ShePublishes: A Celebratory Giveaway
Written by
Sarah Pinneo
January 2012
Written by
Sarah Pinneo
January 2012

The Adventures of a Query Queen

By Sarah Pinneo

Today it is finally true. After years of work, two manuscripts, and who knows how many queries, my novel hits bookstore shelves, published by Plume, an imprint of Penguin USA.

Julia's Child is a Cinderella story about a mom who wants very much to see her product, a line of organic toddler foods, on the shelves at Whole Foods. It doesn't take a genius to notice how closely that dream resembles that of a writer who wants to see her book published.

I've been a member of SheWrites since the summer of 2009, when my adventure was just beginning. And hands down, my most satisfying SheWrites experience has been helping to critique other writers' query letters in the Query Critique v 2.0 Forum.

Even though today is my publication date, and though I have a bookstore event to prepare and a new manuscript that needs my attention, I'll still swing by the query forum to see who's feeling stuck.

Because I love queries.

I wrote my first query letter in 2005. First, I read a book on the subject, its edges quickly filling with colorful flags as I bookmarked the most crucial bits. That query, for The Ski House Cookbook was ultimately successful, and the book was published in 2007. It was very exciting to see my name on that shiny dust cover in the Cooking section. But the truth was, I had used the cookbook as procrastination. What I really wanted to write was a novel.

Although it took a lot of time and a couple of false starts, I did it. And then came the query writing again. There were a couple of books which really helped me learn the art of the query, and take the fear away. More about those in a minute. 

But first I want to say this: if you're querying for an agent right this minute, even if you've racked up 100 rejections already, I'm more than a little bit nostalgic for your plight. Because you have a finished manuscript in hand, and a crystal clear mission. I understand that this might not feel like a blessing of while your desk is papered over with rejection letters. I've been there. But the query process is, at least, a common bottleneck on the way to success. That means you will find compatriots along the path. And there's a structure to it--there are rules. No other part of the publication journey is nearly as orderly.

There are lots of great query resources on the web, and I'm happy to point you in their direction. But there were a couple of books that helped me on the long slog from the slush pile to the bookstore. And now I want to pass them on. Please raise your hand if you could benefit from these:

  1. Making the Perfect Pitch: How to Catch a Literary Agent's Eye, edited by Katherine Sands. This book, now out of print, was invaluable to me. It is an anthology of 40 essays and interviews, each one by a different agent. That is, between two covers, 40 different literary agents tell you, in their own words, what they want to see in a query. It wasn't until after I read this book that I finally understood query writing. The book is good for both fiction and non-fiction writers.
  2. The First Five Pages by Noah Lukeman. Lukeman is a successful agent, and the book is subtitled: A Writer's Guide to Staying Out of the Rejection Pile. 
  3. The Sell Your Novel Tool Kit by Elizabeth Lyons

These books are like old friends now. But I'm betting they'll be more useful to someone else. If you would like to enter yourself in the Great Query Book Giveaway, and you live in the US, please leave a comment below. On Tuesday February 6th, I will choose one comment at random. The winner will receive all three books.

Lastly, I want to say thank you. I find SheWrites to be a terrific, supportive community of women writers. If there's anything I can do to help you figure out your own query path, please don't hesitate to shoot me a note. I'm happy to help.

Sarah Pinneo is the newly minted author of Julia's Child (Plume 2012) and the co-author of The Ski House Cookbook (Clarkson Potter 2007). She edits the book publicity blog Blurb is a Verb. Visit her at

Let's be friends

The Women Behind She Writes

519 articles
12 articles

Featured Members (7)

123 articles
392 articles
54 articles
60 articles

Featured Groups (7)

Trending Articles

  • This is fabulous, Sarah. I can't wait to read it! It looks so good. I am thrilled for you. I had no idea your book had come out, which makes me feel like a doofus. 

    Hey, how come I never get emails telling me about query critique postings? I forget to go on She Writes unless somebody nudges me. 

  • Susan

    Congratulations! Looking forward to reading your book.

  • Kat Ward

    Can't wait to pick up your book, Sarah. What a brilliant time for you. Congratulations. And, yes, thank you for all the tips. I haven't commented much, but I'm reading and taking notes!

  • D. L. Cocchio

    Dear Sarah,

    I am in awe of your accomplishment. Congratulations fellow author! You have given me some excellent feedback on She Writes and love your style and guiding hand. Please consider me for the book giveaway, as I still need that little push to get it right. Hope I win!


  • Mary Krakow

    I'm ready! I have a finished ms in a file drawer. It has been critiqued, reworked, and rewritten. Thanks for the opportunity to win these three books. If I am selected, I will pass on your good deed by sharing with my critique group. Cheers!

  • Andi Gregory Pearson

    Thanks, Sarah.  This is really helpful.  I may be a 'novel writing rookie' but I don't want to make a rookie mistake.  I'll start writing the query now - it may help me crystalize my writing/thinking even more.

  • Sarah Pinneo

    Hi Andi! You should start writing the query now. Writing the query will help crystallize your book's hook / premise / mission as you go forward. But you should not send it until the manuscript is really and truly complete. Querying too soon is a common rookie mistake, and the risk is that an agent will respond positively: "your book sounds great--shoot it over!" If you're not ready to quickly and proudly respond with a manuscript, it will be a wasted opportunity.

  • Andi Gregory Pearson

    Wonderful encouragement for those of us who will send out queries.  My question is:  when do you start this process?  I have just about completed the first edition of my novel - do I start now with the idea that it will take some time?  Do I wait till I have an absolute-final-revised edition?  Any guidance on this timing would be great...thanks.

  • Heidi Lee Munson

    I'm thrilled to read - Congratulations. I'm not quite ready to start querying agents, so I know I have a lon road in front of me. Encouraging to hear your success.


  • Jolene Hart

    Sarah, congratulations on your novel! Julia's Child sounds lovely and am thrilled to hear that your long-awaited publication day has arrived. And thank you for motivating others with your energy and support. It's so kind of you to pass on your tools so that they may be used again and again. I'm writing a book proposal now, and I'd love to use your books as a guide and give them a good home, until I pass them along to the next writer in need!

  • Sara Beth Cole

    Congratulations!  It's great to hear success stories!  I've been querying for a couple months now and haven't had any success yet!  This giveaway will really help anyone who wins it!

  • Barbara H. Horter

    I would love to enter the Great Query Book Giveaway, maybe even trade YOU for a book or two I have. I have a collection I began in childhood (I'm 71 now) and my kids would tell you I'd lend THEM before I'd lend a book (they know better) but If you have one in mind, I may have it. I would love the titles you offer because I would love to get the answer to how one gets an agent, and I WOULD lend that secret since I have so many friends who ARE ALREADY marvelous writers but have no agent. I'd at least like to keep it all in the family. I love the autographed copies after my friends get or do publishing. THEN I'd love to publish, my poetry and am working on a memoir about my mom who was an artist and my most treasured character. Love ya Mom!

  • Sarah Pinneo

    Thank you all for your kind words. Every time I visit SheWrites I'm proud to be a member.

  • Stacy Leah Schaefer

    I've enjoyed reading you various post on "Blurb is a Verb", yet this post was by far my favorite. 

    Thank you for sharing your with us your trials towards ultimate success.  Also, thank you for offering the tools you found to be the most useful.  Congratulations on your first NOVEL!

  • Michelle Turner

    Congratulations on your book release! As a poet with novel-writing aspirations, I find this post especially insightful. Query letters aren't really part of the poetry world, so I know very little of the process. I have several fiction-writing friends who would benefit hugely from these books, as will I in the future. They would be a great shared resource... And I never win anything! Now's the time! 

  • Julia Munroe Martin

    Congratulations! (and what a great giveaway!) I will be beginning to query in a couple of months, so these books would be amazing! 

  • Kerry Ann Morgan

    I can use them — me, me!  Not ready to start drafting those letters quite yet, but I hope to be at that scary step in a few months.

    Congrats again.

  • Jeanne Nicholas

    Contests! YAY. Gotta get my reading material somewhere <shrug>.  :D


  • Megan E

    Congrats! Thanks for offering this contest and encouragement.

  • Patricia Harrelson

    Congratulations, Sarah. Your enthusiasm is infectious and I've no doubt that your feedback in the Query Letter Workshop is inspirational. The file of rejection letters in my drawer gets fatter by the day so your post is timely encouragement. I've signed up for the SheWrites forum on query letters and I'm adding my name to the list of folks who would love to get the books you are giving away. Keep up the good work, inspiring and encouraging the rest of us.


  • Ellen Haroutunian

    Thanks for your encouragement!

  • Barbara Shallue

    Oh, how I need these books! I'd love to share them with my critique group! Thanks for the wonderful giveaway and for all the great tips!

  • Helen Gallagher

    Listen up, folks, because Sarah is right. There is a mystique to the magic of queries, but as she says, there is "No other part of the publication journey is nearly as orderly."

    Starting is the best way to finish!


  • Leia Menlove

    Such a useful post, Sarah! Posts like this one really help take some of my fear away by illuminating the unknown. I'm so excited to read your book and blog now. 

  • Joanne R. Alloway

    Hi Sarah,
    Congratulations! I love your writing style! I look forward to your book;the premise is very now and will be both entertaining and helpful to many women. Thanks for all the tips on query letters, too- very helpful! Joanne