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Query Letter, Part 1: Contact Info

Query.  A strange sounding word.  Webster defines it as “question.”  Writers send query letters to suggest ideas for stories or books, and there is an art to writing one (which I’ve yet to perfect).  Ideally, a query letter should be one page, which is difficult to manage when contact information seems to grow longer as technology advances.  Besides name, address, city, state, zip, and home phone, writers now include an email address or addresses, a web site, and a cell phone number.  Before you know it, the contact info has grown longer than a paragraph, wasting precious white space on that single page. 

 I started including my contact information in my letter’s header.  I found a cute little symbol in the character map program on my computer.  (Check out character map, found in Windows under accessories, system tools.  You’ll be surprised to find a large assortment of fonts, symbols, and even pictures that can be enlarged to whatever size you desire.)  Anyway, back to the subject.  After typing in all relevant contact information, I separate name, address, etc. with an unobtrusive mark and add a cute character for—character. 

 I make sure the font is not too large for the header, usually 10, but is still easy to read.  With the freed up space on one page, I can elaborate more on the hook, the meat of the proposed writing, and my credentials.  However, if I have a brief query, I prefer to put the contact info in the body of the letter so the letter doesn’t appear top heavy.  I’m all for a balanced look.

 I’m no expert on query letter writing.  Writers might disagree with me, but this is just a suggestion, similar to a query.

Posted in Query, Uncategorized.

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It happened on a Sunday, a day I never would have expected to receive such news.  It had been my dream for a while; in fact, I wrote on my last blog entry that one of my writing goals was to win a contest.  Although I didn’t win first prize, winning second prize was thrilling, especially knowing I had won $1,000.

The best part of winning the Tom Howard/John H. Reid Short Story, Essay, and Prose Contest was the way the contest was run.  The rules were plain from the start, and the John Reid kept me informed of the progress of the contest.  He e-mailed receipt confirmation when I submitted the essay, when I made the short list, and he informed me of when the final decisions would be made.  I felt connected throughout the process, unlike some contests that don’t even bother with any notification.

Reading John’s e-mail that informed me of my win brought tears to my eyes.  It wasn’t just a simple, “Congratulations, you won second place,” but words that really touched me deeply.  Here’s John Reid’s e-mail, which just shows the integrity of this contest, the judges, and those affiliated with Winning Writers.  My only question after I had read the good news—“What’s a fortnight?”  Thank goodness for a thesaurus.

Dear Debbie,

It gives me the greatest pleasure to inform you that your entry, “Attachments,” has won Second Prize of $1,000 in the 2009 Tom Howard Short Story, Essay and Prose Contest.

Please accept my heartiest congratulations on your splendid achievement.

From the around 2,000 entries received, the judges, after much effort on their part, finally ended up with a Short List of twenty-two entries and twenty names. (One contestant had three entries on the Final Short List).

You’ll be interested to know that your entry was always listed among the top three. Some entries did not stand up to constant re-reading. At this stage, the judges are looking for even the most minor flaws. But your entry always shone with utter perfection. A beautiful story, superbly told, with not a word out of place. 

Adam will post your story on the Winning Writers website when the Results are formally announced on September 15. Adam would also appreciate your photo and a short bio (four or five sentences will do). There is no rush for these. If you email them to him in a fortnight or so, that will be fine.

Once again, my sincerest congratulations!


You can read more comments by the judges and the essay at

Posted in Uncategorized, Writing Contests.

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Writing contests

One goal of mine is to win a writing contest.  That’s hard to do if I don’t enter them.  I must have a dozen half-completed pieces for various contests that I intended to enter but never did.  I don’t know what my problem is, but I’d guess it’s just too overwhelming to follow all the intricate instructions in the contest guidelines.  Nothing is standardized, so each contest has its own unique set of rules.  And the instructions are not written clearly.  It’s as if they want you to fail because you did not comply with the rules.  Despite your award-winning entry, you forgot to type “The End” and thus were disqualified.  Although writers are readers, it’s not always easy to decipher the cryptic guidelines, and whoever wrote the rules is obviously not a writer.

Then of course, there is the entry fee.  I read somewhere that you should never pay to enter a contest.  Clearly, the folks who hold the contests did not read that bit of advice.  Entry fees from $5 to $35 are the norm.  Of course, some fees include a subscription to their magazines.  Whoopee!  Spending $20 for an opportunity to win $150 isn’t a good return on my investment.  Also, the contest explanations do not discloses the anticipated number of contestants vying for the meager cash prizes, so my entry might have a 10% shot at winning or a 1/10,000  chance or worse.  Heck, the lottery probably has better odds.

Finally, there is the long wait for the results.  Oh, wait a minute, that sometimes changes.  How many times have I read, “Contest extended through . . .” and know those hard and fast rules I tried to obey suddenly have been changed?  You’re lucky if you see a list of the winners.  Sometimes, the contest just fades away (like your entry fee).  If the results are announced and the winning entries posted, I’m shocked reading the stories, which are, in my opinion, abundantly inferior to my work.  I understand humor is subjective, but I often fail to smile or snicker reading a winning humor piece.  Are the judges on par with the rule writers?

Despite the rules, fees, and questionable results, I do enter an occasional contest, hoping to win a grand prize.  It hasn’t happened, yet, but last month, I won an honorable mention in the Rosalie Fleming Memorial Humor Prize of the Soul-Making Literary Competition sponsored by the Nob Hill Branch of the National League of American Pen Women.  Whew!  It was my first contest-winning acknowledgment.  Although I didn’t win any money, I was invited to San Francisco to read my work.  (Of course on my dime.)  To their credit, I was informed by e-mail of the contest results, and later, to my surprise, I received a pamphlet listing the winners in all contest categories.  Bravo!  I guess receiving an honorable mention was worth the $5 entry fee.

So, my advice: let the contestant beware.  If you’ve won big money (or decent money) in a writing contest, congratulations on your achievement.  If you are still in that honorable mention category like me, keep trying.  We might hit the jackpot one day.

Posted in Uncategorized, Writing Contests.

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Rejection Blues

 This post first appeared on my old blog in 2008.

I know about a bit rejection, first experienced when I was six years old.  Children in my grade school, then boys in my high school took one look at me and R-E-J-E-C-T popped into their minds.  I know that’s what they thought; I could read it on their faces.  I look different because of an extensive port wine stain that covers one arm, my neck, chest, and back.  It’s the e-hew factor whenever someone meets me.  Many times, those with the more traditional skin colors spoke out, called me names, and teased me.  They made it clear I wasn’t to be included in their friendship circle or asked out on a date. 


I’m all grown up now and still suffering rejection, this time from literary agents.  I had the audacity to write a book about living with my extensive birthmark, the challenges it created and the discoveries I made about myself and my birthmark.  Critiques of my writing have been favorable; however, the rejections continue.  I can’t help wondering if it’s the e-hew factor again.  No one wants to think about the less than perfect humans, her traumas and challenges.  Wouldn’t a book by a pretty person be more appealing, especially at book signings?


After studying the art of writing great query letters and having mine critiqued by two writing groups, I send off pitch-perfect letters—no typos, proper salutation, intriguing opening, all bases covered.  Whoosh . . . wham . . .no thank you ma’am.  Their replies zing through cyber space faster than the time it took me to decide where in a sentence to place a comma.  I’m convinced my letters were scanned, not perused for excellence in writing and editing skills nor pondered over, considering my unique story.  Reject.  Rejection.  I’ve had a lifetime of it, and I feel a moment of despair when I read their terse retorts.  I wallow briefly, then I remember my resiliency.  Perseverance yields results, so I continue with my quest to find an agent, one who can see from my query that I have had enough rejection in my life and will offer to include me in their circle.  They are the ones who have no e-hew factor but see possibilities instead of obstacles.  I will find them.

Posted in Rejections.

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This is my new blog site.  I used the old one so infrequently that it became obsolete.  Since I did not know how to upgrade (those instructions seem to be written in a foreign language), I’m starting fresh.  I will post the old content in case you want to ramble through it.

Posted in Uncategorized.