript.
Agents will want to read the whole novel before they offer
representation to you and your book.
Other Random Tips:
* Do address your query specifically to an
agent. There are lots of greetings from which to choose. Here are
your options in order of best to worst:
Attn. Ms. Shermanstein:
Dear Adrian Shermanstein:
Dear Ms. Shermanstein:
Dear Ms. Shermanstein,
* Do state the title of your book.
* Do mention the word count and genre of your
book. Novels should be 80,000 to 100,00 words. Young adult novels
can be significantly less: 40,000-60,000 words. Suavely insert word
count and genre at the end of your first “hook” paragraph.
* Do mention exactly why you’re approaching Ms.
Agent. Try to compare your book with other books that Ms. Agent has
represented in the past.
* Do adopt a professional, serious tone.
* Do keep your query to one-page only.
* Do format your query using standard business
letter alignment and spacing. That means: Single spaced. 12 point
font. Everything aligned along the left margin. No paragraph
indentations, but a space between each paragraph. One-page
* Do list your phone number, mailing address,
and email address
* Do include a self-addressed stamped envelope
(SASE) with all snail mail submissions.
* Do have a pair of "fresh eyes" proofread for
typos and grammar mistakes.
The Do NOT’s:
* Do NOT start off your query by saying, "I am
querying you because I found your name in 'such and such' writing
guide or internet agent database" (like AQ!). Not only does this
take up valuable query letter space, but it's also the sign of an
* Do NOT refer to your novel as a fictional
novel. That’s redundant. Just call it a novel.
* Do NOT sing the praises of your book or
compare it with other best selling books.
* Do NOT send gifts or other bribes with your
* Do NOT print your query on perfumed or colored
paper. Use plain business stationery.
* Do NOT shrink your font down to 9 point so it
all fits on one page. 12 point is standard. 11 point if you’re
* Do NOT Fedex or mail your query in a lavish,
signature-required fashion in order to make your query stand out.
It will stand out, but in a very "annoying, over-zealous, bad first
impression" kind of way. Not to mention, it's a friggin' waste of
* Do NOT apologize in your query for being a
newbie writer with zero publishing credits and experience. Your
goal is to write a tight, alluring, eye-catching query and sound
like a professional. If you're worried about your lack of writing
credentials, just keep quiet and let the writing speak for
* Do NOT include sample chapters of your novel
with your query UNLESS an agent's submission guidelines
specifically SAY to include sample pages with your snail mail
query. If you really feel compelled to show an agent your writing
style along with your query letter, include only the first 5 pages
of your novel. Never send more than the first 5 pages with your
query unless the guidelines say, "A-Okay!"
* Do NOT forget to list your email address or
contact phone number on your query.
* Do NOT forget to enclose a self-addressed
stamped envelope (SASE)
Need to see an ACTUAL query letter before you'll know how to write
We've been getting a lot of email from some AQ users who believe
that they must see a query letter before they can write one. And
you've been relentless in your requests for examples of REAL,
L-I-V-E query letters. Some of you have even offered us shiny
trinkets in exchange for a glimpse at the elusive QL beast. Well,
it ain't the ivory-billed wood pecker, but here you go: examples
from agents and writers with agents. You can't get a better view
* Published Author and AQ user, Heather Brewer's
query letter that snagged her an agent, who later sold her book,
THE CHRONICLES OF VLADIMIR TOD, to Penguin/Dutton
* Jenny Bent's A Terrific Query Letter
* Kristin Nelson displays the successful query
letter of her first client, Jennifer O'Connell, in "What is an
example of a good query?"
* Barbara Collins Rosenberg's Sample Queries #1,
2 ,3 at the bottom of the page.
JUST FOR NON-FICTION WRITERS: Truth be told, much of our AQ advice
is geared towards fiction writers, which is kind of silly
considering that there's a bigger market for non-fiction than
fiction these days. And non-fiction writers have the added benefit
of not having to finish the whole manuscript before seeking
representation from an agent. So we've trolled the web and asked
our non-fiction friends to recommend books, web links, and tips for
writers seeking information on how to write a stellar non-fiction
proposal. Here's what we came up with:
* Editor Michael Hyatt's "Writing a Winning Book
Proposal" on literary agent Steve Laube's website.
* "Ten Basic Steps to Writing a Non-Fiction
Proposal" from the Small Press Center for Independent
* Writing the Memoir: From Truth to Art by
Judith Barrington will help you write your memoir and Elizabeth
Lyon's Nonfiction Book Proposals Anybody Can Write will help you
format it for submission to agents.
* Literary agent Scott Mendel's take on "Writing
a Non-Fiction Book Proposal."
* AbsoluteWrite.com founder and author Jenna
Glazter's sample non-fiction book proposal, "Outwitting Writer’s
Block and Other Problems of the Pen" that was sold to Lyons