photo of Elizabeth Engstrom by Mary Bartnikowski

Link to Table of Contents

Oak Tree Graphic

Writing Tips

The Three Act Structure
Point of View
Overdone Plots
How to Write a Query
Weekly Writer’s Workshop Format
The Art of the Short Story
The Synopsis
The Art of the Essay
A Simple Approach to Plot
Evaluating Your Original Idea
Last Draft: The Final Polish

with thanks to literary agent Elsa Hurley

The Do’s and Don’ts of Querying an Agent

Five Do’s

  1. Address the agent by name.
  2. Comment favorably on a novel the agent has represented.
  3. Give any pertinent personal background information.
  4. Supply all of your contact information, and an SASE.
  5. Be polite and professional in every communication.

Five Don’ts

  1. Don’t tell the agent how great your novel is.
  2. Don’t talk about how much your friends and family love it.
  3. Don’t contact his or her office to confirm that your manuscript arrived.
  4. Don’t give the agent a deadline to get back to you.
  5. Don’t try to get him or her onto the phone to discuss the book.

Good Example

January 15, 2004

Elsa Hurley
Candice Fuhrman Literary Agency
60 Greenwood Way
Mill Valley, CA 94941

Dear Ms. Hurley,

I recently read The Language of Good-bye by Maribeth Fischer and found it very moving. It made me think that you might be interested in my own novel, World Without End. While my novel is about the coming together of two people, and not about a break-up as in Fischer’s, I do think that my writing style is similar to hers, and that we both explore the same emotional issues.

I am a graduate student and MFA candidate at Sonoma State University. My stories have been published in The Alaska Quarterly and The Ohio Review.

I’m enclosing the first chapter of my novel World Without End. I’m also enclosing an SASE for your reply.

Thank you for having a look at my work.


Sylvia Twichell
576 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94105

Bad Example

January 1, 2003

Dear Literary Agent,

I’m writing in search of an agent for my book The Rooster Crows at Midnight. I am certain that this book will be a bestseller—one that could make an agent a lot of money. Have I got your interest now?

The Rooster Crows at Midnight is a fast-paced, compelling story of a lawyer with a cocaine problem who is framed for his boss’s murder. Without giving the surprising ending away, I’ll just say that the reader is in for one hell of a roller coaster ride.

My manuscript has been read by several friends of mine, all of whom have given it rave reviews. It will be copyedited by Peter Stevenson, published author.

Give me a call at (518)BAD-QUERY if you’d like to be part of this exciting project. Please call me by January 31, as I will be out of the country thereafter.


Joseph Brown