Back Cover Blurbs vs Query Letter Blurbs

Blurb is a weird word. It sounds like a fish trying to talk. Blurb. Blurb. Blurbitty-blurrrrr-blurb.

Quirky as the word itself is, the ability to write an effective one is a vital marketing technique. While studying effective query letters and back covers can help us develop a sort of sixth-sense regarding blurb writing, a lot of authors struggle because of the profound similarities and differences between back cover blurbs and query letter blurbs.

The queries I critique tend to fall into one of three camps:

Camp #1: Reads like a synopsis, listing almost every major event in the story, often in laundry list “and then” fashion. Literary TMI.

Camp #2: Reads like a back-cover blurb. Often contains vague, and clichéd language.

Camp #3: Gets the level of detail spot-on, making my job way easier (yes, this actually happens, and yes, I sometimes weep tears of joy when it does).

I’ve seen authors complain that some agents ask for queries that are “more like a back cover blurb,” but when they try to mimic that style, their queries still fall flat. It’s my belief that understanding the similarities and differences between a back cover blurb and a query letter blurb, can make or break a querying author.

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Back-Cover Blurb Query Blurb

Meant to intrigue/entice the reader.

Meant to “sell” your book.

Contains plot, character, and world-building elements (to name a few).

Doesn’t reveal the resolution of the ultimate climax of the story.

Is written in present tense.


Back-Cover Blurb Query Blurb
Avoids spoilers as much as possible. Spoilers galore! Many secrets revealed!
Generalized language. Specific details all over the place!
Attached to a published book. Does not need to prove it can be a book, because it already is. Attached to a manuscript that might or might not be ready to be a published book. Needs to prove itself worthy.
Aimed at readers. Aimed at publishing industry professionals.

 One of the biggest differences between the back cover blurb of a published book, and the query blurb of a query letter, is detail-level. Back cover blurbs are secretive creatures. They have to be vague. They have to avoid spoilers. Their goal is to intrigue with just enough information to entice the reader, but little enough that the reader will still be thrilled and surprised by the story itself.

Your average author has read far more back-covers than they have query letters. When we try to describe a story in blurb-format, Back-cover-ese is the language we automatically translate into. Also movie trailers. Our brains tend to be big fans of movie trailers.

Back Cover Blurb: “In a race against time, young Owen must delve into his secretive past and learn the truth, or lose his newfound brother who he’s already beginning to love!”

Query Letter Blurb: “Ha! That’s not what I heard. My author told me Owen was adopted, and that his newfound brother Jimmy lives with his bio-mom—who kept Jimmy but not Owen!—and his birth family is super screwed up because his bio-dad cheated on his bio-mom with her sister, then robbed both women blind! And while he’s dealing with that hot mess of emotional overload, Owen’s got to track dad-dude down because he’s their last hope of finding a bone marrow match for Jimmy!”

^^^Don’t write your blurbs like this. This is terrible writing. The story idea is kind of cool though. Someone should maybe write that.

Query blurbs, as you may have noticed, are the loud-laughing, secret-sharing gossip at the party. They spoil almost everything. But they do it for good reason. Agents and editors read more query letters than we can probably imagine. They understand story structure. They get it on a deep, bedrock level. To appeal to them, to show them ours is a story worth giving their (very limited) time to, we need more than just the basic surface-level of the story.

Details. It’s all about those specific details.

When writing your query letter blurb (or anything, really) please, for the love of words, avoid phrases like:

  • “Or her whole world will be turned upside down.”
  • “Or everything he thought he knew would fall apart.”
  • “Or everything would change.”

Back Cover Blurb: “She must race against time to prevent a catastrophe!”

Query Letter Blurb: “She must defuse the bomb or a school bus full of children is going to blow up!”

If a phrase in your query could be used to describe literally hundreds of other stories, it doesn’t belong there. You’re not going to hook agents or editors with generic lines like “They must master their new ability or the world will be destroyed.” The world is always about to be destroyed. Main characters always have new abilities that need mastering.

What makes your story special? What’s unique about it? What does your story have that the other 724 queries in the agent or editor’s inbox don’t? A main character who uses graffiti art to make incisive social commentary, but secretly dreams of being an accountant some day? A clever novelization of Westside Story, but with mermaids? A murderer who puts a chess piece in the mouth of each of their victims, and the clever young waitress who figures out why?

Querying authors, find those details, and then share them! If you sacrifice clarity for the sake of mystery, you sacrifice your best chance to show agents or editors what your story is actually about. Make sure your query letter is that talkative gossip at the party*.

*But aim for the 250-300 word sweet spot, okay? Agents and editors have tired eyes and tired brains. Be nice to them.


Kimberly VanderhorstKimberly VanderHorst is a YA author who cherishes a love for all things quirky and strange. Claims to fame include running Prism Editing, co-hosting the annual Pitch Slam contest, and serving on the committees for the annual LDStorymakers Conference and The Whitney Awards program. Despite being a city girl with a tendency to cuss a lot, Kimberly is married to an LDS minister and lives in rural northern Canada. There, she helps raise their four lovely daughters while pretending not to be afraid of the neighbour’s chickens.


Being Courageous & Vulnerable: Writer Edition

I have had numerous conversations lately with people who have had questions about something related to publishing, something that their agent or editor might know, but for reasons including mental health issues, insecurity about writing, or a desire to not be that client, they have each paused and let the stress fester a little.

It can be a very scary thing to send an email to someone who you respect, but with whom you have some feelings of frustration, whether it be something that you don’t understand as well as you should, feedback that wasn’t provided when you thought it would be, or writerly imposter syndrome in general.

For these kinds of situations (and so many others in my life) I reach into the vault of brilliance provided by Brené Brown – this time from her book Rising Strong.  In it, she states over and over about the importance of us acknowledging the story we are telling ourselves. Please note that this isn’t the story that is true or the story that is rational – it is the story we are telling ourselves.

For example, I endure depression. I don’t like to say I suffer from it, though sometimes I do. So, the voices that tend to visit me circulate around being enough of whatever the flavor is of the day. I talk to myself as I’m getting ready for the day, greeting those thoughts when I am able to recognize as depression thoughts by their name (our theme song for this meeting is The Sound of Silence. The Disturbed version is best for me). If I am able to tell when I’m in a depression cyclone and when I am having valid concerns, it helps.

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Then, I choose key moments to share this reality with the professionals I work with. I do NOT recommend this conversation take place at the beginning of the relationship; however, it is something that I think should be shared in close partnerships, and a quality agent or editor relationship should be a close partnership.

With that out of the way, the courage comes in. There are some key things to keep in mind when starting such a conversation:

  1. DO NOT WRITE/CALL WHEN YOU ARE ON AN EMOTIONAL ROLLER COASTER. There are going to be times when the initial response to something sends your thoughts and feelings on unpredictable loops and that is not the time to talk. I have a colleague who has a sticky note on her computer that says “24 hours.” As soon as she has an email/voicemail/hears of a conversation that gets her heart racing, she looks at it and waits. This is wisdom for many situations. Practice it often and even in excess.
  1. Always, always, start with a humane greeting, a sincere inquiry into how things are going, an expression of gratitude for what has been done. Agents and editors work very hard for a lot of people, and you have the opportunity to be part of that. That’s amazing. Express your gratitude often.
  1. Lay the foundation for where you are coming from:
    • “One of the things that I was wondering . . .”
    • “I’ve always been the kind of person who . . .”
    • “A question that I have had for a while is . . . “

One of the things to remember with this part is that you can come across as accusatory VERY easily. That is not what you want to do.

This is where Brené Browning comes in. You have to convey the story you are telling yourself. It can be incredibly scary. It can feel terrifying. But honest, true expression wins over and over and over.

  1. Present options for resolving the issues you feel need to be addressed. This can be asking for some particular document that you have heard about but not seen. This can be a request to talk more in-depth in the future. This can even be an estimated timeline to receive feedback.

Some candid advice about this kind of openness: one big course correction every once in a while is necessary, but equally necessary is that you, as the author, do everything in your power to make the minor modifications as the journey toward your publication goals continues. It is not healthy for individuals within the relationship or for the relationship in general to lock everything up, let it build, send an email full of courage and vulnerability, and then start over.

There is so much uncertainty within the world of publication – the relationship you have with the people who are help you meet your goals should not have that uncertainty. And if you aren’t certain if what you are sharing has the appropriate tone, ask a trusted confidant/friend/spouse to do a read through for you. For many writers (too many writers) these kinds of moments have made them realize that the relationship they have with their agent or editor isn’t what they thought it was. That brings a whole other blogpost for another time, but please remember that you are working together in a professional partnership. If the relationship you have with your agent/editor is as strong as you’d like it to be, vulnerability and courage will reward you with peace of mind, and that is priceless.


Tasha Seegmiller believes in the magic of love and hope, which she weaves into every story she creates. A co-founder of Thinking Through Our Fingers, she is the managing editor of the writing-focused website as well as a contributor to Writers in the Storm. She is passionate about helping women nourish their creativity and is a member of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association, where she serves as a board member. The former high school English teacher now assists in managing the award-winning project-based learning program (EDGE) at Southern Utah University. Tasha married a guy she’s known since she was seven and is the mom of three teens. She is represented by Annelise Robey of Jane Rotrosen Agency.

Writing Shortcuts: Dos and Don’ts

In writing, as in life, there are helpful shortcuts and harmful ones.

Life is busy. We all want to save time, get done faster, be as efficient as possible. But sometimes taking shortcuts can backfire. I can’t count the number of times I’ve tried to carry more than I know is reasonable, just to save a trip (and how’s that for an appropriate metaphor?), only to drop and/or break something along the way.

For my vintage business I often have to drive to unfamiliar places around Salt Lake County. To save time I’ve been known to try finding the address without GPS, because the city was built on a grid system and surely I’m smart enough to find my own way—until I become hopelessly lost and have to pull over to consult Google Maps anyway, after I’ve wasted 15 or 20 minutes to save my own stubborn pride.

In writing, sometimes it’s tempting to cut corners to get the dang thing done. Be there are certain essential steps that cannot be neglected.

Writing Shortcuts Pic.jpg

Bad Shortcut #1: Not Polishing Grammar and Punctuation

This is nonnegotiable. Do not submit a manuscript to an agent or editor unless you have done your absolute best to perfect the grammar. Don’t assume they will give you a pass because your writing is so awesome. It’s an instant turnoff and highly unprofessional. If grammar is not one of your strengths, enlist the help of a critique partner, spouse, or friend with mad grammar skills to do a thorough copy edit.

Bad Shortcut #2: Not Using a Beta Reader/Critique Partner

Even after your manuscript has been stripped of grammatical errors, you will need a few people to read your story to analyze plot, character development—all the mechanics of good writing. You, the author, are too close to the story to be objective. A good critique partner is invaluable, especially one who is both honest and kind. She’ll take note of places where the action drags, or the main character’s motivation is not believable, or the villain suddenly becomes left-handed when he was right-handed for most of the book. This is the big stuff AND small stuff we don’t always catch, and there is just no substitute for having a trusted, fresh pair of eyes (or two or ten) read your story.

Bad Shortcut #3: Not Researching Submission Policies

A form query letter mass emailed to agents and editors is not in your best interest, and will simply waste everybody’s time. Send your queries in small batches, and customize them to agents or editors who 1) represent your genre; 2) are accepting queries; and 3) work for reputable organizations.

Now, I do believe there are certain shortcuts that WILL make writing easier and more productive.

Good Shortcut #1: Place Markers

Sometimes my writing stalls because I need to research a topic or I don’t know to proceed with a particular scene. If you’re drafting and don’t want to slow your momentum, simply type “Insert something brilliant or historically accurate here” and keep going. Just don’t forget to go back and fix it later!

Good Shortcut #2: Using Small Moments

So many days I’ve chosen not to write because I didn’t think I had enough time to do it properly. But lately I’ve been trying to take advantage of free moments here and there, just to fill in scenes that are rattling around in my head. This past week I wrote out short scenes while waiting for food at a restaurant and during half time at a Utah Jazz basketball game. It helps to always have your story playing in the back of your mind. When inspiration strikes, you can pull out your notebook and capture those moments of genius.

Good Shortcut #3: ???

Honestly, I’m having a tough time thinking of a #3! There really aren’t many shortcuts to solid, impactful writing. Work hard. Keep at it. Be willing to learn. Polish, polish, polish. And don’t lose sight of your goals. When you put in the time your results, though never predictable, will no doubt be more rewarding.


Growing up, Christine Hayes loved reading stories about creatures that curl your toes and legends that send a shiver down your spine. Now she loves writing about them, too. Her debut novel, MOTHMAN’S CURSE, was released in June 2015 through Roaring Brook Press/Macmillan. Christine seeks inspiration by haunting flea markets and estate sales, searching for cool vintage finds with a story to tell. While earning her degree in music she visited Asia for the first time, and later moved there with her family for several years. She has been addicted to travel ever since. Christine and her clan now live in northern Utah. Find her online at


Finding An Agent

A few months ago, I finished my novel. After multiple revisions and edits, I felt confident about moving on to the next step. Time to find an agent! The excitement to be in this new stage of the writing journey, was both exhilarating and completely daunting.

Now what? Years of working on my craft, and now, in a sense, I was starting all over again in a new space. Where I had tools in my pocket for plotting, character development, dialogue, writing description and more, I didn’t feel like much of a girl scout on “finding an agent.”

  • Was there a right way to do this?
  • How do I find an agent that loves my work?
  • How many agents should I query at the same time?

The unknown of the new process brought many unanswered questions and concerns for me, much like giving yourself a diagnosis from google before going to the doctor. I wanted to find an agent that would see my potential, love my work, and would pursue it. One that would fight for the stories I’d send them.

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How do you go about getting that agent?

1. Figure out what genre you’re writing. This is super important, so that you make sure you’re sending your story to an agent who’s actually looking, and wanting your style and genre of work. This also helps to allow you to lower your search down some. If you’ve written a mystery, don’t send it to agents that aren’t interested in mystery. Even if you think it’s the most amazing story next to Sherlock Holmes, DON’T DO IT.

2. Go to conferences or workshops. A lot of times, there are opportunities to do pitch sessions, manuscript evaluations, and to speak one-on-one with an agent. If you get that opportunity, take it. Not only are you able to build confidence and talk about your story, you get to know the agent, and they get a feel for who you are. Seeing someone’s personality and if you click, what you like about them, even how you feel around them . . . a good start. This allows you to pick out different things you’d want in the future from an agent as far as personality, work ethic, and mannerisms. It’s nice to know that your working relationship could be a good fit.

3. Social Media Sites. We live in a world where you can get to know a lot about publishing companies and agents through Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. The things that they post show you as an author who they are, what they like, and who they represent. At conferences, when you meet agents, make sure to get a business card with their info, and give them one of yours. This is a great way to make a connection, so you both can find each other online.

4. Online websites. There are so many resources you can find that will give you a list of agents, and what their specific needs are.


5. Books are a great tool as well. Writers Market puts out multiple additions every year with updated information on agents and publishing companies. The two books I typically get are Guide to Literary Agents 2018 and Writer’s Market 2018. They’re available now through Writer’s Digest. They have multiple additions with articles on how to write a query letter, what an agent does, and writing a synopsis.

6. Once you find agents who are interested in your specific genre, make a list and research each one even further. Go to their websites. Read everything you can about them. Check out their company motto, what’s important to their business, and what their main focus for authors is. Visit the submission guideline section. Get acquainted with what the company and agent would like you to send to them. Read up on foreign rights, who they represent, and news on what books or movie rights they’re selling. The more information you have about each agent, you can more fully find the best fit for what your author and story needs are.

7. Ask friends in your writing community who represents them and what they like about the company. Pick their brain about the market, questions they asked their agents, and things they’ve learned along the way.

Enjoy this new stage in your writing journey. Remember, the only way you move forward is by taking the first step.


Lauri Schoenfeld’s first love is her little clan of three silly kidlets and her wonderful hubby, Andy. Writing is a close second. She began writing poems at the age of nine, and her love for literature and music developed into composing thirty songs.  In 2014 her short story, Christmas Treasure, was featured in an anthology called, Angels from their Realms of Story.  Her favorite genre to write is anything dark, psychological, and suspenseful, but she enjoys expanding her horizons and dipping her feet in other genres as well.  Lauri teaches summer writing classes for kids and mentors teens throughout the year. She’s a Child Abuse and Scoliosis Survivor. Lauri runs a group for teen girls with Scoliosis called, The S Squad. Their motto is Strength, Support and Self Confidence.  She’s been known to dance around the house with a spoon as her microphone and sneak toppings from the ice cream bar. Lauri’s taken online classes at the Institute of Children’s Literature and was the President of the League of Utah Writers, Oquirrh Chapter for two years.  She’s a member of Crime Writers and International Thriller Writers.

Querying Is A Numbers Game

The internet is filled with resources on how to query, how many queries to send at a time, and how to write a query letter. But today I want to talk about something that I haven’t seen discussed nearly as much:

The fact that many querying writers shelve a manuscript without actually having sent out all that many queries.

Let’s start by talking about job applications. I know, totally unrelated, right? But bear with me here for a minute. My husband graduated from college in 2010, with a degree in computer programming. Because programming is a field with immense turnover and an average employee job length of three years, and because he’s done a few years of contract work, he recently started his fifth job in that space of time. Some of these jobs have come without much effort or application, but some of them have come after months of intense job searching.

In the latter situation, when he’s actively putting out applications to companies he doesn’t have connections at already, we’ve discovered that it takes a certain number of applications put out in the ether before things reach a critical mass, at which point things really start to move and he finally ends up with a job offer.

In my experience, querying is much the same. If you pay attention when writers who’ve recently signed with an agent share query stats, you’ll notice that much of the time, they’ve sent at least fifty queries for that book—and often much more than that. I know a fair number of talented writers who’ve signed with big-name agents… but only after they’d sent a hundred or more queries.

While preparing for this post, I asked a group of agented authors about how many queries they sent before signing with their agent. The responses ranged anywhere from 4 to 125. For those who went on to sell that book, there also was no correlation between how many queries an author sent and how quickly the book sold to a publisher; many of the ones who sent the most queries sold within weeks, while some who sent the smallest number of queries got the largest number of publisher rejections. It’s also pertinent to know that for many of these authors, the book that ultimately landed their agent was not the first book they’d queried.

Personally, I sent 43 queries on my debut, which is a fairly small number for my track record—and the only reason it was so relatively few was because I got an agent very quickly after the first #DVPit contest, which made things move much faster than they otherwise would have. On the book I queried before my debut, though, I sent more than 110 queries in total before finally shelving the book.

Why am I sharing all these stats? Because so often, I’ll talk to aspiring authors who are feeling overwhelmed by the query slog and hear that they’re considering shelving books after a relatively small number of queries. Many shelve before reaching the 50-query mark, and a good number shelve even before that, at 30 queries or less. But if you consider that the vast majority of authors send several dozen queries before signing with their agent, and some send a hundred or more, shelving a book when it’s been seen by such a relatively small number of agents isn’t giving the book a true chance.

Viewing querying as a numbers game also helps take the personal sting out of rejections. When you query expecting to have to send out a lot, it’s easier not to get attached to each individual agent you send to, and easier to move on again if you receive a rejection.

Of course, using this query strategy leaves two important questions:

1. How do you know you’re not just throwing away your queries on a book that’s not strong enough?

The answer to the first question is a matter of pretty simple game strategy. I’m a small-batch querier: I typically send 5-10 queries at a time (usually closer to 5, since sending queries takes time!), then wait to see if I get requests from that. A 20-25% request rate while I was querying was usually my sign—if I had that many requests, I could be fairly confident that my query was working well, so I sent out more. I’d send out one or two more queries every week or two, provided I was still getting requests. Over several months, I’d build up to the point where I had a few dozen queries out in the world—at which point, I’d start to get responses on the fulls I’d sent out to the early requesters. Full rejections can be a perfect time to pause, evaluate feedback given, and figure out if it’s time to revise before moving on with more querying.

2. How do you even find that many agents?

Since I write young adult and middle grade, my favorite resource when I’d get ready to query a new book was the Literary Rambles blog, which has a database of literary agents who represent picture book, middle grade, and young adult titles. I also would make note of Writer’s Digest New Agent announcements, check the acknowledgments of my favorite books or Google my favorite authors to see who represented them, and pay attention when my friends talked about the agents they were querying. I also highly recommend QueryTracker as a resource to track and organize queries. For my first queried book—which got sent to only a few agents because it was clear early on that I wasn’t getting any requests and I’d had specific feedback from several industry pros saying that my book just didn’t stand a chance in the current market—I literally kept track of the agents I was querying on a sticky note. I do not recommend that!

So, if you’re querying and starting to get discouraged because you’ve hit twenty, thirty, forty queries—or much more—without an offer, take heart! Remember just how many successful writers didn’t land an agent until they’d sent out a lot of queries. Take those rejections, archive them, eat some chocolate… and send out more!


Cindy Baldwin is a Carolina girl who moved to the opposite coast and is gamely doing her part in keeping Portland weird. As a middle schooler, she kept a book under her bathroom sink to read over and over while fixing her hair or brushing her teeth, and she dreams of someday writing just that kind of book. Her debut middle grade novel is forthcoming from HarperCollin’s Children’s in 2018. Find her online at and on Twitter at @beingcindy.

Let’s Stop The Writerly Blame Game


Settle down, my friends. Pull up a chair. Or a couch. Or a bed. Or sprawl on the floor, if that’s your preference. But get comfortable, because today we’re going to be talking about some hard truths.

Many, many times in the last few months, I’ve heard variations of the same two themes coming out of the mouths of aspiring writers. The first type of comment goes like this: It’s really no use querying an agent. Or querying this agent. Or trying to get traditionally published at all. After all, statistically only a tiny percentage of writers ever get an agent anyway. 

The second type of comment is similar: I’ve been querying, but I just keep getting rejected. I think it’s because agents only want the same old drivel. They don’t care about originality. This comment comes in an endless array of specifics and individualizations, but the heart of the justification is always the same: Those agents just don’t see what a good thing I’ve got going. They don’t recognize my genius. Often, the writer who makes comments like this is also resistant to the idea of revising or rewriting their book, feeling that that would be pandering to somebody else’s tastes in order to get an agent.

And you know what? I totally get it. Let me give you a little picture of my own query history.

Just over three years ago, I started querying a fairytale retelling. It was the third book I’d written but the first I’d queried, and I had stars in my eyes. I’d revised the book a bit, my critique partners had told me that it was Newbery Award material, and I was confident that I’d find an agent who wanted to snap that book up right away. Excitedly, I started live-pitching at conferences and sending out queries. I submitted to the Pitch Wars contest.

The crickets were deafening.

The sparse bits of feedback I got, from both agents and contest mentors, were all the same: It’s not original enough. There’s no place in the market for it. I was stung. I’d poured my heart and soul into that book! I’d given it my all! Couldn’t those agents recognize the genius that was in front of them? Of course, I comforted myself, the stats show that hardly anybody who queries actually lands an agent. The agents are all just too busy to see how big my book could go.

I’ve written before about the watershed moment that happened that autumn, the moment that gave me the courage to pick myself up by my bootstraps and keep working. Sadder but wiser, I turned my attention to my fourth novel. I spent months revising and polishing it, and then dove in again: live pitching, querying, contest entering. This time, things started out much more promisingly. I got lots of agent requests right off the bat, and for several months I was certain that that would be the book to get me an agent. When those requests turned into rejection after rejection after rejection, I found myself thinking again: It’s just because it’s not a Twilight or Hunger Games readalike. Can’t those agents recognize a good thing when they see it? 

Shelving that book was hard. It’s still the book of my heart, and saying a temporary goodbye to it was gut-wrenching. It was so, so easy to place the blame on anything else: the industry. The agents. The market.

This story has a happy ending: After going through a true dark night of the soul, I once again picked myself up, finished the manuscript I was drafting, and queried it. Within weeks, I had multiple agent offers for that book. I signed with my fantastic agent a month after sending my first query. Next year, that book will be my debut novel with HarperCollins Children’s.

What is my point in sharing this story? It’s because I get so frustrated, so saddened, to hear writer after writer utter self-defeating words before they’ve even really given querying and submission a college try. Querying is hard work. It is grueling, stressful, and involves a lot of rejection. But so, too, does writing as a career. No matter what path to publication you end up taking, there will be rejection, stress, and insecurity. As a traditionally-published debut author, I’m already beginning to feel the anxiety that comes from knowing that next summer, people will pick up my book… and some won’t like it. Some will give it bad reviews on Amazon. Even more terrifying, the vast majority of people will probably never be remotely interested in my book. And the stakes are high: How readers respond to my debut will, in large part, determine the path my future career takes.

Self-publishing is the same. While you get to skip the rejections from agents and editors, indie publishing is still rife with rejection and angst. The bottom line is this: If you want to be a writer, you cannot escape rejection.

And while shrouding yourself in an armor made of justifications is the natural response to the pain of being rejected, it’s also an ultimately unhelpful strategy. To be a writer is, by its very nature, to allow yourself to become vulnerable. What is more raw than the feeling of pouring your heart into words and then seeing somebody dislike (or—even worse—not care about) those words? That vulnerability is part and parcel of a writing career—and the sooner you can accept and lean into it, the more resilient and strong your writer heart will become.

Yes, it’s hard to be rejected. Yes, it’s hard to stomach the thought that the problem might lie with our book—those words that poured straight from our heart—and not with the agent, the publisher, the establishment. And yes, the statistics for the number of querying writers are grim. But you know what? In this industry, persistence, humility, and a willingness to start over and try again pay off. It took me three different books, more than 120 queries, and a whole lot of fresh starts and trying new things to land an agent and a book deal—but I did it. My agent has taken on a grand total of three clients in the last two years, including me. Based on the number of queries she generally receives, there was a .03% chance that I would have landed an offer. And yet I did.

And you, dear friend? I believe in you. I have faith in your ability to beat the odds. I have faith in your ability to adapt, to learn, and to use the tools available to you to bring your craft to the level that it needs to be in order to achieve your writerly dreams.

But trust me when I say that the first step to achieving those dreams is this: Take a deep breath. Let go of all the reasons you have for why agents or editors aren’t seeing what you see in your book. And get ready to work.


headshot1Cindy Baldwin is a Carolina girl who moved to the opposite coast and is gamely doing her part in keeping Portland weird. As a middle schooler, she kept a book under her bathroom sink to read over and over while fixing her hair or brushing her teeth, and she dreams of someday writing just that kind of book. Her debut middle grade novel, WHERE THE WATERMELONS GROW, is forthcoming from HarperCollin’s Children’s in 2018. Find her online at and on Twitter at @beingcindy.

Setting Reader Expectations (aka, why most prologues don’t work)

As a teacher, I tell my students that readers are constantly making judgments about what they right, trying to estimate what kind of story or information will follow. These expectations form an unspoken agreement with the reader, and if the writer violates those expectations too much, readers feel, at best, annoyed and at worst, betrayed. Mostly, though, we take those violations as signs of inexpert writing.

Recently, as a Pitch Wars mentor, I had the opportunity to read dozens of queries, first chapters (around 80)–and for manuscripts we requested, synopses and multiple chapters. Some of these were very good (in general, I was impressed by the quality of writing!), but one of the common reasons for me to stop reading was a mismatch between expectations and what I saw on the page.

1. Query

One of the mismatches I saw was between the query letter and the story I started reading. There are lots of successful queries floating around the web, and many of them are plot-based queries that promise (and deliver) a high-stakes, fast-paced plot.


Not every book is fast-paced or really high stakes. If your story is a quieter story, it can be a disservice to your story to exaggerate the stakes or the pace in the query–you’ll miss the agents who are looking for a slower, quieter book, and readers who dive in expecting an action story only to find a quiet, character gem might be turned off by the mismatch. (Of course, there’s always the chance that once readers start to read they’ll be sucked in regardless of what was promised, but my feeling is it’s good to start on the same page).

2. Opening Pages and Prologues

 As a reader, I try to make estimations of the story from the very first word. I’m making assumptions about the main character based on her initial actions and dialogue; I’m making assumptions about the type of story based on mood and action. If I’m in the mood for a light, fluffy rom-com and an opening chapter promises this–but then turns into a much darker family drama or horror, I’m going to come away frustrated and disappointed. This isn’t to say that I want to be able to predict everything that’s going to happen (that’s a separate blog post, but an equal turn-off)–only that the surprises in the story ought to be surprises that are consistent with general reader expectations about the kind of story we’re reading.

One of the problems I’ve seen with prologues (or first chapters that are really disguised prologues) is that they set up expectations for the story that are inconsistent with the following chapters. Often, readers add a prologue after realizing that the adventure or thrill of their story doesn’t start until several chapters in–how, then, to convince readers to keep reading until they get to the good stuff? The solution: add a prologue with all the adventure and thrill of the later story. Sometimes this works (see, for instance, the Indiana Jones movies and James Bond). But when it works, it’s because this thrilling slice of life is as much a part of the character’s normal life as the mundane teaching/drinking and seducing women stuff. Prologues don’t work when they promise high stakes and then the story forces us through extended mundane world stuff. If the story is action/adventure, we need hints of that action/adventure from the beginning of the story. The narrative needs to be able to engage readers and carry its weight without the prologue before a prologue can really work effectively.

If you’re not sure that you’re setting the right expectations, ask some beta readers who haven’t read your work to read the first couple chapters and make predictions about the kind of story, general plot conflicts, etc. that they expect to find. If they’re generally making predictions in the right direction, you’re on the right track.

3. Story

Sometimes the mismatch of expectations comes within the story itself. I’ve read a few stories where the first part of the novel seems to promise certain kinds of conflict–only for the story to veer off midway through into a seemingly different story and resolves a related (but not the originally promised) conflict. As a reader, these kinds of stories leave me emotionally unsatisfied.

Successful stories are about the arousing and fulfilling of desires–don’t raise desires and needs in the reader that you don’t plan on answering.


Rosalyn Eves is a part-time writer, part-time English professor, and full-time mother of three. She loves all things BBC, especially costume dramas and mysteries. When not wrangling children (and sometimes when she should be wrangling children), she’s often found reading. Her debut novel, BLOOD ROSE REBELLION, is forthcoming March 2017 from Knopf. She’s represented by Josh Adams of Adams Literary.