How To Write A Query Letter to Catch An Agent’s Eye

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I was at a writing conference in Dublin recently called The Insiders Guide To getting Published, and on the panel were five literary agents, so naturally the topic of query letters, or how to pitch to an agent came up. This is what they said.

Query letters – How To get It Right

  1. In the body of the email – not as an attachment
  2. Address it to the correct person – not dear Sir/madam, or Mr Penguin or even as just Hi! – Dear (first name) is fine.
  3. NEVER send it to multiple agents at the same time with the same email. if they see multiple other agents all added in they will just delete. (It is ok to send it to several agents at a time if you send each email separately and have personalised each email).
  4. Subject line of email put your name and book title ( when they quickly scan their emails for the day, they go through them and very VERY briefly look over them. If your fantastic query attracts them they might mark it and come back to it later).
  5. You have done your homework though, and this agent does take #DarkRomance tales with a mystery sub-plot, don’t they? Always always always check this is the right agent. If they don’t like #DarkRomances with a mystery sub-plot they will just DELETE your email after line three.
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What To Include In Your Query Letter

  1. First paragraph –  say why you have chosen to query them. Dear agent, I see that you represent author such-and-such, and you are looking for more historical/romance/saga etc books, and I think my manuscript would be a good fit.  Magical Wonderings is a Women’s fiction novel of 85,000 words. If you saw they asked for #Dark Romances on twitter, or you met them in the queue for the ladies toilets at a literary festival, or you heard their Agent talk, or anything that shows you’ve done your homework and they are the right agent for you – mention it now! Also get your title, genre and word-count in here.  If it suits readers of sagas/crime/thriller etc, suggest that it would suit readers who like to read (pick two similar authors but keep them current, not ten years out of date.)  For Fans of …   Keep it plain and simple so they can easily see the information they need and don’t give them any reason to hit the DELETE button in their email box!
  2. Second Paragraph – This is where your hook goes. Short and witty/pithy/fabulous etc. A couple of sentences, no more.
  3. Third Paragraph – Something relevant about you. They do not need to know you are married with three children (oops, I have done this). They do not need to know you like scuba diving in your spare time, EXCEPT if your #DarkRomance with a mystery sub-plot has a protagonist who is a diving instructor, and the hook literally hangs on the diving plot. If you have won a competition – literary of course, Miss Knobbly Knees, Clacton 1963 does not count, unless of course your book is a saga with a knobbly knees contest etc etc etc, written 25 short stories which are published all around the world, or a Major Publisher has asked to see your full manuscript. Ok, you get the picture. Anything relevant. If you are still a debut author with no writing credits to your name then just say so, but that you are aiming to write historical novels full-time for the next twenty years. Something like that.
  4. Do not give them any reason to not even read your submission. The query email is your first point of contact with the agent so make a good impression. No spelling mistakes. Keep it clear and to the point.

If you have any other tips etc, please leave a comment. Thanks.

What’s the best way to keep a writer happy?

jessica-lewis-623895-unsplashImage by Jessica Lewis of Unsplash

Last month I did a quick update on how my writing life and competition submissions were going in 2018. One yes and one no, and still a few more in the pot to keep me hoping.

The Date With An Agent is in a few weeks so I’m looking forward to that, and I have finally booked my place at the RNA summer conference in Leeds. But what of the competitions?

A month is a long time when you are an aspiring writer and you keep checking EVERY. SINGLE. EMAIL. Just in case.

This month I was getting so disheartened waiting for news, yes this happens frequently, and I said again, if nothing good happens soon I’m going to give up. Of course I don’t really mean it, but you get the gist. Writers are a bit melodramatic.

And the thing about waiting for news is that it actually makes writing harder. Your brain can’t concentrate properly on what’s in front of you as the little voice of negativity inside your head goes ‘you’re not really any good. No one wants to read your work anyway’. It drains your creativity. And let me tell you, many an hour was wasted in this lack of confidence stage. And I can’t even mention the amount of cake and chocolate that got eaten! Just check out my Instagram feed for proof!


But moving on, Friday 11th was a day the shortlists come out for the Winchester Lit festival, and I was positive someone would love my first three pages. Someone surely would. Someone? Anyone?

But no. It was a no. I hadn’t made the shortlist.

I messaged a friend moaning as usual, I’m gonna give up! Then unbelievably, in the middle of the chat, another email landed in my inbox. From a certain publisher who shall rename nameless in case I jinx it.

I hardly dared open it as I was sure it was going to be another no.

Reader, it was good!

A request for a full manuscript from my dream publisher. Yay!!!

I swear there are book fairies living nearby.

Anyway, to conclude this post of ‘How to keep a writer happy?’ now and again, just send them some good news, they’ll be delighted. And cake. And if they are published please leave a review. Thank you. pexels-photo-769525.jpeg


How’s the writing going so far?


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It’s hard to believe that a quarter of the year has already passed and the hour has changed so the evenings are getting lighter.

But what, if anything have I achieved so far in 2018?

I have entered several competitions, which is good, because as the saying goes ‘you can’t win if you’re not in’!

So far I’ve had one ‘no’ and one ‘Date With An Agent’  which is actually a workshop with an agent as part of the International Literature Festival Dublin. So I’ll see how that goes. I’m still waiting on details on how this will work, but it’s a great opportunity to meet an agent and hear what they have to say.

I’ve also entered competitions with Harper Impulse, Good Housekeeping magazine and Winchester Literature Festival.  It’s good to have a few things on the go so when you do get a rejection you’re not totally floored by it.

I’ve also been working with editor Emily Ruston, so really get to grips with my current manuscript, and feedback so far is that my beta readers like it! Yay! nothing like some praise to keep a writer happy.

I’ve also been working on some short stories which I want to publish here and on amazon and polish up a novella for the summer and another for a Christmas release.

And lastly I need to book my ticket for the RNA summer conference in Leeds.

I have no doubt the next few weeks will be as busy as ever.

How are things for you?



A recap of my 2017 writing year

2017 was a year of writing highs and lows.

By June I was ready to throw the hat in, having had several rejections, one of which was a Prima Competition, and several other submissions where I got absolutely nowhere. Writers naturally have wobbly confidence, and mine  is dreadful at the best of times. But then I had a breakthrough. people-coffee-notes-tea.jpg

My application to WoMentoring Project was successful, and Sophie Orme is now my mentor. I wrote about it here.

On the initial feedback from Sophie I rewrote the novel I had been working on – Every Time I See You. 

I also got more feedback from fellow writers and authors in the Irish RNA group.

I re-wrote 75,000 words of that novel again during the school holidays and submitted it to the RNA New Writers Scheme with hours to spare for the Aug 31st deadline. I exhausted myself, binge watched The Crown on Netflix and also ‘Anne With an E’.  I highly recommend both, but not if you have a writing deadline.

So I did no work in September and October on the novel, and waited on feedback from the RNA. However, I had another little breakthrough when my pitch got favourited on one of these twitter pitches. I submitted my manuscript, and although she didn’t love it enough to want to represent me, it showed where else to improve, and also that I did have a chance. pexels-photo-247708.jpeg

Early November I got my RNA feedback and I was thrilled with the feedback. They liked it. I had a list of corrections, but yes they liked it and could see it being picked up by someone and being published. Hooray! I can at least write a complete novel that someone wants to read. All is not lost.

Roll on the end of November and I was starting to fall apart trying to sort out the edits following the feedback.pexels-photo-261510.jpeg

Let me tell you, if you think writing a first draft is painful, then structural edits are like giving birth with no pain relief. Trust me, I’ve done it and its not funny.

And then in late, late November, the icing on my writing year.

I got back a charity critique which I’d received as a present last Christmas from S.A.L.V.E. International. Mine was with Kate Elton from HarperCollins. Yes, the Kate Elton from HarperCollins.

She liked my book. She said I could write. She liked my writing style. She thought the novel had commercial potential. She loved Chapter One. Actually lots of people love Chapter One. I just want one agent to love chapter one  – chapter 41!

So there it is. Kate Elton, likes my book.pexels-photo-279415.jpeg

I might not have got anything published in 2017, but I wrote a huge amount of words. I re-wrote my novel lots of times, and Kate Elton thinks I can write. And that, as far as I am concerned is a reason to celebrate.

Here’s to 2018



Book Review – The Abandoned by Sharon Thompson


Sharon Thompson - The Abandoned_cover_high resThe Abandoned by Sharon Thompson has been my first read of 2018, and what a brilliant one!

I got an advance copy from Bloodhound Press and finished it in two sittings.

The main character is Peggy Bowden, a woman in 1950’s Ireland. Peggy has been dealt a poor hand in life, but pulled herself up to train as a midwife. But Ireland has a dark side, controlled by the Catholic Church, and Peggy moves into other things to help downtrodden women, such as selling babies and doing abortions, no one wants to end up in the Magdalen laundries. It’s a gritty read and does cover harsh topics, but yet this was the harsh life for women back then. The Nuns were also selling babies to rich Americans, but in the book it’s only Peggy who gets caught and does time inside.

The book starts once Peggy is out of jail, and sooner or later things start to go wrong again and she is mired up to her neck in different events.

As a character, Peggy is incredibly vivid and real, perhaps not altogether lovable, but definitely unforgettable!

The Abandoned reminds me of an Irish 1950’s version of the Peaky Blinders.

For a debut I found this a highly entertaining novel full of sparkling dialogue with a dark heart but with a touch of humour too.


Thoroughly recommend.

2018 and not a resolution in sight


I don’t keep resolutions, so there is no point in starting them. That said, for 2018 I do have a little wishlist.

  1. HEALTH I really wish that my health would improve. The winter so far, even from September on has not been great. I have been completely and utterly wiped out. No energy, always needing to sit down, and naps. Well lets just say I love napping. I have pain in my arms, wrists, shoulders and most other joints, and from December on this has been stopping me sleep properly. Sometimes the pain comes on instantly once I touch the mouse when I sit at the laptop, sometimes its as soon as I start driving. Anyhow, whatever it is, I would just like it to go away please. I’ve also been plagued with flu/viral things so I am very slow getting back on my feet. So far the tests show this is all down to an under-active thyroid and I start the tablets tomorrow. So here’s hoping I shall be a new woman in a few months time. pexels-photo-271897.jpeg
  2. EXERCISE GOALS- This follows point number one. If I feel better I would like to do some excercise. Yoga, pilates, walking and getting on the bike. It may also follow that if I started a little excercise it might help point number one, but I’m so knackered I need a lie down just thinking about it.pexels-photo-290164.jpeg
  3. WRITING GOALS – I just want to get published. Is that too much to ask? Maybe that’s a little vague, so I shall break it down into manageable chunks. I shall endeavour to submit my novel Every Time I See you, ( a dual timeline historical romance set in Ireland and Cairo) to ten agents and see how I get on. I shall start writing book 2 in order to submit to the RNA New Writers Scheme in August 2018, and I shall write some short romantic stories set in Paris, from a variety of backgrounds and viewpoints, historical and contemporary, just because I like short stories.


So that’s how I hope 2018 will shape up for me, how about you?

The WoMentoring Project

WoMentoring Project (1)


Back in January, when I was feeling really gung ho about my writing I entered a gazillion different things in order to move my writing career forward. I applied for a ‘Date With An Agent’, I sent short stories off to women’s magazines, and I even threw together a brief synopsis and one chapter submission for a Mills and Boon competition. (Even though I’m not really a mills and boon kinda writer), needless to say I didn’t get anywhere.

Oh woe is me, as they say, I’m such a crap writer, I will never get anywhere, my prose must be pathetic so I may as well start thinking about whether I can put myself through this again and again. Rejection is pretty hard to take, and I guess I was being a bit of a wimp thinking I couldn’t hack it.

What I really needed was some advice, a big giant kick up the backside and to get on with it again.

I took a few weeks off writing my current wip, and went back to an old one, trying to polish it up some more and perhaps send it off again. And then somehow, I found the strength to go back to the present one. I have no idea really what prompted me, except a belief that what I am writing is worth something. I do believe in it. I was just having a few duvet days, well possibly a month of duvet days.

So I went back, dusted it off and started again, editing mainly, switching bits around, and taking a good long look at the thing. The story is there, but it needs pulling together, polishing, really working hard at it to make it brilliant. But I needed guidance. I wanted someone else to have a good read over it, make suggestions etc. You know it all; another pair of eyes or two.

And then…

And then I opened an email during the week, and an application that I had made in January came good.

I had applied to be mentored through The WoMentoring Project, and had done my homework and sent my submission off to an editor called Sophie Orme.


The reason I had applied to Sophie was as obvious as the nose on my face. She is an editor who has worked with lots of successful authors, including Kate Morton.

Kate Morton!

Hero worship now!

I loved ‘The Lake House’.

The lake house

I aspire to write books which are epic love stories, or rich, deep woven tales with dual time-lines, a fascinating historical back story, a mystery or a puzzle to solve.

I read books by authors like Jojo Moyes, Dianah Jefferies, Iona Grey and of course Kate Morton.

Choosing Sophie Orme as a mentor was a no-brainer. I need her technical experience and her thought processes and her wisdom, to tease out my story into a wonderful tale full of romance, tragic deaths, love letters and ghosts. Sophie seems to enjoy the same types of books as I do, and I hoped more than anything that she would see something she liked in my writing.

I was absolutely thrilled to receive the reply this week that she has accepted my application. I am so grateful for this opportunity.

Thank you Sophie.

If you haven’t heard of The WoMentoring Project before, I will put up a post about it soon. In the meantime, click on the link HERE.




Word problem!


The more I wrote the previous post on plotting and pantstering, the more confused I became about the spelling. I have checked several sources online, urban dictionary has gone with two T’s, but when others have used it in blog posts etc, it is with one T.

Or, since it is a sort of made up word, is the second one better? The more I say it, the more the second one sounds correct.

Is it PANTSTER as in, writing by the seat of my pants?

Which looks very clunky and clumsy.


It should be the first one surely?

Any opinion?

One T or two T’s?


Plotter, pantster, or something else?

Plotter (2)


If you are a serious writer, which I must be as I bought a pack of coloured biros, and serious writers need them, you will have worked out whether you are a plotter or a pantster.

Actually, you might not have worked it out, but you surely have come across those terms by now. Plotters plot, and pantsters pant. Well no, pantsters just have a germ of an idea, some great characters and then they see what happens when they let them loose.

Plotters spend ages and ages and ages buying lots of pretty stationary, (remember the coloured biros), and little notecards or post-its, or use Scrivener, or print out a beat sheet that works for genre. They spend hours and hours working through their plot, they know their characters inside out, they know what their inciting moment is going to be, they know their lowest point, they know how they are getting from A to B, and then to C, D, E, etc

Pantsters don’t need to do any of that, as long as they know their characters inside out, and the ‘what’ part of their story. Their one line sentence – its about a girl who went in search of her birth mother. Or, its about a man who wanted revenge on an ex-girlfriend. Something. They need to know what their book is about, the setting, the start and the moment it is all going to kick off. Then they can let their characters lead them on the trip of a lifetime.

So long as you know which type of writer you are, all is well with the world. Plotters have confidence in their well thought out plot, and presumably they have read numerous self-help writing books on plotting and beats and the three Act story/film/play.

My favourite book on plotting has to be Save The Cat by Blake Snyder. Once read, never forgotten.

Pantsters have confidence in their ability to let their characters lead them. If the plot gets stuck, don’t panic, ask a few ‘what if’ questions, see what gets your creative juices going, and then set off again.


Neither way is perfect, both ways you still have to edit, and as we all know a first draft is still just a first draft. Just get it done.

And then there’s me. Neither one nor the other.

I must be that breed betwixt and between a plotter and a pantster; something organic. I shall call myself a PLANSTER.  Do you like that? Organic, plants?

I get these great ideas for a story, or maybe just a scene arrives in my head, probably sparked off by something I’ve seen, or read about and I have to get it down.

Which is a bit of a pantster I suppose.

But then I do like to try plotting out where I think I’m going. I like coloured biros, I like coordinated note cards and post-it notes, I like the cork board thingy on Scrivener and I’ve read Save The Cat.


I like to take my idea. Find my characters. Get a notebook and start scrawling everything down, and then I start to plot. Generally with physical bits of paper and card, strewn all over the table. Actually no, laid out in lines across the table, with Act 1, on the first card. Then I move along until I get to the end of the row and I label it ‘inciting moment’. Generally I know what is happening here. The rest of the row is a blank.

Second row is the same. Act 2, all the way across to the last card which is the turning point. Generally I have this scene in my head, and I write it down.The rest of the row might have a few notes, but generally blank.

Third row, exactly the same, blank, blank, blankety blank, all the way across to the last card which is the lowest point. I definitely know what happens here, the scene has rolled out in my brain so many times I could get an Oscar for it.

Last row, I tend to know a lot of what is happening, mostly. I know the last scene, (the opposite of the first scene to keep it balanced), I’ve thought of plenty of plot twists and loose ends and all sorts of things that will have to go into this bit.

But here’s the thing. There’s an awful lot of blanks in this book when I am plotting. A lot.

So I have plotted the basic framework. I know what the book is about. I know my characters, I have  interviewed them, made up a mood board, collected photographs etc for inspiration. I have my setting, and I have my major scenes written, (in my head).  But I just haven’t got completely from A to b to C etc. More like jumping on the tube and going straight to the last station.


My story grows in my head as I think about it. Over the weeks and months it takes to write the book, scenes pop up in my brain, and I write them down. I do not write in a linear fashion, in a straight line. I go where I am led. When I get inspired I write it down quick.  It grows organically.

Ideas come to me the more time I spend on the project, and as I get more and more scenes written, more and more naturally lead to the next part. But I have no problem writing the story backwards, forwards, missing bits out and coming back. It works for me.

Its like someone throws a bit more Baby Bio, or organic compost on this tiny little plant, and then it just mushrooms, growing roots, branches, flowers and fruit as it develops.

The plant supports are there, its firm structure is there, it just grows to fill its space.

I know the ‘what’ of the book. But the little bits will arrive, bit by bit.

So, what sort of writer are you?

Plotter, a pantster or … an organic, let it grow as you go, plantser?


The Other Side of the Wall – by Andrea Mara – Book Review

Now, it could be entirely true that I am biased when writing a gushing book review for Andrea Mara’s debut psychological thriller, we are in the same creative writing group; but, I was thoroughly engrossed in the book and believe you will be too.

In her gripping debut, The Other Side of the Wall, Andrea has managed to weave a tale of suburban terror that creeps up on you so slowly, builds, then throws you off in a way you never expected. You hardly know what’s coming next, it’s like taking a roller coaster ride, blindfolded.

The opening pages are about Sylvia, a young working mother, who is up in the night and more than a bit sleep deprived. She thinks she sees the body of a child in the pond next door. But by the time she gets downstairs and outside to investigate, the body, if in fact it was ever there, has vanished. Is she seeing things? Is she stressed from her demanding job and a new baby? Did it actually happen, because if it did, who was the child and who murdered her?

As a reader you make all kind of assumptions about where the story is going to lead you, who is essentially ‘good’, and who is the ‘baddie’, but don’t make assumptions about anything. The twists and turns of this debut novel will have you glued to the book, and if you actually do guess correctly about the why’s and wherefore’s about the child (or not) in the pond, then you are far cleverer than I am.

But stop trying to guess. Just enjoy the book, and let it scare you just a little bit more. And remember to lock your door at night!

Well done Andrea Mara on an amazing debut, and I look forward with interest to her next novel sometime in the future.