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etc, suggest that it would suit readers who like to read (pick two similar authors but keep them current, not ten years out of date.)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.


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



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?


I want To be Alone – and other writerly problems, mainly being interrupted!



If my fairy godmother bowled up right now and could grant me one wish, well two or three would be nice but I’m not greedy (or unrealistic), I would ask for one whole week to be alone.


That’s right. Just me. In the house. On my own.


With NO distractions.

Well, that last part is hard because there is always social media distractions right?

But I’m talking about being allowed to be in my own writerly bubble, with no other human being interrupting me, (I’ll forgive the cats, they’re not too bad,) but I mean no children and no husband.

I did read a really good article on Tara Sparlings’ blog, an interview with Liz Nugent about giving up the day job to write. Really funny, do go and look. But please come back.

Now, I’m not even talking about wanting to give up the day job. I like mine. But sometimes, please. I just want the highly decadent luxury of a whole quiet week to myself.

A long, long time ago, before I took up the daytime job, for about six months, I had five whole school days of uninterrupted ‘me time’ every week.

Every WEEK!!!!!

And did I get any writing done? Umm, probably not, I think I was into gardening then and the garden was immaculate, or maybe it was the house and all my kitchen cupboards, but hey, you get the gist.

When I had the time, lots of it, I didn’t recognise that that was to be my only ‘me time’ for a very long time. I did not treasure it as I should. I gloriously frittered it away with shopping, or gardening, or meeting friends for coffee. Basically, I wasted it my friends. I was a loose woman.

That was the year the youngest started Primary school. She is now picking her GCSE’s. Yup. That was a very long time ago. Ten years in fact. Ten years is a long time to go with no uninterrupted solitude.

Now, I do work in a school, so I do get the lovely long summer holidays etc, but am I ever alone?

No. The kids are always about, and you can bet your bottom dollar that just as I get stuck into a really exciting bit of plot twists etc, someone, always, always says …

“What’s for lunch?” (Insert dinner/snack/food/supper/well anything they can think of actually).

If it’s not about food, and it mainly is, there could be a lingering call for, “Are we doing anything exciting today?”

Um, no. I’m writing. (Picture pouty face. Mine or hers. Doesn’t matter)

And then I feel guilty and end up getting up from my riveting writing, or some days not even getting to it at all, because I know someone will interrupt, so really there was no point starting at all.

Well, anyhow, after all that you get my point. There is always someone at home. Teenagers these days hang out on social media and never, and I mean NEVER do they all decide to all go out at the same time. Never!

There will always be washing up, dirty clothes, shopping, cooking, cleaning, etc. One of the cats always manages to be sick or poop somewhere they shouldn’t. Seriously. 101 distractions that I don’t want or need.

I just want to be alone!!!!!

So please Fairy Godmother, Please! Magically spirit my children and husband away, just for a week. Please. A week isn’t being greedy. Send them on a holiday somewhere nice so they won’t complain and leave me happily behind.

Thank you so much. (In advance)



3 reasons why married couples need separate rooms



I am seriously thinking about bringing back the time old tradition of having separate rooms for married couples. Really, I can’t think why it was done away with. It is such a good idea. Obviously, lack of space would have been the main reason, sometime around the turn of the last century, when it fell out of favour. And the demise of the ‘Big House’  of course, but I have a notion to revive the tradition.

I love a good regency novel. I adore all of Jane Austen’s books. I can read a modern Mills and Boon set in the Regency period, even a Victorian one.

I would enjoy the novelty of getting dressed up in the corsets and underskirts and all manner of clothing, but only for a day. I would not thank you for transporting me back there permanently.

Lack of painkillers, antibiotics and a decent flushing toilet would put me right off, however after this morning, I am thinking very favourably about separate bedrooms for hubby and I.

  1. Hubby and I work on different internal time clocks. I am an Owl. I love nothing more than writing at my desk until nearly midnight, and then curling up with a good book until nearly 1am. He on the other hand prefers early mornings, and is more than happy to get up extremely early on a bright sunny morning and go for a cycle. Today, I was woken at 5.30 am, as he had woken and thought ‘what a lovely day, I could cycle to work if I got up now’! I was not amused. By the time he had got dressed, been through the bathroom, banged around the house etc I was very much awake, BUT I didn’t want to be! If I had my way, my day would run from 10 am to midnight. Perfection!
  2. Hubby, as most men are, has a different body temperature to me. He will be roasting hot whilst I am freezing to death. I have resorted to an extra duvet, and at times even a dressing gown on top of my side of the bed to redress the balance of heat. Separate beds and bedrooms would be perfect thank you, then I can be toasty and luxuriating underneath  heavy layers without extra complaints.
  3. And lastly, hubby is a cyclist. Why would this bother me? Unless you are also married to a cyclist you will have no notion of where I am going with this. Serious cyclists shave their legs. In fact not just their legs, but any part of their anatomy which is open to the extremities and may slow them down, make them less wind resistant. So arms and legs then. But let me tell you, snuggling up to ‘just grown back stubble’ is not pleasant. Men, are by nature, hairy beasts, and although I had no problem with the original hairy legs, the sharp, prickly stubble is less than hug inducing. Reaching out in the middle of the night for a lovely warm cuddle, only to be replaced with a scratchy rash is a bit of a ‘no no’ in my book.

So there it is. I would like separate rooms, please. I would, if it was offered, like a nice hot cup of tea and breakfast arriving at my bedside shortly around 9am too. Someone to run me a bath, open the curtains and lay out my clothes would be an unnecessary luxury, but well, I wouldn’t say no if pushed. I could lay back and send him romantic texts when I am ready to receive visitors. Mmm, it could be just the thing.