Writing Queries That Get Read

image by geralt

My guest today is managing and acquiring editor Jennifer Slattery. Jennifer gives us insights into the query letters writers must construct to sell their works. At the end of her post, check out her new book Healing Love.

Jennifer: Most of us spend months if not years writing then perfecting a novel then pop off a query, our stories first introduction to professionals, in ten or so minutes. For some reason many of us have come to believe this is a skill we inherently lack and will never quite master, but I disagree. We’re communicators—that’s what we do. And like with any other element of the craft, we can learn to write strong, effective queries that get read—and perhaps even warrant an invitation to submit a manuscript.

Make it personal.

In other words, let the agent or editor know why you chose to query them and they’d be interested in your project.

image by geralt

No one likes to be a part of mass emails or to feel like they’re simply one of several dozen professionals you’ve contacted. This has nothing to do with pride. Rather, it’s an issue of effective time management. More often than not, mass email queries are sent by writers who didn’t take time to research recipients. Therefore, they usually miss the mark. These authors pitch memoirs to editors of romance. They send high fantasy projects to those looking for marriage and family pieces.

Often, such queries provide a strong and lasting impression—a negative one. The better option: take time to find out who wants what you’re writing. If you’re not sure, ask. I would much rather spend my time responding to someone looking for writer’s guidelines than trudging through an inbox full of irrelevant material.

Keep it concise.

Let the agent or editor know, right up from, your genre, word count, if it’s complete, and if you have or are submitting it elsewhere. You can do all that in one sentence, two tops. Here’s an example from a query I sent out years ago for what became my fourth release:

I’m writing to introduce you to my 91,600 word, multiple submission, women’s inspirational fiction, Breaking Free. 

Up your queries “bam-grab-me” component.

image by bairi

Yes, a query is an email, in essence, a letter. And yes, it’s important to tell the editor or agent all the pertinent details regarding our projects, but we don’t want to bore them in the process. As with almost anything we write, our story premise must grab our reader and shake the cobwebs from their brain. (This is exponentially true for agents and editors who may have already spent hours-upon-hours sifting through gunk before getting to your gem.)

This is where you’ll want to practice writing 75-to-150 word back cover blurbs. Strong blurbs (or pitch paragraphs) set up the tension for your novel, tell us what’s at stake, and reveal genre, tone and the author’s voice.

In other words, it’s not something one can pop off in an afternoon. It’s always a good idea to sift one’s blurbs through a handful of critique partners before sending them out to industry professionals.

Sound daunting? I hear you. I haven’t met a writer yet who enjoys writing back cover copy. But if we’re going to spend months perfecting that novel, it only makes sense that we’ll also invest the necessary time to make sure it gets read.

Querying can be intimidating and stressful. Not only must one embrace risk by sending their work out, but they also must present the hook of their story in less than a page, and present themselves well. But like with anything else, this is a skill we can learn, if we’ll but invest the time. Plus, with each query, the writing becomes that much stronger and the process that much easier.

What would you add to my list?

Strong book queries tell what’s at stake and reveal genre, tone & author’s voice. Click to tweet.

Author, speaker, and ministry leader Jennifer Slattery writes for Crosswalk.com and is the managing and acquiring editor for Guiding Light Women’s Fiction, an imprint with Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas. She believes fiction has the power to transform lives and change the culture. Healing Love is her sixth novel, and it was birthed during a trip she and her family took to El Salvador that opened her eyes to the reality of generational poverty and sparked a love for orphans and all who’ve experienced loss.

Her deepest passion is to help women experience God’s love and discover, embrace, and live out who they are in Christ. As the founder of Wholly Loved Ministries, she travels with her team to various churches to speak to women and help them experience the love and freedom only Christ can offer. When not writing, editing, or speaking, you’ll likely find her chatting with her friends or husband in a quiet, cozy coffeehouse. Visit her online at JenniferSlatteryLivesOutLoud.com and connect with her and her Wholly Loved team at WhollyLoved.com

A news anchor intern has it all planned out, and love isn’t on the agenda.

Brooke Endress is on the cusp of her lifelong dream when her younger sister persuades her to chaperone a mission trip to El Salvador. Packing enough hand sanitizer and bug spray to single-handedly wipe out malaria, she embarks on what she hopes will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

But Brooke is blindsided by the desperation for hope and love she sees in the orphans’ eyes. And no less by the connection she feels with her handsome translator. As newfound passion blooms, Brooke wrestles with its implications for her career dreams.

Ubaldo Chavez, teacher and translator, knows the struggle that comes with generational poverty. But he found the way out – education – and is determined to help his students rise above.

When he agrees to translate for a mission team from the United States he expects to encounter a bunch of “missional tourists” full of empty promises. Yet an American news anchor defies his expectations, and he finds himself falling in love. But what does he have to offer someone with everything?


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3 Components That Help You Create a Strong Story

image by Peggy_Marco
image by Peggy_Marco




Today my guest is Jennifer Slattery. She gives powerful suggestions to help us strengthen our stories. Be sure to learn more about her novel, Breaking Free, at the end of her post.



When stories fall flat, more often than not, one can trace this back to a few key issues: The characters’ goals aren’t clear or compelling enough, the stakes aren’t high enough, or the story hasn’t presented a sense of urgency.

Character goals tell the reader what they’re rooting for.

Your character needs story goals (one abstract and one concrete that he believes will help him attain his abstract goal) and numerous scene goals. Because without clear and compelling goals, everything else becomes noise. For this reason, readers should know the character’s goals as soon as possible, preferably in the first page. And you can add hints within the first paragraph.

image by Peggy_Marco
image by Peggy_Marco

Let’s look at an example from a well-known book, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. Katniss wants freedom (from oppression and starvation for her, her family, and her district). This is her abstract goal. She believes winning the Hunger Games (her concrete goal) will help her achieve that freedom. So you see, both are important. Without an abstract goal, the concrete goal lacks oomph, but without the concrete goal, we have nothing to root for. The two work together.

High stakes makes us care.

According to Randy Ingermanson, in order for the reader to truly care, the stakes need to potentially lead to the death of something: a career, a relationship, life itself. In our example, the stakes are two-fold: a life of oppression, so the death of freedom, and once Katniss enters the arena, quite literally, death.

This is one of the reasons the Hunger Games sold over 9.2 million copies and became a box office hit. Collins presented clear and compelling concrete and abstract goals, strong scene goals in each and every scene, which is also important, and continually rising stakes.

Collins also infused nearly every page with a sense of urgency. (This is something James Patterson does really well also.)

A sense of urgency propels readers forward.

image by iworksphotography
image by iworksphotography

Imagine you have two stories. In one, your main character wants to earn money to buy groceries. Not very interesting, right? What if she needs to earn money to buy groceries for her kids before social workers come for a visit to potentially remove her children from her home?

Which story would you be more apt to keep reading?

Without clear & compelling goals in your story, everything else becomes noise. Click to tweet.

What are your thoughts on today’s post? Can you share any examples of a novel that uses all three of these story components well? Share your thoughts in the comments below, because we can all learn from each other.

BCheadshot2013Jennifer Slattery writes soul-stirring fiction for New Hope Publishers, Christian living articles for Crosswalk.com, and devotions for Internet Café Devotions, the group blog, Faith-filled Friends, and her personal blog. She also does content editing for Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas’ Firefly imprint, and loves working with authors who are serious about pursuing their calling. When not writing, reading, or editing, Jennifer loves going on mall dates with her adult daughter and coffee dates with her hilariously fun husband.

Visit with Jennifer online at JenniferSlatteryLivesOutLoud.com and connect with her on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/JenSlatte

BreakingFree_N1664109Breaking Free:

Sometimes it takes losing everything to grab hold of what really matters. 

Women’s ministry leader and Seattle housewife, Alice Goddard, and her successful graphic-designer husband appear to have it all together. Until their credit and debit cards are denied, launching Alice into an investigation that only leads to the discovery of secrets. Meanwhile, her husband is trapped in a downward spiral of lies, shame, and self-destruction. Can they break free from their deception and turn to the only One who can save them? And will it be in time to save their marriage?

Read a free, 33-page excerpt here: http://newhopepublishers.com/2016/02/free-sample-of-breaking-free/

Buy it:

Christian Book Distributors: http://www.christianbook.com/breaking-free-a-comtemporary-romance-novel/jennifer-slattery/9781596694682/pd/694682?event=ESRCG

Barnes and Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/breaking-free-peter-maxwell-slattery/1119735612?ean=9781596694682

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Breaking-Free-Jennifer-Slattery/dp/1596694688/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8

Why You Should Strongly Consider Writing in One Genre




My guest today is Jennifer Slattery, author of Beyond I Do. Jennifer shares an important principle. Be ready for her thought-provoking examples. And don’t miss more about Jennifer and Beyond I Do following her post.


 As a freelance editor I’m often asked by new writers: how do I start? And I always answer: just start. Sit your tush in front of your computer and start. Write and keep writing, and eventually, God will direct you into the genre that best fits you.

I believe, through prayer and persistence, God will help writers find their niche.

But what about those writers who want to dabble in a bit of everything? Is that wrong?

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Wrong might be a strong word, but unless you’re the brilliant Dr. Dennis Hensley, dabbling in literary diversity could work against you. This topic has been sufficiently debated in numerous writers’ groups, and most often, our arguments are centered on the reader. While it’s imperative we consider our readers in all we do, I suggest we consider this discussion from a different angle—that of personal growth and our pursuit of excellence. 

Let me explain:

Every genre has unique yet reader-expected boundaries and expectations. Click to tweet.

For example, literary fiction often contains a great deal of introspection, examining the thoughts, emotions, and behavior of their character/s at a deeper level than contemporary fiction, and the story ending can be tragic or sad. Suspense on the other hand is largely plot driven and moved very quickly. Romance requires two point-of-view (POV) characters and a happily-ever-after ending.

If you’ve followed Zoe’s blog for any length of time, you likely know this. Perhaps you even feel as if you know the parameters of all genres so well, you feel equipped to write in each one.

Image courtesy of shirophoto at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of shirophoto at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

If that’s you, let me ask you this: if you were in need of a heart transplant, would you prefer to go with a general surgeon experienced in a wide range of procedures or one that had been performing heart transplants for the past twenty years? Or when you go out, do you normally find better coffee at a large restaurant or a coffee house?


You see, there’s a difference between knowing and mastering. Specialization isn’t a bad thing. I believe it’s actually quite good. It allows us to pursue excellence in one particular area. Yes, we can dabble in many, but when we do, I believe our growth will be divided. Imagine how our writing might improve if we focused our efforts.

Granted, some genres are similar enough to allow for easy writer-expansion—contemporary romance and romantic suspense are one. Also, many writers can easily switch between fiction and non (as we get a great deal of practice with the latter doing blog tours! Heehee.) But even in similar genres, I believe the principle still stands. In every field, excellence, I believe, is found in specialization.

That isn’t to say writers can’t write well in a variety of genres. I believe some, like Dr. Hensley, can. But for the majority of us, I believe our efforts will be maximized when we narrow our focus and pursue that narrowed focus with diligence, intentionality, and perseverance.

What are your thoughts on this subject? How many genres do you write in and why? Have you found your genre “sweet spot” yet? Do you prefer to write in one genre or do you enjoy dabbling in a variety? If you believe writers can diversify, do you believe there’s a point when they’ve expanded too much?

headshot2013Jennifer Slattery writes soul-stirring fiction for New Hope Publishers, a publishing house passionate about bringing God’s healing grace and truth to the hopeless. Her debut novel, Beyond I Do, is currently discounted in e-book format for under $3! You can find it here

She also writes for Crosswalk.com, Internet Café Devotions, and writes and edits for Christ to the World Ministries. When not writing, Jennifer loves helping aspiring authors grow in their craft, and has editing slots open beginning in November. Find out more here

Visit with Jennifer online at JenniferSlatteryLivesOutLoud. 

 Beyond I Do:

 Will seeing beyond the present unite them or tear them apart?

Marriage . . . it’s more than a happily ever after. Eternally more.

Ainsley Meadows, raised by a hedonist mother, who cycles through jobs and relationships like wrapping paper on Christmas morning, falls into a predictable and safe relationship with Richard, a self-absorbed socialite psychiatrist. But as her wedding nears, a battered woman and her child spark a long-forgotten dream and ignite a hidden passion. One that threatens to change everything, including her fiancé. To embrace God’s best and find true love, this security-seeking bride must follow God with reckless abandon and realize that marriage goes Beyond I Do.

Read a free, 36-page excerpt here.