Successful Query Letter Examples: Anna Quinn & ‘The Night Child’

This article is part of a series called Successful Queries. It features actual query letter examples to literary agents that were successful for authors. In addition to the successful query letter, you’ll also see the thoughts from the writer’s literary agent as to why the letter worked. Today’s features Anna Quinn’s letter to her agent Gordon Warnock (Foreward Literary) about her novel The Night Child, formerly titled Split.

Anna Quinn is a writer, teacher, and the owner of The Writers’ Workshoppe and Imprint Bookstore in Port Townsend, Wash. She is a published poet and essayist with 26 years of experience teaching and leading writing workshops across the country. Anna’s first novel, The Night Child, published by Blackstone Publishing, will be released Jan. 30th, 2018.

Gordon Warnock is a founding partner at Fuse Literary, serving as a literary agent and Editorial Director of Short Fuse Publishing. He brings years of experience as a senior agent, marketing director, editor for independent publishers, publishing consultant, and author coach. He frequently teaches workshops and gives keynote speeches at conferences and MFA programs nationwide. He is an honors graduate of CSUS with a B.A. in Creative and Professional Writing.

Online Course: Craft the perfect Query Letter in 14 Days with Jack Adler

Anna’s Query:

Subject: Referrals: Lidia Yuknavitch [1]

Dear Gordon Warnock,

I am submitting my [2] literary fiction [3] novel, SPLIT [4], to you upon the recommendation of Lidia Yuknavitch, author of “The Chronology of Water” [5]. When Lidia finished reading my novel she said, “I’m going to say this as clearly and strongly as I can: I love your book. I entered your book and lost myself and exited your book changed. I will do ANYTHING (the caps are Lidia’s) to help you. This is a REAL BOOK all the way through and readers will LOVE it. You are playing with the big dogs here. You must put it into the world.” [6] Also, when I read that one of your favorite books is Junot Diaz’s, This Is How You Lose Her [7], I thought we might be a good fit [8], as that book, like SPLIT, is deeply personal with its purpose, imagery and intimate voice. [9]

SPLIT is the story of thirty-eight year old NORA BROWN, an ordinary woman who teaches high-school English and lives a quiet life with her husband and daughter in Seattle [10]. However [11], when she hallucinates a child’s face hovering over the desks of her students, her past explodes into her present, and she is thrown into a psychological upheaval so raw she lands in a psychiatric hospital [12] and is forced to fight for her daughter, her identity and her equilibrium [13].

A story told in the spirit of The Glass Castle [14] and The Bell Jar [15], SPLIT is evocative and compelling [16] for people who are not carrying secrets (if there are any) [17] and it’s deeply affecting for those who are. SPLIT is a daringly hopeful story of the phenomenal power of the mind and body to save itself [18]. It is about what cannot be said, but must be said [19].

I am a lover of stories and [20] the owner of the Writers’ Workshoppe and Imprint Bookstore [21] in Port Townsend, Washington [22]. When I’m not running the bookstore, teaching [23] or kayaking [24], I’m writing my second novel, Confidante [25]. I’ve published in Literature Circles and Response, Instructor Magazine and IS Literary Magazine [26].

SPLIT is a complete manuscript at 55,000 words [27] and is immediately available upon request [28]. I look forward to hearing from you.


Anna Quinn
206-697-9661 [29]

Commentary from Literary Agent Gordon Warnock:

[1] The subject line piqued my interest before I’d even opened the email. Mention early on if we met at a conference or you have a special referral, and your query will stand out.

[2] You usually don’t have to mention in a submission that you’re submitting (I’ll assume so), but here it’s part of the referral.

[3] Giving me the genre early, especially when it matches the referral, gives me plenty of context and a strong feeling of what I’m about to read.

[4] SPLIT became THE NIGHT CHILD when the book sold just prior to a rather unfortunate film release of the same title.

[5] I loved this book and likely said so on social media around that time.

[6] This is much longer than necessary to get the point across, but it worked. Having endorsements either lined up or on hand can provide a nice boost to the submission.

[7] This is on my website, a great indication that she did her homework and wants to submit to me, rather than to just any agent. Just as I specifically choose the author, I like them to specifically choose me.

[8] This is another line that doesn’t need to be explicitly stated. Going back to the old adage of “show, don’t tell,” she’s clearly shown this already.

[9] She takes it one step further and explains how her manuscript functions like one of my favorite books. Most authors don’t do this.

[10] Here she sets up the normal before introducing the inciting incident. It’s longer than usual, which is risky, given the lack of tension, but she’s already piqued my interest with the previous paragraph.

[11] This is about the midpoint of a typical fiction query. Waiting this long to get to the inciting incident can convey that the author is overly verbose, requires a lot of editing, or is not organized in their thoughts. Thankfully, once I read the manuscript, this proved to be untrue.

[12] Here I see not just the plot but further shades of my favorite authors and some potentially fun ways that she could approach the story. That’s big for me, especially in literary fiction. The reading experience must deliver as well as the story.

[13] We’re not saving the world here, but we’re saving the world of this character, which is vital.

[14] This is another favorite that was at the time listed on my website. I’ve since had to remove it because it’s so overused as a comp title.

[15] And though I didn’t explicitly mention this title, I’d expressed a love for the classics, and this one in particular is very appropriate. She’s running a major risk in listing two comps this old and this ubiquitous. If I hadn’t expressed these loves, it likely would have been a poor choice. Most agents want recently published comps.

[16] This on its own would be the common trap of passing judgment on your own work, but thankfully, she incorporates it into functional descriptions of theme and audience.

[17] A fun little twist. I’ve also tweeted that I like novels about secrets.

[18] This helps add an Act 3 to the arc without spoiling the ending, which is difficult to do in a query.

[19] Tension, and a good, catchy line that I ended up using in my own pitch to publishers. This point in the query is essentially the final impression of the book itself, and she hits it home here.

[20] Though the author bio isn’t as vital in fiction as it is in nonfiction, this is a rough start, like padding to make it seem longer. It’s better to leave something like this out.

[21] This is a much stronger detail, of course.

[22] It’s a fairly small town, and we have some prolific clients there. She likely knows them and stocks their books, which is a nice bonus.

[23] Another good detail that conveys knowledge of the world of the protagonist.

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WD Poetic Form Challenge: Roundelay Winner

Another WD Poetic Form Challenge is just around the corner. But in the meantime, here are the results of the Writer’s Digest Poetic Form Challenge for the roundelay. Once again, I’ve also selected 5 finalists.

Read all of them here.

Here is the winning roundelay:

Category 5, by Bruce Niedt

The weather radar shows its core,
a cold, dead eye amidst a brew
of wind and storms and rains that pour,
a buzzsaw set to tear and chew.
Some day it will blow in your door.
The red wheel spins, it spins for you.

The wind, the storms, the rains that pour,
the buzzsaw set to tear and chew–
this maelstrom’s one you can’t ignore;
this time you may not ride it through.
Some day it will blow in your door.
The red wheel spins, it spins for you.

This maelstrom’s one you can’t ignore,
this time you may not ride it through.
You watch the boat torn off its moor,
your roof ripped out, your house askew.
Today it has blown in your door.
The red wheel spins, it spins for you.

You watch the boat torn off its moor,
your roof ripped out, your house askew.
But then the winds are calm once more;
the rains let up, the sky turns blue.
Today it has blown in your door,
but that red wheel’s not taken you.


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Click to continue.


Congratulations, Bruce! The churning nature of a hurricane was the perfect subject for a poem loaded with refrains.

Here’s my Top 5 list:

  1. Category 5, by Bruce Niedt
  2. Earth, by Tracy Davidson
  3. Let the River Flow, by Eileen Sateriale
  4. The Cruelest Month, by Taylor Graham
  5. A Glass of Roundelay, by Sari Grandstaff

Congratulations to everyone in the Top 5! And to everyone who wrote roundelays!


Robert Lee Brewer is Senior Content Editor of the Writer’s Digest Writing Community, which means he maintains this blog, edits a couple Market Books (Poet’s Market and Writer’s Market), writes a poetry column for Writer’s Digest magazine, leads online education, speaks around the country on publishing and poetry, and a lot of other fun writing-related stuff.

He loves learning new (to him) poetic forms and trying out new poetic challenges. He is also the author of Solving the World’s Problems.

Follow him on Twitter @RobertLeeBrewer.


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IELTS test in Australia – January 2018 (Academic Module)

F remembered the following questions from a recent IELTS test in Australia:

Writing testIELTS test in Australia

Writing task 1 (a report)

We were given a chart showing the numbers of employees and factories producing silk in Britain and Wales between 1851 and 1901.

Writing task 2 (an essay)

Nowadays people living in large cities face problems in their daily lives. What are these problems? Should governments encourage people to move to smaller towns?

Speaking test


– What is your full name?
– Can I see your ID?
– Where are you from?
– Do you work or study?
– What do you do?
– Do you like your job?

Cue Card

Describe a situation when you helped someone. Please say

– When and where was it?
– Whom did you help?
– Why did you help him/her?


– Are there traditions of helping others in your country or region?
– Are people less likely to help others today?

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from IELTS-Blog

Wednesday Poetry Prompts: 423

For today’s prompt, take the phrase “Little (blank);” replace the blank with a new word or phrase; make the new phrase the title of your poem; and then, write your poem. Possible titles include: “Little Ghost,” “Little Drummer Boy,” and “Little Do You Know.” Okay, those are all song titles, but you get the idea.


Order the Poet’s Market!

The 2018 Poet’s Market, edited by Robert Lee Brewer, includes hundreds of poetry markets, including listings for poetry publications, publishers, contests, and more! With names, contact information, and submission tips, poets can find the right markets for their poetry and achieve more publication success than ever before.

In addition to the listings, there are articles on the craft, business, and promotion of poetry–so that poets can learn the ins and outs of writing poetry and seeking publication. Plus, it includes a one-year subscription to the poetry-related information on All in all, it’s the best resource for poets looking to secure publication.

Click to continue.


Here’s my attempt at a Little Blank Poem:

“Little Snow”

All it takes is a little snow
and Atlanta traffic can’t go
to work or school, even to play–
little snow makes a big snow day.


Robert Lee Brewer is Senior Content Editor of the Writer’s Digest Writing Community and author of Solving the World’s Problems (Press 53). After spending the first 30 years of his life in Ohio, he still gets tickled that Georgia shuts down for a light dusting of snow and cold weather.

Follow him on Twitter @RobertLeeBrewer.


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IELTS Speaking test in India – January 2018

An IELTS test taker from India (thanks, R!) remembered and shared the following Speaking questions:

Speaking testIELTS test in India


– What is your full name?
– Can I see your ID?
– Where are you from?
– Do you work or study?
– What do you do?
– Tell me a bit about yourself.
– Do you smile often?
– What is the importance of smile?
– How often do you spend time outside your home?
– Do you like to travel?
– What are the advantages of traveling?
– Would you like to fly to space?

Cue Card

Talk about a popular person in your country. Please say

– Who is this person?
– How did you first hear about him/her?
– Why is he/she popular?

Follow-up question: Would you like to meet this person?


– Is it easy to become popular nowadays?
– How do people become popular?
– What would you do to become popular?
– Do you think people who are popular now would be still popular in 20 years?

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from IELTS-Blog

One Year, One Hundred Rejections: Brett Elizabeth Jenkins

Today’s guest post from Brett Elizabeth Jenkins aims at a different type of goal than many writers might aim for: 100 rejections in one year! She says, “I guess it boils down to one simple rule: send out your work like you believe in it. Don’t act like you’re aiming for rejections, even though you totally are.”

Brett Elizabeth Jenkins is a Minneapolis-based writer and teacher. She is the author of three chapbooks, most recently Over the Moon (Pockets Press 2017). Look for her work in The Sun, AGNI, PANK, Smartish Pace, Vinyl, THRUSH, and elsewhere.

Learn more at


Master Poetic Forms!

Learn how to write sestina, shadorma, haiku, monotetra, golden shovel, and more with The Writer’s Digest Guide to Poetic Forms, by Robert Lee Brewer.

This e-book covers more than 40 poetic forms and shares examples to illustrate how each form works. Discover a new universe of poetic possibilities and apply it to your poetry today!

Click to continue.


Six years ago my friend T.J. Jarrett and I set out on a pretty special (read: crazy) mission. In 2011, we each wanted to earn one hundred rejections. As a poet, sending out work can be daunting, and six years ago I was just a year out of my MFA program, 24 years old, and a wide-eyed baby deer in the headlights of the whole literary community/submitting/publishing thing. Sending out poems was still a mysterious process to me, and I feel like the “One Year, One Hundred Rejections” project took some of the mystery out of it and gave me a bunch of tools to work with along the way. This year, I’ve decided to tackle this project again!

Brett Elizabeth Jenkins

I feel like at this point, you might be asking, “why not aim for one hundred acceptances?” I think Plath wrote that if you expect nothing from somebody, you are never disappointed. The goal here is just getting your work out there, to be honest. Submitting can feel like playing the lottery sometimes, so aiming to get one hundred rejections gives it the spin of a game. It takes the edge off when a new rejection comes rolling in. If the goal is to get rejected by your favorite magazines, then getting a few poems accepted here and there will just be a sweet little bonus!

A few caveats: I only send out work that I feel is completed or, in my eyes, “good.”

Nothing I would be embarrassed to have editors choose to publish if, for instance, they were going through their Submittable queue after a few Vodka McGoverns. It also feels like cheating to send out work that I know is unfinished or downright terrible just to rack up another “no” for my pile of rejections. I absolutely do not send my work to magazines that I don’t admire or read at least occasionally. If I wouldn’t be proud to send an issue to my mom, I don’t send there. I guess it boils down to one simple rule: send out your work like you believe in it. Don’t act like you’re aiming for rejections, even though you totally are.

The year that I spent sending out my work tirelessly (and yes, it is somewhat of a time commitment), I learned a lot. Once you’ve written nigh-200 cover letters, you learn what works and what doesn’t. Most times, I’ve found, less is more. Plus if you’re sending out ten or twenty submissions per month, writing a little less will save you some typing! Maybe have a short third-person bio typed up to copy-and- paste.

A lot of journals will ask for that. I learned that a personal note on a rejection usually means that your work will be a good fit in the future, so send again. I made connections with editors and other writers, and I even found some new journals to read that I really loved. Mostly, I thickened my poet-skin and learned to take rejection like a friggin’ champ. In 2011, I garnered 127 rejections, and I got a decent amount of acceptances along the way.

On the 1st of January, I decided I’d undertake this project again. I’m making lists of open reading periods, trying to front-end some of the submitting so that I can be sure they all come rolling in by the 31st of December. Some journals, like Tin House, have an average response time of almost a year! I also use a few tools to help me on my way. It’s useful if you have a Duotrope account, though it’s not necessary. I also occasionally throw “submitting parties” at my apartment so that my writer friends and I can get together and drink coffee (or wine) and complain about how tedious it is to send out work. I hope that you’ll join me this year as catapult myself into rejection!


If you’d like to share your voice on any poetry-related topic at Poetic Asides, please send an e-mail to with the subject line “Poetic Asides Guest Post” with a brief idea of what you’d like to cover or send along a 300-500 word post on spec. And be sure to include your preferred bio (50-100 words) and head shot. If I like what you send, I’ll include it as a future guest post on the blog.


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The Problem with Sensitivity Readers Isn’t What You Think It Is

[Enter our 87th Annual Writing Competition for your chance to win and have your work be seen by editors and agents—not to mention a chance at $5,000 in cash!]

by Anna Hecker

Sensitivity readers are a sensitive topic. As a vocal core within the YA-lit community heralds them as a potential solution to more thoughtful and authentic representations of diversity, watchdogs wring their hands over an imagined future in which tweets have the power to ban books, controversial language is outlawed, and authors can only write about characters who look like them. The debate has reached a fever pitch—not only in social media and trade publications, but also in mainstream media including the Washington Post and the New York Times, which bluntly asks if sensitivity readers result in better books or censorship.

I wondered the same thing as I sent my debut YA novel (which features a mixed-race protagonist) to a trio of sensitivity readers. My understanding of what they would actually do was vague at best. Alexandra Alter, in the Times, describes sensitivity readers as “specializing in the fraught and subjective realm of guarding against potentially offensive portrayals of minority groups.” Francine Prose, in her anti-sensitivity polemic in the Washington Post, claims they: “comb a manuscript for problems and mistakes ranging from thoughtlessness to ignorance to blatant racism.”

These descriptions, like the name “sensitivity reader” itself, paint the role as both passive and reactive. Where an editor generally takes an active role, shaping a manuscript with questions and suggestions, one would imagine a “reader” as sitting back and letting the book happen to them, doing little more than doodling frown-y faces in the margins at the slightest whiff of offense.

[Related | Living for All It’s Worth: The Novels of Neuroscientist Lisa Genova Explore Love and Empathy]

“Sensitivity,” meanwhile, is a loaded word if there ever was one. It suggests thin skins and easily bruised emotions—a potentially dangerous combination if one perceives these readers as the gatekeepers to publication (which, it should be pointed out, they are generally not).

No wonder the censorship watchdogs are wringing their hands. The term “sensitivity reader” may be triggering to the very people who loathe the term “triggering.”

Ms. Alter from the New York Times might be surprised to learn that, rather than censoring my book, my sensitivity readers made it objectively better. By pointing out places where I’d unwittingly succumbed to stereotypes, they helped me create richer, more nuanced characters.

Without red-lining specific words, they suggested new terms and topics I could research to make the details of my characters’ lives more authentic. Perhaps best of all, they opened up my eyes to my own ingrained bias in how I perceive and describe people of all races.

While some may consider their role “fraught and subjective,” I think we can all agree that multidimensional characters, fresh perspectives, and detailed, believable world-building all make for better books. They certainly did with mine—and with many others.

“My sensitivity reader caught things I’d never even considered and that were definitely not in the realm of things I’d thought she would look at,” says Caryn Lix, whose debut YA sci-fi novel SANCTUARY is coming out in July 2018. “Every eye on your book reveals a new perspective, and sensitivity readers bring something particularly important to that mix.”

“I knew the moment I read my first feedback letter from my first sensitivity reader that I’d struck gold,” agrees Rebecca Shaeffer, whose debut teen fantasy series NOT EVEN BONES was purchased by HMH for six figures. “When you’re dealing with a contemporary fantasy it’s easy to draw parallels between fantasy creatures and real-world minorities or political issues, whether they’re intended or not. She helped with how I presented and dealt with the intersection between social issues of this fantasy world and social issues of the real world.”

As readers and writers, we all understand that words matter. Names matter. What we call things matters. And the term “sensitivity reader” is not only loaded, but also inaccurate. Like the very thing it seeks to eradicate, it’s a problem of misrepresentation. Sensitivity readers don’t just skim manuscripts waiting to get offended. They are an active part of the editing process, making books sharper, deeper, and more perceptive than they were before.

So let’s call “sensitivity readers” what they are: diversity editors. Let’s stop associating them with censorship and instead celebrate their role in the editorial process. Let’s afford them the same dignity as copy-editors, fact-checkers, and proofreaders. Let’s normalize their role in publishing.

I think we all dream of a future in which authors no longer rely on stereotypes or write with harmful biases—ever. At that point we won’t need diversity editors anymore, and can safely retire this debate. But I don’t believe anyone suffers under the delusion that this future has arrived. We’ve made great strides in the past decades, but the slog toward true equality is real, and long, and full of bumps (some of which manifest as the vocal and fevered debates about representation in YA literature).

Until we get there, diversity editors are here to help.

Anna Hecker writes young adult novels and advertising copy, and once ran the Twitter account for the M&M’S character Ms. Green. She lives with her husband, son, and fluffy bundle of glamour Cat Benetar in Brooklyn, New York. Her young adult novel, When the Beat Drops, will be published in May 2018 by Sky Pony Press.

Online Workshop: Breaking Into Copywriting

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